The dilemma for TAMPOA in its relationship with the City and its residents is, in some respects, much like the dilemma for America in Iraq. We can't seem to understand why they all don't love us, given all we've done for them. TAMPOA members have done much for the City. At least they think they have. They give generously to the symphony. They support the arts. They gave a ton of money to help the music program in Bahama Village. They serve in the City Ambassador Program. They volunteer for the Marine Sanctuary. They participate generously in the Key West Garden Club. They help organize mangrove and beach clean ups as well as other improvement projects that the City government can't seem to get around to doing on its own. They volunteer countless hours in tutoring and other educational programs in the schools. They own, manage, or work in businesses in Key West. However, none of that seems to matter in the collective mind of most other City residents and certainly City politicians.
It isn't that those efforts at neighborliness by TAMPOA members are not individually appreciated. They certainly are. The problem is that TAMPOA and the City metaphorically speak different cultural languages and don't hear or respond to each other in the same way. This has little to do with logic but much to do with culture. Both groups act logically from each groups perspective. But both are not on the same thinking page because they are not addressing the same interests. Each group perceives the other as not really caring about the other's concerns. Yet both groups have many concerns in common that ought to, but do not, unite them. The reason for this disconnect is rooted in the way each group sees and defines the problems confronting them as well as in the way each group sees itself and views and defines the other.
TAMPOA sees itself as a gated community, sees that as "good," and holds itself out that way to the world. It locks itself up after 6:00 o'clock at night (as, its president was overheard to say at the beginning of a board meeting, to "keep out the riffraff"), and sees that as "good." TAMPOA is geographically isolated, that is, it is surrounded on one side by water, on the other side by Shipyard (another gated community) and on its other two sides by seven-foot fencing. Routes through TAMPOA's property lead to the waterfront, which is City, State, and U. S. Government property.
The City views TAMPOA as separate and isolated, and sees that as "not good" for the City. More importantly, the City views TAMPOA as not wanting to be a part of the City (and in some respects TAMPOA sells itself that way to prospective buyers in the Truman Annex). The City sees TAMPOA as not having to share (and certainly as not wanting to share) the pains and problems the City is facing.
The City views TAMPOA members as having no long term stake in the City or in the outcome of its problem solving. In the City's view, TAMPOA members are here on vacation and can always leave -- their real stake is in another community. In short, the City does not view TAMPOA as a part (and thinks TAMPOA does not want to be a part) of the City community. The City does not see TAMPOA as loyal to overall community values, but, instead, sees TAMPOA as not caring about what happens long term in Key West and caring only what happens to TAMPOA itself. Many City residents see TAMPOA members as rich, paternalistic, patronizing, and as believing they are somehow better than ordinary City residents.
Unrealistic? Perhaps, but feelings often are not based on logic. Many City residents fear TAMPOA and think that all it wants is to make Key West like it. From those resident's perspective, that would destroy Key West. This view resonates with City politicians. All of this is deeply frustrating to many TAMPOA members, whose feelings are hurt and who feel that without the taxes they pay and their participation in Key West life, the City would go to hell in a hand basket.
From the City's perspective then, because TAMPOA is not a real stakeholder, its views do not have to be taken seriously. TAMPOA gets this and has sought, by exercising its legal and financial muscle, to insure that its views are seriously considered. The problem with the TAMPOA strategy is that it has not addressed the fundamental stakeholder issue -- getting the City to believe that TAMPOA is a real stakeholder in the long term life of the City. While it seems obvious to TAMPOA that it is a stakeholder, which also should seem obvious to the City, logic has little to do with it. However, two other factors are also at work here.
One is the factor of blame. Each side always has to have someone or something on which to pin its failings. TAMPOA can blame the City for this and the City can blame TAMPOA for that. Using blame, the leadership of each side can explain its failure to achieve objectives to their constituents, without having to take direct responsibility for the debacle. Unless identified and dealt with as a problem, blame infects and gets in the way of true problem solving. In fact, blame is what ignites most lawsuits. The parties often fight harder over who is at fault rather than how the problem behind the blame is to be solved. As a result of blame, the parties also invent "spite options," power plays to show their muscle to the other party. The proposed gate and the attempt at obtaining identification from people stopped at the entrance to Truman Annex, as well as the march through Truman Annex and the confrontation at the Truman Annex "guard house," orchestrated by Commissioner Lopez and others, are examples of such options. This is what has happened in the relationship between the City and TAMPOA.
The other factor at work is respect. TAMPOA members feel the City does not respect who they are, their contributions to City life, or their property. The feeling on the part of City residents is mutual and turned up to ten. City residents feel that TAMPOA does not respect them or what they perceive to be community values. They feel that TAMPOA members are outsiders who haven't listened to and heard community feelings, have not paid their community dues, and who waltz in with opinions about how best to do things. Many City residents feel TAMPOA members don't care about anyone or anything except themselves and their property. In turn, many actions of the City are seen by TAMPOA members as statements of disrespect. Similarly, many of the actions TAMPOA believes it has taken in good faith are seen by City residents as patronizing or as signs of disrespect. Each side needs to understand that its actions or statements, when viewed from the perspective of the other side, may be seen or heard as a message of disrespect, however unintended. This, in turn, has obvious implications for trust and relationship building.
The difficulty both TAMPOA and the City face in their relationship is that neither recognizes nor understands the full dimensions of the real problem. Until there is that understanding, the relationship will remain rocky at best.