All atwitter over Ken Welch's tweets
The flap began at Tuesday's (April 24) meeting of the Pinellas County Commission when board members were confronted by a standing room only crowd that mostly opposed a change to development rules in the downtown Palm Harbor historical district. Since then the fuss has extended to a flurry of emails between angry constituents and political opponents and commissioner Ken Welch.
At Tuesday's meeting, those opposing the change had no trouble expressing anger and disdain for Pinellas commissioners when asking that they reject the proposal to allow transfers of development rights in the Palm Harbor district. The opponents argued, among other things, that the change was unconstitutional and would deprive them of private property rights. Some also alleged that the change was part of a plot by the United Nations to take over property and the government. Some of those people referred to Agenda 21, a UN action plan having to do with sustainability that it has urged member nations to adopt at both the national and local levels.
But the real vitriole was unleashed after the first vote on the measure passed 5-1 with Norm Roche being the lone vote against the proposal.
Early in the debate over the second vote, Welch, who was chairing the meeting, threatened to clear the room if a man in the audience did not stop shouting.
Marg Baker, a Republican running for state House Seat 48, said the commissioners who voted in favor of the change had "goofball things in your head" and urged them to "study Agenda 21 for Dummies."
"I am very, very upset with you people," Baker said. "Take a lesson from Norm. Just listen to him. The man knows what he is doing. ... You don't understand TDRs are a Pandora's box. .... We're going to have huge, new poison bug in our county. This is disgusting, disgusting."
Palm Harbor resident Attilio Corbo was especially scathing.
"I think you guys are a friggin' farce," Corbo said. He told Commissioner Neil Brickfield, "You really are a phony."
Then, he said, "How much money did you people get on the side? Tell me. ... Don't go giving me that look of disgust. I don't trust any of you people. You're dishonest. You don't listen to us. You're phonies."
Welch started to defend the commission, but Corbo interrupted.
Welch: "You are done. Let me finish."
When Corbo continued, Welch asked, "Are you capable of letting the other side speak? Are you? ... You can take a seat. You're done, your time is up."
"It's very easy for folks to come up here and make accusations," Welch said. "I know for a fact it's not true (that commissioners accepted money). We need to keep our discussion somewhat civil."
Shortly after, Welch was seen updating his Twitter and Facebook accounts. His Tweet said: "Pinellas Commission meeting comments from Tea Pary members: 'social justice=socialism,' green initiatives=communism, Agenda 21, etc."
The next day, an anonymous email was sent to the Tampa Bay Times, among others: “Check it out! Oh my! who was speaking at 10:21 p.m. on 4.24.12 at the BOCC meeting regarding the Palm Harbor TDR at that time? Talk about ultimate disrespect! I (was) shocked! Not surprised, just shocked! After Mr. Welch's mini speech on respect to someone who lost their temper too - he demanded respect and didn't give it himself.....hypocrisy? Makes for a really good story, folks!"
That sparked an email from John Burgess of St. Petersburg who scolded Welch for tweeting during a meeting and demanded a public apology.
Welch responded with his own email:
"Mr. Burgess, your 'understanding' of tweeting doesn't align with the facts in this case, nor the way that I utilize the tool. I tweet summaries of nearly all of my meetings, as I did near the end of this meeting, and my tweets are well received by the public. They appreciate being informed of what is being discussed at their government meetings.
"If you review the screenshot which was on the (curiously) anonymous email, you'll see my Tweet, and the responses. They are all time stamped, and you'll see that there was no two way discussion during the meeting.
"As for disrespect, I suggest you view the video of our meeting, then assess who the disrespectful parties were. I chaired a 9 hour meeting, and accommodated every request, from requests to speak in a specific order, to admitting a late video request, and granting additional time to speakers. Even my political opponents have thanked me for the way the I conduct our meetings as Chair. I will continue to conduct our meetings in this manner.
"Those are the facts sir. I will continue to inform my constituents on the proceedings in their government meetings. There will be no apology.
-- Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer