Friday, June 10, 2005

This place we call paradise

"But this is an election year. Five of the seven City Commission seats are up for grabs. Two incumbents are up for reelection. If you're so motivated, here is your opportunity to punish these incumbents -- and vote others in who will not stand for this nonsense. People who will happen to notice when the rights of others are being egregiously violated."

This is from a long article appearing in this week's blue paper, Key West the Newspaper, among those City officials call "the nay-sayers". The article is by Dennis Reeves Cooper, the paper's long-time publisher, and it is partly about him and his long battle with the city that is now culminating in a potential large cash settlement by the City -- or further legal expense for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. What it's really about, though, is the future of this place we call paradise.

Sadly, the blue paper stopped publishing on the internet in October 2002, and I have no way short of retyping the article to share its content with you. But that wouldn't be fair use even if I was of a mind to try to retype it. In short, Cooper is plaintiff in a lawsuit for false arrest brought on his behalf by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Cooper was arrested in 2001 for violating a state law that had ten years earlier been found unconstitutional. The suit was decided in Cooper's favor by a Federal Magistrate in 2003. The Magistrate's decision has been under appeal by the City since then. The appeal was turned down by the 11th Circuit Appeals Court in Atlanta last week, freeing the case to go forward, or to be appealed further by the city in the Supreme Court.

Cooper and the ACLU appear to be open to a negotiated settlement. The City doesn't appear to be. Experts think that Cooper could be awarded a six-figure judgment when and if the case reaches that phase.

I cite these facts only as background to the main point I wish to make here. It is long past time for a judgment to be delivered by the voters of Key West against those who have been complicit in bringing the rest of us to this point. Whatever reasons the incumbents might cite for their votes, the consequences of their action (or lack of it), their toleration of illegal behavior by those who benefit from their votes, and their ineptitude to govern a small city for the benefit of its residents has earned them nothing but removal from office.

Here's one more paragraph from Cooper's article:

"What we have to wonder -- and what we hope you are wondering -- is where was the outrage among the other City Commissioners in that room in November 1995 when Covan made that statement? Three of those Commissioners are still on the Commission today -- Jimmy Weekley, Harry Bethel, and Carmen Turner. If they did not think that charging on to grind the Ducks into the dirt represented a City policy, why did they not protest? If they thought the plan of action the City Attorney was proposing was wrong, why didn't at least on of them jump up and shout, "Stop! This is America! This is the honorable and proud Key West City Commission! Grinding our citizens into the dirt is not what we're about! I will not be a party to this!"

Weekley is a candidate for reelection in October. Bethel is not up for reelection in this cycle. Turner has announced that she will not be a candidate. Another incumbent, Ed Scales, the Commissioner from HTA, will not stand again. The seat left vacant by the death of Merili McCoy is being kept warm by appointed Commissioner Mark Rossi, owner of the Rick's complex on Duval St. Commissioner Tom Oosterhoudt is a candidate for reelection in his district. This may well be an historic opportunity to remake a City that seems to have lost sight of its purpose, to provide its citizens with a decent place to live.

Right on, Dennis! And write on. The spirit of George Seldes and I.F. Stone lives on in you.

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