praise reports from various sectors in the Florida Keys, aka The Asteroid Belt

seven-mile-bridge.jpgSeven Mile Bridge, below Marathon

Today’s praise reports sort of cover the waterfront, much of my praising and unpraising in italics …

Starting with a letter to the editor in The Citizen today:

No Name Key Bridge

County should stick to its plan and principles

My eyes saw a statement attributed to Monroe County Commissioner David Rice, that with regard to our comprehensive plan’s discouragement of utilities on No Name Key, “… the county has discouraged utilities on the island for long enough and should now allow it to move forward.”

My mind saw “… we have followed our principles long enough, it’s time to compromise them.”

Hear, Hear! Hallelujah, Amen! Alas, anyone paying half attention knew where Commissioners David Rice and George Neugent would end up on No Name Key being put on the grid, so, my friend John, some credit for this situation belongs to the voters of Monroe County.

The principles embedded in our comprehensive plan that discourage utilities to No Name Key are not capricious, arbitrary or punitive, but rather rooted in the federal Coastal Barrier Resource Act (CBRA, Public Law 97-348), whose objectives are “to minimize the loss of human life by discouraging development in high risk areas vulnerable to storm surges and hurricane winds; to reduce wasteful expenditure of federal resources; and to protect the natural resources associated with undeveloped coastal barriers.”

What this really is about, plain and simple, is the people who bought homes on No Name Key knew the island was off the grid, and they wanted to live off the grid, and after living off the grid for a little while, or for a long while, they had buyer’s remorse and wanted to live on the grid and blamed everything and everyone they could find to blame for their buyer’s remorse, but themselves.

In the face of rising sea level, and with fresh memories of Hurricane Sandy’s coastal damage, the Florida Keys — of all places — would be ill-advised to abandon these objectives and our principles.

It ain’t rising sea levels and hurricanes we should be worried about in this particular situation; it’s new development on No Name Key, which is gonna happen if the key goes on the grid. That’s the other thing this is really about.

John Hammerstrom

Tavernier

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whistle blower blow back

Editorial in The Citizen today:

Hotline failed, but don’t silence whistle-blowers

After a lengthy and painful disclosure of wrongdoing in the Monroe County School District, culminating in the conviction of its superintendent and his wife, the district’s credibility was scraping bottom. Knowing it takes years to rebuild public trust, the School Board set about to find ways to change what was perceived as a culture of corruption, and to avoid being blindsided by further allegations of illegal or unethical behavior.

One component in that effort to put the district back on track was implementation of a fraud and abuse hotline that citizens and employees could use to report wrongdoing. The hotline was to be operated and overseen by an internal auditor, a newly created position that answered directly to the School Board.

After much fanfare and months of fine tuning, the hotline got up and running. A few reports were submitted to the district’s volunteer Audit and Finance Committee, but then the hotline seemed to fade from view and memory.

Most particularly, the hotline faded from the School Board members’ memory, because it was a public relations stunt all along, designed by the Board members to trick the public into believing the School Board was serious about restoring the public’s faith in the Board and the school system, evidenced by the glaring fact that no member on the Board followed up on the hotline, made inquiries about how it was going, asked what, if any, complaints were being called in, what was being done about the complaints, etc. None of which is news to The Citizen’s Editorial Board, so why didn’t they just say it, and put the blame where it belongs: on the School Board?

But one person who didn’t forget about the hotline was former Audit and Finance Committee member Larry Murray, who submitted a public records request for the hotline records on Oct. 17, 2012. His request was met with excuses and nonspecific summaries. After months of repeated requests, Murray took his request to the next level, soliciting the help of former State Attorney Dennis Ward in an effort to compel the district to provide the requested documents. The prospect of a Government-in-the-Sunshine lawsuit evidently got the district’s attention, as the records began flowing.

Maybe in play, that’s facetious, the School District and School Board knew if Ward filed suit for Murray against the School District, state law required the judge to advance Murray’s public records request to the top of the Judge’s docket, and if Murray prevailed, award him attorney fees against the School District. So what the School District and School Board did was force Murray to hire Ward at Murray’s expense, then give Murray what he should have been given without Ward’s help.

The documents revealed two things: Complaints about the internal auditor who oversees the hotline apparently went no further than the inbox of an intern who worked for him for about two months; and other complaints received little more than a cursory examination. Furthermore, the process of obtaining the records revealed that the hotline had settled into such obscurity that even Superintendent Mark Porter was unaware of its existence.

Perhaps Superintendent Porter never looked at the School District’s homepage, or if he did look at it, perhaps he never looked at the prominent left-hand menu, in which there was and still is a link to the hotline resting in plain view just above the calendar.

The people who put their faith in the district’s whistle-blower hotline might as well have been mailing letters to Santa.

At a School Board workshop last week, newly elected board member Ed Davidson called for the hotline to be abandoned, noting that “the bungling of it has totally destroyed what little credibility there was.”

Board Chairman Andy Griffiths and Superintendent Porter agree.

But while the hotline arguably has done more to erode credibility than restoring it, abandoning a potentially valuable tool for addressing corruption and unethical behavior in the district seems to set a bad precedent. The district has for so long been immersed in fear of retribution against those who speak up, removing the means for reporting corruption anonymously seems self-defeating.

Seems self-defeating? Seems? I’d like to know which politically correct member of the Editorial Board wrote this namby pamby, pansy ass drivel.

The district may have come a long way toward cleaning up the shards of credibility destroyed in the scandals of recent years, but there is a difference in successful damage control and rebuilding credibility. It is too soon to put away the tools.

May have come a long way? May? Tell that to Matthew Gilleran’s family. Tell that to the Teachers Union. Tell that to Cathy Reitzel, who was the State Attorney’s star witness, without whose whistleblowing and testimony the Acevedos would have gotten away with it, for which service to the School District and her community, Cathy was fired.

– The Citizen

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fraud investigationSt. George

Larry Murray replied to yesterday’s Florida Keys – various wings of The State Mental check in post at goodmorningfloridakeys.com:

Sloan:

In reading today’s blog, I see that you are identifying Mark Porter, aka Superintendent Mark Porter, as “Poor” Mark Porter, much as I do in casual conversation. The descriptive term “poor” is used so often in discussions about Mark Porter that it seems only appropriate that the moniker becomes his title. I am comfortable with that.

Unfortunately, for “Poor” Mark Porter, more and more is being revealed about the dysfunctional School District that occurred on his watch and cannot be passed off as an unwanted inheritance. There may have been a time when the appellation “Poor” was appropriate in describing Mark Porter, but that time is fading very quickly and we will soon need a new adjective.

I could not agree with you more regarding your assessment of the horrific treatment that the School District heaped upon Kathy Reitzel. Kathy was the only person with the courage to take on Randy Acevedo and company and her reward was to be ignominiously fired from her job. The State Attorney would have had no case without her testimony.

That her “reward” was dismissal was not lost on other District employees, hence the need for a functional Hotline that provided the necessary anonymity to protect those who came forward. The new system in the County Clerk’s office will fail if for no other reason than it lacks the necessary anonymity for whistleblowers.

The District Hotline failed, not because it was a bad idea but because those who administered it, e.g. Ken Gentile, the School Board and two superintendents, had no interest in it, never promoted it, etc. Its very existence was buried in the bowels of the District website, languishing in anonymity beneath the Audit and Finance Committee tab. The Hotline only made the homepage in recent weeks when I complained about how it was hidden in obscurity.

Larry

Dr. Larry Murray

Fiscal Watchdog and Citizen Advocate

I wrote back:

It wuz sort of tongue in cheek, but I see you have fixed that. Should make a good segment of tomorrow’s homily.

==========================

the beatings will continue

Nashville J replied to yesterday’s pens, guns, boats and planes – the Battle of Key West …post, at goodmorningkeywest.com:

Sloan:

So, the HOTLINE, that the School Board did not want and the HOTLINE which the School Board failed to adequately implement, monitor or oversee should now be done away with because they so totally *ucked it up! Therefore, by doing a sorry ass job and wasting the citizens money – the School Board now gets what it wanted in the first place – NO HOTLINE ! You can’nt make this crap up! LOL

As to the HOB parking lot – soooooooooo – it’s gonna cost double what was originally suggested as being the price. Whose ASS gets fired over that? A $300,000 to #350,000 bend over screwing – so who screwed that up and why do they still have a job???? You can’nt make this crap up!

Ya’ll sure have lots of fun in the Keys!

J

I wrote back:

Maybe the sliver lining is, the taxpayers, through the School District, only paid $5,000 a year to the company that set up the hotline and received the complaints :-) .

Maybe another sliver lining is, the superintendent and project manager, who ramrodded the new HOB school, sans the apparently then unneeded parking lot, no longer work for the School District :-) .

Wait till you see in tomorrow’s raving, Larry Murray’s “Poor Mark Porter” zinger, which he sent me this afternoon.

I been thinking I should start charging you for all this way beyond belief entertainment I sort of doubt you have going on in Nashville :-) .

Ciao

J replied:

Sloan:

Well, if you started charging me – then you wouldn’t be able to use any of the newspaper articles for free. :-)

Although, it is very entertaining – we don’t have near as much stuff going on in Nashville as they do in Key West. All we got is bars and country music!

J

I wrote back:

Aw, shucks, J – I didn’t know you wuz a honky tonk angel, but I knew you’d never make a wife; you gave up the only one what ever loved you, and went back to the wilder side of life!

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Pearl Harbor lookoutPearl Harbor lookout

To round out the fun today, another report in The Citizen on the Navy’s recent decision to close Truman Harbor to all but Navy and US Government vessels:

Truman Waterfront

Marina developer won’t fight Navy

Company accepts order to close Truman Waterfront harbor to civilians

BY GWEN FILOSA Citizen Staff

gfilosa@keysnews.com

The Navy’s recent decision to close Truman Harbor to all civilian boats blew one sightseeing company’s new “duck” tours venture out of the water.

But the real knockout punch from the harbor ban, set to take effect Feb. 25, was delivered to the 15-year promise of bringing a marina to the Truman Waterfront, said Mayor Craig Cates.

“They don’t want the marina there, obviously,” Cates said of a Feb. 7 letter from Naval Air Station Key West commander Capt. Pat Lefere that laid down the Navy’s order.

While the city wants to meet with the Navy to clarify the order, said Cates, the Key West developer behind the marina piece of an overall Truman Waterfront park development, said Friday that he won’t fight the harbor closure.

“I’m supporting the city any way I can; our group is,” said Bill Spottswood. “If the Navy has pulled that trump card, so be it. Let’s just move forward and try to get this park done. I want to see that place down there become a beautiful, signature park like the parks in Chicago and New York. If the Navy doesn’t want a marina, fine. I have no problem with that.”

I find it hard to believe the city and the Spottswoods did not poll the Navy up front about the Spottswoods and the city partnering to put a commercial marina in Truman Harbor. I find it hard to believe there is not more to this recent sky-falling than has been reported in The Citizen. That is not a slam of The Citizen. It is a statement that there has to be more to this SNAFU than the city and/or the Spottswoods and/or the Navy have made public.

The city’s ongoing development plans are to build a waterfront park on the land it received from the Navy through a specifically worded deed.

Meisel Spottswood Marina Management Co. has sunk time, money and effort into the Truman Waterfront development since the Navy first handed over the property. After the firm submitted designs for a $34 million park and marina in 2010, the city took back the land development in an effort to kick-start the construction, but left the proposed marina for the firm to build.

The marina was touted as a money-maker the city would own and Meisel Spottswood would manage.

But the Navy, without specifically naming the marina proposal, wants only “non-federal” boats to have regular access to the waters between the Outer Mole pier and the East Quay Wall.

Special events, such as the annual powerboat races, will likely be the exception to Lefere’s order, Navy spokeswoman Trice Denny said this week.

Historic Tours of America CEO Chris Belland, however, said the order puts out of business its 3-month-old “duck” sightseeing tour, since its Hydra-Terra amphibious vehicles can fit only on the Navy’s boat ramp.

I can’t imagine HTA did not sit down with the Navy and discuss using the Navy’s boat ramp, before HTA bought any ducks. I can’t imagine there is not more to this story.

Key West isn’t giving up the chance to gain access to Truman Harbor, but Historic Tours of America is on its own, said Cates.

Hmmm, maybe this is more Duck Tours karma coming home to roost for both HTA and Key West?

“As far as a legal battle for them, no,” Cates said. “We’re going to go to bat for the citizens of Key West, so they have a funding source for the park. That was supposed to be one of the income generators there for the city. Of course we’re going to ask. We would rather be able to use it. They have reasons to close it, for national security. That’s the way it is. We’re going to get this clarified and see what we can do.”

What you can do, Mayor Cates, is turn Truman Waterfront into a community garden space. Let private citizens sign up for garden plots, let them build their garden beds, let them beautify the waterfront with home grown vegetables, fruits and flowering shrubs, irrigated by treated waste water from the city’s state of the art waste water treatment plant. Forget all the fancy falderal that has done nothing but waste a lot of city staff time and taxpayer money, and piss off a lot of people.

The Navy has every right to restrict the 34-foot-deep harbor, federal law ensures in a post-9/11 world.

Lefere said the Navy needs complete access to the harbor for special forces training and other national defense activities, and the increasing boat traffic has simply caused too many distractions.

“It stated that the marina would be the economic engine that would sustain the rest of the property so there would be no burden to the taxpayers of the city of Key West,” said Virginia Panico, executive vice president of the Key West Chamber of Commerce.

“That was the deal. A deal’s a deal.”

Suddenly, Pancio is not in favor of “supporting the troops”? Suddenly, Panico thinks national security does not trump the Spottswoods’ business speculations? Panico does not see the Navy watched the city screw around and do nothing with the land and the waterfront for over ten years, and the Navy is taking back some of what it gave to the city, which, I sort of imagine, the Navy reserved the right to do in the conveyance agreement with the city?

The city’s Truman Waterfront Park plans have just started to make the rounds for final approvals, to ensure everything meets zoning rules and regulations.

Over ten years after the conveyance, the plans have just started to make the rounds for final approvals?

Friday, in fact, marked the first day of 90 the Navy has to review those plans, which the City Commission approved in October.

City Hall kept Lefere’s order within its ranks, but The Citizen obtained the letter on Wednesday after the organizer of the May 11 dragon boat races announced that the city manager’s office had just called her to let her know the fundraiser might be off.

The Truman Waterfront property, a vacant expanse of gravel and weeds, has sat unused by the city far too long, said Spottswood, who would like his 8-month-old grandson, Chas, to grow up in a Key West that sports a waterfront park complete with community centers and an amphitheater.

“The opportunity we have for that great piece of property sitting there all this time — to not develop it is a tragedy,” said Spottswood. “My family’s goal is we want what’s best for the city. We want to get the park done.”

Well, Bill, maybe if you had focused on the park, instead of on a seriously speculative mega-yacht marina you wanted the city to give you the waterfront for, and you wanted the Tourist Development Council to finance part of it, and you didn’t want to put your and your family’s own money at risk, and if it worked out the city would share in the profits, whatever that meant, all of which diverted attention and effort away from building the park you want your grandson to be able to use, maybe there would be a park out there today. Not meaning to pick on just you and your family, Bill. The city let plenty of other special interests groups lay claim to part of that land the Navy gave to the city, and the city let those special interest groups keep those parts of the land tied up, too, and all that went for naught as well. So there’s heaps of blame to spread around. Heaps.

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Sloan Bashinsky

keysmyhome@hotmail.com

About Sloan

Darn, that would take a while. Try the autobiographical pages in the header. Ditto for header menu pages at www.goodmorningbirmingham.com. Hatched and raised there, eventually I ran away from home. Here's a short list: Born 1942; male; single; accused of all sorts of imaginable and unimaginable things, perhaps some true. Live on Key West of Weird asteroid. Publish something most days on this website, been at that since July 2007. That's heaps of catch-up reading, probably not recommended.
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