In May of 2016, Palmetto Bay resident Julia Cespedes lost her dog, Aurora, and posted on social media sites including Facebook, in order to find her. This was the beginning of a new path for Julia, who was finishing a Doctorate program for Higher Education Administration Leadership at Nova Southeastern University.
“I got familiar with several Palmetto Bay-centric Facebook groups and pages and was dissatisfied with the way community information was being presented and talked about. Some of it was biased. Some of it was downright false,” explained Cespedes. “I didn’t know who to believe. And even more disturbing, what I was witnessing was adult cyber-bullying.”
Julia believed the criticism and instant judgement of others online was rather distasteful and felt she could probably do a better job by starting her own open and public forum. So, late last year Facebook group Palmetto Bay Leadership thru Transparency was born. Its mission is to research, find the truth, silence the bullies and address the many ongoing issues in Palmetto Bay. “I use Google, request information from the Village and attend tons of meetings in order to share pertinent documents with the people of Palmetto Bay. I’ve lived here 20 years and never realized just how much I was missing,” remarked Cespedes.
She points out that most people just don’t have the time to do what she is doing. “They are taking their kids to ball games, tutors, etc. In fact,” Julia remarked, “I learned that only 18% of people are even remotely political or aware of the politics in their community. That’s good for politicians, giving them less to worry about, but it’s not usually good for the rest of us.”
Cespedes voluntarily spends around 15 hours a week on her fact-finding mission, getting involved with the Village of Palmetto Bay through information inquiries at Village Hall and attending various committees, workshops and Council meetings. “I wanted to understand why and how our taxpayer money was being spent. I also wanted to understand how individual Council members voted, and what trends I could find,” she said. “A lot of my Doctorate program focuses on leadership skills and the importance of transparency. And when I went online to the known sources of information, I felt it hard to find the transparent information that the public should legally be entitled to.”
When Julia would go to the other Facebook pages, she felt the discussion was critical of certain Council members and promoted bias rather than a healthy exchange of truthful documents and records. “So, I started posting hard-to-find ordinances, resolutions or past meeting minutes in my Facebook page to allow people to discover what was actually happening.”
Cespedes feels she and other people should make their opinion by discovering and using facts themselves instead of listening to the loudest mouth. She wishes misinformation would go away. She also feels that during election years, lies often steer people to vote for the wrong candidates. “I have researched voting trends and our Village history to see why certain Council members may not be acting with their constituents’ best interests in mind.”
One of the biggest topics that has been on the minds of Palmetto Bay residents since incorporation in 2002 is the Downtown Urban Village development. Julia is concerned that the progress has been altered due to a select few personalities and that the other 24,000 residents are being effected in ways they can’t even comprehend. Again, Cespedes is working on providing information in an authentic way so that the true voice of the people can guide the future of Village development.
Julia has been called the Village fact-checker, Palmetto Bay's conscious and the information broker. Her reaction is to say, “It’s certainly gotten much easier to research as I went along. When people ask for things, I usually know the path that will produce documented, true results. So, yeah, I don’t mind being called any of those things.”
Knowledge is power. And Julia is amassing lots of knowledge. So does she feel powerful? “No, I just feel like I am getting the information out there. It’s up to individuals to then use the information in a powerful way.”
Cespedes says the largest issue Palmetto Bay faces is moving forward with the Downtown Urban Village plan. “People don’t realize just how severely our commercial tax base is receding,” explains Julia. “Without those dollars, Palmetto Bay can’t support the many resources and services they currently provide. We’re headed in a bad direction for homeowners.”
In my next installment of Palmetto Bay’s Information Broker, we’ll dig into several specific issues Julia has researched and shed transparency upon. We’ll also explore the possibility of Julia attracting enemies as a result of her fact finding.