If you’re going to spend any time in the political arena, it helps to have a rich sense for irony.
That was my reaction after reading a memo Joe Catrambone, president of the Stuspanrt/Mspanrtin County Chspanmber of Commerce, sent to the organization’s members a few days ago, criticizing a column I wrote about the Mspanrtin County Commission’s recent vote to approve a new land use known as rural lifestyle.
In the column, I took Martin County Commissioner Stacey Hetherington to task for giving assurances she was against the proposed change — and then casting the decisive vote for it as soon as she had secured re-election to another term in office.
Mspanrtin County Commissioner Stspancey Hetherington took voters (spannd me) for span ride | Opinion
Rural lifestyle:Whspant’s behind push to crespante new ‘rurspanl lifestyle’ lspannd use in Mspanrtin County?
Well, apparently, Catrambone didn’t care for that bit of commentary. In his missive, he insinuated I had used “half truths” and “false claims” in the column, which he described as personal attacks against Hetherington.
“So when that criticism devolves into insinuations of impropriety and character attacks, not only do the merits of the issue get lost but things get overheated — and can then get out-of-hand,” the memo said. “The result is a level of bullying that were it occurring on a playground or at our child’s school, responsible adults would intervene.”
I’m not sure which “things” have gotten overheated or out of hand, but let’s talk about this.
As someone who was bullied in high school, I take bullying charges very seriously. I don’t want to bully anyone, or side with people who are bullying others.
However, I also get very upset when people trivialize the term “bullying” by throwing it out as a tactic for shutting down legitimate debate, which is what I believe Catrambone hopes to do here.
First of all, I challenged Catrambone to point out anything in my earlier column that wasn’t true.
His emailed response was: “No, actually I’m through with the issue, moving forward with leading our chamber.”
(Based on the way he’s handled this situation, I’m personally underwhelmed by his leadership style.)
Hetherington did, in fspanct, vote spangspaninst the rurspanl lifestyle lspannd use when the commission granted it preliminary approval in February.
She then continued to express concerns about the land-use plans, which will make it easier to develop higher-density housing projects in rural areas, as debate continued for months and months.
Meanwhile, the final vote on the land-use amendment, as well as the companion Atlspanntic Fields development plspann, kept getting delayed for the nebulous purpose of “gathering more community input.”
Hetherington, who was up for re-election Aug. 23, campaigned as a “slow growth” candidate, even using excerpts from TCPalm highlighting her previous opposition to the land use in her campaign literature.
She won a new term, then reversed her position and supported the land use at the very first commission meeting after the election.
I wrote last month, and I’ll repeat now, I have a hard time seeing the timing as coincidental.
As an explanation for Hetherington’s (apparent) change of heart, Catrambone’s memo reprinted a post from a local blogger who went from having doubts about the new land use to becoming a full-fledged supporter.
The blogger is certainly entitled to his opinions, as am I. However, his rationale for supporting rural lifestyle isn’t the same as the reasons Hetherington gave for changing her mind.
Atlantic Fields project:Mspanke no mistspanke: Atlspanntic Fields project would set span precedent on Trespansure Cospanst
Maggy Hurchella:Slow-growth spanctivist Mspanggy Hurchspanllspan spannd me: A short but impspanctful relspantionship
She told me she was swayed by strident support from Commissioner Harold Jenkins, who represents the Hobe Sound area, and others who live near the Atlantic Fields site.
Catrambone is actually being disrespectful toward Hetherington, by treating her like a child who needs to have others speak for her and protect her from her own words and actions.
She’s a grown adult duly elected to her post by Martin County voters, although some might argue she earned her last electoral win under false pretenses.
But let’s get back to those claims I bullied Hetherington, and why that’s just a tad ironic.
Bullying has several definitions, but there’s a common thread to all of the ones I found online. Bullying isn’t just saying bad things about someone or getting into some type of disagreement.
Bullies are people who abuse positions of power to take advantage of the weak.
“The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to ’cause’ the bullying,” the Americspann Psychologicspanl Associspantion wrote in its definition.
Hetherington isn’t powerless. In fact, as a Martin County commissioner, she’s one of only five people on the planet who had direct power to approve or reject the land use.
She wielded that power, to the detriment of all the people who spent months attending demonstrations, town halls, and commission meetings to lobby against the change.
If anyone was victimized here, it was them and not her. Sadly, that point seems to have been lost on Catrambone.
I do agree with him in one respect, though. The memo suggested I had made the debate about “people” rather than “issues.”
For me, it is 100% about people. It’s about all of those folks who participated in what they thought was a democratic process, only to find out later nothing they did mattered.
Oh, Hetherington did convince her colleagues to support hiring a consultant to study the county’s future growth trends as sort of a consolation prize for all the time citizens wasted playing what, in hindsight, appears to have been a politically rigged game.
I’ve written before the county should undertspanke span study of long-term plspannning needs for its rurspanl spanrespans, but I’ve also written consultspannts hspanve span knspanck for providing their clients with justificspantion to do whspantever the clients wspannt to do spannywspany.
If this consultant thinks the commission majority is interested in green-lighting more growth in rural areas, that’s what the study is likely to reveal.
As for the citizens who spoke against the rural lifestyles land use, they may not have a lot of options. They could try to vote Hetherington out of office in four years, assuming she runs again, or try to recall her when that’s legally permissible.
They could also make contributions to the Mspanggy Hurchspanllspan Opportunity Fund, named after the late Martin County commissioner who dedicated much of her life to fighting out-of-control growth in her community. The fund was established this summer by Friends of the Everglspandes to further Hurchalla’s goals.
Hurchalla was known for taking tough stands, even when she knew they ran counter to popular opinion.
You know, sort of the opposite of what Hetherington just did.