Thursday, May 9, 2024

Palmetto Bay News - Op-Ed: Rudeness and bullying should not be the norm in Palmetto Bay By Marsha Matson, Village of Palmetto Bay Councilmember, District 3 -May 8, 2024

Palmetto Bay is definitely not a "Bully Free Zone".   

Council Member Marsha Matson is working hard - on her own - to involve the public - and it is sad that she has to go the route of an op ed piece. She can't do it alone at a meeting as she is but 1/5 of the votes of the council and cannot muster a majority for simple things like holding a town hall meetings for our fellow residents.  

Shameful. This is truly the never ending story.  This is your mayor and council, Palmetto Bay - and all those feel good proclamations and certificates are really just cringeworthy attempts to hide the toxic state of Palmetto Bay politics. Elections matter.

Here is opinion, her update, published online by the Community Newspapers on May 8, 2024:

Op-Ed: Rudeness and bullying should not be the norm in Palmetto Bay
By Marsha Matson, Village of Palmetto Bay Councilmember, District 3

I am a grandmother, who will turn 80 years old this year.  I decided to spend my retirement years serving Palmetto Bay, my community.   I helped found the Village as a municipality in the 1990s and early 2000s and I hold a deep affection for the Village and its residents.

So  I ran for Village Council in 2018 and won.  I liked making laws to help residents like reducing density in our downtown and regulating short-term rentals that disrupted quiet neighborhoods.  I enjoyed it so much that I ran for re-election in 2022 and won with over 60% of the vote, the highest of any village candidate.

In 2022, the Village Council added two new Councilmembers, Vice Mayor Leanne Tellam and Councilmember Steve Cody, who formed a solid majority block with Mayor Karyn Cunningham.  They set about running the village their way.  I did not have a problem with that because in our country, the majority rules while the minority is respected and has a say.   I sometimes disagreed with them and gave my opinion.  Over time, instead of listening to differences of opinion and working together to resolve problems, the majority block became more and more intolerant of dissent.  As I did not always agree with them, I became their target on Council to stamp out any hint of criticism of their policies.

In the last two years, they have intensified their efforts to stop me from asking questions and offering my opinion. You can see them in action by watching the most recent May 6 Council meeting on the Palmetto Bay Village website under public meetings:

I know it is disturbing to witness the rough tactics the Mayor and Councilmembers use on me.  Of course, it is extremely distressful for me.  What they do goes far beyond politics as usual.  When they perceive that I am going to say something they do not want to hear, they cut me off while speaking, talk over me until I stop, shout  “out of order” to have the attorney demand I quit talking, adjourn before I can speak, ridicule me, prevent me from finishing my sentence, and call me names.  They create a vivid picture of schoolyard bullies, except that they are public officials who, while knowing they are being recorded on video, verbally stomp on me.  In every instance, they succeed in preventing me from talking.

I am not the only person bearing the brunt of their distaste for dissent.  Mayor Cunningham, Vice Mayor Tellam, and Councilmember Cody banned the reading of resident’s emails out loud during Council meetings.  Emails were the most popular way for residents to be involved in village government.  When emails became more critical of them, they silenced them.  They abolished the Neighborhood Protection Committee, a committee that worked to protect residents’ quality of life.

I taught government at the University of Miami for over two decades.  I have a doctorate in political science.   I have a good idea of how democracy is supposed to work.   One of the most treasured principles of our democracy is the right of people to express their views of government leaders, especially when they disagree with what the leaders are doing.  This most sacred right, enshrined in our First Amendment, is under attack in Palmetto Bay.  If you find it hard to believe, I invite you to watch the May 6 Council meeting and witness the successful tactics Mayor Cunningham, Vice Mayor Tellam, and Councilmember Cody use to stop me from saying what they do not want anyone to hear.  This letter is my opinion.

Wait! Who wants to make a bet?

The village Public Relations team (whether you call it PR, Publicity or PIO) pushes out media featuring Mayor Cunningham.  Does anyone have any odds on whether the public information office will be fair and even handed by pushing out this council member's comments to the public?

As they say, "and that my friends, is the rest of the story."


Back to my opinion: It is unfortunate that this is far from an isolated event. This toxic bullying  has been going on for far too long. Please see a prior related post of October 11, 2021, Opinion: "Nevertheless, she persisted". Did this lead to a “Code Red” being called on Marsha? Cringe-worthy is the only way to describe the beat down administered on Dr. Matson at the October regular council meeting. Was this all because Dr. Matson wanted to restore just a scintilla of transparency into Palmetto Bay government?

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