By Leo Coughlin
When it comes to the function of government, some folks - elected, hired, citizens - just don't get it.
It's simple, though, once one understands it.
In this country, wherever you go, the people are sovereign; that is, they do the choosing and they do that through the process of the ballot box.
The people elect others from among them to make the decisions of government - raise money through taxes, determine policy, decide how to spend the public money.
And, once that is done, the people's role is finished, for the most part. Oh, they get to participate on a limited basis, at the sufferance of the electeds, when invited to do so.
That takes care of two of the elements and leaves the hired hands.
Those who are employed by the electeds, acting on behalf of the people, are in a position of performing tasks in an obedient manner. They do not have the right of independent action in defiance of policy set by those elected.
So, we'll get to the point -
Chris Arbutine, Belleair Bluffs' mayor, struck a positive blow for the system last week.
In so doing, he demonstrated a lesson that the elected officials in Largo might want to pay attention to - for their own good, that is.
Arbutine set the example. The proper and correct example.
Faced with the insubordination of the city's fire chief, he suspended the man, Patrick Competelli, and at the same time called for a special meeting to have the Bluffs City Commission vote to dismiss Competelli.
Significantly, two of the members of the commission did not join Arbutine, Hunt Brand and Jack Nazario in the vote to fire the chief.
They were Joe Barkley and Suzy Sofer, neophytes in government (and, oh, did it show last week) who were elected for the first time in March.
Sofer went one better in the "I don't know what I'm doing but I'm going to do it anyway" game.
She, Competelli, a union representative and her father, a member of the Belleair Beach City Council, hied themselves over to Belleair (where the fire situation began to unwind) for a meeting to talk Belleair out of what it very sensibly did - which is to contract with Largo for fire services.
Sofer was totally out of line. Competelli was totally out of line. Maybe Sofer, as an elected official, has some slight leeway.
But Competelli is an employee and was under instruction of the commission as to what he was supposed to do. That is, lay the groundwork for a transition for Belleair Bluffs to contract with Largo for fire services, if the voters approve the September referendum.
Competelli will soon be out of a job and trying to save it was his motivation, all protestations to the contrary.
His memo opposing what the Bluffs commission has already decided takes on the presumptuous coloring of Competelli, in effect, setting the agenda for an elected commission.
And Suzy Sofer had no business, in her own independent manner of attempting to deal with Belleair officials, who were making an act of great kindness and courtesy in receiving this rag-tag bunch.
It well may be that Belleair Mayor Gary Katica and the Town Manager, Micah Maxwell, thought the little group from the Bluffs was nuts.
And with Stan Sofer, Suzy's father and a Belleair Beach council member, tagging along, it made the whole exercise even more bizarre.
Folks down in Belleair Beach ought to be asking their man Sofer why in heaven's name he was meddling in the affairs of another jurisdiction.
Someone mentioned along the way that he said (I won't vouch for this) he was along for "moral support" of his daughter. If that is the case, she should not be holding office - anywhere.
And someone ought to give ole Stan a lesson in basic civics, just so he might get an inkling of how government works in this country.
Then, of course, there were those who clamored to speak at the Wednesday meeting that fired Competelli. No public comment was called for. Again, the citizens in these little burgs think of their governments as a homeowners association.
While Arbutine acted swiftly and correctly, the electeds in next door Largo might take note. They are being led around by the nose by their defiant and disobedient staff.
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