By Dr. Harris Friedman
Protest Against Commissioner Alvin Ward
On Thursday, August 17th, displaying a sign stating, "R.I.P. FREE SPEECH," while sitting alone in his truck during a rainstorm across the street from the Muse Multipurpose Building, Carlton DeLoach decided not to attend the Muse Community Association's political rally that night. Joanne Aims, the Association's president had told him that, if he and his wife Mary attended the rally wearing t-shirts that stated, "Hey Alvin, our cow died, we don't need your bull," many politicians scheduled to attend the event would boycott it. One of the Glades County Commissioners had delivered this unfortunate edict to President Aims, causing her great distress. She and other volunteers in the Association had put in much effort in preparing for this event, such as in decorating the building and arranging for refreshments. So President Aims told the DeLoachs what was threatened and they graciously decided not to attend, thus avoiding an unpleasant scene, but Carlton staged his silent and solitary protest outside in the rain.
The DeLoachs had attended the Ortona Community Association's political rally two nights before, wearing t-shirts with that same message, and there was no incident. The DeLoachs reported that they had sat quietly in the audience at that Ortona event and even had joked with Alvin Ward, Glades County Commissioner, about their t-shirts, though they never came out and said that it was Commissioner Ward to whom the t-shirts referred. Carlton DeLoach simply stated, "There are lots of folks named Alvin." So why did some local politician's threaten to boycott the Muse Community Association's event?
There Is Some History Here
A number of years ago, the newly elected leadership of the Muse Community Association began to criticize some of Commissioner Ward's actions. When he attended Association meetings, many tough questions were asked of him and, after a few of these meetings, he simply stopped attending. The Association made many overtures to get him to resume attending, since he represents Muse, but he refused. He told me that he was shunning Muse because he did not need the support of the Muse Community Association in order to be re-elected and simply did not want to be subjected to criticism by attending the Association meetings. Voters throughout the entire county vote for Glades County commissioners and Commissioner Ward further expressed his belief that he had sufficient county-wide support, despite his problems in his own district, which includes Muse.
I and others from the Muse Community Association continued to ask Commissioner Ward to attend the Association's meetings and he finally agreed to speak quarterly at the Muse Multipurpose Building, but only if this would not be under the auspices of the Association--and with the agreement that he would not be publicly criticized. He arranged, as a government official, to speak one time at the Building during a night other than when the Association usually meets, as part of a Town Hall Meeting that he, not the Association, sponsored-and he agreed to return on another date in a few months. No one criticized him at that Town Hall Meeting. Unfortunately, Commissioner Ward did not follow-through with any additional Town Hall Meetings, breaking his promise.
No one enjoys being criticized, but a politician is a public figure who needs to represent his or her constituents-and there will always be those who disagree with something. In addition, there have been many concerns voiced about Commissioner Ward that I believe legitimately warrant criticism, but I will not go into any details here on this. Instead, I offer one overarching criticism that is perhaps most basic, namely a public figure needs to have the courage to openly face criticism. I simply find it disgraceful that any politician might think he or she is above answering to the people that are represented. In this recent political rally, that one local politician who claimed to be speaking for other politicians threatened to shun an event held for the people due to a few protest t-shirts sends the wrong message. I hope that Commissioner Ward's shunning of the Muse Community Association does not have a ripple effect in which other local politicians now think they can be unaccountable to the people they represent. And no matter how much a politician in a democratic society might try to avoid criticism, there is always a day of reckoning--namely Election Day, when the people's voice cannot be silenced.