Charles Ford Champion II: Got bilked!

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A week ago, I took to the pages of The Signal to address attacks made by both a sitting state senator and a local competitor who has, from the day we took over the operations of this newspaper, been anything but friendly.

In the paragraphs to follow I will try to explain why all of this is necessary and why you, as a reader, should be interested beyond the inevitable food-fight-level of entertainment.

As you might imagine, our letter of last week in which we continued to press Sen. Scott Wilk about his dynasty-building lit up our community – at least the “inside baseball” crowd. While attending the “Taste of the Town” on Sunday I was greeted by community leaders of all types.

They represented water boards, school boards, companies and 501 (c)3 charities, all with words of encouragement and a keen understanding of the problem we raised.

Some had questions or comments that I think worth sharing, and most wanted their identities to be protected for fear of retaliation by the Wilk camp. I’ll address that fear later and the comments first:

In the distance I saw a well-known community leader heading right for me and I thought to myself, “Here comes the opposition.” I couldn’t have been more mistaken. I was thanked for bringing the matter to the public’s attention, told how a decision this person had to make was interfered in by Mr. Wilk, and how his attempted interference was dealt with: A quick, polite “Thanks, we can handle this ourselves.”

It’s how Mayor Cameron Smyth and Councilwomen Laurene Weste and Marsha McLean should have responded when they received either the calls or voicemails from Wilk calling for them to appoint Bill Miranda to the vacant City Council seat.

Another “Taste-of-the-Town”-goer, after offering support and praise, asked: “Do you buy his claim of his ‘First Amendment’ right to free speech and therefore endorsements?”

First that’s not what the First Amendment says or even attempts to protect, but that’s for another time. I do believe as a private citizen and on non-governmental stationary, Scott – like any of us – has a right to voice his opinion.

But I don’t believe Scott, or any other serving public official, has the right to use the color of authority or power of his office to affect an election, especially a non-partisan race. To be sure, I don’t think the big “R” or the big “D” of partisanship belongs anywhere near our local nonpartisan races.

Another individual remarked he didn’t think I was the kind of guy who made decisions in a vacuum, “So what’s the end game?”

That person was right. I am not a guy who does things in a vacuum, but I thought I was clear in the letter. We have a situation that has existed for quite some time: A politician amongst us wielding so much power that in most cases an ordinary citizen like the Newhall mom who wanted to be considered for the Parks Commission but didn’t even realize she had no chance of being appointed without Wilk’s recommendation.

Hyperbolic? I don’t think so. Consider the way Dante Acosta’s former City Council seat was filled, or the placement of Wilk’s wife, Vanessa, on the Arts Commission.

Then there’s Miranda’s selection for the Parks Commission without talking to any applicants except the one he invited to apply. All came from endorsements by Scott Wilk. There are no other common denominators.

Under the false flag of civic engagement, the senator and his chosen councilman went on the air at KHTS where Wilk proudly stated that he reached out to all the applicants in the January City Council appointment process, giving them his private cell number and encouraging them to call so he could help them. At what cost? Obligation and loyalty to Wilk.

Scott’s remarks were preceded by Bill Miranda warning young aspiring leaders that they have to pay their dues before seeking offices like Congress, the legislature or even City Council. Dues to whom, Bill? Wilk, the Republican Party, or someday to yourself? Wilk and Miranda, with their own words, made our case: If you plan to serve in the SCV you must come through these gates or your chances are non-existent.

So to answer my acquaintance at Taste of the Town, the end game to me is to END THIS GAME. No more ring-kissing or the requirement for people to lower themselves as fawners, sycophants or lackeys. Open the process so all can be considered – not just the anointed.

The thing that troubles me the most is that, either imagined or real, many fear Wilk has created a powerbase that will retaliate against any who challenge it. Scott knows of the rumors about the “Wilk Mafia” – he even joked with John Musella at the Chamber’s Installation Dinner that he was retiring and passing the baton to John. It was a joke, but in all humor lies a bit of truth.

The situation can be summed up in a quote by Carl Sagan: “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

If at this point you are feeling sorry for Scott, please don’t. He has his own media outlet, paid for with the journalistic integrity of its owners. He’ll be just fine.

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