There is an earlier post today at this link: no justice, no peace – Blacks’ Trayvon Martin mantra?, which should take you to Today’s Vulcanite at goodmorningbirmingham.com. I slam Pulitzer winning Miami Herald journalist Leonard Pitts for what I view as a totally irresponsible article comparing the Trayvon Martin shooting to the Rodney King beating by several white Los Angeles police men. I include how I would strike an all-black jury, if I were George Zimmerman’s lawyer, and what I would do if Zimmerman objected.
Date: Sun, 29 Apr 2012 16:28:09 -0400
To clarify I did not bring up the tax referendum to give pay raises to the teachers. I wanted to give the district the flexibility to reduce the impact the current recommendations would have on our students and schools.
I did not think you brought up a new school tax increase to get higher pay for teachers.
I felt a new tax increase was necessary, after Jesus Jara repeatedly said, in the newspapers and at school board and town hall meetings, that 40 teachers would have to be let go to balance the budget. I did not want 40 teachers fired. I said that at the recent school board meeting, and at the previous school board workshop, and I recommended everyone in the school district take a pay cut to balance the budget.
I told you during a break at the last school board meeting that the teachers union could not be allowed to get at a new school tax, for that would be a deal killer for the new tax.
I came away from that meeting not trusting anything Jesus Jara says. I can’t imagine he will be kept working for this school district.
LESSONS OF PEARY COURT
by Rick Boettger
Our front page recently asked, “Was Harry Powell right?” My answer is, wow, was he ever right. And not just about Peary Court, but about the Shipyard affordable housing and even, I will argue, about the way he made his case—threatening to blow himself up, and going to prison.
I’ve read tens of thousands of words on the record, and here’s the short story. The Navy built housing they knew they didn’t need. They used bad faith in the process. The populace and our local government tried very hard to reason with and plead our case to the Navy, but were scorned. Our local political leaders eventually gave up. Harry, after doing everything within the system, for years, to no avail, snapped.
The Navy decided to build on Peary Court as the Cold War was winding down, and decisions were already in the pipeline to downsize in Key West. Meanwhile they had had recently upgraded 222 units of housing in Poinciana which they then decided to give away, demolished 188 on Sigsbee, and tore down 30 trailers across from Glynn Archer. They also had numerous alternative that would have avoided demolishing many mature trees and covering a beloved green space in the middle of town.
What I found most shocking in this story is the scornful disrespect the Navy showed towards not only the people and elected leaders of Key West but towards their own rules and procedures. They ignored our City commission’s 14 resolutions begging for any kind of accommodation. They did cursory and cynical environmental assessments. They ignored the role of green space or value to the community of the trees and ball fields. They repeatedly lied about not having received any objections during a 30-day noticing period, and then, when busted, said “It doesn’t matter whether we…” The Government Accounting Office investigated and castigated them for ignoring the availability of housing in Key West, among their other errors in the Peary court process.
Our Water Management District ordered them to stop working until they corrected drainage issues, and they simply ignored their injunctions. They completed the project, after themselves officially acknowledging a housing surplus, just because the money had already been allocated and the contracts signed.
The biggest diss to the City came after the sad breakdown of the City Commission’s years-long resolve. They fought until the Navy threatened to charge us $20,000 to remove the bleachers from our softball fields. The City blinked, tore down the bleachers, and thereafter like whipped puppies approved the Navy plans. In one two-hour final fight with only Harry still resiting, Jimmy Weekley delivered a tirade against Powell, telling him to stay out of his way because Weekley was making progress toward a compromise. But a month later, the Congressman Jimmy thought was helping us meekly delivered a terse non-sequiter, repeating the already-busted lie that “no responses were received in the 30-day period,” essentially flipping us the bird.
Harry had fought for four years as a Commissioner. He gathered 5,634 signatures on a petition. After leaving office, he continued his campaign in Washington, writing 250 letters (one response). He got arrested for chaining himself to his bike on the property. He flew to Washington five times to visit everybody who might help. The final act of faking the explosives was thought of in just a day, a desperate impulse.
Those are the short facts, from my reading of J.D. Doolittle, Nancy Klingener, and Mike Smith, reporting at length at the time. So what are the lessons we can learn from this urban tragedy, our losing a prime green space in our overbuilt little burg, losing it to callous indifference to not only our needs but the needs of the military itself? In brief, who we elect REALY MATTERS, working the system can be a waste of time, and sometimes you have to sue or go to jail yourself.
When Harry left the Commission, he was replaced by Harry Bethel, and Dennis Ward took Captain Tony’s spot as Mayor. So another “concrete coalition” ruled Key West. On this Commission, Jimmy, Joe Pais, and Sally Lewis changed their former votes to save Peary Court, and abandoned the cause. Worse, even when the former Commission was writing resolutions, they refused to spend a cent to send Harry to D.C., or join Last Stand in their lawsuit.
Our national leaders also refused to offer meaningful help. Senator Connie Mack finally asked the GAO to formally investigate Peary Court only because it was Harry’s single demand in his explosive meltdown.
It is hard for me to believe how badly the Navy acted in this matter, through three change of commands. When I moved here in 1996 the base was open to all, and I’ve seen nothing more disagreeable than the normal tension surrounding large fighter jets, which has been handled by comparison with caring mutual respect. I have no idea what we the people can do to influence our military if our national leaders don’t manage them for us.
The only unarguable positive outcome was seeing Last Stand really step up to the plate. They filed the lawsuit that the City refused to even sign on to. They stuck with it, even prevailing at first, before losing on appeal. They have proven to be able fighters for the public good, willing to hang in there over the long run, and at substantial expense. Bravo, Jim Farrell, the President at the time.
The lesson our current City Commission should take from this is to stand on their hind legs and at the very least require the normal proportion of affordable housing, still allowing the developers to make enough millions of dollars from their investment. Please, redeem the sad heritage of your impotent predecessors.
I take two personal lessons from it all. First, it reinforces my conclusion that attending meetings, trying to work together, and writing articles trying to come to a consensus is too often a waste of time, and the only thing to do is sue the bastards. Harry did everything he could, with the help of literally hundreds in the community, including a young gal who chained herself in a tree for five days. It accomplished nothing. Only the Law gave us a chance. And being right is no consolation. Harry had previously been dead-on about the Shipyard condos. He objected to their special “affordable housing” zoning dispensation, warning that rich Northerners would buy them out and rent them out to transients. He voted “No” alone, saying local workers would not benefit. Yup.
The second lesson is tougher. I ran into Harry at the Waterfront Playhouse back when I was planning to chain myself to a Fort Zach pine tree to stop their destruction. I asked him if he had any advice. He said, “Rick, you get one wild card in life. Play it carefully.”
Hmm. This is profound. “Wild card.” I’ve got one. And I should “play it,” not die with it up my sleeve. But I should play it “carefully.” What the hell does that mean? Harry was “careful” in that he hurt no one, nor even threatened to harm anything but a trailer and himself. He didn’t get himself shot by a sniper. But he did spend a lot of time in prison.
Rosalind Brackenbury wrote that Harry“equated those few green acres with the worth of his own life . . . It was the last large green public open space on the island. Mature trees grew there, people had picnics, played and relaxed. It belonged to the people who live here, what city planners call a ‘lung,’ the necessary breathing space in all urban development. It was home to wild life, nesting birds, the tropical life that is under assault in these days of rampant greed for land. . . On an island this stares you in the face: if you use this up there isn’t any more. But the piecemeal destruction goes on. Bit by bit, acre by acre, lot by lot, fish by fish. So you have to pay attention to the pieces, because in them is the whole. That’s what Harry Powell has been doing for years. That’s why he’s in the Monroe County jail.”
Harry cared. Too much? No. I think what he did was more right than doing nothing. At age 63, I still have my wild card, burning a hole in my pocket. I think of Harry, and I am ashamed.
Tipped off by someone in Key West with links to KWTN, I read Naja’s and your articles re Peary Ct.
Most interesting, most infuriating.
Naja said she would send me in the body of an email the text of her article. Can you do that with your article?
The wild card thing is intriguing, challenging.
I hated to think it as I read your article, and got to where you realized being nice and so forth is a waste of time and breath, and the only way to deal with them is sue them.
What I hated to think is, it seems to me Key West is just like Balfour and the Navy: you have to sue the city to get it to behave.
I asked Naja, who taught whom to behave that way? The city, the Navy, Balfour?
Birds of a feather?
I wonder if someone in the Tax Assessor Office, or someone with influence there, or both, are a bit nervous after this Navy/Balfour thing got aired out in KWTN?
I wonder if the State Attorney is a bit unhappy about it?
I hope so.
And the US Attorney, too.
I did not write to Rick that Jimmy Weekly was on the City Commission who told the City Attorney to grind Duck Tours to dust.
From someone who play lots of wild cards, who put herself in snipers’ cross hairs lots of times:
If I were Mayor Craig Cates and saw my Tree Commission appointees behaving like that, I would bring a resolution at the next City Commission to have them fired. Meanwhile, I would ask the the State Attorney to prosecute them. If I were Mayor Cates, I would be screaming at Shawn Smith to get rid of Ramsingh. Ah, but there’s the rub. If Mayor Cates does that, if Smith get rids of Ramsingh, voila!, they admit your side of it is true, and, OMG!!!, it goes all the way back, doesn’t it?