Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Now Six Are In The Race

There are now six mayoral candidates. Joseph "George" Claing has joined the Mayor's race.

He along with five others, current mayor Morgan McPherson, Jimmy Weekley, Rolland Montefalcon and Sloan Bashinsky will compete in the October 2 election.

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Bethel Has A Challenger

City Commissioner Harry Bethel who is not seeking re-election to the City Commission but, instead, is seeking the Group 1 seat on the Utility Board finally has a challenger. He is Ty Symroski, the former City Planner of Key West. He is 55 years old and has lived in Key West since 1984. He was City Planner from 1998 to 2006 when he left to take a job as the Growth Management Director with Monroe County. He left that job this year, indicating differences with the County Administrator. (Given the messed up County situation, voters should not hold that against him). As for his other credentials, Symrosky has a bachelor's degree in land-use planning and a master's in regional planning.

It should be an interesting, but tough race. Bethel will be a formidable candidate, despite his troubles. He is being investigated for an ethics violation in connection with a dinner on Sunset Key that he and City Commissioners Danny Kolhage and Clayton Lopez allegedly attended with a VP of one of the companies involved with the development of Wisteria Island. Bethel later returned a $1500 campaign contribution from the family of developers who had supported the annexation of Wisteria Island when it was before the City Commission.

Stay tuned.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

More Construction Near Ttuman Annex

In case you haven't heard, the Key West Planning Board last Wednesday, June 25, 2007, approved the addition of a fourth floor to the parking garage at the Westin Resort and Marina. The floor will provide 114 more parking spaces and will not have a roof. If you live nearby, plan for more dust and noise.

One consolation. At least the project will likely be finished before new the Monroe County Courthouse, which at the glacial pace of construction there may not be completed before the decade is out.

Why? Because unlike the Courthouse debacle, Westin has an incentive. No one is going to pay $500 a night to stay at the Courthouse.

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A Thought For The Week of July 30, 2007

"Don't be afraid of failing. It's the way you learn to get things right. It doesn't matter how many times you fall down. What matters is how many times you get up. And don't wait for everybody else before you do something."

~ Marion Wright Edelman


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Being Chintzy In Hard Times

All but one of the Monroe County School Board members has refused to give up $2, 946 of their salary for the sake of Monroe County students. The pay cut would have them still making $26,519 plus having all their official travel up to $10,000 reimbursed. Considering that the Board eliminated an assistant principal position at Marathon High School, the refusal by the Board to share in the belt tightening required by the state budget, seems chintzy.

In some states, school board members don't get paid a pittance of what Monroe County Board members do. One has to believe that there are a lot of folks out there who would gladly serve on the Board for a lot less than these Board members are earning.

Their stinginess when it comes to cutting their own salaries makes us wonder. Do they really care about the kids?

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And Guess What?

The City has published a notice that on August 7, 2007, at 6:00 p.m. in Old City Hall, the City commission will finally take up the tattoo parlor matter by having a "first reading" of a proposed ordinance "creating Division 13 Tattoo establishments."

Of course, there is a hearing on Tuesday, July 31, 2007 in Circuit Court on the lawsuit one tattoo parlor, Key West Ink, has brought against the City. Don't you suppose that 's what the City Attorney's Office is going to tell the Circuit Judge in an effort to buy more time for the City. Will it also buy settlement leverage for the City? It's anybody's guess on this one.

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And Now There Are Five

Candidates for the Key West Mayor's job, that is. The current mayor, Morgan McPherson, will have to run against former mayor, Jimmy Weekley, as well as candidates, Joseph "George" Claing, Sloan Bashinsky, and the newest entrant, Rolland Montefalcon.

Weekley and McPherson are the front runners. Will any of the others be spoilers?

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Must Have Been The Kilt

Is it true what they say about kilts? Maybe so.

In this strange incident in Fargo, North Dakota, a man wearing a kilt and a T-shirt reading, "For Sale," was arrested after he and a woman were they were observed having sex behind a house. The arrest occurred when the couple refused to stop upon police command to do so.

Only the man was charged, proving, we guess that it's not a crime in Fargo to get under a kilt.

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Atlantic Shores Is History

The picture on the front page of today's Citizen says it all. Atlantic Shores, a counter culture hotel that hosted Tea Dances, a clothing optional pier, movie nights, fundraisers, and special events and also offered "reasonable" in season hotel rates has been demolished. In its place, will rise a new hotel with $350 a night rooms and a new name, the Southernmost at the Beach Resort. That's "progress" -- change -- in Key West.

Somehow, it seems symbolic of what is happening to the rest of the Island, and it doesn't feel good. Oh well, I guess we're just getting old.

Thankfully the Green Parrot is still here, and we can still walk.

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Yet Another Food Recall

This one involves the removal of more than 100 tainted products from Castleberry's Food Co. Some of the products wound up in Key West grocery stores and were removed.

This latest recall really makes you think about what we are eating, not to mention who's minding the food inspection store. It certainly doesn't appear to be the Food and Drug Administration these days.

See the list of tainted foods here. According to the Company's July 21 press release, the original recall that was "announced on July 18 included 10 products" but was expanded on July 21. There is more information on the main page of the Company's website about the "Great Value Chili products included in this recall" according to the Company's website. Check it out here.

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Who's Minding The Tattoo Suit?

Let us get this straight. The Key West Ink tattoo parlor lawsuit against the City is going to a hearing before the Circuit Judge on Tuesday, July 31, 2007. The lawyer for Key West Ink has offered to settle and resubmitted a proposed settlement agreement to the City Attorney on Tuesday, July 24. In the settlement, the City gets the lawsuit dismissed, pays no damages, and pays no attorney's fees. The tattoo parlor gets to open and is subject to all laws the City Commission might pass, however restrictive.

However, with a deadline looming that the City has known about for months, the City, apparently, has not responded to the offer. Reportedly, the City Attorney is out of the office until Monday, July 30,2007, leaving it to the City Manager to respond to the press with some lame excuse why the City can't seem to decide if it likes the proposed settlement.

What are we going to have here, another Duck Tours case where the City now has to pay mega bucks but could have avoided doing so if it had taken the matter more seriously and made the required critical decisions in a timely manner? City officials are hired to make tough decisions, but they don't seem to be doing much of that here.

Mind you, we don't care whether there is a tattoo shop on Duval Street or not. But we do care about how the City makes decisions and how principled it is in doing so.

A decision on the tattoo parlor settlement is not rocket science, but in typical Key West fashion, the City appears to be deciding not to decide. This is just plain irresponsible.

In case the City thinks the public isn't on to this tactic of not deciding, the City is wrong. Not deciding is a decision. At least with us, the City is not going to get away with its usual mantra of, " Well, we just ran out of time. Guess we'll have to see what the judge says." The public deserves straight forward principled decision-making in its city government, and so far, in the tattoo matter at least, doesn't seem to be getting it.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wisteria Island Cleanup

Kudos to Theo Glorie and the Coffee Plantation crew of volunteers who helped with the cleanup on Wisteria Island this past Sunday. Kudos as well to Amoud Girad's Key West Water Taxi; and to Waste Management who donated the dumpster. This cleanup is a fine example of Key West's "Do-it-for-ourselves" philosophy. Or as Grandpa used to say, "If you want it done right, do it yourself."

Our only questions are where were the owners and developers of Wisteria Island all this time before the cleanup? And why did it take an army of volunteers to do their work? If the Wisteria Island development ever comes up again before the City Commission and / or the voters (and you know it will) these questions should be at the top of the list before any yes vote on potential development.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Dems Debate

Did you watch Democrats' debate on CNN Monday night? Probably you watched in KW only if you are into politics or were curious about how the YouTube-asked questions would play. Actually the debates were interesting if only for their illustration of the coming shift in electoral politics on a national level.

The pitch now really is to the computer generation. The candidates are learning that this is (perhaps) the only group of voters that still believes it can make a difference and that who's in the White House really matters. Many, if not most, other voters, have come to recognize politics for what it is: money rules -- and with a vengeance.

Another reason the candidates are pitching the computer generation is that, next to the moneyed crowd, the computer generation has greater communicating power. It is a group that actually talks to each other, albeit in a way few others may understand. That, of course, is why each candidate has a commuter-savvy staff or blogger consultant who is likely to be twenty something.

In case you didn't know, it is these twenty and thirty-somethings that have the Congressional staff jobs in Washington. You almost have to be that young (or be on some serious drugs) to be able to stay awake for the 20-hour days (and sometimes more) working in Washington often requires. Think about that the next time you want a waking nightmare. The most crucial recommendations that turn into decisions for the country are being made by twenty-and-thirty-something staffers on something less than 4 hours sleep a night! They only bring in us older folks when the smelly stuff hits the fan, and then only to clean it up. What a life!

BTW, those in the twenty-something crowd outside the Beltway are the harshest critics of politics. So the candidates know that if they can reach these folks, they can really strike a nerve in the country, and perhaps for the long term. In that sense the stakes are really high.

However, as one long-term Speaker of the House -- the over-65 crowd will know who he is -- put it, "All politics are local." Thus it will be interesting to assess the situation in KW once the candidates get rolling. Particularly interesting will be the style of "appealing" to the voters. Do any of the current flock really look appealing?

Ugh! The very thought makes me want to go for a walk along the beach to clear my head of all the nonsense, with more to come, that I just dread.

Right now turtles seem a lot more "appealing."

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Monday, July 23, 2007

A Thought For The Week Of July 23, 2007

" You've got to think about big things while you're doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction."

~ Alvin Toffer


Friday, July 20, 2007

Giving Back The Money

Key West Commissioner Harry Bethel: "The Walshes give money during campaigns, so does Pritam Singh, so do all developers," he said. "But with all this going on, I simply chose to return the money."

Like, hey, yeah, guess so. Already under investigation for an alleged ethics violation, Commissioner Harry Bethel, who is not seeking re-election to the City Commission but is running for the Utility Board, decided to come down from his mountain vacation long enough to give back a campaign donation of $1500 from the family of developers who had recently asked that the city annex Wisteria Island so they could build about 150 plus homes there. Without annexation, under Monroe County's current rules, the developers could build two homes.

While the now withdrawn annexation request was was an issue before the Commission, Bethel along with Commissioners Danny Kolhage and Clayton Lopez just happened to have attended a dinner on Sunset Key with a vice president of the Walsh family companies.

By way of background, in many places there would be nothing wrong with several legislators meeting and talking with others and among themselves including discussing how they might vote on a piece of legislation. In Washington, DC it's done all the time. But that is not supposed to be the way it's done in Key West. Commissioners here are not supposed to have a meeting where pending matters are discussed unless the public is given notice of the meeting so members of the public can attend. That is, as we understand it, the gist of the Sunshine Law. There are also ethical issues with accepting (if it happens) something of value from a person interested in seeing a piece of legislation pass. So, in Key West, we are supposed to have open and ethical government.

But whether there are violations of the Sunshine Law or other ethical proscriptions depend upon what happened at a particular meeting and, of course, what was discussed. That is what no one seems to know, except those who were present on Sunset Key. And that is what the investigation is theoretically about.

What do you suppose these Commissioners were talking about? They certainly are friends (from time to time at least in the political realm). It is hard to serve on a political body for as long as these folks have and not like, or at least respect, each other even if your views are miles apart. So we think these Commissioners should tell the public in some detail just what went on at the dinner.

It would certainly be nice to know that, in fact, these Commissioners had only come for chicken and camaraderie and to listen to the sound of the ocean. After all, it is nice out there on Sunset Key. We've been there. Of course, never have we been in such august political company.

As for giving back the campaign contribution, that was certainly the right thing to do. Unfortunately the damage is done in political terms. The trouble is that the contribution now makes Utility Board candidate Bethel look bad politically. Now the savvy voters may well question whether Bethel should be their choice in the election; not because he returned the money, but because he got himself into the sticky wicket in the first place by attending the dinner on Wisteria Island.

It is ironic, sometimes, how the money every candidate needs to raise to run for office can, when obtained, be an unexpected political blunder that raises questions about the candidate's worthiness for office and provides grist for his opponents. But that's politics and what makes it exciting.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Quit Whining

The Commissioners and the Mayor should quit whining about the fact that they can't collect more property taxes and may have to spend less money. This Commission hardly has been frugal. They could have paid a ton more to the police in salaries and other benefits had the City not engaged in dumb behavior that has gotten the City embroiled in lawsuits that have needlessly sapped taxpayers' money.

Will the public and City staff understand when the City Commission and current Mayor plead poverty while spending on lawsuits (and losing). We don't think so.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Too Many Diving Deaths

There have been eight diving deaths so far this year in the Florida Keys. That's eight too many. Maybe it's time for a comprehensive review of these incidents to see if dive safety can be improved, especially with some of the tourist dive operations.

We know of an incident, which, thankfully, did not end in tragedy but could have because the crew of the dive boat was not aware the amateur diver was in trouble until after the diver had been pulled to safety by the crew of a nearby boat who had heard the diver and saw that the person was in trouble. This was an incident that should not have occurred. The kind of an incident demonstrates to us that the diver should not have been in the water and the crew of the dive operation should have kept a better lookout.

Diving is a wonderful sport, but it is also more risky for the inexperienced diver. It can be risky as well for the diver operation where the crew is not paying complete attention or an operation that has insufficient crew in relation to the number of divers to do so. There is no easy fix, and there will always be mistakes.

But this year there have been too many fatalities not to take a harder look at the problem. The deaths are not the only incidents that ought to be looked at more carefully. The incidents like we described above are not isolated and should receive intensive scrutiny so such incidents don't end up in tragedy.

We hasten to add that the responsibility is not always or only on the dive operation. Some divers just shouldn't be diving, and that they get into trouble is completely their fault. Unfortunately, when they do get into trouble they put others at risk who may try to help them. That argues for better training all around and more stringent safety considerations for both divers and dive operations.


Monday, July 16, 2007

A Thought For The Week Of July 16, 2007

"Life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece."

~ Nadia Boulanger


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Walgreens Settles Suit

Remember a while back when we blogged about an employees' discrimination lawsuit against Walgreens? Well, the suit has been settled, with an agreement filed in the U.S. District Court in East St. Louis, MO.

Walgreens settled the suit, a class action brought by the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, by agreeing to pay $20 million to as many as 10,000 African-American store managers and others. The settlement, if approved by the court brings to a close a federal civil-rights lawsuit charging they were denied promotions based on race.

Of, course, Walgreens denied any wrongdoing.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

And Now Deleting Records

Not only does the whole Jim Young code enforcement situation makes the City look bad, but it appears that the City may have gone ahead and deleted electronic records it should have known were going to be the subject of controversy or litigation.

In other jurisdictions and in the private sector, the courts have dealt rather severely with such conduct. In one instance we know of the court made the defendant pay for the reconstruction of the records from backed up computer records and also gave the jury an instruction that it could assume that the destroyed records would have been unfavorable to the defendant. The jury ultimately found against the defendant. It will be interesting to see how the judge in the Young matter deals with this situation.

Wouldn't it be nice if the City just played it straight for a change, so that cases like Jim Young's become a thing of the past. Does anyone really think that will be the case? Or will KW always be politically like the wild wild west?

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

In The Musk

The plan was supposed to breath new life into Lake Okeechobee. Instead it revealed new pollution. That's what the thousands of truck loads of muck recently scraped from the bottom of the lake revealed when scientists analyzed them. Some of the muck contains high levels of arsenic and is too toxic to be used on agricultural or commercial land, let alone one's residence.

Should we be worried about this find? You bet! Consider what else may be lurking above, below, or in the water you are going to eventually drink.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Timed Sex

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle says the city should buy a $250,000 robotic toilet for the beach because it has a timer that would prevent gays from having sex there according to a question being asked in a recent poll. What does the robot do when time's up? Ask R2-D2 to lock the door? Is this guy on the right star ship?

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Stop Fish Swaps

"Florida's fishermen have built a reputation for harvesting quality seafood. We do not want unscrupulous merchants to tarnish that hard-earned image." That from Charles H. Bronson, Florida's Agriculture Commissioner. Mislabeling or misrepresenting fish is a national problem and a fraud on consumers. Under Florida law the practice is also unlawful.

Among the abuses is the substitution of other fish (often catfish) for grouper. Restaurants that substitute one kind of fish for another and don't inform consumers will now face increased fines of from $250 to $500 from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which is required to inspect Florida restaurants twice each year. This seems like just a drop in the bucket to us, but for good restaurants, their reputation is their business, and being charged with a violation, even without a fine, would likely be a deterrent enough. What concerns us is the restaurant owner who just doesn't care. For that kind of owner a $250 to $500 fine will be thought of as just the cost of doing business.

Now Florida has created a website to help consumers combat -- and report -- mislabeled seafood. The website also contains information about the seafood industry, seafood festivals, seafood recipes, seafood cooking tips arranged by species, and interesting links to other seafood related sites. We've added a link, called "Florida Seafood," so you can check it out. Let us know what you think.

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A Thought For The Week Of July 9, 2007

"There is one thing we can do, and the happiest people are those who can do it to the limit of their ability. We can be completely present. We can be all here. We can . . . give all our attention to the opportunity before us."

~ Mark Van Doren


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Retraining A Dying Breed

If you've got a gator in your yard and need someone to wrestle it, you may be out of luck in a few years. Alligator wrestlers are becoming in short supply.

But if alligator procreation has slowed down, which we doubt, the population of iguanas seems to be growing. There are now lots of these suckers on Stock Island, and they're moving west. These things grow to six feet and appear to have no predators. Moreover they can stand upright on their hind legs. That's quite a sight and, for the uninitiated can be quite scary. While we've never seen it, folks say there is a very large orange iguana that hangs out near the Florida Keys Community College on Stock Island.

In some places residents have complained iguanas have eaten every plant in sight and have devastated gardens and landscaping. Soon there may be a need for -- you've got it -- iguana wrestlers.

Perhaps the Florida Legislature as part of its Pork Projects can initiate a retraining program for alligator wrestlers so that the Iguanas may bring a new life's blood to the soon to be extinct gator wrestling business.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Stalling On Tattoos

The City Commission can move swiftly when it comes to the Hemingway cats and make an exception to the city's ordinance prohibiting the keeping of more than four domestic animals. But when it comes to saving the City money and avoiding a costly lawsuit over the tattoo parlors on Duval street, the commissioners seem to be playing chicken.

The do-nothing commissioners, it seems, would rather wait for a judge to confirm that they can't bar the tattoo parlor from Duval Street and award injunctive relief, possibly damages, and certainly a slew of attorneys' fees against the City, which is already straining under the weight of the Duck Tours judgment and the cost of the mitigation, the attorneys' fees, and the payment to the environmental consultant as a result of the City's illegal cutting of the mangroves across from Bayview Park.

The City Commission's lack of action is just plain irresponsible. However, like the failure to sit down with the TAMPOA Board and resolve the Southard Street dispute, the Commission's failure to deal with the tattoo parlor issues seems to be typical of the way this Commission has treated tough issues and ignored the public interest in the process. It seems to us that no matter how one feels about tattoos, the Commission should have had the guts to deal squarely with the matter instead of effectively making it too late to avoid the consequences of inaction.

We doubt that the voters will forget how this Commission has behaved when November rolls around.

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Don't Look In The Freezer

If you're a dinner guest, don't look in your host's freezer. You never know what you may find. On Tuesday, July 3rd in Verviers, Belgium, a city 78 miles east of Brussels, a dinner guest did just that.

After dinner, she volunteered to help with the dishes. When she was done she decided to put the leftovers in the freezer in the basement. She went down, opened the freezer door and found two bodies: one of the hosts wife and the other of his 12 year old stepson.

The other guests notified police who identified the bodies. The host admitted that he and his wife, who had been stabbed and placed on ice for several weeks, had had a bit of a quarrel, but he could not explain the death of the child.

Sounds like a plot line for a budding KW novelist, doesn't it? They say truth is stranger than fiction.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

That Sickening Scent

"You smell and I'm so sensitive I have to go home sick" is the message being given, according to the Associated Press, in a lawsuit filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by an employee in the City of Detroit's Planning Department. The employee also claims that a plug-in room deodorizer only made matters worse. She wants a ban on strong scents at work.

We've all been there. You know, in line where the person next to you or a few people behind or in front smells like someone who was playing in a perfume garden and couldn't figure out which one to wear, so she/ he decided to wear them all. Unfortunately, the one with the real disability and the one who's sick isn't you the in line. You only have to hold your breath or inhale and then run for the coffee beans to preserve what's left of your olfactory nerve endings. The one with the real disability, the real sicko, is the one who doused on all that eau de crap in the first place.

But then, of course, the City fathers will get the blame for failing to control the eau de crap in the Planning Department. It seems like all Planning Departments have their share of eau de crap, and maybe KW is no different.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Case of Humble Pie

The lawyer we told you about a few weeks ago has taken a dose of humble pie. You will recall he was the one who told a Miami federal judge that she was "just a few french fries short of a happy meal." The judge had issued an order for the lawyer to show cause why he should not be barred from practice in the federal bankruptcy court in South Florida.

Well that wisecrack also has cost the lawyer his client, who fired him and his 1000 lawyer Chicago firm. It also cost him his position as head of his law firm's bankruptcy law practice.

Before appearing before the judge in response to the judge's order, the lawyer had decided that he would make a contribution to the Center for Ethics and Public Service at the University of Miami law school, which happens to be the judge's Alma Mater. He has agreed to do 200 hours of community service in Chicago, and his firm has said that it intends to increase its pro bono work in the Miami area.

Both the wisecracking lawyer and the head of the 1000 person firm appeared before the federal judge on June 20 and profusely apologized to the judge. The judge, after a recess and some thought, decided not to bar him from practice in her court. Instead, she ordered him to to take an online course in professionalism that is administered by the Florida Bar. The judge noted that, "There is no jurisdiction in the U.S. -- including the district where [the lawyer] regularly practices — where the expression and tone [he] used on May 7 would fall [with]in the bounds of acceptable behavior."

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A Thought For the Week of July 4, 2007

"If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything."

~ Shunryu Suzuki


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Returning From A Break

It felt good to get away and take a rest from the world of blogging for a bit. It gave us a chance to research some new material and to begin work on some of the changes we had planned for this blog. Unfortunately, they are still not complete enough to flip the switch. but they are coming along and should certainly be ready to implement by the fall. In the mean time, we have tried to catch up on the news and enjoy the summer happening around us.

We notice that there is a new computer store along Truman Avenue in Key West that specifically caters to the Mac crowd. We haven't had time to visit the new store, but we hear good things. The lonely Mac group in KW has needed a store devoted to the Mac for some time now.

And the new iphone has made its debut. Anyone out there have one and can give us the real scoop on how they like it? Can we believe all the reviews?

Here in KW, the new City Manager has taken over, and is being paid what he indicated he would accept, not what he Commission's negotiator proposed.

The politicians are beginning to get their campaigns in gear. Can you believe it, former Mayor, Jimmy Weekley, who lost by 24 votes to the current mayor, is set to make another run? So the citizens will have a chance to re-think their last choice, or to say, "none of the above."

We saw one of the candidates for the Utility Board out collecting signatures for his nominating petition the other day.

Commissioner Rossi is also running again. He and Todd German are locked in an election battle and are trading contentions. Guess we expected that.

The feds have their undies in a bundle over the Hemingway cats.

The Michael Moore movie, Sicko, is at the Tropic Cinema. We haven't seen it yet, but plan to do so.

The controversy over the assisted living facility proposed for the Truman water front is raging. We noticed that Truman Annex resident and occasional commenter here, David Lybrand, was part of a debate over the issues involved in a recent edition of the Key West Citizen. Both sides make some good points, but we have not yet decided which side deserves our support. Our current feeling is that there is much that needs clarifying and not enough plain talk at the forefront of the debate. The stakes and suspicions appear to run high on both sides.

Today is Independence Day, the day to think about "a more perfect union" and to honor our freedom that we so often take for granted. When you think about that In the larger scheme of things, some of the feuds we have over civic issues in KW seem small indeed.

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