The Chamber of Commerce’s County Commission?
Despite the Orange County Commission’s act of voter suppression this week, the Earned Sick Time fight rages on and a more complete narrative is emerging. The County Commission silenced the voice of 50,000 citizens who signed the petition to place Question 1 on the November ballot by voting essentially to delay doing their duty. In doing so, they also chose to delay voting on Commissioner Jennifer Thompson’s Chamber-sponsored proposal to kill the citizen initiative – and to prevent all regulations of private employer benefits. Both votes are now scheduled for October, too late for the 2012 ballot.
Supporters of the Earned Sick Time initiative are back in court to get an injunction to place the measure on the November ballot. But what caused this last-minute voter suppression and panic?
First, look to the Chamber of Commerce. Public records show Jacob Stuart, President of the Central Florida Partnership which includes the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, sent Commissioners much of the information being used against the citizen initiative. In a July 30 email to Mayor Jacobs, Stuart even mentions that Thomas Wilkes of GrayRobinson believes the wording on the ballot measure is “unlawful and misleading.” Wilkes is a former county attorney, is one of Jacobs’ close advisers and served as her campaign treasurer during her 2004 County Commission race.
Stuart included to Commissioners background memos and informed them that there would be a “special board meeting” of Orlando, Inc. which would include discussion of their legal fight ahead to stop Earned Sick Time. The name-dropping of influential business leaders and major political donors in town continued, even including Magic CEO Alex Martins. On August 10, Stuart sent the “latest information on legal efforts with Petition Drive for Paid Sick Leave” as a follow up to a previous “news release” he referenced.
Stuart is brother of Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart and also has close ties to Mayor Buddy Dyer, who received the endorsement of Stuart’s Chamber Business Force along with hundreds of thousands of dollars of financial support. Mayor Dyer has refused to comment on the issue, despite being the top elected Democrat in Orange County.
Even Thompson’s alternate proposal has the fingerprints of the Chamber all over it. Commissioner Boyd admitted in a memo that before August 24 he did not know of Jennifer Thompson’s Chamber-sponsored proposal. This desperate act by Commissioner Thompson was another ploy of diversion by the Chamber to prevent this measure from making the ballot. It did not originate with Commissioner Thompson, who did not even know how far the scope of her own proposal could go in jeopardizing the recently-passed Domestic Partner Registry.
Earlier media reports showed that at least two of the Chamber’s largest partners, Disney and Darden, met with Commissioners in the weeks before the voter suppression happened this week.
And thus, with a simple vote that violates their sworn oath to serve the will of the people who elected them, the County Commission has shown their Chamber cards.