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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Up is Down, Black is White

Someone wake me up, please. I know I must be dreaming. In The Gainesville Sun this morning, the paper actually printed the following words in its lead editorial: "Byerly was right."

My wife is still cleaning up the coffee I spewed across the dining room table. Understand that my shock and awe is justified, because The Sun has gone out of its way in the past four years to print negative comments about Alachua County Commissioner Mike Byerly, much the same way it did with former Commissioner Penny Wheat for her many years on the commission.

Both Byerly and Wheat were reviled by the newspaper because they argued for sound growth management that protected the public rather than for policies that allowed developers to do whatever they pleased. The Sun cannot really argue Byerly and Wheat's logic, so they instead chose to falsely label them as anti-growthers who oppose job growth for no good reason.

Luckily voters have seen through this ruse – both Byerly and Wheat have won every election in which they've run. Wheat retired last year.

So what happened today? Maybe Ron Cunningham, The Sun's chief propaganda writer, got some nookie before breakfast. Who knows? Whatever the reason, he decided to applaud Byerly's lone dissenting vote on a charity funding issue, when usually Cunningham would have used the vote to show how out of step Byerly is with the majority, or how he is always opposing good efforts, or some such nonsense.

Instead, Cunningham called the vote for what it was – a stand for principles, which is something Byerly does a lot. He votes to do the right thing, to follow procedures and laws, and to not show favoritism to special interests.

In the case with this vote, special interests were certainly the issue. County Commissioner Rodney Long is also the director of a local charity group, and Long convinced three of the other four commissioners to approve a special request for $15,000 that the charity used to offset the cost of last weekend's Clinton Portis charity fundraiser.

Byerly voted against the request because it came months after the county's regular process for groups to request that kind of funding, meaning that it went against the rules the county requires every other charity group to follow to request money.

I suspect Byerly also had a problem with the fact that Long is both a county commissioner and head of the group receiving the money. The Sun certainly thinks it is a problem – at least it does now. When the vote happened, there was no mention of this in its editorial pages.

So what changed? The event was an unqualified disaster. I'll let you read The Sun's coverage of the event, but in essence it was a mixture of low turnout to most events and immature, arrogant behavior by Portis, who pissed off most of the people who did show up, to say the least.

Although The Sun was hard on Long, I felt the paper focused too much on blaming his "ego" while downplaying his conflict of interest:

"Indeed, some might even call that a conflict of interest. But to suppose that would be to underestimate Rodney Long's ego. Simply put, there can be no conflict between Commissioner Long's duty to protect the public purse and President Long's obligation to advance the Portis Foundation because both roles are overshadowed by the politician's ego."

A politician with an ego? I'm not sure why that surprised anyone. I am more concerned with the fact that Long pushed through a funding request for something in which he has a personal stake.

But the fact the The Sun printed the words "Byerly was right" is amazing enough for me to let that one go.


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