INDIANTOWN — On July 15, the Indiantown village hall was abuzz as Scott Dudley, Florida League of Cities (FLC) Field Advocacy & Federal Affairs director, presented an advocacy guide for citizens.
During the meeting, Dudley explained Florida’s Home Rule, the decision-making process at the state level. He described how citizen involvement at the local level could protect the neighborhood where they live.
“Home Rule is about local voices making local choices,” Dudley said, continuing with Home Rule’s adoption to the Florida constitution in 1968. It established authority for municipalities to legislate ordinances, to craft laws to fit the specific needs of their communities, so long as they do not conflict with state or federal law.
Prior to 1968, cities were tasked with obtaining permission from the state Legislature through “special acts or general law of local application” during legislative sessions. According to the FLC website, it was not uncommon at this point in Florida’s history for more than 2,000 special acts to be filed in a session.
“Any successful city is a direct reflection of the neighborhoods and the citizens within the neighborhoods,” Dudley said. “Indiantown is not Islamorada. There’s a whole bunch of differences, and you, as citizens, should be able to make decisions about what your city looks like and the way it’s run.”
Dudley commented on many local aspects where resident participation is essential, such as fire departments, police departments, home-based businesses, and allowance of various commercial businesses, rates of pay and benefits packages for city officials. According to the director, these and many more decisions like them are where local voices make the most difference.
“There is somebody in your elected official's ear telling them what they want from them,” Dudley said. “If you’re not in your elected official’s ear, then your story is not being told, and they’re going to go with the people that talk to them.”
Dudley also warned the group, “Complacency is compliance.”
The director suggested that many pre-emptions where authority is stripped from local government occur when a complaint arises. He noted how special interests have found that by taking the fight to Tallahassee -- out of the hands of citizens and the local decision-making process -- special interests gain results they weren’t getting otherwise.
“Meet with your elected officials,” he said. “They can’t make a decision unless they know what’s on your mind.”
Dudley encouraged the group to: Get engaged in the governing process; build relationships with decision-makers on local, state and federal levels; educate themselves on what is happening in the legislature; and, hold elected officials accountable. He suggested the Florida League of Cities website @ www.floridaleagueofcities.com and the Florida Channel as a source for educational tools.
With more than 400 municipalities across Florida, the FLC advocates for those municipalities for “citizen-representative driven democracies.” As a result, Floridians enjoy enhanced lives within centers of economic, social and cultural energy created from the self-determination of their residents, per the organization’s website.
Dudley concluded the workshop with, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” – Margret Mead.