I wish to address the residents and friends of South Miami, first by thanking South Miami News for the level of excellence and seriousness that the newspaper demonstrated in their recent article dealing with problems that have become onerous and which originate in our city hall.
The most recent issue of this newspaper dated May 22, features an article penned by South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard. In it he responds to an earlier column detailing the prospect of divide the city into voting districts. I believe that this concept should be discussed and explored, as it could be a step in the right direction in getting residents more involved and interested in what is going on in our city government.
Mayor Stoddard flatly rejected the idea with a reference to gerrymandering, although a creation of new voting districts would not nor could not be done in such a way as to empower residents and still be in compliance with the Florida Constitution. If each district were to have its own elected representative who could be held accountable to the voters who put him or her in office, they might actually feel they have a much better chance at having their local concerns addressed.
Mayor Stoddard goes on to criticize alleged dishonest campaign practices. Apparently the tone and style of the mail-outs were offensive to many of the South Miami voters. However, the lack of political correctness did not negate the truth of the message.
The cost of lawsuits created by Stoddard and his cronies will be borne by the taxpayers, including those who were so offended by the mail-outs. Those funds, which could have been utilized for improvements to the City, such as the beautification and revitalization of our downtown and/or raises for our police officers, are instead frittered away on endless legal expenses and serves to award those who have been fecklessly wronged by Mr. Stoddard and pals, with terrible judgment. I would hardly consider those elected decision-makers to be good representatives of any of us.
Frequent meetings with district representatives might have resulted in critical thinking and more prudent decision-making. But the real “zinger” in the Mayor’s article is his attack on women who are involved in citizen participation, those patriotic residents who voice concerns and criticize our elected officials and administration, when we see fit. Stoddard actually referred to us as “hyper-activists.”
Moreover, he arbitrarily uses an electronic device from his seat on the dais to control the audio, by adjusting the volume of anyone’s voice to his liking – specifically women’s voices, which is blatantly misogynistic. Let’s face it, the use – or I should say abuse – of a device to control any aspect of IT is a gross abuse of power by an elected official.
Yet none of his fellow members of the “boy’s club” on the dais has never called this out, or expressed disapproval such a heavy-handed practice. In addition, many people watching the proceedings at home via public access TV have informed me that the video feed is often turned off at crucial moments, during meetings. The same applies to audio.
Mayor Stoddard has the nerve to blame women who have spoken up against abuses for the so-called disenfranchisement of other women, because they “dislike fighting as a way of life or governance.”
The ladies who have complained to Mayor Stoddard would do well to remember the fight for women’s’ suffrage. The suffragettes suffered horrible abuse and humiliation at the hands of the male establishment of that era. If those women had not been bellicose, our right to vote would have continued to be denied by the “boys’ club.” I fear that the Mayor would like that all women conform to the standard of soft-spoken, low-profile, meek, and sub-servant behavior that male tyrants throughout the ages have always preferred.
We stand on the shoulders of women who have suffered oppression yet still had the courage to speak out with passion and integrity against corruption, injustice, and abuses of all kind.
In conversations with many highly qualified women throughout South Miami, I have come to learn that they do not run for office or participate on municipal boards or committees is because they do not wish to become a target of the spite of Mayor Stoddard and the other misogynistic-leaning commissioners who may be in agreement with the ongoing misdeeds of the boys’ club. These women know that I and other women have been targeted and they do not have the stomach for that level of public disrespect and abuse.
If men have the right to fight vigorously and vociferously for what they believe in, then woman, too, should be able to exercise the same right.
Isn’t it absurd that this issue has to be addressed in the 21st Century?
Mayor Stoddard would do well to recognize the fact that robust discussion and debate are vital components of citizen engagement and the legislative processes of our city boards. Democracy in our city hall is threatened for example when Mayor Stoddard and his cohort, City Manager Steven Alexander illegally stopped the voting process and tag-teamed Vice-Mayor Walter Harris when he voted “no” at a meeting in March to change the designation on the Future Land Use Map, and create a whole new high-density zoning district for the Shop of Sunset Place.
Mr. Harris had to repeat his vote several times and was bullied relentlessly. This again is a serious abuse of power, a highly questionable if not illegal disruption of the voting process – and a very real ethics violation. Mayor Stoddard should stop scapegoating involved citizens, when things are not going well in the city and instead consider the negative impact of his own lack of civility, ethics, and decorum.
Antoinette B. Fischer
Local activist and 23-year resident
of the City of South Miami.