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A High Schooler's Guide to Broward County Commission Politics

I know that sometimes the politics behind Broward County Commission decisions can seem complex, but trust me: Anyone who has been to high school can understand the social dynamics at work on the county's legislative body.

The commissioners may be twice as old as high schoolers, but they have teenaged insecurities. This is at the heart of today's most choice piece of gossip: Commissioner Kristin Jacobs telling the principal Sun-Sentinel that Commissioner Sue Gunzburger had sent a naughty email.

Theoretically, the commission exists to craft budgets and sound policy for county government -- just as high school exists, theoretically, for the education of young minds. But just as high schoolers become more obsessed with popularity than with learning, so do commissioners become more obsessed with... well... popularity than with governing.

Ethics reform is the most dire threat to that popularity, because it upsets the social order. It's like if suddenly becoming prom queen or quarterbacking the football team no longer made you popular. Instead, it was scoring high on the SAT, or winning a big scholarship. Anarchy!

In April 2009, Commissioner John Rodstrom championed the cause for ethics reform as it related to lobbyists making donations to commissioners' favored charities. In high school terms, that's like trying to cancel the homecoming dance. An outrage!

In a radio appearance, then-Mayor Stacy Ritter and Commissioner Ken Keechl ganged up on Rodstrom. Their conversation could have been recorded at the cafeteria lunch table where the in crowd sits, to paraphrase the Juice post from that month.

Ritter, who fits perfectly into our homecoming queen's tiara, fumed that one of a commissioner's most sacred duties was to "do your best not to make your colleagues uncomfortable."

Keechl, who makes a good high school quarterback, agreed that ethics reform was unnecessary because, "We know right from wrong." Doesn't every quarterback wish he could also be the referee?

​And that takes us to the recent dustup between Jacobs and Gunzburger. Kristin Jacobs is the girl from high school who has it all -- she's pretty, her family's wealthy, and she's class president, with a chance to be valedictorian. Gunzburger's also smart, but she has a disregard for the social order among the high school's ruling class that borders on treason.

Not even Rodstrom's folly could change her mind: Gunzburger wanted ethics reform, and she was willing to embarrass the rest of the commission -- violating Ritter's golden rule -- to make sure she got it.

And how would you expect the in crowd to punish this offense? By ganging up against her in public? (They've done that in consecutive meetings.) Social ostracism? (Yep, the article points out that "Gunzburger has no friends on the County Commission.")

But surely there's some other way to punish the rebel? Unfortunately, it appears the secret file on Gunzburger is as empty as the one Nixon kept on Ralph Nader. Because all Jacobs could come up with was Gunzburger having sent two one-sentence emails to her with a link during a commission meeting -- on the same subject that the commission had been talking about during the meeting. 

It wasn't a violation of Sunshine statutes or any other ethics guidelines -- at least not until Jacobs' ordinance gets passed. So Jacobs' attempt at a smear was the high school equivalent of putting a "kick me" sign on Gunzburger's back: pretty lame.

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Thomas Francis

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