Open Letter to Mark Sheldon

Burnie ThompsonUncategorized

Open Letter to Mark Sheldon

“In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man.” – Thomas Jefferson 

By Burnie Thompson

4-15-20

Dear Mark,

I heard you on the radio expressing how much it bothers you when people question your motives as to why you’re running for mayor. 

“It’s one of those things I take personal,” you said. “You’re talking about somebody’s morals. You’re talking about somebody’s ethics.” 

I understand. If anyone knows that feeling, it’s me. 

You’ve seen and heard some of the nasty things people have said about me as a candidate for City Council in 2018 as well as a media personality focused on politics. 

And you’re right – it does affect our families and our loved ones, especially when they’re dragged into it. Unfortunately, my daughters can attest to that. 

So I want you to know that I’m operating on the assumption that you are a good man who is running for Mayor of PCB because of your convictions. On top of that, you certainly have a beautiful family. 

I also think that you put on good concerts with Gulf Coast Jam and Sand Jam. And I acknowledge that those events attract tourists who spend a lot of money in our community. 

But even if you were St. Mark the Magnificent, I’d have to oppose your candidacy. 

It has nothing to do with you but everything to do with the nature of Public-Private Partnerships. There’s a hyphen between those two words for a reason. 

The Tourist Development Council awards your company, PCB Entertainment, $725,000 per year. So far, it’s totaled more than $3.5 million. 

It’s a Public-Private Partnership, and a very big one. 

The TDC is a union between the City of PCB and the Bay County Commission, and it was enacted by County ordinance per Florida Statute. 

It’s glaringly obvious that the Mayor of PCB should not also be the owner of PCB Entertainment at the same time. 

That would remove the hyphen in Public-Private Partnership. You can represent one or the other, but not both. Government and business should not be joined together and led by the same person wearing two different hats. 

Already you’ve said that you’d ask the two PCB Council members who will simultaneously sit on the TDC to recuse themselves on any votes involving concerts. While noble, it sets forth only the beginning of messy municipality. 

That’s because the City Council deals with TDC issues as well. For example, a few years ago Mayor Mike Thomas stepped in to cancel Gulf Coast Jam because of impending storm concerns. 

That responsibility actually belongs to the City Manager but he was unavailable at the time. Even so, the City Manager answers to the Mayor and City Council. The shin bone is connected to the knee bone. 

The PCB City Council has also voted on limiting the number of events at City parks, and only TDC-sponsored events are permitted in March. This eliminates potential competition that could benefit your company, PCB Entertainment. 

It would’ve been a good idea to get an advisory opinion from the Florida Ethics Commission prior to filing your candidacy. It should’ve been part of your campaign’s strategic plan. 

Do you remember when I objected to the City Council extending your contract from three to five years? I said you were doing it to avoid a conflict of interest before you became a candidate for Mayor. 

They shook their heads no and you said it was just a standard business plan. 

Well, the next day you filed with the Supervisor of Elections Office. And last weekend you said on the radio that you avoided future conflicts of interest by extending those contracts with the City and the TDC.  

So I wasn’t crazy after all. 

Nobody thinks it would have been OK if the TDC had awarded tax money to the current Mayor’s diner, even if the agreement was grandfathered in before Mike Thomas ever ran for office. 

Your supporters justify the taxpayer windfall to your company by saying that the concerts have an economic impact of tens of millions of dollars. But many of us believe that the concerts are good enough to stand on their own. 

You don’t need corporate welfare. 

Government is not business, and business is not government. 

We’re better off when businesses earn their dollars from satisfied customers rather than having tax money awarded by government officials. That way dollars stay productive rather than political. 

It’s reasonable for voters to be concerned about this. And it has nothing to do with your ability or your virtue. 

Thomas Jefferson explained why we should not simply trust candidates because they are successful or decent. 

“In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.”

Should voters trust you and government officials enough to elect a Mayor whose company receives $725,000 in tax money every year to bring concerts? 

 Do government ethics rules only apply to ordinary people who don’t rise quite to your level of integrity? 

I can’t believe we’re even asking these questions only days before a big election. 

We need to keep the hyphen where it belongs in the term Public-Private Partnership by electing someone who doesn’t mingle the money. 

Even if he does so honestly. 

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