Monday, April 30, 2007

One Day Of Silence

One Day Blog Silence


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Federal Court Dismisses TAMPOA Suit!

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami has dismissed TAMPOA's federal suit against the City and the Navy for "[f]ailure of counsel to file a joint scheduling report within the deadlines set forth" by the Court's February 8, 2007 scheduling order. That order required that counsel hold a joint scheduling conference by April 7, 2007 and file a joint scheduling report by April 20, 2007. TAMPOA and its counsel, according to the Court's dismissal order, did not comply with the April 20 deadline and had not done so by the time the court, on its own, entered its dismissal order on April 25, 2007.

In its order the court cautioned (in bold type) that its February 8, 2007 order had cautioned counsel that the "[f]ailure of counsel to file a joint scheduling report within the deadlines set forth [in the February 8, 2007 order] may result in dismissal, default, and the imposition of other sanctions including attorney's fees and costs."

The Federal District Judge was serious in his warning. He issued his dismissal "sua sponte" (meaning on his own and without urging from any party to the suit).

The judge dismissed TAMPOA's suit "without prejudice" and indicated "[t]his case is CLOSED." (Caps in the original). The court also denied as moot the Navy's motion requesting more time to respond to the suit. The judge further indicated that should TAMPOA re-file the lawsuit "without a substantial change in issues or parties," TAMPOA is to "notify the Clerk of Court of the existence of the newly filed action" and the new case will be assigned to the same judge.

Now, if the suit is refiled, TAMPOA will start out with a judge whose order it has already violated and a judge TAMPOA has already made unhappy. Nice going TAMPOA. How conducive is that to winning?

What a travesty TAMPOA now has to explain to its members at tomorrow's Board meeting. This lawsuit was supposed to be the case against the Navy and the City that would definitively answer the Southard Street questions and give TAMPOA needed leverage to force the City to settle. Instead, TAMPOA and its attorneys look like rank amateurs not ready for prime time. Once again, TAMPOA's reputation suffers and gives all those who already hate us more reason to gloat.

And just when was the TAMPOA Board going to tell anyone of this debacle? The Board, and certainly its President, have to have known about this since April 25, 2007, yet not a peep to the membership. Did they think no one would find out? And just when was the Board going to say something? At the insulated little Board meeting tomorrow?

This Board has bad-mouthed The Citizen for being biased toward TAMPOA, yet the Board would rather the membership read this bad news in The Citizen. That in itself is another travesty; just another instance of the lack of effective communication with TAMPOA members.

Big question: Who now pays for the cost of this lawsuit that is now down the tubes? And if TAMPOA chooses to re-file, who pays for that cost? Of course you already know the answer to that one. More importantly, who will take responsibility for the failure to do what was required by the Federal Court Order and for the failure to do what could have been done to avoid the dismissal? Is it time yet for a change in direction?

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The Proposed Assisted Living Facility

The controversy over the the proposed Assisted Living Facility on the Truman Waterfront is heating up. Some in the Annex have received an email from the Florida Keys Assisted Care Coalition indicating that it will be presenting "Phase III findings" to the Mayor and City Commissioners on Tuesday, May 1 at 6:00 p.m. at the Old City Hall and asking for support. The group is requesting support for a 99 year lease to create an assisted and independent living community on the parcel of land set aside for that purpose on the Truman Waterfront.

We note that the fourth paragraph of a recent letter to the editor in The Citizen by Southard Street homeowner, blogger and Truman Annex resident, David Lybrand, refers to this controversy as the letter addresses an article appearing in the April 20 edition of the paper. While we don't agree with a lot of what Mr. Lybrand says about the motives for TAMPOA's lawsuit against the City (nor do we agree with a lot of what the City says about this lawsuit), Lybrand's letter is worth reading for its perspective on the use of the Truman Waterfront to build an assisted living facility.

What do you think about this situation? We have not yet formed a view, except to say it seems like there are a lot of arguments to be made for the various viewpoints, and likely many viewpoints not yet heard.

One question is why is this now coming alive when the notion of an assisted living facility was in the original plan for the Truman Waterfront? Another is will the citizens of Key West really hold the City Commission to the original plan for the Waterfront or allow various interest groups to modify the plan? Finally, if the plan is to be modified, what are the compelling arguments for doing so? And, what are the biases or hidden agendas of those making the arguments pro or con?

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Is Verge Still In The Negotiation Loop With TAMPOA?

His comments in The Citizen would seem to indicate that he's part of the secret negotiations going on with TAMPOA. In an effort to prevent "leaks" TAMPOA has cut off virtually all communication with its members. Something is in the works according to Verge who says, "I think we are close." We don't think he was just talking about the Waterfront Project when he made that comment.

Of course, the City and TAMPOA have been "close" before, so no one should bet the farm on what Verge or TAMPOA is saying. The City Commission has the final say and it's any one's guess where their heads are. Some may be getting worried, though, that because of their pussy-footing around, they are heading for a loss of the Waterfront Property, just like they lost the Truman Annex.

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The TAMPOA Board Meets Tomorrow

The TAMPOA Board meets tomorrow, April 30, 2006 at 4:00 p.m. at the TAMPOA office. As part of the agenda, President Tukey is expected to report on how TAMPOA has been spending our money on litigation with the City, TAMPOA's legal fees, and his view of the proposed assisted living facility on the Truman Waterfront. His report should be quite interesting.

Somewhere along the way the minutes of the April 2, 2007 Board meeting will get discussed (or not) and approved. Maybe you'll eventually see them in your email, maybe you won't. But they'll be buried in the TAMPOA office if you really want to look at them. It would be nice if TAMPOA would send them out to the membership though, don't you think?

The Architectural Control Committee will also weigh in with a report. (We've got to maintain our "prestige community," after all).The Committee will tell us how we are doing in that regard. (We suspect we need more "prestige" as well as more "community," but the Committee will let us know). We're all ears.

Of some interest under "New Business" on the agenda is a review of the need for a "legal opinion on storm drainage." We had thought TAMPOA was done with that quite awhile ago.

For those transient rental fanatics, under "New Business" is also a "request to expand allowable annual rentals from 16 to 25."

Isn't it nice that there is always something interesting and entertaining going on every time the Board meets?

By the way, this is probably the last Board meeting for the TAMPOA and other snow birds. Y'all have a nice summer in Coolville.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Existing Home Sales Plunge

Sales of existing homes plunged 8.4% in March, the steepest decline in 18 years according to the NYT that was reporting data from the National Association of Realtors. Existing homes account for the vast majority of home sales.

As if anyone needed to tell those trying to sell in Truman Annex, the housing market is becoming increasingly unfriendly to those looking to sell their homes. Prices are dropping. The median price of an existing single family home decreased almost 1% last month. Sales in the South declined 6.2% in March. The backlog of unsold homes is growing. The trend is downward. The only Cities in the country where prices rose were in Dallas, Portland, Ore., and Seattle.

Cayo Dave has an interesting post on how all this is affecting Key West.

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It's All About Leverage

And City Manager, Julio Avael, has used it to his advantage. Avael, it appears, will leave in August and get paid through November under a deal that the City has made to get him to remove his name from the list of applicants for the City Manager's Job.

As we recall, Avael was already likely to leave in November. Under the sweet new deal, he gets out in August but still gets paid through November. The new deal is also a concession that the City is not likely to find sufficient evidence to terminate Avael for cause before August.

What does the City get? On the face of the deal, not much, unless it is vital to the City to have Avael gone -- more vital than simply not having to reject him for the new Manager's job. But if the City Fathers have a hidden agenda regarding the new Manager's appointment, then maybe they got a lot more than they are willing to acknowledge. Since not much goes on in Key West politics that doesn't involve a hidden agenda, one has got to suspect such an agenda here.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

The Probe Widens

Who (or what) is behind the investigation by the State Attorney's Office into the alleged illegal practices by the City in its Licensing Department? The investigation seems like much ado about much of nothing unless there is more to this than meets the dollar. We're talking about a couple of misdemeanors here. And the accused isn't going anywhere -- certainly not to jail -- except back to work.

However, the State Attorney's Office would seem to be treating the matter almost like it has become the crime of the century. A subpoena has been issued to the City from that office to look at documents requiring the signature of a building official and bearing the signature of the Assistant City Manager or any other non-licensed building official. Is this subpoena really about getting evidence to pile on additional charges against the Assistant City Manager or something else?

We think there has to be more to the event than any one is so far saying. We find it difficult to believe this is just all about the Assistant City Manager. We wonder, would the former code enforcement officer, who is also a retired cop (a detective we believe), have any incite into the whole matter? Perhaps the target is the City Manager, but so far the State's Attorney appears to be holding only duces while looking for a pair of aces that likely don't exist.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Tennant Worth Keeping

"I just want to be able to work and live in this town." That's the view of the owner of the Waterfront Market regarding his lease negotiations with the City. Like everything in this city those negotiations seem to be dragging on and on. The parties are about $34,000 apart with some important differences. The City wants the yearly rent to increase 5% per year. This proposed increase is far more than annual inflation. There is no indication the Market will buy into this big an increase each year.

The City needs to realize that it is dealing with a grocery store not a bar. If the City wants a grocery store at that location, the City simply is not going to get the same amount of revenue as it would from a bar.

Many commercial leases have provisions that take a part of sales of a business. Those businesses, if they can, pass on this percentage to their customers. Here, that may not be feasible because competition in the grocery business is fierce. The only way for the Waterfront to survive is to be a specialty store like it is where its customers are willing to pay slightly higher prices for things they cannot easily get elsewhere. But even in the specialty store business, there is a limit to that kind of a mark up.

The City has an interest in preserving an institution (the true neighborhood grocery store) that is almost gone in most cities. This has value in the deal. It is a value the City needs to recognize because it benefits City residents and contributes far more to the quality of life of the neighborhood than any bar. This value, if the City will recognize it, could well account for dollar spread between the offers on the table.

We hope the two sides can come together on an acceptable compromise. We know the City thinks it needs the revenue, but the value of having the Waterfront Market at that location may outweigh other factors keeping the parties apart.

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Two Peas In A Pod

"It is time for a total review of HARC guidelines and of those people making guidelines who feel their taste and understanding is best for you and me. . . " Gosh, if we didn't know better, we'd have said we were hearing about Truman Annex. Is the HARC now taking its cues from the Annex example? You gotta love it!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Talk To Me

"Some people's own mothers won't take the time to sit down and talk with them . . . ," says a twenty year old who is giving life to the AT&T saying, "Reach out and touch someone," only he's doing it on You Tube and T-Mobile. He's likely to give Oprah a run for her money one day.


The Intrigue Continues

The Mayor has called for an investigation of the City Manager's use of sick time and other benefits. Meanwhile the State Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) has been investigating the issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy for the Rum Barrel Restaurant back in February 2006 that was apparently signed by Assistant City Manager, John Jones when the City's head of the Building Department and chief building official, Joe April, declined to sign.

Now, it has been reported that the DBPR would charge Assistant City Manager, John Jones, with a violation of State law for not being authorized to sign the (then temporary) Certificate of Occupancy. And, as reported in The Citizen, April 21, 2007 (Page 1), Jones has surrendered (and been released on his own recognizance) to face two misdemeanor charges for allegedly impersonating a state licensed building inspector.

While this brewing scandle may come close to Avael, close only counts in horseshoes, not hardball Key West politics. So far, the Mayor, who has made no secret he'd like to terminate the City Manager for cause, doesn't seem to have the solid amunition he may need to avoid the City having to buy out the rest of Manager Avael's contract if the City wants him gone immediately.

Avael is a survivor. The reality may be that the City will wind up having to pay Mr. Avael regardless of what happens. Before the Moguls in City Hall burn their bridges to Avael, they better take stock of what he may have on them. Now Avael has applied to be hired as the City Manager, perhaps throwing a monkey wrench into the hiring process, forcing the City to consider who may be the best qualified individual to hire, and requiring the City to reject him again if it doesent want to consider him. Is he giving himself political leverage or setting the City up for a lawsuit? It is no secret that at the game of political intrigue, Avael is one of the masters.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

A Thought For The Week of April 23, 2007

"I'll tell you something else that helps. That old saying, 'Take life one day at a time,' is mighty good advice. If I find myself becoming overwhelmed by it all, I focus on getting through the rest of the day, or maybe through dinner, or maybe just through the next hour."

-- Sarah Delany


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Catching Up

We haven't been blogging for a little more than a week. We were called away to Washington in connection with our job. Yes, we really do have one. It requires us to travel now and again. Unfortunately that is sometimes unexpectedly and at the drop of a hat (so to speak) whenever we're needed. We don't like to leave our readers in the lurch, and we apologize to all of you loyal readers for our unexpected absence. We are going to have to learn to blog remotely, although for this travel, that would have been impossible.

BTW, thanks for those comments. Keep them coming.

Because we are catching up on some unfinished business related to our travel, our blogging may be sporadic over the next few weeks. Then, hopefully, we can get back to a more regular schedule.


Monday, April 16, 2007


"To Mayor McPherson: If you're going to break the law, don't go on live radio and admit it. When you got Bill Becker against you, your days are numbered."


Do you think anyone will be prosecuted? Should the nobility of the purpose for the violation be a consideration?

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Southard Street Retirement

Opponents of the proposed independent-assisted living facility to be built on the Truman waterfront are objecting to the location. One opponent asks "What's wrong with a site on Stock Island close to the hospital?"

Well, that's not what is in the master plan. Isn't that the same kind of question TAMPOA is raising about the use of Southard Street and the residents of Bahama Village are raising about the use of various streets in Bahama Village?

The project has the land given by Keys Electric, but needs more space -- i.e., the property next to it. We understand that will take a referendum, so the voters ultimately will decide whether the facility gets built on the waterfront if at all.

When the project was first proposed, the original objections were that it could be built anywhere including Stock Island, and the project was taking valuable waterfront property away from development. Now the objection seems to be traffic congestion along Southard Street. Why don't the opponents of the project come clean and just say, "We just don't want it on the waterfront," instead of making a variety of arguments that are only incidental to their real position?

We wonder whether the location issues surrounding this project will fester like the transient rental issue and never seem to get settled? Without strong leadership by the Mayor and City Commission, that is likely to be the case.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

And The New City Manager Is . . . ?

The application pool for the new city manager's job has been whittled to 23. Among the finalists are the former Key West City Manager Felix Cooper, retired Key West Naval Air Station commander Capt. Jim "Dagwood" Scholl and Coast Guard Rear Adm. Jeffrey Hathaway.

We predict these three will wind up in the final group once the pool is cut further. We note that Captain Scholl received a perfect 10 in the scoring for the latest cut. We think the choice will, ultimately be a Navy man. And our prediction is not based solely on the scores. If what we think will be happening over the next couple of months (and are researching) ultimately plays out, our prediction will continue to have vitality. But who knows given Key West politics.


Friday, April 13, 2007

Are We All Hypocrites?

You "cannot harbor malice toward others and then cry foul when someone displays intolerance against you. Prejudice tolerated is intolerance encouraged." That's the point Harvey Fierstein makes in talking about the aftermath of the Imus termination by CBS Radio.

He encourages to speak out "against words and deeds of hate, but only if we are willing to rise up against them all, including your own."

We in the Annex have needed for a long time to look inward before we talk about how intolerant the rest of Key West is against us. We are not without our own sins here, yet we tend to act in a patronizing, ignorant and intolerant way when we talk about the how the City has treated the Annex and seemingly "favored" Bahama Village. We have sat in TAMPOA Board meetings and other meetings in the Annex and listened to conversations of intolerance from other spectators, who were not only intolerant but uninformed. Some of those same spectators have written comments on this blog. We have, for better or worse, declined to publish some of the more "hateful" and intemperate comments some of those same folks have tried to post here as the comments were, in our view, too far over the top without contributing anything more to the thread of the discussion underway. Suffice it to say, intolerance is alive and well in the Annex, and most of us are not even aware of it.

But just so we are even handed in making our point here, we don't want our City readers to think that all is well at their end of the spectrum either. Nor do we want anyone to think that we believe we are free from criticism by those who believe we are the same as those we are talking about here. In writing this post we know we are opening ourselves to the same kind of self-righteous finger-pointing by those whom we have been talking about.

However, our goal in this post is simple: at least we in the Annex should be aware of our own intolerance before we turn our sights on others. That is the first step in changing business as usual in this so called "Premier Community." We need to look around and listen around to become aware of our own prejudices and the fact that we are not really aware of the real world outside the fences of our little enclave. Otherwise there will be no end to our being disrespected.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Was Renting Smarter Than Buying?

"[I]t’s now clear that people who chose renting over buying in the last two years made the right move." See for yourself. It turns out that recent home buyers have faced higher monthly costs than renters and have lost money on their investment. Home prices are still too high to make buying a more attractive option than renting, unless you plan to keep a home for many many years. No matter which way you cut it, the costs of buying a home are much more now than the costs of renting. No wonder then that no houses are selling in Truman Annex.

It is likely to be quite some time before this situation turns around. Meanwhile those in the Annex who want to get out are stuck. Not only is there the problem of the real estate market generally, another factor that inhibits buying in the Annex, by any sane person, is the uncertainty over the path of the litigation TAMPOA is pursuing and its impact on new residents of Truman Annex. Will they really live in a gated community as prospective buyers are being promised? Will the assessments of TAMPOA members continue to spiral out of control? Realtors will have difficulty convincing any wise buyer that there is any certainty regarding the future assessments or the outcome of the TAMPOA litigation. Wise buyers are simply not going to take on those risks when they can easily buy elsewhere.

Who is to blame for this state of affairs? Well, there is enough to go around, and it is useless to finger-point -- enough of that has been done. What we need to realize in the Annex is that while we can't control the general real estate market, we can control one aspect of the effect on it with regard to the Annex. Instead of tolerating a terrible state of affairs, we ought to get busy and fix our problems within the Annex so that our community will not continue to stagnate as it has done for the last four years. At least when the real estate market (if the market) begins to turn around, we'll be able to take advantage of the turnaround instead of watching it go by.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What Bush Doesn't Get About The Enviornment

In his response to the report on global warming the President has acknowledged that there is a problem and it needs work, but that one couldn't wreck economies fixing the problem.

What the President doesn't get is that fixing the problem of global warming (if we can) is going to cost money, serious money. It is going to cost the American people more, not less, money in the short term and maybe even the long term. However, it is a matter of survival for future generations.

Doing nothing, or doing what the President is suggesting -- working on the problem gradually -- will cost even more. It is a question of "pay me now or pay me later." Either way, we are going to have to pay for what we have done to the planet.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Insurance Bill Moves Forward

With support from governor Crist, a bill that would let Citizens Property Insurance expand and would solidify its tax-exempt status was given a boost by being approved yesterday by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. The governor made an appearance before the Committee to push for the bill.

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Wind Speed At Sand Key

NOAA has stopped putting out the inaccurate wind speeds at Sand Key until the wind speed reading equipment is fixed. The complaints that the readings were inaccurate have continually come from boat captains for almost a year. We wonder when NOAA will get the money to make the data-gathering accurate. Soon we hope. Is before hurricane season too much to ask? On second thought . . . yeah.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Would A Lawsuit Against TAMPOA Over Its Rules Succeed?

In a post, one of our commenters seems to wave off the idea of TAMPOA liability while conceding "minor lapses" in TAMPOA's enforcement policies.

We think such a suit might well succeed. All it takes is one screw-up by TAMPOA, and there already have been plenty of those, as we all know. The lawsuit we talked about in our prior post about the TAMPOA rules was not a "pattern and practice" case, but was a single instance of an alleged violation by that association member.

We think TAMPOA may be additionally vulnerable because of the sorry state of its website where its "rules" supposedly are published. The fact that residents are supposed to guess what rules posted on the website are still in force and which ones have allegedly been abandoned doesn't help TAMPOA's situation. You can bet that if there were such a lawsuit triggered by the rules or lack of them on the website, that site would rise to the top of TAMPOA's fix-it list.

All that aside, the point in our post about the TAMPOA rules is that such a lawsuit, win or lose, would be expensive to TAMPOA. And guess who pays for that. We do! And if the plaintiff in such a suit does win, the cost to TAMPOA will be even greater for TAMPOA will wind up paying the plaintiff's attorneys' fees also. Either way, TAMPOA loses in the money department.

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A Thought For The Week of April 9, 2007

"No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow."

-- Alice Walker


Saturday, April 07, 2007

More Pet Food Recalled

The recall of pet food has been expanded to include 22 types of dog biscuits according to the FDA. the biscuits had contaminated gluten in them. And Menu Foods which was the subject of the original recall has now added an additional 20 varieties of the recalled brands to the recall list. More info is here.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

The Rules Rule

"The condo association argued . . . that it has no problem with mezuzot generally, but that condo owners must seek permission before putting them up." A rule, like TAMPOA's, forbidding residents from making additions or changes to the exterior of their property without prior written consent is what got a swanky "Premier Community" in Fort Lauderdale in big trouble with the Federal Government, the U.S. Attorney, and the Florida Attorney General.

This association thought it could play fast and loose with enforcing its rules. Now the association is going to pay the piper, probably big time. In addition the association has been made to look stupid. (Does this remind you of any association you know?) What is worse, its residents likely will no doubt be "assessed" to pay what are sure to be the enormous lawyers' fees resulting from this lapse of good judgment.

It will be interesting to see how TAMPOA handles its rules in the future. Here's another bundle of TAMPOA cash likely coming to a Key West law firm near you.

Building a "Premier Community" has its rewards, doesn't it?

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Speculators Getting Burned

"Obviously, they were speculating and this is what happens when you speculate. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn't."

When you play with fire, what happens? Some would-be speculators have found out the hard way and are seeking the salve of the Federal Court to cut the pain. Prediction: They are going to be disappointed.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The City's Mitigation Pact

Instead of paying fines for clearing 41,630 feet of mangroves by the Police Station without a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the City Commission has approved a settlement agreement with the state to resolve the potential fines and penalties. The settlement calls for the City to spend $1.5 million over three years to mitigate the damage it did by restoring water flows to the west side of the Salt Ponds and planting red and black mangroves in other areas of the Salt Ponds.

Now, that the City has made an agreement to spend $1.5 million of the taxpayers' money for another decision by our illustrious Assistant City Manager that got the City into trouble with the state, it will be interesting to see whether the City actually keeps its word or whether this agreement will become a game of smoke and mirrors. Will the City play fast and loose with the State? Will another City Commission come along and void the agreement, as Commissioner Bethel thinks can occur without consequence?

The City's credibility is on the line, and we certainly won't hold our collective breath waiting for the City to carry out its promises. The Florida DEP and environmental groups should keep the heat on the City to make sure it does what it has promised.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Trying To Undo Insurance Reforms

Some in the legislature are trying to undo the insurance reforms and the efforts begun by the legislative special session to provide consumer-friendly oversight of the insurance industry. A bill in the Florida House threatens these reforms. Watch out!

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Should Felons Be Allowed To Vote?

Governor Crist thinks so. He said yesterday that he is hoping to restore felon voting rights by acting through the Florida Clemency Board to do so. “I believe in my heart that everybody deserves a second chance,” the Governor was quoted as saying. “And I’m hopeful that maybe later this week we’ll have an opportunity to restore civil rights for Floridians and give them that right to vote.”

The Florida constitution bars voting for all convicted felons. Florida has the nation’s largest number of disenfranchised former offenders.

Florida felons who have served their time and are no longer on probation can apply to have their voting rights restored, but the route to do so is time consuming and complex. Only a few hundred succeed each year. The ACLU says there are 950,000 felons in Florida who are disenfranchised.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Building A "Premier Community"

It's spring. Real estate sales are in the tank. The fix-up hormones are ragging. The head of the House Police is bored. The snow birds will soon depart. The TAMPOA Board has little or nothing to do. The hammers and tools are out. It's the perfect time unwittingly to drive another nail into the coffin containing the perception of Truman Annex as a place where any sane down to earth person would want to call home.

So why not, in an "ongoing effort to ensure that the Truman Annex remains a premier community" conclusively demonstrate it is truly the most hoity-toidy, socially elite, snobbish, vapid place on earth by unleashing the House Police to conduct "regular inspections of individual homes." In performing their anointed duty these stealthy zealots, armed with knowledge from a largely unknown, predominately secret, book of arcane "rules" on everything trivial a Type-A-Personality conformist could possibly want to know, fan out from house to house. Everything about house fronts, colors, paint, varnish, trim, soffits, borders, gutters, overhang, nails, screws, windows, curtain-backing, shutter-trim, wood, appearance, house-makeup and snob appeal that even Martha Stewart has wisely forgotten is within their grasp, or so it seems.

At each and every house these anointed House Police "inspect" and dutifully check compliance with the Big Book. They don't carry the Big Book with them, but they know what they are looking for -- evidence of a "premier community" -- a sort of "I-know-it-when-I-see-it-but-can't-define-it" thing. Evidence that a "premier community" may not be entirely present at a particular residence is duly noted.

After that, the unsuspecting Annex resident gets a rather official looking form letter direct from the flying fingers of an underpaid female in the TAMPOA office and signed in doctor script by the Major-domo himself. The letter is addressed in a snottily familiar first name fashion; the way patients are sometimes spoken to in hospitals and doctors' offices -- a kind of disingenuously comforting familiarity. "Dear Mabel: . . . We are here to give you an enema. And you can't be wearing those earrings here." Never mind that Mabel is old enough to be their grand mother. Never mind that Mabel doesn't know them from Jack the Ripper. Never mind that Mabel may feel a certain lack of respect at this shallow familiarity. Never mind that Mabel hates their friggin' guts. The greeting is still "Dear Mabel: we're about to tell you something stupid," as if having just insulted Mabel will make what she is about to be told not seem to be so idiotic.

After this all too familiar greeting, the letter to the unsuspecting Annex resident begins: "As part of the ongoing effort to ensure that the Truman Annex remains a premier community, regular inspections of individual homes are conducted. It was recently noted that your property is in need of the following maintenance and repairs: . . . ." The resident never learns what the "it" is in the preceding sentence since English 101 is not a prerequisite for writing such letters.

Then comes a bullet point description of the rule violation. We've had a chance to look at a number of these letters. Among the more typical and trivial (but certainly not the most trivial) are several like "Your plantings are not approved" (yards are inspected too) or "The address plate on your unit is in the wrong color." (The latter "violation" refers to the approximately 8 inch by 6 inch oval plaque on which the house numbers appear.) We were waiting for a citation (similar to one issued a few years ago) about the plastic chairs on the porch or the door mat that reads "Spoiled pussy lives here." However, in recent years under the current administration, cats seem to be getting more favored treatment.

None of the letters cite an actual rule. They simply indicate what TAMPOA's Major-domo thinks is a violation. The form letter goes on to say that "The items listed . . . require your immediate attention so that your home will conform to Association standards." There is no reference as to what the "standards" are or where they might be found.

The letter then continues: "It is important that you fulfill your obligation as a homeowner so that we all can continue to take pride in the Truman Annex." One is tempted to wonder what "we" made the judgment to spend the considerable sum these letters to "ensure that the Truman Annex remains a premier community" cost, so "we" can have "pride" in the Annex, but "we" already know the answer to that one, don't "we."

If by now the surprised letter recipient isn't pissed-off, the next paragraph of the letter is sure to do it. Even though the resident, like some we know, has no vegetation to speak of in his yard, the letter continues in if-the-shoe-fits fashion: "In addition to the items listed above, it may be time to remove general overgrowth, cut back foliage, trim palm trees to a neat condition so that no fronds are touching the building [which, in the case of a house, the resident owns], remove all coconuts, and be sure that there is approximately a 50/50 ratio of plants to open space maintained in your yard [meaning get your sorry ass out there and plant some plants, but be sure they're approved]. Landscape material that extends over a sidewalk, roadway or common area more than twelve inches from the property line below a height of seven (7) feet is not permitted." Again, no reference in the letter to a rule, just the statement it "is not permitted."

The reason TAMPOA gets away with this kind of crap is that almost none of the residents of the Annex have a bleeping clue as to what all is in this Big Book because no one has an up to date copy. That fact is not an accident. By limiting knowledge the power of the few with knowledge is increased. Annex residents are forced to depend on the Chief of the House Police, who will always, in turn, refer you to the Major-domo for a belated reference to chapter and verse residing somewhere in the bowels of the rather outdated record archive TAMPOA "maintains." (In retrospect, "maintains" may be a misnomer because it was from a similar record-keeping endeavor that TAMPOA did not discover that it already had a title insurance policy that included Southard Street before allowing its lawyers to rack up a small fortune in legal bills researching its apparently already existing title to Southard Street. But that's another story.)

So if you want the correct information, you are doomed if you think you can figure it out for yourself. Instead you must call or write the Major-domo and ask whether he is serious or is this just an April Fool thing. Of course he's going to tell you he's damned serious. And even though he can't at that moment, or any other moment nearby, cite chapter and verse to you, he'll tell you, in a way that only Major-domos and Assistant City Managers can, that any thought of resistance is futile. That's because if you don't comply, TAMPOA can effectively block the sale of your house, and you will not be able to sell it until you comply. If you weren't thinking of selling, by the time you get off the phone you will want to do so immediately.

The final paragraph of the form letter suggests that the TAMPOA website "is very helpful." Like a true believer in the tooth fairy and the Easter Pussy you trot on over to the website to look for the code that supports the breach of "premier community-dom" that you have allegedly committed. You are not there long before you realize you've been wasting your time, and the rules you were looking for are not there. So you go away realizing there is probably noting you can do.

And then you happen run into someone who asks you what its like living in Truman Annex. "How much time have you got," you ask? "Did you know the Annex wants to remain a premier community?"

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A Thought For The Week of April 2, 2007

"One thing you must set aside in order to fulfill your unique possibilities is conformity."

- - Dennis Kimbro


Sunday, April 01, 2007

April 1 - Madness Day

"Have we become so politically correct, socially sensitive and journalistically wimpy that we can't make, or take, a joke?"

That's what Aly Colon at The Poynter Institute school for journalists asks.

Maybe so. One commenter went ape in response to the satirical post here on Friday about the Florida legislature. That reaction spawned a reply comment making the reader understand that the post was intended to be satire. Our oh so serious society seems to have forgotten that all humor does not have to be the in your face variety. The more subtle humor, in my view, is longer lasting and requires a bit more mindfulness, but the tickle factor is often just as strong.

Of course, some folks take everything they read, especially in the morning, literally. These are usually the ones who had a hard night or need to stay longer. Now, like most journalists, I'm happy when readers hang on every word as if it were iconic, but jeez, gang, by afternoon there comes a time to take a deep breath and lighten up. Just remember, five o'clock lasts most of the day in Key West.

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