Indian River Report May 22, 2009.
Vero Beach politicos were host to what might be our next state senator and next Senate President, Joe Negron. Negron was a state representative and candidate for congress to replace disgraced Congressman Mark Foley but lost in a squeaker to disgraced congressman Tim Mahoney.
The reception was organized by Sandy Harpring who is emerging as a Republican kingmaker. Harpring has been President of Republican women’s clubs, assisted Debbie Mayfield in her successful campaign and now is throwing her support to Negron. Harpring was not alone. Senator Pruitt and incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos joined the thirty or so heavy hitters gathered to hear Negron.
The special election has been called for a June 30th primary. One Democrat and another Republican, Art Argenio, are in the race so far.
Why Senate President? Like Haridopolos who was elected in a special election Negron will have eight years as senator plus one year from the special election. This gives the winner of this race potential seniority over all other senators which will often lead to a leadership position.
Alright, there were lots of important things that happened this week. The gas tax was defeated, Committee on Common sense goes forward, but who cares. Everyone has one and only one thing on their minds so let’s get right to it.
There are many people who would not be unhappy to see bad things happen to Joe Baird. This is their chance and the sharks smell blood in the water. A friend reminded me that the best time to kick somebody is when they are down. After all they are right there by your foot and a lot easier to kick than when they are standing.
On the other hand, Joe Baird is arguably the most powerful man in the county and his arrest deserves scrutiny and is both a personal AND public matter.
Many have discussed the matter with me and I feel like the Milkman in a scene from “Fiddler on the Roof”. In the play the milk man, Tzeitel, goes to town and is told by a friend that he purchased a horse and was cheated. He agrees and says “you are right”. Another friend says “he was not cheated” and explains at which time our hero says “you also are right”. Still another friend says,” they cannot both be right either he was cheated or was not”. The reply from the milk man was “you are also right”. On the Joe Baird event…you are all right.
Here are some of the arguments I have heard:
“Joe Baird is a private citizen and entitled to his day in court. Making a public statement could affect his ability to defend himself and no one should be forced or intimidated into self incrimination.”
“Joe Baird is not just another employee he is the highest county employee and should have known better”.
“Karma is a bitch and Joe is getting what he deserves”
“Joe has done a great job for this County and we need him there”.
“Everyone makes mistakes and deserves a second chance”.
“Drunk driving is a serious matter. If you support Joe Baird you are condoning drunk driving. What if had killed someone?”
Here are some of the questions that point to the bottom line for me.
1. Is this a serious matter or a matter of bad judgment with extenuating circumstances?
2. By virtue of his job, Joe Baird is a controversial figure with many enemies and many friends. There are many people with something to gain or something to lose in this mix. Should Mr. Baird’s popularity or lack of it be considered in any potential resolution?
3. Should he be treated just like everyone else or held to a higher standard?
4. The public deserves an explanation but it is more important to get an accurate one than a quick one?
5. Does this incident affect his ability to do his job? How much? A little, in several ways, so much so that he cannot do his job at all?
There are two questions here, one legal and one political.
On the legal side it is clear that Joe Baird has rights to a defense and he has decided to plead not guilty. Many speculate that this is his first offence and that like many others have done, he might be able to gain a reckless driving instead of a DUI.
Baird’s contract with the County has no “morality” clause and even if it did would there be a difference in DUI or do we now dismiss officials for reckless driving as well as DUI? How about speeding? How fast? It’s called a “slippery slope”.
What officials are we to dismiss? If Baird then why not Department heads, police officers, any employee including the gardener? How about school teachers? Should any elected official automatically resign? How about newspaper writers? Clergy? How about you?
The political situation is even more difficult. Mr. Baird serves at the pleasure of the County Commission. However, his contract has a large buyout clause, over $250,000. Commissioners serve at the pleasure of the voters. If they don’t get Joe Baird’s head will voters demand the heads of Commissioners, particularly that of Peter O’Bryan who is facing reelection in 15 months?
So here it is.
Should Commissioners demand a public accountability for the incidents surrounding Joe Baird’s arrest?
Yes. It is a public as well as private matter.
Either when Mr. Baird does it voluntarily or when it will not prevent him from defending himself. However, Commissioners have a responsibility to the public and they must address the situation to ensure public confidence.
Should Mr. Baird be punished?
The best resolution would be for Mr. Baird to punish himself. An apology and a self imposed punishment in line with the history for other employees maybe even a self imposed sanction that is more harsh in recognition of Mr. Baird’s obligation to lead by example would go a long way.
Should Joe Baird be fired?
Even if found guilty, there is nothing in his contract or in County policy that requires dismissal of any employee for this offence. It is clear that the events which led to Mr. Baird’s arrest will present challenges and Mr. Baird will have to deal with a higher level of scrutiny but there is no evidence that leads me to believe that Mr. Baird will not be able to carry out his duties.
What do you think?
The City of Vero Beach move to establish a “Government Clinic” is running into trouble over at the County Commission. There are many questions left to be answered and Vero Mayor Sabe Abell says answers will be available at a special informational meeting sometime next week. The Indian River Report will keep you posted on the day and time.
Have a great Memorial Day. Remember to thank a veteran.