City council meetings are not the most exciting broadcasts to watch. They often run long, tend to be mundane, and are full of public officials that we wouldn’t recognize on the street. See nothing exciting there. On the contrary, if we care anything about local public issues that govern our cities, then city council meetings are exactly where we need to be.
Insert Commissioner Omari Hardy–no relation to the actor, Omari Harwick. In recent weeks, Commissioner Hardy became a viral sensation and it isn’t because he got caught in a scandalous and compromising mishap.
Commissioner Hardy is a 30-years-old and first-year commissioner on the board of Lake Worth Board of Commissioners. Omari went viral after a March 19 city council meeting hit the internet of him going off on Mayor Triolo and city manager Michael Bornstein, for not caring enough about people amidst the coronavirus epidemic.
The clip that shooked the world is 3 minutes long; however, the council meeting was about two hours. The heated argument doesn’t happen until the last 20 minutes of the meeting.
You see, a Black man yelling in a room full of white people AT white people is dangerous. Throw in the fact that Commissioner Hardy is the only minority on the board of commissioners, you began to understand the cost Omari was willing to go to defend the residents of Lake Worth Beach.
How much of their necks are public officials willing to stick out to help their respected residents? The answer depends on their interests.
Commissioner Hardy argued that the city manager was in the wrong for having residents pay past due utility bills with what could have possibly been their last paycheck during a “global health pandemic.”
“We could have put a moratorium on utility cutoffs.”
To better understand Commissioner Hardy’s point of view, he stressed that the council should have held an emergency meeting a week earlier to discuss matters like moratoriums and utility shutoffs. Coronavirus isn’t just some virus that leaves you in a bed for a few days while life moves on, it’s causing the world to stop. The economy appears to be heading for a recession as large industries from airlines to hotels are slowing down and the stock market continues to drop. With no clear indication of how long coronavirus will run its course, thousands of workers are left in limbo. In short, not everyone has the convenience to work from home.
So what exactly is a moratorium? I know, it’s a new word for me too. A moratorium is “temporary suspension of business as usual.” A moratorium is often viewed as a response to financial hardships during a crisis imposed by the government or businesses.
If COVID-19 is viewed as a pandemic and causing an economic crisis that is causing people on a national scale to be left out of work, the government issuing a moratorium would alleviate the financial burden for residents.
This meeting cast a heroic spotlight over Commissioner Hardy but became a PR nightmare for the Lake Worth Beach Commission. Without a doubt, this is a tense time for government officials on all levels. Understandably, not all board members will agree on how to handle a novel coronavirus with at a 4,000 deaths toll in the US in the first quarter of the year. The line of perfection is hard to draw because no community has the perfect answer.
The Lake Worth Commission Board did not announce they were suspending service cut-offs until after residents paid their bill. Imagine paying your phone bill and your carrier announces they’ll postpone bill payment until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak. I’m sure you’ll feel some type of being you could have kept that money in your pocket had they made that decision before taking your money. That is Omari’s point. Coronavirus does not mean we all live debt-free but understanding that when you’re in a position of power to make someone’s life a little stress-free you show mercy.
Mayor Triolo and Bornstein claimed the issue was resolved before the meeting. That appeared to be untrue by the nature of Commissioner Hardy’s anger and comments. Mayor Triolo’s rebutted by calling Commissioner Hardy “disrespectful” and even going as far as telling him “you’re done” when he said she cares more about her relationship with Bornstein than the citizens who voted for her. It’s clear he started to hit her where it hurts: her reputation.
Two days after the meeting, Mayor Triolo posted a statement on Facebook curving any accountability. Instead, she placed blame on Commissioner Hardy calling his behavior “bullying and unnecessary attacks.” Public officials rather lose the respect of their residents by the masses than say two simple words–I’m sorry–because that’ll be admitting they were wrong.
The city manager attempted to do some damage control by stating out of 53 units that were shut off, the 9 accounts who didn’t reach out nor pay their bill were vacant units. The root of the issue was not how many units were shut off before that meeting but the city manager allowed the shutoffs during a pandemic.