I spent hundreds – probably thousands – of unpaid hours on Hillsborough County boards and committees back in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly as an appointee of Pam Iorio and the late Phyllis Busansky. In addition to implementing the county's innovative indigent health care program, we fought to slow down the era's unregulated growth and environmental trashing. It may be hard to see now in our much larger population, but we did meet a bit of success with improved planning and zoning. This was especially because of the imprisonment of three county commissioners – all white men calling themselves conservatives – who took bribes from land developers.
After that, the Land Use Committee that I chaired managed to set some new standards to benefit the previously derided "weeds and critters." Now, decades later, I can see a difference, especially in East Hillsborough. We did indeed stop the destructive draining of wetlands and rampant tree cutting -- and some of the roads that I regularly use are now lovely canopies of live oaks. As I assess my life, I think that fighting for a meaningful landscape ordinance was one of the most important things I did.
I was less successful in other areas. As a member of the School Board's Citizen Advisory Committee, I carried on a long crusade to end schedules that send children to school at dark-thirty, but that dangerous practice still continues. I also wanted to tie teenagers' ability to get a driver's license to their conduct grades in school, and that went nowhere. I did play a role in ending the crazy system of sixth-and-seventh-grade centers, which meant that kids went to four different schools during their fragile pre-teen years.
At the county level, one of the many things we worked on was getting a better correlation between the number of cars that a new building would attract and the number of available parking places. I don't know if this still is being done, but it certainly doesn't seem to be – especially, ironically, in public parking garages. You can drive around and around waiting for a space at Tampa General and at the garages for the public parks, museums, and the downtown library. It's not enough to evaluate needs and adopt good regulations; we also need enforcement.
So that brings me to "who you gonna call." My local Wal-Mart, for instance, was built before the guys went to jail and things began to change, but until recently, it seemed to have enough handicapped spaces. Now they almost always are full – and many of the people using them do not look disabled. I saw a guy today who had the proper tag – yet somehow managed to jump the three feet off the ground that was required to get into his behemoth of a truck. No truly disabled person could have done it.
Back in the day, I would have known who to call. I would have urged a study and, if warranted, follow-up action. Some agency, or even a volunteer corps deputized by the sheriff, could work on enforcement of the law for the disabled. It strikes me that I've never seen a violator towed, and I wonder how often the posted $250 fine actually is paid. The tax collector's office that issues the permits also could do more to ensure that the required physicians' authorization is real. I'll bet that guy just signed a name out of the phone book.
But mostly I wonder who you gonna call? In a jurisdiction with a million residents and no an elected executive at the top, it's hard to know. And an elected county mayor, accountable to all citizens no matter where they live, remains the most elusive of goals.
A CENTURY AGO
Dr. Gary Mormino continues to send me copies of items in the old newspapers he peruses. This St. Pete Times editorial is particularly relevant now that we are again discussing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that was proposed in 1923, but never adopted. The editorial was written in October of 1921, about year after the first election in which all women could vote. It is long, but worth quoting in full – with just a bit of explication from me.
"Woman, given the ballot, is now demanding full rights as a citizen. She is seeking those rights through another amendment. This proposed amendment, which would be the twentieth to the basic federal law, is couched in this language: 'No political, civil, or legal disabilities or inequalities on account of sex, or on account of marriage unless applying to both sexes, shall exist within the United States or any territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof.'" ERA proponents slightly changed the amendment's language a couple of decades later, but the goal remained the same – legal equality for men and women in both state and federal law.
My high-school English teacher would have failed me for the next sentence, but I'm going to quote Times accurately: "This amendment is being supported and advocated by the National Woman's party and in the program of that organization for national laws which they seek are being sought to cover their demands until the amendment can be adopted indicates what they hope to gain." Yes, I re-read that three times to make sure it matches the original. We'll let it go, as the editors carried on with specifics that make their abstraction more understandable. "This program includes," they said:
"Eligibility to examination for any position offered by civil service regulations.
"Freedom of contract.
"Choice of domicile and name.
"Acquiring, controlling, holding, and conveying property.
"Ownership and control of labor and earnings.
"Care and custody of children, whether legitimate or illegitimate, and control of earnings and services of such children.
"Acting as executors or administers of estates of descendants.
"Grounds for divorce; becoming parties litigant.
"Immunities or penalties for sex offenses. Quarantine, examination, and treatment of disease, and in all other respects."
The last is more than a bit obscure, but the intention probably was to end double standards in prostitution and venereal disease; it certainly was not to offer immunity for sex offenses such as rape. Instead, the inclusion of jury service above was related to sex offenses. The National Woman's Party understood that connection: as late as the 1960s, several Southern states, including Florida, banned women from juries largely because men did not want them at rape trials. The editorial concluded:
"And now that the women have been given the right of ballot through the nineteenth amendment to the federal constitution, why should there be any objection to giving them such property and other civil rights as will place them on an equality with men? The archaic idea that man should have control of his wife's property any more than that of another woman should be abandoned.
"The National Woman's party, it has been announced, will not limit its activities to try to bring about the passage of the proposed amendment to the federal constitution, but will seek to have the states remove any disabilities which the state laws may impose on women." And there the action was for a century, as state by state, countless laws were rewritten. The struggle has been – and remains, especially in terms of reproductive rights – a conflict between women's rights and so-called states' rights.
BITS AND PIECES
· Associated Press reported that federal spending hit a record in October, leaving a deficit 33.8% higher than the previous year. The forecast is that next year's deficit will pass the one trillion mark. It's just amazing that "conservatives" can ignore such numbers. The truth is that Democrat Bill Clinton cleaned up a deficit left by George I; Democrat Barack Obama did the same with an even bigger mess made by George II; and now were have our third Republican following the same Reagan diet. You remember that -- eat everything you want and cut out exercise.
· Another report reinforced the reason for the deficit: Trump's tax cuts for the already rich. Prior to that, a married couple's estate valued at $11 million didn't owe a dime in taxes, but early in his administration, he and the Republican-dominated Congress doubled the amount, exempting estates under $22 million from taxation. House Democrats have filed legislation that would go back to the 2009 level of $7 million. Only 0.2% of the richest would pay, yet that would raise $330 billion in revenue during the next decade.
· Small item that ran on Thanksgiving, when no one would notice. "President Donald Trump has bypassed Congress to send some $20 billion in aid to farmers, mostly going to states that are essential to his reelection… The payments are likely to reach nearly $25 billion by early next year, making them roughly twice the net cost to taxpayers of former President Barack Obama's auto industry bailout during the Great Recession of 2008."
· Speaking of Thanksgiving, I saw Advent calendars for sale at CVS long before that. Three styles of calendars, and not one of them even loosely connected to that season's traditional significance; instead, these "Advent" calendars featured only images of Santa and toys and such. You know I'm a secularist, but let's have some respect for the meaning of words.
· Words: "Young lady." I've never known how to respond to that, even when I actually was young. Recently I saw a response that made me smile: "First of all, I'm not young. And I'm definitely no lady." But seriously, fellow ladies, how do you reply to that patronizing faux compliment? Let me know.