This is the second in an irregular series of posts about local politics here in North Florida.
The notorious J.T. Burnette was quoted on federal wiretaps during his recent corruption trial as saying “When somebody tells you they want to run, it’s a simple question: Is VancoreJones reppin’, right? If they’re not. I’m out.”
In the case of Mary Ann Lindley’s campaign for county commission, the answer to that question was yes, to the tune of $27,916. VancoreJones, was definitely “reppin” Mary Ann Lindley. This same VancoreJones was outed just this past week for having failed to register as a lobbyist with the city and county—a serious ethics charge.
So too were VancoreJones “reppin” Scott Maddox, state attorney Jack Campbell, the controversial Welaunee development, former city manager Rick Fernandez, current city manager Reese Goad, Trulieve (a company run by Burnette’s wife Kim Rivers, member of an elite Blueprint committee), the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency, and Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey.
With her bias in mind, it’s hard to know what to make of Mary Ann Lindley’s odd opinion piece in the Democrat earlier this month, “Scott Maddox’s Sordid Story Is Not the Story of This Community.” On the one hand, the former county commissioner goes to great pains to show she was duped by Scott Maddox as “oblivious” and on the other hand wants us to believe that she’s knowledgeable about the local political scene—knowledgeable enough to know systemic corruption when she sees it. Yet, she was using the same consultants, the same donors, and advocating for nearly an identical agenda for years, along with her colleagues John Dailey and Bryan Desloge.
Even odder is how she typifies J.T Burnette, who I hardly need to remind anyone was just convicted of five counts in the FBI’s corruption trial in federal court. Here’s a man who she tried to defend by dismissing his behavior as “I’m just bewildered when these boys start playing these power games,” in a 2019 Democrat article. Her tone matched fellow VancoreJones’ client, Bryan Desloge, who described Burnette as a “creative guy” in the same article.
This was several years after Burnette had been arrested; had she been unaware of the evidence mounting in various other Democrat articles? If she wasn’t, what else isn’t she aware of in the community?
More troubling, Lindley wants to make the case that there’s no systemic corruption in Tallahassee, while describing Burnette in positive terms and indicating that the influence of the powerful and rich is, in essence, healthy, stating “A relatively small circle of influential people sometimes will play an outsized role in government issues.” That’s a far cry from suggesting that the way Tallahassee and Leon County do business provides agency for and input from the wider community of taxpayers (which funds things like Blueprint)–exactly the opposite, in fact.
So, which is it? Is local government here just fine or is it for the privileged few? I’m confused—especially since she also wants to castigate City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow for his continued, consistent call for better ethics in city government and a review of the appointments and projects Maddox greenlit during his troubled time as mayor. She sees this position as obstructionist and wants to use a little down-home southern observational detail about Matlow’s pizza place to gloss over that.
If Mary Ann Lindley had no clue corruption was ongoing, with a guy in Burnette who she speaks of in glowing terms, then why is she so against the kind of ethical review and system-wide analysis that would ensure that the very thing she says she had no idea was happening…doesn’t happen again?
It’s honestly wearying to read such a self-serving take on the workings of local government. I was reminded of Lindley’s last editorial, taking me to task for questioning the rush in moving ahead with the Welaunee development, despite outcry from citizens and extremely questionable relationships between “consultants,” staff, and developers.
She called me in derogatory terms a “twinkling literary star” and in general made a personal attack. At that time, having endured much worse in the trenches of the publishing world over 35 years, I wasn’t so much affected by it as saddened by her comments. Here was a sitting county commissioner attacking a citizen who was in good faith having a difference of opinion. What if I hadn’t had the armor I have? I think I would’ve viewed that “brushing off the plate” much differently—it would’ve put me off of participating in the process.
I was tempted in writing about this to be snide back, but the fact of the matter is Lindley’s editorials are their own best rebuttal—their own best proof that we need better, more responsive local government. That we need to have less input from the powerful of the world and more from the voices of everyday citizens. That it also matters to point out the glossing over of the complexities of local politics in editorials like Lindley’s. The past, in this way and many more, does matter to the future of our city, and we shouldn’t sweep it under the rug.
So you’ll forgive me if I don’t see Matlow as the problem–far from it. In fact, we owe him a debt of gratitude for his consistency in pursuing reform, when it hasn’t been easy or popular. He’s helping us see in clear terms just where we are as a community. There’s hard work ahead, but it’s important to restore faith in the systems and processes of local government–a government for the people, by the people.