When does an informative City Commission Candidate Forum stop being a forum and start being a conspiracy? When it occurs in Apopka, FL. WOW! Who would have thought a change of one question would give way to conspiracy fears and theories? Here’s the setup.
Apopka has 4 Commission seats, all at-large. Seats 3 and 4 are up for election this March. There are 3 candidates in each race, the incumbent and 2 challengers. The organizers of this Candidate Debate: our local newspaper, our local radio station and a new on-line local news service, split the forum in two; the Candidates for Seat 3 went first, followed by the Seat 4 Candidates. The announced rules for the Forum, aside from time limits for answers, rules for rebuttals, etc., was that each group of candidates would be asked the same questions. Apparently, a decision was made by the moderator during the brief break between the forums, to eliminate one question from the first group and move directly to the next question on the list for the 2nd group. And when the different question was asked, the audience murmured and gasped. The moderator stated in an interview after the forum, “It was my decision.. The question about live-streaming the meetings wasn’t a great question in my opinion. So I removed it from the list.” Because this 5th question was removed by the moderator, the original 6th question about department heads leaving the city became that question posed to the Seat 4 Candidates. And because the length of answers by the Seat 4 candidates was shorter than the candidates in for Seat 3, there was time for a red-light camera question before final remarks. To remedy this disparity in questions, the local on-line news service will pose each of these last two questions to all 6 candidates and publish their answers this Monday 2/1.
Should the moderator have announced before the start of the Seat 4 Forum that he decided to change the questions? Yes. That announcement would have prevented the conspiracy theorists in Apopka from running rampant and posting about hidden agendas where there are none. Because of this change in questions, the underlying divisions between “old” and “new” Apopka have resurfaced. In fact, one person thought this change up reeked of old Apopka politics, and even went so far as to wonder if this was not “dirty politics”. Let’s step away from the ledge for just one moment and think about this. The omission of one awkwardly worded question is not the beginning of a Stephen King novel, it was simply a judgement call by the moderator. The situation will be remedied on Monday as outlined above. Let’s wait to see those answers. I have yet to see or hear concrete proof how this one change of question benefited one candidate or hurt another candidate. Let’s stop seeing conspiracy and dirty politics where there is none. Let the candidates get back to the business of campaigning; when they come knocking on your door, talk to them, ask them anything you want. They are on a 6 week job interview and want US to hire them. So let’s do OUR homework, and stop expecting media sources to do that work for us, then cry conspiracy when their job is not done to our satisfaction.
And a word of advice to organizers for another Candidate Forum: Stick to ALL the rules if you don’t want mountains made of molehills.