Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
I have been a resident of Ponte Vedra Beach since 1988, so I was looking forward to this morning’s county commission candidate forum for candidates in District 2, sponsored by the Ponte Vedra Beaches Coalition.
Imagine my amazement when I became a victim of the decline of civility in public life, merely for asking the three candidates to respond to a question about the county administrator’s contract.
After the moderator, Jim Sabo, had finished asking the candidates questions from members of the Coalition, he opened the floor for the audience to ask questions.
When it was my turn, I asked why a severance payment equal to three-year’s salary had been written into County Administrator Michael Wanchick’s contract and why there is a two-year notice required by the contract. I guess I struck a nerve.
Mary Kohnke, a former St Johns County Commissioner, was in the audience. She jumped up and told the candidates that they did not need to address my question and proceeded to give me a tongue lashing that went on for several minutes. Kohnke told me in as many words that I was insane for wanting to fire Michael Wanchick, even though that was not my question.
When it became apparent that she might go one for several more minutes, I pointed out to the moderator that I wanted the commissioner candidates to answer my question. The moderator tried to take control of the floor, but he was interrupted by the incumbent Commissioner Ron Sanchez, who told me “You’ve been told this a number of times already”.
I started to reply with, “I have not ever asked…” when Commissioner Sanchez interrupted me. In a rude and overbearing tone, Sanchez remarked, “Well, I’m getting ready to tell you now, so please listen.” The other two candidates never had a chance to fully address my question.
Before I returned to my seat, Sanchez said to me, “The facts are there, if you will just open your mind and look at them.” A few minutes later he made an insulting and condescending remark, telling me “You are being ridiculous”.
This level of arrogance and rudeness from an elected official towards his constituents has no place in public discourse. No wonder people say politics is ugly. No wonder people don’t want to come to forums.
All of the voters of St Johns County deserve answers to the questions asked this morning. People don’t like to subject themselves to verbal abuse. Candidates and elected public officials owe polite and honest answers to those citizens who ask. Common courtesy was in short supply from where Ron Sanchez was seated.
All I wanted was an answer to what I thought was a simple question. The intimidating reaction that came from Mary Kohnke and Ron Sanchez makes me wonder what else there is that they don’t want to talk about.