Okaloosa’s Complacent County Commission

Pete Blome addressed the Board of County Commissioners for Okaloosa County 17 May 2011 at the meeting where the budget for the Mid Bay Bridge Authority, a Florida Special District, gets reviewed and approved by the Commissioners IAW Law 2000-411. The County Commissioners in the past have routinely approved the bridge budget without public discussion, and they did so here as well by unanimous vote.

It is Pete’s opinion this Authority had the wrong financial plan from its inception. Instead of paying off bridge infrastructure and passing the savings to the bridge users, the Mid Bay Bridge Authority has steadily added an average $10 million a year in debt since its creation in 1994. Toll have steadily gone up, and when a large expansion project, called the bypass, is finished tolls may rise as high as $9 round trip to get from Crestview to Destin. Like the proverbial cash cow, bridge users have been set up to pay high tolls forever.

Pete isn’t the only one who sees the poor planning of the Mid Bay Bridge Authority. Fitch’s Bond service recently gave Bridge Bonds a BBB rating, one step above junk.

The Okaloosa Board of County Commissioners allowed Pete 3 minutes to address them.

Thank you, sirs, for allowing me to speak.

Since I have only a few moments, I would like to ask this board to consider a few questions about the Mid Bay Bridge Authority that were not brought up at this meeting.

How does an increased toll across the bridge, as high as $9 when the bypass road is complete, help anyone in Okaloosa County? It doesn’t.

When will the bridge debt be paid off? Never.

Who believes automobile traffic is going to increase to levels to make this Bridge Authority solvent?

It has gone down for 5 years in row. I certainly don’t.

If this Authority can’t remain solvent, what are you, as the approving authority of the Bridge Budget, going to do about it? Will it be to simply pass off the costs of the bridge to the whole state of Florida as Senator Gaetz has suggested?

This board has routinely rubberstamped budgets submitted by the Bridge Authority. Who has this served? Certainly not the citizens of Okaloosa.

The Mid Bay Bridge Authority is not a minor matter. It will represent $350 million dollars in debt before it is finished. Yearly tolls for a regular user will be greater than most people’s property taxes. One out of ten Okaloosans need this bridge for their livelihood, and they are purposefully being bled dry by government through bad planning and apathy.

The MBBA thought about everything except the people it is meant to serve.

And this course of events has been enabled by this board.

Thank you.

Destin Shows America’s Problem

On June 20th I went to the Destin City Council Meeting to help my friend and colleague, Sky Monteith, to create a less expensive police contract than that offered by Sheriff Larry Ashley of Okaloosa County.

What I came away with was a picture, in miniature, of why our country is in as bad a situation as it is.

The matter had nothing to do with the police. The issue was trash. That evening there was to be a vote by the Destin City Council to give Waste Management (WM) Corporation an exclusive five year contract. The City of Destin would act as bill collector and put trash payments on the tax bill. It exchange for this “improvement,” the move was expected to save money for citizens.

But the room full of Destin residents realized that not only was the ability to choose trash services being lost, but a person could now lose their home in a tax certificate sale for trash payments in arrears.

Citizen after citizen stood up and objected to this collusion between government and a private corporation. One businessman pointed out how he must now pay advance trash fees for the whole year. Others talked about how there weren’t enough exemptions for undeveloped properties. Some thought that condo owners would not as liable for trash fees as home owners because their associations took care of the trash bill. One asked if the City would be the point of contact to solve trash problems now (it will be).

There were advocates. Councilmember Larry Hines said thousands are not paying their garbage bills now, or are freeloading off of others. It was the “efficient” thing to do. The audience asked, quite rightfully, why should the City Council collect fees for a private corporation?

“What is clear is we’ve done a bad job communicating about this issue,” Councilmember Jim Bagby said, but he threw his support for the contract anyway. It would save money, and besides, the matter had been under consideration for more than a year.

Council members Larry Williges and Dewey Destin objected. To their credit, both thought it wasn’t the role of government to determine peoples trash handlers for them. Councilmember Destin suggested that there would be no way to renegotiate service terms once the contract was signed. Councilman Williges showed that the proposed government intervention would only save about a dollar and change per household per month.

As the swapping of views and explanations between Council Members continued, it was far from clear that the Council itself agreed on what the details of the proposed ordinance were.

Just as in our USA at large, when the time came to vote, the voices for small government did not win.

Instead of free market competition, trash collection in Destin is now mandated and centrally controlled by the government.

If service is poor, you will have to call a government bureaucrat instead of the trash man.

Waste Management gained a virtual monopoly with the help of government.

Concerned citizens advocating the free market were voted down by government.

The government created a system of special privileges based on whether a person is a homeowner, a condo owner, a senior citizen, or an owner of undeveloped property.

The government became the bill collector for a private corporation.

At a stroke government made citizens liable for unpaid taxes instead of unpaid trash bills.

A year’s worth of bureaucratic inertia worked against reconsidering the measure.

And, in the end, the Council was not even in complete agreement among themselves as to the ordinances’ details.

It is for reasons like these that I think it is not the purpose of government to own businesses, or to grant favors, but to protect individual rights.

I am also sure in the next five years Waste Management will seek a rate increase and get it.

The savings will be ephemeral, the loss of choice and economic opportunity will be real, and this government intervention will only lead to more intervention. Just watch.

It is the dysfunctional America we live in today.

LPOC Booth at the 4th of July Festivities 2011 on the Harbor Walk at the Emerald Grande Destin (Lee Jackson Pictured)

Pete Blome and Lee Jackson elected to the Exec Committee of the LPF

Sweeping Changes at the Libertarian Party of Florida Convention!

From April 29 through May 1st, the Libertarian Party of Florida held its annual Convention, part of which is to elect new officers.

Pete Blome was elected to the Executive Committee of the LPF as an At-Large Director.

Although Blome originally opposed John Smith for the position, Mr. Smith decided to run for Chair of the Party, but withdrew from that race at the convention. By a nomination from the floor, Vicki Kirkland (former Chair of the LPF) opposed Blome for the vote, but was defeated by a delegate vote of 29 to 21.

Pete will focus his efforts to establish Libertarian representation in Tallahassee and Pensacola, and to support administrative changes that will lead to a better functioning Party.

Lee Jackson became LPF region 5 representative, for a second term, in an unopposed election.

Okaloosa and Santa Rosa Counties sent four voting delegates to the Palm Beach convention, Steve Carithers, Karl Denninger, Lee Jackson and Pete Blome.

Overall Election Results from the 2011 Palm Beach Convention

Chair Adrian Willey
Vice Chair Austin Paris
Secretary Greg Lennon
Treasurer Sandy Koplowitz
Assist Treasurer Steve LaBiancia

At Large 1 Pete Blome
At Large 2 Karl Dickey
At Large 3 Clive Rickets

Reg 1 John Sottilare
Reg 2 Janey Dame
Reg 3 Kyle West
Reg 4 Ken Donnally
Reg 5 Lee Jackson
Reg 6 open
Reg 7 Richard Nader
Reg 8 Richard Molek
Reg 9 Char-Lez Braden
Reg 10 Sean Landon
Reg 11 open

The Biggest Unseen Problem In The County

For years now, the Libertarians in Okaloosa County have been alone pointing out the fiscal mess that is the Mid Bay Bridge Authority.

It is a monstrous case of our County Commissioners shirking their supervisory duty according to the law, of a bridge authority thinking trees will grow forever to the sky, and then the state getting involved and spreading the pain over every taxpayer in Florida. Everyone in the Government was thinking of themselves, but no one was thinking about those that use the bridge. The bridge user will now have to pay, and pay, and pay.

But most people don’t see it. Non-bridge users don’t care. Neither does the Tea Party which is rapidly becoming a booster club to give venues for Republicans to focus on anything but what is important.

And it isn’t like the Bridge is a minor program. With the exception of federal projects at Eglin AFB, the Mid Bay Bridge is by far the single most expensive program going in the County. When the Bypass construction is finished, the Authority will have $350 million dollars in debt on its books. That’s a whopping debt for a county of 180,000 people.

Years ago our County Commission decided to exclude the MBBA from its financial statements because of accounting differences between the bridge and the County. Of course, this change did have the effect of making it look like the County had no role in the Bridge budget.

But the law, 2000-411, gave supervision of the operational budget to the Board of County Commissioners. That’s why they have to vote on a bridge budget every year. Mr. Jim Vest, Executive Director for the Bridge, has claimed that this is a mere $700,000 out of a $13 million dollar budget. He thinks nobody except the Bridge Authority, unsupervised by either the County or the Governor, should oversee the remainder. THe BCC goes along with it.

In any case, the BCC has routinely rubberstamped Bridge Authority Budgets with no discussion at all.

With such power, it is no surprise the Bridge Authority thought it could do whatever it wanted.

The Bridge was built cheaply and quickly in 1994. Instead of paying off debt, and passing the savings on to the public, the MBBA decided to continuously expand.

On average, they added $10 million in debt every year since construction started.

The new Bridge Bypass can only be fiscally sustainable if vehicle traffic kept growing every year. But traffic has gone down for five years in a row. I think it will decrease more in the future. The Authority will now have to use all of its current income just to pay interest on its debt. That means more toll hikes are coming in the future.

Don’t believe me? Fitch’s Bond Service rates MBBA bonds at an abysmal BBB, one step above junk for all the reasons I just spelled out.

According to Rep. Brad Drake of Defuniak Springs, we have MBBA Executive Directors, who are paid $200,000 a year for this poor performance.

Now the State of Florida is proposing to eliminate any toll discounts for Sunpass users as it prepares to take over operation of the bridge.

And we have the people of Okaloosa who will have to pay $9, roundtrip, forever, to get from Crestview to Destin.

Senator Gaetz says a State takeover will save the State of Florida $24 million dollars, but those are phony savings. The toll payer will see nothing but higher tolls.

A state takeover will only widen the pool of payers for the debt to all the people in Florida, who had nothing to do with this mess.

In the meantime, the Mid Bay Bridge becomes a never ending cash cow for the bottomless pit of Florida State finance.

There is probably no chance anymore that this money problem can be fixed. But, in my opinion, heads should roll over this matter.

The Board of Directors of the MBBA should be fired by the Governor.

The Executive Directors should be fired by the Board of Directors.

And the County Commissioners should be fired by the people of Okaloosa for making 18,000 people a day pay through the nose for government incompetence.

Pete Blome Announces Candidacy for LPF At-Large (1)

Dear Fellow Libertarian,

My name is Pete Blome, and I hereby announce my intention to run for the position of at-large representative for the Libertarian Party of Florida.

I am a retired military officer, and I am currently the Chair of the Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County, which is located in the Pandhandle of Florida. I am a relative newcomer to the Libertarian Party (2006), but in the time I have been a member I have become convinced that Libertarian methods are the best way to bring lasting happiness and prosperity to our friends and neighbors.

I’ve met many wonderful, talented and caring Libertarians since I joined the Party, but our party is in need of reform. Our principles must be matched by our actions. Our ideals must be furthered by people on the ground willing to work. I am such a person, and I will attempt to seek out others who feel as I do. I am in broad agreement with Adrian Wyllie, who has announced he will run for Chair of the LPF. Our party needs to grow, to professionalize, and to use opportunities to show libertarian solutions to a public that largely does not know about us. There should be a synergy between the state party and local affiliates that does not exist now. I encourage all concerned Florida libertarians to join us and make our party strong.

There is much potential for the growth of the Libertarian Party in the northwestern part of our State. Pensacola is a major population center that needs development. The sad situation that exists in Tallahassee, our state capitol, where no active Libertarian affiliate or representation exists, must be turned around. Okaloosa must continue its growth trajectory. With your support, I hope to do the things that must be done to set the stage for a Libertarian turnaround that will put the major parties on their ears.

Regards

Pete
850-217-6590

Okaloosa Schools: Hypocrisy On Display

By Karl Denninger
March 01, 2011 2:52 PM

Why aren’t Ruckel Middle School students allowed to sit with who they wish at lunch? What values are Okaloosa District schools actually teaching our kids?

I had to ask myself those questions after my daughter was given detention by Ruckel Middle School for merely crossing the lunch room floor and sitting with another student.

On 24 February I met with the Superintendent of Schools Ms. Tibbetts, Principal Ms. Goolsby and Assistant Principal Mr. Whiddon.

I spoke about my high school years, relating how easily a school administration can lose the respect of the students and the possible consequence of that. Respect, you see, is earned — it’s not owed.

The Principal came up with four objections as to why the students couldn’t choose where to sit in the lunchroom on their own: “they might miss the next class,” “they might not clear the table of their debris,” “there are cliques in middle school” and “we have students with food allergies.”

I asked how many kids had missed their next class when open seating was allowed and pointed out the fact that I might have to FOIA that information. Given that tardy slips are a common feature in schools and attendance is taken, there is a record. That is, if there ever was such a problem. I don’t believe it, to be blunt, and said so.

Further, cliques are a part of life. We choose our associates every day. And students who fail to clear their tables can be appropriately disciplined.

As for the food allergies, there’s a solution to that of course. You set aside one table for kids with food allergies and prohibit the common things there, the most serious of which are allergies to nuts. Oh wait, the school district already has to do that, right? These sorts of allergies are real, but punishing everyone in the class by making them sit against their will for something beyond their control is not only inappropriate, it’s Kafkaesque.

There was no resolution offered by the superintendent or the school principal. Mr. Whiddon tried to argue there was a student led representative process about things like seating assignments at lunch. I pointed out the administration had previously admitted the students voted for open seating, but the policy was unilaterally changed by the administration, thus revealing the illusion of a student’s say in policy. I also pointed out that this process was like presenting a petition in the former USSR, or to Mubarak before he was deposed. Mr. Whiddon didn’t like that analogy, and the other administrators were unwilling to take responsibility for claiming there was a representative process in the student council when there in fact is not.

Clearly, there was no intent to move on the school’s part. I remained steadfast that these sorts of policies are self-destructive, disrespectful of basic human dignities and indefensible on the plain facts. Further, this not a countywide policy; Pryor Middle has open lunch seating.

But then the funniest thing happened.

My daughter and I attended registration for her high school, which she enters in the fall. One of the first items presented to both parents and incoming students in the auditorium was a program called “The Nest”, which is an opportunity for the kids entering high school to mingle and hang out with one another — and with upperclassmen — during the summer months. The first reason presented to attend? So you will have some idea of who you would like to sit with, and at which table, in the lunchroom on your first day in high school.

Excuse me?

The peanut allergies, the late class attendance, the lack of clearing of tables by the students, the cliques that are found in middle schools and the inability of perfectly-competent staff members that the school district pay a handsome salary to keep order in the lunchroom all suddenly disappear in a high school with more than twice the enrollment of the middle school literally next door when a student becomes a mere three months older?

Ruckel, drop the invented nonsense and do the right thing. Recognize fundamental human rights, including the right of peaceable assembly and conversation. Rights you should be teaching and honoring, not abrogating.

Let the kids sit where they’d like and talk to whom they want during their lunch period. Punish real wrongdoers, not everybody. Teach real responsibility to our kids.

Karl Denninger is a resident of Bluewater Bay, a well known financial analyst, and author of the Market-Ticker.

USAF Steps Back – published 11 Feb 2011

A few days ago I wrote about how the Air Force had overstepped its bounds by officially threatening to prosecute civilian military family members under the Espionage Act if they read Wikileaks on a privately owned computer at home [Air Force Print News Today, “Command Offers Wikileaks Guidance” AFMC Public Affairs report, 3 Feb 2011].

The Air Force leadership needed to be reminded that their reason for being is to assure our liberties, not threaten to throw families in prison for reading.

Apparently, these men realized what a mess they had made, quickly retracted the threat, and said it “was not actually sanctioned by headquarters and was not in keeping with official policy.”

Thank goodness for that. But this matter not yet over. The threat retraction will not be seen by everyone, and it will chill the free exercise of the first amendment.

The Espionage Act is an especially odious law that led to hundred of Americans being thrown in jail during World War One for expressing in public that they were against the war. That such a law exists, to me, is incredible in a land that values liberty, and it should be eliminated.

So before we breathe easy, know that the stage is set for this to happen all over again.

Pete Blome
Chair
Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County

The LPF Is In Desperate Need of Reform

(originally sent to all Libertarian County Chairs with email addresses 30 Jan 2011)

Dear Fellow Libertarian County Chair,

My name is Pete Blome, and I Chair the Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County. I became a County Chair because I believe in Libertarian principles, and I think if more of our leaders applied them that our lives would be better and the troubles of our nation fewer.

We libertarians are part of the political process in America. We are trying to use our leadership and our vision to elect libertarian representatives to government. We are trying to put people and money together to gain libertarian influence in our communities.

I would like to ask you to join in the task of reforming the Libertarian Party in our state.

There are many factors that go into a political movement, and among them are personal leadership, effective administration, a professional and serious approach to duties, the ability to address relevant issues, make political alliances with sympathetic groups, gain influence outside the governmental structure, raise funding, and attract new members. All of these matters are issues of concern with the current LPF.

On the 27th of January of this year, Vicki Kirkland and Char-Lez Braden honored us by making the long and tiring drive from Orlando to Okaloosa County. They spoke to a gathering of Libertarians from the Panhandle (Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Escambia Counties). Their intent was to make the case for their reelection at the Palm Beach Convention to happen in late April. But after answering questions from the audience, they left the people in the room uniformly questioning their ability to take on the tasks that any state party must accomplish.

They are the leaders of our party, but…

– they made no opening statements nor presented any issues, principles, or strategies that they want to use to gather public support.

– they admitted they do not have an active fundraising program, but routinely lamented the limitations they have due to a lack of funding.

– they admitted that they do not have any significant media contacts (network news, major newspapers), nor have been pursuing them, thus limiting the ability to get the libertarian message out to the public.

– they admitted that they have not published any articles in support of the libertarian cause in outside media, nor made any other public appearances to do so.

– they were notified by me in advance that a newspaper representative of Freedom Newspapers (Northwest Florida Daily News, Crestview Bulletin, Destin Log, and Walton Sun) would be in attendance at the meeting and that they should have a prepared statement, but they never produced one. This newspaper rep left the meeting without an LPF message, other than what he saw in the meeting.

– they admitted communication with the affiliates has been poor and that it will be corrected, but this is an old story that has gone on for at least two years. I personally asked, again well in advance, that this 27 Jan meeting to be advertised on the Florida LP website, but Char-Lez admitted he forgot to do it..

– they admitted they had no contacts for potential state level candidates, nor had any ideas on how to attract them

– they said they were advocates of the “full slate” approach to the 2012 elections, but had not done any groundwork to get this accomplished.

– they admitted to suppressing dissenting views by such people as Tom Rhodes by preventing his access to the state website. I personally found this troubling because, in my opinion, it is better to error on the side of too much talk than too little. I also did not like the fact libertarians hear nothing from the LPF in terms of constructive debate about our problems, and yet a county vice chair’s words, no matter how brusque they may have been, were supressed.

– and lastly, they said it is up to candidates to present solutions to the many problems that face us in Florida. This is undoubtably something candidates must do, but it is also a major function of party leadership. You cannot lead unless you have someplace to go.

One of the people in the audience was Karl Denninger, and he wrote the following on his website about the meeting: (seen by up to 300,000 people daily, and he is a repeated guest on major media). It is well worth reading by libertarians, including the comments.

http://market-ticker.org/akcs-www?singlepost=2379508

This review is harsh, but it is telling it like it is. For all our sake, the Libertarian Party of Florida leadership must have the character to not take such criticism personally, and then fix the valid problems that were spelled out.

There are many dedicated libertarians who think these problems are impossible to fix, but that is not so. Some also think that what happens at the state level is of no matter, but no county can grow to its full potential if the state party is weak.

A few changes rigorously applied can bring a world of difference, even as soon as the convention. Spread this message. Send messages to Vicki, Char-Lez and the EC that they should:

– Start a fundraising campaign. Ask for as little as a dollar a month, or even per year, from members. If there are 19,000 libertarians in the state such a simple request could net a significant amount of money that just is not coming in right now…

– Compile an email mass mailing list of libertarians and regularly tell us what is going in the LPF. I read, see, and hear extremely little news from the LPF. The EC meetings appear to have no published minutes. The average Floridian hears nothing from the LPF. This is suicide for a political party.

– Publish the constitution, bylaws and standing rules of the LPF on the website so everyone can be informed of the rules and process of the party. As it is now, this information is the province of a few high party officials at the exclusion of all others. It is impossible to be an equal participant in the state party when this information is not available.

– Every action by the LPF and the members of the Executive committee, should be advertised. All public appearances by party leadership should be on the party website. The items they write about should be published. Interviews with news services should be on the web.

– Professionalize the party administrative functions and the website. Send notice of required paperwork to affiliates in a timely fashion. Have a means to quickly access people and information. Provide better photographs of the Executive Committee and publish biographies of the members.

– Put in the time and effort to pursue support from libertarian business persons, celebrities, and organizations from across the state. Do it in person and persistently. Do this with an eye towards a lasting relationship (20 years plus). Tell people the truth about what you are about, and they will follow.

– Defend the party. Char-Lez and Vicki said the campaign of JW Smith was kept off the ballot by official Dem Rep trickery, but could not explain how. If this is so, it is the duty of the state party to fight it like hell. If it isn’t so, tell us the facts.

– Pick a few (perhaps 6) state wide issues that have libertarian support, and then actively write about them, appear before the news about them, and speak at meetings about them. The paper attached above, which outlines suggestions for a statewide economic policy (which I think should be a first priority), was given to Vicki and Char-Lez before they arrived in Okaloosa, and attempts to do this this very thing. The FLP must be continuously in the public eye. If the current leadership cannot bring themselves to do this, they need to find a spokesperson who can.

– Invite, inform and involve the mass of libertarians out there who are tired of a reclusive, ineffective and largely silent Libertarian Party of Florida. These people are our future.

– And lastly, as a county chair, I ask you to attend the convention with as many delegates as you can, but do not vote for or support a candidate for state chair until these issues are addressed, and adressed with a concrete plan, not with mere aspirations.

I spoke with Vicki and Char-Lez about these matters in person and by email, so none of what I am saying should come as a surprise. In an email message I wrote to them .. “You, as the Party leadership, and nobody else, have to take our Party to the next level. It may be a bitter pill, but the general impression of your visit left us uncertain whether you appreciate what is at stake. You are not doing what is necessary for a state level party to be successful, and that must be turned around. We really wish you the best of luck. You have taken on a big task, which means tens of thousands of people depend upon your judgement and actions, making the cost of failure that much more dear. You can be sure Okaloosa will be doing its best to make a strong FLP and LPOC. I sincerely offer my personal assistance on any FLP matter in the panhandle.”

I stand by that. I hope you stand with the ideas presented here.

The Libertarian Party should truly be a “Big tent Party” where open discussion of ideas is welcome. If you have a stronger plan to present to the LPF, let’s have a productive discussion and settle on a course of action by the end of February. If you can support the ideas above, let the libertarians in your county know, and any county chairs not accessible by email. Vicki and Char-Lez need to know what we will support.

Libertarians state wide deserve a professionally run, basically capable state party.

And there is not that much time before the April convention.

Regards
Pete Blome
Chair, LPOC

Okaloosa Schools And Fundamental Liberties

Mr. Denninger’s passionate case for school reform highlights the arbitrary nature of the state monopoly known as our education system, and the apparent contradiction that free people are taught in the autocratic state institutions known as public schools. Removing the barriers to real competition among schools, both economic and legal, would go a long way to preventing the arbitrary use of power that state schools across the country have become accustomed to, as well as make them better teachers.

I was called at approximately noon today to inform me that my daughter had sat at a table with other students, rather than at the table for her class. Her purpose in doing so, which she informed me she intended to do last evening, was to peaceably assemble with another student of her acquaintance during her lunch break. For this act of peaceable assembly she had been told to go to lunch detention at the front of the room, and she had politely refused. For this refusal she was sent to the office. These facts have all been admitted to and are without dispute.

A call was made to me in an apparent attempt to enlist me in applying some sort of sanction for her conduct. You may consider this letter my pointed and vociferous refusal, and a direct challenge to this School policy.

In reaching my conclusion I asked what purpose of the alleged rule had that she violated, that is, how her decision to peaceably assemble with another student of her acquaintance during non-instructional time while consuming her lunch in any way harmed the educational mission or execution within the school day. I was told that in the past some students had behaved in an unruly manner, including leaving trays and other debris after departing the lunch room at some point during previous school years.

However, it was explicitly admitted that she had not committed any such offense. Under questioning the administration admitted that she properly disposed of her tray and other debris, there was no student displaced from a seat at the table to which he would have otherwise been entitled and there was no misbehavior such as a raucous conversation. The alleged rule which she had intentionally broken, that of demanding that she refrain from said peaceable conversation with a person of her choosing, under obvious logical analysis, is nothing more than both prior restraint and collective punishment for an offense that has not in fact taken place. The sanction applied also implicates a fundamental human right of peaceable assembly.

Certainly any school has a right to sanction students who are unable to behave in a cordial and peaceable manner during lunch or any other time while on school grounds. It is unquestionable that the educational mission of a school requires that conversation between students be refrained from during instructional periods when attention should be paid to the material being presented. But no such argument can be made of disruption of the educational environment by a student simply choosing to have a quiet conversation with a friend while consuming lunch in the cafeteria.

Further, I was told that she had a right to attempt changing this policy through a representative process in the Student Council. Upon further questioning, however, this assertion proved to be false. Not only does the Student Council have no binding power of any sort this matter had been previously put to them in past years, they had passed open seating at lunch as a resolution, and the Administration then unilaterally revoked the decision of the Council instead of applying sanction to any wrong-doers. This was a mistake on the part of the administration as my willingness to cooperate always instantly evaporates if an attempt is made to deceive for the purpose of enlisting my agreement.

Collective punishment and deprivation of a student’s right to peaceable and quiet assembly with their classmates during non-instructional periods of the day is a poor and unwarranted excuse for the apparent rank arrogance and incompetence displayed by school staff who are unable or unwilling to do their job in policing the lunchroom and sanctioning those students who engage in inappropriate behavior on an individual basis.

Nobody who is aware of recent world events can miss the fact that we currently have an entire nation that is on its feet over exactly this right – that of peaceable assembly. The Egyptian body politic has risen and refused to cede the streets. I cannot help but draw the parallel between Ruckel Middle School’s refusal to recognize this fundamental human right and those protesting in Egypt, and find it particularly ironic that a civil rights complaint given to the governor was found discarded in the trash outside Port Said.

The right to peaceful assembly and conversation is a fundamental human right and the peaceful exercise thereof is being displayed right now, literally “in your face”, on television each and every night.

It is outrageous that our so-called “public schools”, which claim in their handbooks to be “a partnership between student, parent and school”, would fail to recognize, support and protect such fundamental human rights simply for the convenience of their incompetent staff. It is beyond ridiculous that Ruckel Middle School would choose, when challenged on these facts, to apply collective punishment rather than yield to the clear logic that is being demonstrated each and every day on international television.

Our schools should be teaching and respecting fundamental liberties, not wantonly abrogating them and threatening dissenters. Each student should be able to recite the three fundamental human rights: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of (but not entitlement to) Happiness. The right of free speech and peaceable assembly, contained in the First Amendment, is formal recognition of a portion of that right of Liberty. All rights may be infringed upon only where doing so reasonably prevents another’s rights from being harmed.

This is fundamental to our government and nation’s history and our schools, collectively and individually, have an affirmative obligation under both ethics and law to not only teach this but live it.

I have made clear to my daughter through her years at Ruckel and prior to that at Bluewater Elementary that all respect is earned. There is in fact nobody, not even myself as her father, who is owed respect. My first and foremost task in raising her from infancy to adulthood is for her to transition from someone dependent on another, in this case myself, to an independent adult who is able to think for herself, recognize what human rights are, and stand for them on her own two feet. Part of this educational process is informing her of the fundamental human rights declared but not granted in The Declaration of Independence, that rights are not bestowed by a nanny government or authority figure but rather are unalienable, and that with those rights come responsibilities.

In this case she is responsible for conducting herself in a cordial fashion while on school property and adhering to reasonably defensible rules that have a sensible and sound connection to the conduct of the school’s educational mission. The US Supreme Court supports this position. The Court has ruled that students do not cede their Constitutional Rights in the general sense at the door of a publicly-funded school. Only those constraints that can be linked to a colorable impairment of the educational mission and environment of the school, when they impugn fundamental liberties, are permissible. In Tinker .v. Des Moines (1969) the United States Supreme Court held that peaceable speech, in this case two students peaceably wearing armbands protesting the Vietnam War, could not be lawfully removed from school for their refusal to comply with a demand from administration officials to remove the armbands.

This is exactly the issue before Okaloosa County and Ruckel Middle School.

I am fully in support of a reasonable student dress code, restrictions on the use of electronic devices during instructional hours and any other conduct that could otherwise have a rationally-argued negative impact on the educational mission at Ruckel. She is fully-aware of my support of these objectives and constraints.

At the same time she is expected to both challenge authority when it is unjustly displayed in an abusive or repressive form and is, as I have explained to your administration in the past, within her rights to refuse to respect those who deliberately and intentionally engage in such conduct. She has never been and is not now or in the future under any obligation, either by the rules of my household or under well-settled law of The United States, required to cede to any authority that fails to comport with the above.

Civil disobedience has both a long and colorful history throughout the world and comes with the risk of sanction, which she was fully aware of at the time of the incident. Her conduct was not furtive in any way; there was no attempt to conceal the act and her intent was to lead to a reasonable discussion and resolution. The actions by your staff probably shouldn’t surprise me, given the nature of collective and prospective punishment that was first devised and implemented.

Ruckel and all other schools should be aware, however, that sanctions imposed by putative authority figures are subject to review through several paths. First, of course, is public exposure and protest. You might consider my publication of this letter as part of that. Perhaps this is a trivial matter in most students’ and their parents’ minds, or perhaps not. The decision as to whether other students and their parents wish to protest and what form that protest might take is, of course, up to them. Second, sanctions that appear to be improperly applied or impugn a fundamental liberty with justification can and may lead to legal review. I, as with all citizens, reserve the right to initiate that lawful and proper process should I deem it appropriate.

After careful consideration I cannot support the claimed need for a seat assignment in the Ruckel cafeteria as a means of prospective and collective punishment without any offense of the peace having first taken place. These students are not in primary school; all are of ages 12-14 and can certainly comport themselves with reasonable decorum and make it to their next class. Those who are unable to do so should be individually punished for their transgressions. In short, this restriction is unconscionable and must be dropped. If school staff is incompetent to supervise the students they must be publicly identified, fired and replaced.

Our school employees work for us as parents, not the other way around. They run a school, not a prison. Our children and school students have rights; they are not pawns on a chessboard or notches on a broomstick. We as the source of school funds have every right to demand accountability for every dollar of our tax money that is spent and the policies implemented. When apparent idiocy rears its head you can expect me to hold the schools to account, as I have in the past and both will in the present and future.

A version of this letter was sent directly to the administration. If you agree, the Principal is Ms. Goolsby and her fax number is (850) 833-3291. The Superintendent for Okaloosa County Schools, Alexis Tibbetts, has a fax at 850-833-3436.