If you are a regular reader of Key West The Newspaper (The Blue Paper), I hope you read John Donnelly’s thoughtful commentary on the “Blue Wall of Silence,” published here two weeks ago. If you missed it, click on “back issues” on this website’s home page and call up the August 8 issue and scroll down to “Police Investigating Police Will Not Expose Criminal Cops– nor Protect Citizens.” Donnelly quotes police officers (anonymously, of course) explaining their “rationale” for failing to speak out or downright lying about other officers who may have broken the rules (at best) or who have maybe even committed a crime (at worst). Continue reading
I need to start this column with a lecture. If you want to consider yourself a good citizen, you should be registered to vote and you should vote in every election. If you are a non-voter and this statement offends you, so be it. Voting is important because elections have consequences. And this is especially true in Key West and the Keys where elections are often won or lost by just a few votes. Our state lawmakers have made it so easy to vote, as well as to register to vote, that there is almost no reasonable excuse not to vote. A few years ago, the State Legislature introduced Early Voting, which makes it possible to vote during a two-week period (including Saturdays!) before the official election day. In addition, you can avoid going to the polls altogether by using an absentee ballot. Early Voting is already underway for the Primary Election scheduled for August 26. The date of the General Election this year is November 4. Continue reading
The fact that various wars, large and small, continue to rage around the world suggests that, sometimes, it’s really easy to start a war. Maybe too easy. Perhaps the classic example of too-easy might be World War I– which started almost exactly 100 years ago. The Great War, the War to End All Wars, started in June 1914, with the assassination of the archduke of Austria-Hungary. Historians did not start calling it World War I until the start of World War II, when it appeared that we were going to have to start numbering our wars. Today, the assassination of a government official of a minor nation might not even be a major news story, much less start a war. But that event triggered a chain of events that would result in the deaths of millions of soldiers and civilians in Europe, as well as thousands of Americans after the US became involved in the war. Continue reading
Since I have been writing a weekly column for the new Blue Paper online, the editors have periodically accompanied my column with a photo of me appearing with Bill O’Reilly on his show on the Fox News Channel. A number of readers have asked me when and why I was invited to appear on the O’Reilly Factor– the highest rated cable news program. Longtime readers know the story, but new readers may not. So here it is again. Longtime readers please pardon– but we have a lot of new readers.
When I ran Key West The Newspaper, I often pushed the envelope when it came to controversy– as the new editors still do. Back in 2001, one of our prime targets was an out-of-control police department. Needless to say, this pissed off then-Police Chief Buz Dillon. And on June 22 of that year, he used an obscure state law to have me arrested and jailed for writing about an on-going internal investigation. Now while I was confident that those charges would never stand up, the immediate fact was that I was facing criminal charges and that I was going to have to find the money to hire a lawyer and defend myself in court. Beyond that, I was concerned about my reputation and the reputation of my newspaper. Rightly or wrongly, many people assume that anybody arrested and charged is probably guilty. Continue reading
Over the past weekend, I binge-watched a TV drama series on Netflix. The story took place in Seattle. It was not about Seattle; it was about a murder mystery. But the outdoor scenes showed the city of Seattle and its climate. Now, I have never been to Seattle but I have always heard that it is cloudy and rainy there almost all the time. And sure enough, the TV presentation showed that. With few exceptions, it was raining or black-cloudy in every outdoor scene. I feel sure that it was not the intent of the producers to present the city in an unfavorable way and, as part of the plot, the actors were not particularly preoccupied with the weather. That is just the way it was. They were almost always walking or running or driving in the rain. Jeez, I kept thinking, how could anybody live in a place like that?! Indeed, when I Googled Seattle and weather, I learned that it does indeed rain a lot there and that the sun rarely shines– and that many residents suffer from depression and that there is a high suicide rate. Go figure. Continue reading
Back in the summer of 2009, there was a big meeting up in Marathon about climate change and its implications for the Florida Keys. Officials of the Nature Conservancy and others, quoting reports from international panels of scientists, predicted that by 2100, the Keys will have lost about 59,000 acres of real estate valued at $ 11 billion to rising sea levels. And that, they said, was the best case scenario. The worst case scenario would be that sea level could rise by more than 28 inches, submerging 154,000 acres valued at $ 43 billion.
The spin, in case you haven’t heard, is that the climate is warming and that the polar ice cap is melting, which is causing sea levels to rise. Indeed, sea level here in the Keys has already risen by 9 inches over the last 100 years, according to an Associated Press article published in July of last year– that rise reportedly documented by a tidal gauge operating in the Keys since before the Civil War. Also, perhaps coincidentally, tidal flooding here, once a periodic inconvenience, has become almost routine. Just ask the owners of businesses on the northern end of Duval Street. But having said that, it is also important to report that a large number or scientists and weather experts believe that the Keys-going-underwater scenario is being overstated. Continue reading
Make no mistake about it. The Declaration of Independence is one of the most significant documents in the history of the world. It introduced the idea that government derives its power from the governed–the people– not the other way around. What a concept. Nothing like that had ever been done before. We all studied the Declaration of Independence in our high school history classes. But some teachers may not have pointed out the level of abject courage that was required on the part of the men who signed it. Keep in mind that, in putting their names on that document, these guys were dissing the King of England. By signing the Declaration of Independence, they were, in essence, signing their death warrants. They and their families could have lost everything. But they had simply had enough of British domination, taxation without representatio, and existing at the pleasure of an arrogant king an ocean away. Continue reading
Here is a compilation of opinions and comments that either do not lend themselves to complete columns or which are left over from some of my previously-published columns. Some are tongue-in-cheek and some are reasonably serious. I will leave it up to you to tell the difference.
IRS SCANDAL. For months and months, congressional investigators have been trying the get the IRS to release emails of several high-level IRS employees to see if they were involved in an orchestrated effort to gag political speech of conservative groups before the last presidential election. Finally, in recent days, IRS officials, have reported, with straight faces, that thousands of the requested emails have simply been “lost.” Geez! The dog-ate-my-homework scam didn’t even work in the third grade. Continue reading
Should Americans continue to try to save the world? If so, it seems pretty obvious that we can’t save it all. And if that is true, how do we pick and choose? Where do we draw the line? And the big question: Is the life of one American soldier worth the lives of the entire population of any Stone Age country? In the wake of the apparent meltdown of government military forces in Iraq, these questions seem appropriate and timely. Since we invaded that country in 2003 to save the people from an evil regime (and to search for non-existent weapons of mass destruction), more than 4000 American soldiers have been killed and thousands more injured, many with pieces of their bodies blown off. The financial investment so far has been estimated at more than $ 1 trillion. Continue reading
Last week marked the beginning of the 2014 Hurricane Season and this year, the so-called hurricane experts are predicting a fewer than average number of storms. Of course, they are just guessing. But they have been humiliated over the past couple of years by predicting busy hurricane seasons only to see almost nothing happen. Two of the most famous “experts” are those two guys from Colorado State University– Phil Klotzbach and William Gray. They are famous because, every year, editors across the country pick up and publish the press releases that Klotzbach and Gray send out– without a thought of whether or not their forecasts are anywhere close to accurate. For example, their press release is usually included in the hurricane guides the non-weekly papers here publish every year. But the truth is that those annual forecasts are almost never accurate and absolutely never specific. They predict number of hurricanes– but they don’t even pretend that they know when or where the storms might hit or how powerful they might be. Continue reading
Longtime readers know that, of all the adventures I have had in my life, I rank my three years of military service at near the top, especially my time as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne. That time changed my life. I was discharged back into the real world, still young, but way more mature and responsible than before the Army. My brief time in the service does not make me a military expert, but I do have my opinions. Case in point: The prisoner exchange this week that resulted in Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release from captivity as the only American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.
I remember what I thought when I heard the national news about Bergdahl’s capture back in 2009. How could that happen? What could the situation have been that would have given the enemy an opportunity to capture an American soldier? Well, subsequent news reports provided that answer– Bergdahl was a deserter! He simply left his post and walked off of his base. But regardless, our military has a tradition that we do not leave soldiers on the battlefield. So, during the five years that Bergdahl was in captivity, his fellow soldiers continued to look for him with the goal of freeing him from captivity. And six of them died in that effort. Continue reading
The developing scandal at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospitals makes another strong statement about the sustainability of government-run health care. The problem here–the scandal– is not the quality of health care provided to our vets at the VA hospitals; the problem is access. And the problem of access is the result of sheer government incompetence. Here is a summary of the situation.
For the men and women who commit to serve our country in the military services, one of the commitments our government makes to them in return is to provide health care for life. This commitment is especially critical for veterans of this country’s various wars. That is one hell of a commitment– a commitment that requires professional and creative management to achieve. The problem is that, apparently, professional and creative management seem to be foreign concepts in government.
Recently, we have been hearing a lot about veterans having to wait months to get care at some VA Hospitals. By law, veterans should be able to see a doctor within 30 days after making an appointment. But at some hospitals, veterans have been forced to wait months for care– and some have died while waiting. This alone is scandalous enough. But to hide the fact that these hospitals have not been meeting the 30-day standard required by law, hospital staff has been falsifying appointment records. Now we are moving out of the realm of simple incompetence into the realm of criminal activity. Continue reading
If you still think that you can’t beat city hall, consider Fane Lozman’s story. It started with a dispute over dockage fees for Lozman’s floating home and ended up in the US Supreme Court– and the results of that case may have ramifications for many houseboat owners in Key West.
In 2006, Lozman’s floating home was docked at a city-owned marina in Riviera Beach. Following a dispute over fees, a county court ruling– citing federal admiralty law– resulted in Lozman being evicted from the marina and the seizure and the ultimate destruction of his home. Lozman sued, claiming that federal admiralty law did not apply because his home was not a “vessel.” We can imagine the Riviera Beach City Attorney laughing his backside off when he heard, not only that this was the defense that Lozman was offering– but, also, that Lozman was going to be representing himself in court! Continue reading
Sam was 23 years old in 1860– but he still didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. He had apprenticed as a printer, but he yearned for adventure.
He had briefly considered heading off to South America where he thought he could make some money collecting coca leaves. But before he got too serious about that, he landed a job as an apprentice riverboat pilot.
Meanwhile, Sam’s brother, Orion, had been working in Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign in Missouri and, after the election, Lincoln had arranged a political appointment for Orion in the office of the Territorial Governor of Nevada. Sam saw that as a perfect opportunity to experience “The West,” and he cut a deal with his brother to become his paid assistant. So, in July 1861, off they went to Carson City– 19 days by stagecoach from St. Joseph, Missouri. That trip was probably a major adventure all by itself. Continue reading
One of the pleasures of being retired and just writing a weekly column for the new Blue Paper online is being able to sometimes write about subjects that are personal. I rarely did that when I was editor. My page one commentaries were almost always about politics, the police and other “journalism as a contact sport” topics. My column this week is certainly not one of those controversial, hard-hitting topics. In fact, it’s sort of mushy. Not my usual style at all.
My mother’s name was Hazel– one of those wonderful old-fashioned names like Martha, Emma and Pearl. Hazel was born and raised in Wewoka, Oklahoma. Her father– my grandfather– was the station master for the Rock Island Line in Wewoka. Talk about a small town! When Oklahoma became a state in 1907 (only about 10 years before my mother was born), the population of Wewoka was only about 800. Originally located in Indian Territory, Wewoka was, at one time, the national capital of the Seminole Nation. Oil was discovered near Wewoka in 1923.
Hazel Hutchison was the prettiest girl at Wewoka High School. And like many small town girls, she wanted out. Continue reading
In Florida, appeals judges and state Supreme Court judges are appointed by the governor from lists provided by a nominating committee. Circuit and County Court Judges are elected by the people. All you need to run for judge is a law degree. Some say that a judge is simply an attorney who has gotten a promotion– or, in some cases, a demotion if you consider income. But if you have ever appeared before a judge at any level, you know how powerful these people are. Thus the continuing debate over whether judges should be appointed by the governor or elected by the people. The question is timely since the seats of three of the four Circuit Court Judges here are up for grabs in the upcoming elections– Judges Mark Jones, Tegan Slaton and Luis Garcia.
Jones and Slaton have announced challengers. So far, Garcia does not, but candidates have until May 2 to qualify. Circuit Court Judge David Audlin is not up for reelection this year– but he has just announced that he is stepping down from the bench May 9 with four years left on his term. He has not said why. According to Supervisor of Elections Joyce Griffin, Audlin’s replacement will be selected by the governor, since his resignation date is too late for candidates to qualify for the July 26 primary election. None of the four County Court Judges here are up for reelection. Both District and County Judges serve six-year terms. Continue reading
Alleged use of excessive force by Key West cops has been the talk of the island since retired General Motors worker Charles Eimers, 61, died after a rough arrest last Thanksgiving Day on South Beach. But its not like this is the first time that “excessive force” and other police wrong-doing has been the topic of conversation here. For example, I went back and flipped through the headlines of just one year of back issues of Key West The Newspaper (the Blue Paper). Here are just a few of the stories we covered back in 2002.
First of all, it may come as a surprise to you that then-State Attorney Mark Kohl was in the midst of a sweeping investigation of the KWPD. Four officers had been arrested or forced to resign and another officer was trying to cut a probation deal to avoid charges. During a street brawl in front of Sloppy Joe’s in July 2000, witnesses said that several tourists were allegedly beaten up by police officers, but none of the cops on the scene could remember anything about any brawl. So Kohl, fed up with “blue amnesia,” charged a number of officers with knowingly falsifying arrest affidavits. Lying on official police documents. Sound familiar? Continue reading
“I’m talkin’ baseball
The Man and Bobby Feller
The Scooter, the Barber, and the Newk
They knew ‘em all from Boston to Dubuque
Especially Willie, Mickey and the Duke”
Terry Cashman, 1981
Major league baseball opened a new season a few weeks ago and opening day always takes my memory back to when I was a kid growing up in Oklahoma– when baseball was my life. I was the catcher on my neighborhood team and, on the weekends and all summer, all we did is play baseball. Most of us were 12 years old or thereabouts. I don’t recall that there was any announced schedule or even a regular location.
All I remember is that we played baseball every day that we didn’t have to go to school and, sometimes, we played into the evening until we couldn’t see the ball anymore. Sometimes we played as part of a youth league, but mostly not. When we were part of a league, we got a little coaching and maybe some matching t-shirts. And we didn’t have to supply our own equipment. But mostly we played “independent,” challenging other neighborhood teams. A problem with that was finding a place to play.
Benjamin Franklin has got to be a role model for anyone who makes or has made his or her living as a publisher. We all learned about Benjamin Franklin in school– the statesman, diplomat, scientist, inventor and a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But he started as a printer and a publisher.
At the age of 12, Ben became an apprentice to his brother James, a Boston printer, and learned the printing trade. Three years later, in 1721, James Franklin founded the New England Courant, the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. Back then, logically, printers also often became publishers. They had the presses, paper and ink. But newspaper publishing was a risky business for printers. Printers had to be licensed by the British government– and printer/publishers who dared to offend the government could quickly find themselves not only de-licensed, but also jailed. And that is exactly what happened to James Franklin. Keep in mind that, before the creation of the United States of America, there was no freedom of the press. Continue reading
It might be a good idea not to mess with the chickens you see walking around outside the post office– or anywhere else around town for that matter. Paleontologists say that chickens are descendants of the dinosaurs, specifically the fearsome raptors. There is scientific consensus that all birds branched from a group of two-legged dinosaurs as a new category of animals about 150 million years ago. Today’s chickens share many skeletal features with dinosaurs; and fossils of some dinosaurs have been found with feathers and wing-like arms. If you saw the movie “Jurassic Park,” you know that, although raptors may have been smaller than most dinosaurs, they were certainly vicious, sharp-clawed killers. And fossils of a recently-discovered species of raptor reveal that a 500-pound, 10-feet-tall monster with a chicken-like head and feathers once existed. In fact, the scientists who discovered these fossils nicknamed this species the “chicken from hell.” Continue reading
Years ago, Yankee Jack, the longtime entertainer at the Bull Bar, told me a story about why he decided to move to Key West. He said he was an entertainer on a cruise ship that pulled into Key West for the night and, of course, he took a walking tour of Duval Street. “I was standing in the middle of one of the intersections and I could hear the sound of music coming from all directions,” he said. “I knew I was home.”
It is true that Key West, like New Orleans, is famous for its music. Partying on Duval Street is one of the reasons millions of tourists come here every year. The ambiance of Duval Street is what attracted me to move here 25 years ago. Even before that, when I lived in the Bahamas for several years, I would bring my friends over to “vacation” in Key West. When I visit much larger cities, I often suggest to my hosts that we go somewhere to listen to music. I have learned, however, that live music in most towns is limited, especially in the afternoons. How sad for the people who live there.
Having said that, I certainly understand that over-loud music can be a problem for neighbors, both residential and business. Hey, I live a block from the party patio at the Bourbon Street Bar– one of the loudest venues in the city. Continue reading
Last week, the United States Senate held an all-nighter to call attention to the threat of climate change. You don’t have to convince me that the climate is changing. I watch the National Geographic and Discovery channels a lot and I have learned that climate change is natural. It’s been going on for millions of years. In fact, starting back about two million years ago, the climate of the Earth repeatedly shifted back and forth between very cold periods to very warm periods. During the cold periods, glaciers covered much of the world. And during the warm periods (global warming), much of the ice melted, presumably submerging much of the low-lying land around the world. There weren’t any civilizations back then, but if there had been, it is possible that, during one of the warm periods, a reporter in Chicago may have written, “Scientists are predicting that the climate is changing and that Chicago will be completely destroyed by a glacier within the next century. Congress is continuing to debate the passage of laws to try to prevent the climate from changing. But the good news is that the scientists are also predicting that we’ll get five great lakes out of this.” Continue reading
For the past several weeks, I have been writing about the press: The power of the press or the lack thereof, and freedom of the press and challenges to that freedom. Some journalists feel that libel laws represent a challenge to freedom of the press. I do not agree with that. The purpose of the libel laws on the books is to try to protect the reputations of those who journalists write about. But there are also laws on the books that protect journalists from prosecution for alleged libel– including the First Amendment of the US Constitution that states that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press . . .” In addition, there have been several Supreme Court decisions that protect journalists from libel lawsuits.
When I taught journalism at the college level, I told my students that only careless reporters get successfully sued for libel. Journalists who know and understand the libel laws almost never get sued. The fact is that the vast majority of libel lawsuits is the result of factual errors or inexact language. Another fact that may surprise you is that, during the 18 years (1994- 2012) that I published and edited Key West The Newspaper (The Blue Paper), we were Continue reading
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been writing about topics related to mass communication– because that’s a topic I know about. I told you about the Theory of Agenda Setting, which holds that, while the press is not very effective in convincing people about what to think; it can be quite effective in telling people what to think about. And I told you about propaganda– including that fact that the word dates back centuries to the Catholic Church’s efforts to propagate the faith. This week, I want to remind you that, while the freedom of the press is protected by the First Amendment, there are still government officials at every level trying to dilute that freedom.
“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press . . .” That’s the quote from the First Amendment. The Founders gave the press such extraordinary protection because they saw the press as not only a government watchdog, but also as a catalyst for the discussion and debate of ideas. Aggressive press coverage of government activities is at the core of American democracy. Although the concept of “no law” seems pretty definitive, there are some in the government, federal as well as local, who are always looking for ways to weaken the press’ watchdog role. Continue reading
Last week, I wrote about the alleged power of the press and told you that it may not be as powerful as you may have thought. A well-established academic theory known as “Agenda Setting” holds that mass communication is not very effective in persuading people concerning what to THINK; but it can be quite effective in persuading people concerning what to THINK ABOUT. In the years before I founded Key West The Newspaper (The Blue Paper) here in 1994, I earned an advanced degree in mass communication and spent a number of years in advertising and public relations in New York City and Philadelphia, as well as down here in Florida. I also taught these topics, as well as journalism and marketing, at the college level. So I was exposed to the “academics” of mass communication.
Many critics dismiss advertising and public relations simply as “spin”– efforts to manipulate a hapless population. In essence, PROPAGANDA. But if we can accept the Theory of Agenda Setting, we have to accept the fact that, in most cases, even the best efforts of advertising and public relations professionals can persuade only a percentage of their audiences to even THINK ABOUT the ideas they are attempting to communicate. But that is no small deal– because, if the message being communicated is truthful and attention-grabbing, a percentage of the audience will not only think about it, they will accept and act on it. Continue reading
Everybody has their own opinions about the “media.” Some say that the media is too powerful and often unfair. Others recognize the important role the media plays in our democracy. Keep in mind that journalism is the only business specifically protected by no less than the First Amendment of the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .” The founders saw the “power of the press” as a that of a government watchdog, as well as a catalyst for discussion of public issues.
I have always been fascinated by the mass communication media. In fact, I was fascinated enough to pursue college degrees in the field, including a doctorate in mass communication. Before I founded Key West The Newspaper (KWTN) in 1994, I spent more than 20 years working in virtually every facet of mass communication– advertising, public relations, writing and teaching. Do you want me to tell you how powerful the press really is, according to the academic literature? I’ll do that at the end of this column. You might be surprised. Continue reading
Jim Young is head of the city’s Code Enforcement operation– or Code Compliance, as they like to call it. By most accounts, Young is fair but firm in enforcing the city codes. But do you remember when then-City Manager Julio Avael fired Young back in 2006? You see, Young got caught treating all code violators the same — even if they were friends with or related to members of the City Commission; or even if they had powerful and well-connected lawyers.
After Young had red-tagged a project owned by the son of then-City Commissioner Harry Bethel, Bethel stood up at a City Commission meeting and compared Young’s code enforcement operation to the Nazi gestapo. When Young, an ex-cop, employed sophisticated undercover sting techniques to catch prominent local realtors systematically violating the city’s transient rental laws, their friends on the City Commission demanded that such “unfair” practices be discontinued. When Young uncovered serious building violations at the Galleon Resort, Michael Halpern — the Galleon’s powerful and well-connected lawyer– called for Young to be fired. Avael complied. Continue reading
If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you know that, over the years, we published a number of stories about police officers. Although we have certainly published lots of favorable stories about police officers and the police department, most of the stories were about officers who beat the hell out of somebody for no good reason, officers who tried to enforce laws that don’t exist or officers who got caught lying on their police reports. Let’s face it. When police officers break the law, it’s news.
Many think our police reporting has helped make a difference in Key West. Our editorial support is one reason there is a Citizen Review Board (CRB) here, an independent city agency that reviews complaints against police officers. Before the CRB, citizen complaints often just disappeared into a black hole at the police department. We also made new free speech law in Florida. Citizens who file complaints against police officers are no longer prohibited from speaking to the press about their complaints during active investigations.
Because we didn’t beat around the bush when reporting corruption and incompetence in the police department, some readers told us that we were “picking on” the department. Not at all. We were just reporting the truth. For example, several years ago, our critics said we were unfairly picking on Officer Michael Beerbower when we reported that, more than once, he punched handcuffed suspects in the face and, sometimes, after he had punched them a couple of times, he also pepper-sprayed them in the face. But everything we wrote about Beerbower was true– and subsequently, he lost his job and was prosecuted by the state attorney’s office. Continue reading
President Obama says that he wants to make income inequality– the growing gap between the richest and poorest Americans– the defining issue during 2014. He points with alarm to the fact that distribution of economic gain is increasingly favoring a small percentage of the population– those who are already well off. Duh! Why would anyone find that surprising, much less somehow illogical? But to Obama, it is simply unfair for a corporate CEO to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, while a high school dropout working at a fast food restaurant makes minimum wage. And in the president’s mind, that can be fixed by simply taking money from those in our society who have figured out how to be successful and giving it to those who haven’t figured it out– in essence, redistribution of wealth.
The fact is, however– except maybe in Sherwood Forest– taking from the rich and giving to the poor is not going to have much impact on the problem of income inequality. Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago, we looked back on some of the stories of the year during 2000- 2005. This week, let’s re-look at a few more recent stories, starting with 2006.
During 2006, beleaguered City Manager Julio Avael was still trying desperately to hold on to the job he had held since 1996. Even before the city elections in 2005, he knew he was in trouble when several of the city commission candidates were promising to dump him if elected. His response to this was classic Avael. Just a few weeks before the election, he tried to slip a contract extension onto the commission agenda. The plan was that his cronies on the lame-duck commission would quietly approve the contract extension before any of those pesky anti-Avael candidates could take office. But when the press picked up on this story, the plot imploded. We have told you before and we’ll tell you again– we don’t make this stuff up.
Avael was right to be concerned. After the election, the mayor and commissioners actually discussed firing Avael on the spot, but opted instead to give him a one-year “transitional” contract to give themselves adequate time to search for and hire a new city manager. Humiliated, Avael announced that he had planned to retire anyway. But that wasn’t the case at all. To Avael, the transitional extension just gave him another year to try to convince at least four members of the commission to give him a multi-year contract. Part of that plan was to try to curry favor with the newly-elected members of the commission. For example, he openly fixed a job for a longtime buddy of new City Commissioner Danny Kolhage. And, suddenly, Kolhage became one of Avael’s defenders on the commission. Continue reading
Naja and Arnaud Girard are doing more than a good job in reporting the still-developing story about the rough arrest on South Beach on Thanksgiving Day that lead to the death of 61-year-old Charles Eimers. But if you have been a reader of my writing in Key West The Newspaper (the Blue Paper) over the years, you may not be surprised that I have my own comments (and suspicions). While a number of questions remain to be answered by investigation– like did the cops literally smother the man to death by forcefully holding his face into the sand until he died?– we already know one unquestioned fact about the case: The cops knowingly lied when they initially tried to explain to the public why the arrest turned rough.
While the fact that the cops initially lied will probably not have any affect on the findings of the official investigation concerning how Eimers died, it is a really big deal as far as law enforcement in Key West is concerned. Cops are not supposed to lie. In fact, lying on official police documents (like arrest affidavits) IS A CRIME! But as I have documented over the past two decades, they do it all the time and they have been doing it for years. If you have been following the Eimers story, you probably already know about the lie I’m talking about. But if not, let me document it: Continue reading
When I was editor of Key West The Newspaper– the Blue Paper– back in the “old days,” we published a “Story of the Year” feature at the end of each year. Here’s a look back at a few years of those stories.
2000. Our Story of the Year of the year 2000 was the defeat of 20-year incumbent State Attorney Kirk Zuelch at the polls. Few election-watchers thought that could happen. After two decades in the office, Zuelch was thought to be too powerful, too entrenched to get voted out of office. Zuelch was so comfortable in office that he no longer even tried to hide his use of his position to forward the objectives of his powerbroker pals. Selective enforcement of the law was routine. And it was in your face. It was said that Zuelch could even make judges quake beneath their robes. Lawyers with clients facing prosecution by Zuelch’s office often advised their clients to take just about any plea offer coming from the state attorney’s office (SAO) because “the judges do not often rule against Zuelch.”
A PERSONAL NOTE: We here at the Blue Paper were never among Kirk Zuelch’s best friends. For years, we repeatedly published stories that exposed corruption inside the SAO. Less than a year after the voters ousted Zuelch from office in 2000, Key West Police Chief Buz Dillon had me arrested for writing something he didn’t like– and the case went to the SAO for prosecution. New State Attorney Mark Kohl refused to prosecute because, he said, the law Dillon used to have me arrested was unconstitutional. He was right. A couple of years later, a panel of three federal judges did rule 3-0 that the law was, indeed, unconstitutional– and new free speech law was made in Florida. However, had Zuelch still been in office, it is unlikely that he would have made the same decision that Kohl made. In fact, it is quite likely that Zuelch would have enthusiastically gone forward with prosecution. I and my ACLU lawyers would have eventually won in court– but had Zuelch still been in office, things would have been way different for me for a couple of years as the case worked its way through the courts. Continue reading
In last week’s column, I looked back into history to re-report to you how former Key West Police Chief Bill Mauldin was tricked into resigning after getting caught sexually harassing his public information manager. But in researching that story, it occurred to me that the Mauldin scandal was just a part of former City Manager Julio Avael’s strange legacy when it came to the appointment of police chiefs. He just wasn’t very good at it.
In Key West, the city manager appoints the police chief. The City Charter is very specific in spelling out that the mayor and the the commissioners have no say in this. So the city manager has complete discretion to hire and fire his “boy” at his pleasure. Avael served as city manager for 12 years, from 1996 until 2008, when he was finally forced to retire from city government in disgrace. One of his first actions was to fire Police Chief Ray Peterson, one of the best police chiefs in the history of the city. Peterson’s crime? He reportedly had called in the FBI to investigate corruption in city government.
To replace Peterson, Avael promoted John Kirvin to police chief in November 1997. That appointment didn’t work out all that well. Kirvin lasted less than three months in the job. He resigned in January 1998 after somebody phoned in a death threat.
For his next appointment, Avael decided to go all out. Continue reading
Because I edited Key West The Newspaper (KWTN) for 18 years before retiring last year, the new editors have asked me to periodically look back at some of the more sensational and/or unusual stories we covered back in the “old days.” Today, I will re-report to you the story of how controversial Key West Police Chief Bill Mauldin was tricked into resigning.
Mauldin resigned on April Fool’s Day 2008 in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal, but he had been involved in controversy for months. He had been caught lying to the press about charges he had trumped up charges to try to fire Officer Tom Neary because he feared that Neary might be ready to go public with allegations of corruption, incompetence and favoritism inside the police department. Mauldin had also been instrumental in planning a “September Surprise” to try to discredit City Commissioner Mark Rossi just weeks before the October 2007 city elections. Continue reading
To say that the topic of health care insurance has been in the news lately is a sizable understatement– as is noting that Obamacare is somewhat controversial. So I take up this topic for my column this week with some trepidation.
First of all, let me make a less-than-profound statement: Health care insurance is good. Everyone should have it to at least partially cover routine medical care as well as major emergencies. Especially major emergencies. And especially for families. I hope you will agree that these statements are non-political. I hope you will also agree that the following statement is also non-political, maybe even an “inalienable right” kind of thing: NOBODY LIVING IN AMERICA SHOULD BE FORCED TO BUY HEALTH CARE INSURANCE AND BE FINED IF THEY DON’T! But having said that, some level of government assistance should be available to help poor people who cannot afford to buy health insurance. Continue reading
Here’s a look back at a long-running story that Key West The Newspaper covered as “News of the Weird” back in 1995 and 1996.
The Key West Chamber of Commerce has always been considered a valued asset to the community and, for years, routinely asked for and received city funds to help finance various Chamber projects. In addition, the Chamber had a super-sweetheart deal on rent for a large city-owned building on Mallory Square– $10 a year for 10 years! But, during the early 1990s, some city commissioners– namely Joe Pais and Harry Bethel– began to question why the Chamber repeatedly returned to the commission to ask for taxpayer money to fund Chamber projects– when the Chamber reportedly had more than enough funds to pay for these projects. Continue reading
Because I edited and published the Blue Paper from the first issue in January 1994 until my retirement last year, one of my assignments as a columnist for the new Blue Paper on line is to periodically go back and dredge up some of the more bizarre stories we published back in the old days. One of the biggest scandal stories Key West The Newspaper was covering back in 1996 and 1997 was then-City Manager Julio Avael’s continuing vendetta against then-Police Chief Ray Peterson– despite the fact that Peterson was one of the most popular police chiefs in the city’s history.
But Avael had been virtually ordered to fire Peterson by then-Mayor Dennis Wardlow, supported by several other “Bubba” city commissioners. You see, they blamed Peterson for calling in the FBI to investigate corruption in city government and that investigation had resulted in the indictment of Mayor Wardlow. The mayor was subsequently acquitted. But payback is a bitch. Avael concocted a dozen or so charges against Peterson and the chief was eventually forced to retire– although his settlement included a letter noting that all charges against him were unfounded.
Well, the 2013 hurricane season officially ends next weekend. So it is time, once again, to ridicule the so-called hurricane forecasters. If you were paying any attention back in May, just before the beginning of this year’s hurricane season, the so-called experts were again predicting an “extremely active season.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted that 7-11 hurricanes would form. Accuweather predicted eight hurricanes. William Klotzbach and William Gray, the supposed experts from Colorado State University, downgraded their predictions in August to eight hurricanes with three being Category 3 or higher. For those of us who live in Key West, those kind of predictions are scary as hell– until you realize that (1) these so-called experts have a less than impressive record of accurate forecasts and (2) they do not even pretend to know when or where the hurricanes they predict will hit.
But no matter. Back in June, the local and national media picked up the predictions of the so-called experts and solemnly announced the bad news– the 2013 hurricane season would be more active than usual with multiple hurricanes! OMG! Are we all going to die! Also, the scare ads for hurricane shutters and other storm-related products quickly appeared, citing that “the experts are predicting a very active hurricane season this year and you better buy our stuff or your family is going to die!’ (Well, maybe I exaggerated those sales pitches just a bit.) Continue reading
Over the almost two decades that I wrote Page One Commentaries for Key West The Newspaper, I was often critical of the “just pass another law” mentality of the various generations of mayors and city commissioners. In addition to the question of whether or not a new law was needed, it also seemed that laws were often passed that were not well thought out (gasp!) and, perhaps, didn’t really focus on the problem that lawmakers were supposedly trying to solve. But having said that, the most interesting law-related news stories and commentaries we published over the years were stories about the city commission debating the passage of laws to try to solve problems that may be virtually unsolvable. Two random examples: Loud music on Duval Street and the shortage of residential parking in Old Town.
If you don’t live in Old Town, parking in that area is probably not much of a problem for you. And if you don’t live near Duval Street, loud music on Duval Street is probably not a problem for you. But if you do live in Old Town, parking is maybe even a serious problem for you. And if you do live near Duval Street, loud music may be a serious threat to your peace and happiness. We should give our law-makers some credit for at least trying to address these problems. And we should also recognize that, if they have looked bumbling and stumbling in the process, it isn’t necessarily their fault. They were simply trying to solve problems that may be virtually unsolvable. Continue reading
NOTE: For years, the large piece of undeveloped Navy property at White Street and Palm Avenue was used as a park by Key Westers. So when the Navy announced that the property, known as Peary Court, was to be developed for military housing, many locals protested. They argued that the Navy really didn’t need any more housing in Key West and, in fact, was in the process of reducing its presence in here. But it was a hard argument to win. The Navy owned the property and that was that. And construction began in 1993. But former City Commissioner Harry Powell apparently felt stronger about the issue than other protesters. On January 13, 1994, Powell showed up at the construction site and barricaded himself inside of a construction trailer with explosives strapped around his chest. He said he would give himself up if he received assurances that the decision to develop Peary Court would be reviewed by top brass in Washington. Finally, after an all-day standoff, somebody promised Harry that the already-underway development would be reviewed. He was arrested, tried and spent nearly a year in prison.
From the beginning, however, there was the question, “Was Harry Powell right?” Below is a re-publication of a page one commentary published in Key West The Newspaper on February 25, 1994. The author is former City Commissioner George Halloran. More recently, the question may have been answered more definitively when the Navy signed an agreement with a private company to lease units at Peary Court to civilians.
ONE THOUSAND HARRY POWELLS!
by George Halloran
It is 3:30 in the morning and this thing has taken me from a sound sleep to a computer rage. “Wait until morning,” said the body. “No! Get your lazy ass out of bed now” said the brain, “while it is still legal in Key West to say the words PEARY COURT.” The dream had been of Harry Powell, and now I realize there should be one hundred Harry Powells. One thousand! The streets of Key West should be full of us, marching, chanting, shouting about the biggest display of waste and deceit in a decade. Every journalist in the city should be making this a career. We are literally inside of a huge government coverup, every bit as slimy as Warergate, just as outrageous as a $ 200 hammer or a $ 5000 toilet. As scary as Uncle Sam feeding LSD and nuclear waste to unwitting human guinea pigs. Continue reading
I know you would like to think that those of us who work for an investigative reporting publication dig out our big stories from our network of confidential sources and our own hard-nosed investigations. In many cases, that is absolutely true. But the original tips have to come from somewhere– and in many cases, they come from our readers. And in many instances (preferably, those tips are accompanied with supporting documents. For example, in March 1994, when Key West The Newspaper was just a few months old, a gentleman brought us what turned out to be a pretty big story. He had just lost a lawsuit which resulted in, he said, Monroe County being able to literally steal a very large piece of property on the upper end of the island from him and his family. This was not just any piece of property. It was the property occupied by the Key West International Airport! And indeed, a large file of documents he provided seemed to document his claim.
His father had been one of three Chicago investors who had purchased almost all of the easterly end if the island in 1950 for development purposes. That purchase included almost all of what is now New Town– including the airport, then called Meacham Field. Back in 1925, the property had previously been purchased by Palm Beach millionaire Malcolm Meacham from William R. “Billy” Porter’s Key West Realty Company– and Meacham had constructed the airport and loaned it to Pan Am Airways. When Meacham died in 1929, the property reverted to Porter’s company. Continue reading
The message of this story is that catastrophe can strike in a heartbeat and change your life forever– so live every day to the fullest. Writing this also gives me an opportunity to recognize a major behind-the-scenes player– Art Winstanley– who helped make the original Blue Paper successful over the last decade or so. Last month, Art flew up to visit family in Pennsylvania and collapsed while getting off the plane. While the doctors are trying to figure it out, he is sitting in a wheelchair at his sister’s house in Gettysburg. But the good news is that the doctors are saying that Art ain’t going to die– not just yet.
Before I retired and discontinued publication of Key West The Newspaper last November, Art had been our art director for more than 10 years. This was a key job. Not only was he responsible for making up the ads for the paper, he also provided the technical magic each week to somehow get the finished newspaper document out of our computer and to the printer. He also pulled an all-nighter every Thursday night to pick up 9000 copies of the paper at the printer and deliver them to hundreds of locations around the island to make them available to readers every Friday morning. He got accustomed to the cops occasionally pulling him over– not to arrest him, but to get copies of the paper. Continue reading
It seems like only yesterday that the state requirement that citizens had to have photo identification to vote was controversial. More than controversial, actually. Proponents of the law argued that requiring that voters show up at the polling places with photo IDs was just part of a larger effort to try to prevent voter fraud. But wild-eyed critics claimed that the photo ID requirement was actually a plot by Republican legislators to suppress voting by the poor and elderly– who typically vote Democratic, they argued. A primary part of that argument was that, apparently, many of the poor and elderly don’t have photo IDs and can’t figure out how to get one– which seems insulting if you ask me. But the fact is that, sometime back in history, these no-photo-ID people, somehow, at least figured out how to register to vote. Go figure. Continue reading
NOTE: Dennis Reeves Cooper, Phd. founded Key West The Newspaper (the “Blue Paper”) in 1994 and was editor and publisher until his retirement last November. Apparently, he is up for at least one more adventure, so he has now applied to serve in the Peace Corps. While that application is pending, he is contributing a weekly column to the Blue Paper on line.
WHAT’S A BUQUEBUS?
I had the opportunity to go down to the city-owned ferry terminal at the foot of Caroline Street a few days ago to meet with Sue Srch, the executive director of the Citizen Review Board (CRB). That’s where the CRB office is located. I had not been in the terminal for several years– and it reminded me of a little scandal story we had covered back in 1996. The city commission passed a resolution “strongly supporting the efforts of Buquebus Inc to establish Naples-to-Key West ferry service.” At the Blue Paper, we thought that resolution was a little strange. Yes, such a service would potentially bring dollars to Key West. And the company was even promising to build a ferry terminal here. But all kinds of companies are always promising to bring business to Key West– and they don’t get special resolutions from the city commission supporting their efforts. After asking around, here is what we learned: Continue reading
I have a fantasy. Actually, I have a number of fantasies, but I’m only going to tell you about one today.
A beautiful woman comes to see me. She says she is an angel. “Well, I can see that,” I say. “You are quite beautiful.”
“No,” she says. “I’m a real angel, sent here by God.”
“If you say so. How kinky.”
“No, really,” she says. For some reason God has picked you to save the United States of America.” (Okay, readers, don’t laugh. I told you this was a fantasy.)
“You gotta be kidding. Why would God think I could save our country?” Continue reading
If you are a longtime reader of the Key West The Newspaper, you may know that I retired last November after running the paper for 18 years. But I may have one more adventure in me, so I have applied to join the Peace Corps. While that application is pending, I told new owners Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new online venture, including an occasional look back at stories that appeared in the Blue Paper over the years.
In 2003, Key West The Newspaper was 10 years old. On page one of the January 3, 2003, issue, we did a look-back at various stories that we had published during our first decade. If you are a longtime reader of KWTN, see if this doesn’t take you for a ride down memory lane. If you haven’t been reading KWTN since 1994, rest assured that I am not making this stuff up. Continue reading
If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you may know that I retired last November after running the paper for 18 years. But I may have one more adventure in me, so I have applied to join the Peace Corps. While that application is pending, I told new publishers Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new online venture. The start point to my piece this week is a blockbuster story (my opinion) that broke in the Key West Citizen last Friday. I bet you didn’t know that the Blue Paper almost took over the publication of Solares Hill newspaper back in 1998.
In a fit of budget-cutting last week, the Key West Citizen finally put the ax to Solares Hill newspaper, one of the longtime icons of Key West journalism. As part of the blood-letting, Editor Mark Howell and Associate Editor Nadja Hansen both lost their jobs. Before the Citizen bought the belly-up publication for a song back in 1998, it had been published off and on since 1971, usually every-other-week with vacation time off during the summer. It only became a weekly in 1994 after Key West The Newspaper (KWTN) hit the streets as a 52-weeks-a-year publication. Continue reading
If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you know that, after 18 years of publishing The Blue Paper, I retired last November. Since that time, I have been finishing up several personal projects– like sorting out 18 years of back issues to donate to the history department at the library. I also have a Peace Corps application pending– I have at least one more adventure left in me. So while I am waiting to go to Africa or somewhere, I told Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new on-line venture. Those contributions might be news stories or opinion pieces– or re-publication of special stories that have appeared in KWTN over the years. This week, I have some comments about a story currently in the news.
There was a page one article in the Key West Citizen last week about a local man being turned away when he went to the police station to file a written complaint against a police officer who has allegedly been harassing him for at least a year. Scooter deliveryman Kenneth Lawrence told the Citizen Review Board (CRB) that when he went to the police station to file a complaint against motorcycle officer Randall Hartle, Sgt. Robert Allen simply refused to take his complaint.
The members of the CRB voted unanimously to recommend to Police Chief Donie Lee that he formally reprimand Allen for “deficient service” and they asked that Lee meet with CRB Chairman Larry Beaver and Executive Director Sue Srch to discuss changes to the police complaint process.
As a longtime police watcher, here’s my take on this. Continue reading
If you are a longtime reader of Key West The Newspaper, you know that, after 18 years of publishing The Blue Paper, I retired last November. Since that time, I have been finishing up several personal projects– like sorting out 18 years of back issues to donate to the history department at the library. I also have a Peace Corps application pending. I have at least one more adventure left in me.
So while I am waiting to go to Africa or somewhere, I told Naja and Arnaud Girard that I would be happy to make some editorial contributions to their new on-line venture. Those contributions might be news stories or opinion pieces, if I get pissed off about something. But I have to tell you, as a retired guy, I don’t get anywhere near as pissed off at politicians and police as I used to.
Another thing I might do for the Blue Paper while I’m waiting to take off on my new adventure is to re-publish some of the more interesting stories we published over the years. That’s what I have done this week. Back in 1995, the now-famous Mark Howell and David Mock researched and revisited the so-called Bubba Busts of 1975 and 1985. (As you may know, Mark Howell now edits Solares Hill.)
Their story originally appeared in Key West The Newspaper on February 17, 1995. It was updated and re-published on July 25, 2003, adding info about the 1995 Bubba Bust.
Anyone who looks back over Key West history for the last 20 years or so will note that, about the middle of every decade— almost like clockwork— the feds swoop down and make what has come to be called a “Bubba Bust.” It happened in 1975, 1985 and again in 1995.