As you peruse your ballot, either on Election Day or if you vote by mail, there is a chance you’ll hit a stumbling block when you get to the section marked “Soil and Water Conservation District.”
On the Hillsborough County ballot, there are 11 candidates divided over three districts. You’re supposed to vote for some of them, but odds are pretty good you won’t know who any of them are. This is the place to go for a politician who needs to be in witness protection.
No matter. You’ll still be expected to choose between “Who’s That?” and “Never Heard of Him/Her” because these folks are trying to win election to a post where they’ll be expected to work hard and decide important issues for no pay.
I mean it. Absolutely no pay.
You might wonder why someone would agree to do that even if their best friend asked, let alone actually put their name on a ballot and (sort of) campaign for the job?
I wondered that too. But there is no question that a lot of people look at a seat on this board as something to be valued, and I applaud their service.
I also applaud voters who take the time to try and learn about the candidates, which isn’t easy and explains why I received an email this morning from a nice lady asking how she could go to do her homework on these people.
Why was she writing to me? Because everything lives forever on Google, and that’s where she found a column I wrote about the Soil board a couple of years ago for this fine website.
Apparently, a lot of other people found it too, because Board Chairman Mark Proctor told me that because of that column, there was a surge in people who wanted to win a coveted spot there. No need to thank me.
And because there are more people wanting information and they don’t know who else to contact, they reach out to Proctor because he was quoted extensively in the original piece and he told board members it was OK for people to call him.
“My phone is ringing off the hook. Thanks, Joe,” he said. “But I don’t really mind. All I can tell them is that I’ve met a few of the candidates and here are the ones I’m voting for. I don’t know all of them.”
It’s an important gig though.
The Soil and Water Conservation District concept was created by the Legislature to promote efficient use of the land and protect water resources; there are conservation districts throughout the state. Their mission, quoting directly from the soil handbook, is “ … to provide assistance, guidance, and education to landowners, land occupiers, the agricultural industry, and the general public in implementing land and water resource protection practices.”
With so much on the line, shouldn’t there be a way to find out more about the people who want your vote? After all, it would take an act by the Legislature to change these from elected to appointed, and that wouldn’t be such a good idea.
As awkward as the process of choosing members is now, it would be worse if the Governor of either party could stack these districts with buddies to push through an agenda.
But wouldn’t we like to know who we’re voting for? For all I know, someone’s idea of being qualified for this board would be the fact they mow their lawn. Or they could be like Kim O’Connor, who resigned from the board earlier this year over allegations she smoked a lot of pot while in an Okeechobee motel on official business.
She denied all that, by the way.
Proctor agreed it would be a good idea to have a central place to go for information about candidates.
Maybe candidates could submit background bios and answer a few form questions on things like “Why do you want to be on a board where you don’t get paid for doing lots of work?”
The information could be posted maybe on a central website or Facebook page.
It would be a start. If people want this badly enough to run for the job, we really ought to know more about them. Or, at least something about them.
That would be better than the current system of throwing a dart at the ballot when you get to the Soil and Water Conservation District, leaving that part blank, or calling Mark Proctor to ask if knows any of these people.
In the name of humanity and Mark’s eardrum, make it happen.