The Tampa Bay area is a-buzz this week with the rollout of an extensive investigative news report into the alleged connections between a PR professional, Beth Leytham, several local elected officials, and significant contracts. I’ll leave the journalists, the targets of their story, and the public to sort that all out.
Before it broke, however, the Bay area already was roiled by Facebook comments aimed at Ms. Leytham made by a member of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board, Sam Rashid.
The post included a four-letter word I would not allow to appear on this blog site, a noun specifically referring to a sexually disreputable woman.
Sexist. Offensive. And stunning for someone who, unlike Donald Trump (whose behavior is itself rather stunning), does not represent himself, but someone else.
Specifically, Mr. Rashid represents Governor Scott on the Aviation Authority board.
Perhaps that’s a little strong. The seat he holds is a gubernatorial appointment. Governor Scott appointed him.
Such appointments can be viewed as means by which the governor can ensure that certain perspectives are included in a board’s deliberations. They can be viewed more explicitly as a way for the governor’s wishes to be communicated to and, at least to some extent, implemented by a board. They also can be little more than a courtesy extended to a prominent donor, fundraiser or politically powerful individual, a way of thanking them for their contributions or keeping them from making political trouble.
I can speculate, but I certainly do not know exactly why Governor Scott appointed Mr. Rashid to the Aviation Authority. All I can say with certainty is that he appointed him.
Which means, regardless of the reason for the appointment, that Mr. Rashid represents the governor on the board, at least in the sense that his conduct will be viewed as an indication of something about the governor. If people respect Mr. Rashid’s service, the governor benefits, however modest that benefit may be.
If, on the other hand, people are appalled by Mr. Rashid’s conduct, the governor’s “brand” is damaged.
Last week, Governor Scott answered a reporter’s question by indicating that, “I expect that if it’s true [that Mr. Rashid wrote the sexist, derogatory comment] he resign, and I would accept his resignation.” On Tuesday, his office (now fully aware of exactly what was said by Mr. Rashid on Facebook), took the “if” clause out of the conversation: “Governor Scott expects him to resign and would accept his resignation.”
Citizens appointed by elected officials to public boards are not free agents. They should be free to fulfill the obligations of the office to which they were appointed without interference by the appointing official if they were appointed for such an independent contribution (as, in most cases, they are). If, on the other hand, they were appointed explicitly to act on behalf of the appointing official, they should do so.
But even the appointee who is expected to exercise his/her faculties and best judgment in fulfillment of his/her office is not a free agent when it comes to the quality of their service and their public conduct. When his/her conduct is damaging in any way to the individual who gave the appointment, the appointee should step down immediately.
Citizens in these roles serve, at least to some extent, at the pleasure of the official who appointed them. When that official is displeased, that appointee’s service should end.