It gives me no joy to contradict or criticize The Stuart News, to which I happily gave 28 years of my life. But the newspaper's Sunday endorsement of Martin County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Heard begsa few choice words of dissent.
Somehow, the paper looks at this woman and sees something I contend isn't there. I truly believe if Sarah Heard were caught and cuffed for robbing a convenience store on Saturday night, the editors would still "strongly" recommend her Sunday morning.
They've bought into the whole no-growth, Maggy Hurchalla-Donna Melzer thing, of which Heard is the chief purveyor on the County Commission. Nothing wrong with that -- it's their prerogative -- as long as they're giving fair and honest coverage on the news pages to the cast of characters they promote on the editorial side.
The newspaper gives no credence at all to the ethics complaints filed against Heard but all the credit in the world for her "12-year track record in elected office of laboring for our waterways."
I beg to differ with both arguments.
The ethics complaint: Heard's, not John McAuliffe's
What immediately struck me in Sunday's editorial recommendation was not the newspaper's failure to list the half-a-dozen-or-so ethics complaints against Heard lumped into Palm City resident John McAuliffe's letters to Tallahassee. It was Heard's cavalier dismissal of them.
"It's politically motivated," she was quoted as saying. "I can't keep anyone from making meritless accusations about me."
Perhaps because Heard filed a "meritless accusation" against her opponent in 2006, she truly believes in her heart all ethics complaints at election time are as groundless and "politically motivated" as hers was.
Let's look at Heard's for a moment. The polls had closed, she had won, yet on the night of the 2006 election, Heard filed an entirely frivolous complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics against Republican Susan E. O'Rourke.
The complaint accused O'Rourke of deliberately trying to mislead Democrats and independents by failing to disclose on her campaign signs that she is a Republican.
"It wasn't true and Sarah knew it," said O'Rourke, a professional engineer who specializes in traffic engineering and transportation planning. "Every one of my signs was properly labeled."
Because the election was history by the time the ethics commission received the complaint, "they didn't want to be bothered with an investigation and instead sent a letter wanting my signature and a $250 fine, and advising me never to do it again.
"But I wouldn't sign and I wouldn't pay because I hadn't done anything wrong," she said. "My sister is a lawyer, she represented me and the case went to a hearing."
Heard's complaint was found to be "without merit." O'Rourke, who considered it a case of "malicious intent," then filed against Heard to recapture attorney fees. Heard's lawyer advised her to settle.
In the end, Heard paid O'Rourke's sister $2,300 in court costs.
Oh, yes, and neither the original complaint nor its conclusion ever found its way into the local newspaper.
Why did Heard file such a complaint? One of her friends at the time later told me, "That's her MO. Hassle the opposition. That's what her group does to discourage candidates from running next time."
The bottom line here is, Heard wasn't above playing a political dirty trick on a hapless opponent. I wonder now, if the editors at the News had known the trick she pulled in '06, mightn't they have been a little more skeptical and a lot less apt to blow off the commissioner's dismissal of McAuliffe's "politically motivated" complaints?
Then there's "her commitment to the river, lagoon and quality of life." The News called it "unwavering."
I'd love to know what the News' observations are to bring them to that opinion.
Let me tell you mine.
Heard's River Protections Record
Heard has been a staunch supporter of the rivers ever since she realized she could minecitizen outrage over algae blooms to further her no-growth agenda.
Certainly she attends Everglades Foundation and Everglades Coalition events, because they're trendy and fun and usually happen at some great hotel location.
But, if we're talking Everglades, the real work of Everglades restoration comes from the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. They're the folks who coordinate the policies, strategies and projects under the Department of Interior for Everglades restoration. Those conferences are usually in Fort Lauderdale, and no one I know has ever seen her at even one of them.
Heard does on occasion attend a Water Resources Advisory Commission meeting, usually at the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach. WRAC advises the Task Force. But please understand, Sarah Heard doesn't stay for an entire meeting. Generally, she's there for an hour or less, long enough to make an official, if inconsequential, comment from Martin County, then she leaves.
Jacqui Thurlow Lippisch of Sewall's Point, on the other hand, stays the entire day -- six to eight hours. These are long, tedious and sometimes incredibly difficult-to-follow sessions, especially when engineers are talking, but it's the only way to get a real grasp of what's going on, what works, what doesn't, what has been tried, and so forth.
And another thing. Wouldn't anyone who really cares about the health of the river be committed to resolving Martin'sstormwater drainage and septic tank issues? She is not.
Sarah Heard has a history of stopping sewer line extensions, one in Jensen Beach and the other in Port Salerno, which had grant funding two years ago to run east from A1A along Salerno Road nearly all the way to U.S. 1.Heard felt it would spur business growth, and so nothing happened until recently, when theutilities and community development departments, using CRA TIF monies, said they would extend the sewerinto residential areas, and only partially along Salerno Road.
Sarah Heard is a fake environmentalist who fosters the fear-mongering that stops all construction projects, and points to agriculture as the culprit for all the pollution.
In the meantime, she attempted to squash an innovative stormwater treatment system developed in-house by the county's community development, engineering and utilities departments to treat stormwater drainage without expensive pipes, big culverts, and large retention ponds. It's the first in the state, perhaps even in the nation -- a natural conduit for grants. Yet Sarah Heard voted against it, saying it was a scheme only to increase businesses' property values.
Fortunately, she was outvoted, and the project will proceed ... until she can think of some other reason to kill it.
There are many examples of votes in which Heard could have made something good happen for one river or the other, but didn't. The Stuart News covers all Martin County Commission meetings. Didn't they notice? Or is their definition of river protection different from mine and other readers'?
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith