Jun 032018
 

by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….

Whether the Royal Poinciana should be chosen as the official tree of the city of Key West or whether it should be the Spanish Lime tree should have developed into a healthy debate illustrating the charms and good sense of living in a small town. Instead, the item on the Tree Commission’s recent agenda inadvertently opened a momentary portal into the inside workings of local government, raising issues of abuse of power and the possibly illegal actions of politicians throwing their weight around at city employees simply trying to do their jobs.

During the May 8th meeting Mayor Cates, who just so happens to favor the Royal Poinciana, took offense at an opposing point of view presented by the Tree Commission’s key staff member, Karen Demaria, the city’s Urban Forestry Manager:

“I’m really disappointed the way you spoke against it when you’re an employee of the city of Key West and you’re giving your personal opinions that you don’t like Royal Poinciana trees. These people are doing policy for the city and so does the commission and we’re the elected officials and these are the appointed commission that makes the decision and then the employees implement them. I was very disappointed in that.” ~ Mayor Cates, May 8th, Tree Commission Meeting [see video above]

KEY WEST MUNICIPAL CODE:

3.04 – Duties of commission regarding administrative officers and employees.

(a) Neither the commission nor any of its members shall in any manner dictate the appointment or removal of any city administrative officers or employees whom the manager or any of his subordinates are empowered to appoint, except as provided in this Charter, but the commission may express its views and fully and freely discuss with the manager anything pertaining to appointment and removal of such officers and employees.

(b) Except for the purpose of inquiries and investigations, the commission or its members shall deal with city officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the manager solely through the manager and neither the commission nor its members shall give orders to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately.

(c) Nothing in the foregoing is to be construed to prohibit individual members of the commission from closely scrutinizing by questions and personal observation, all aspects of city government operations so as to obtain independent information to assist the members in the formulation of sound policies to be considered by the commission. It is the express intent of this Charter, however, that recommendations for improvement in city government operations by individual commissioners be made to and through the city manager, so that the manager may coordinate efforts of all city departments to achieve the greatest possible savings through the most efficient and sound means available.

(d) Any commissioner who shall violate the provisions of subsections (a) and (b) set forth above is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, to be tried by a court of competent jurisdiction and punishable as provided by state law. Conviction under this part shall be grounds for censure, suspension or removal of the commissioner violating the provisions of this section by a majority vote of the remaining members of the city commission.

In Key West, the unnerving suspicion that well-connected people get special treatment has a colorful name, it’s called, “The Bubba System.”

With all due respect to Mayor Cates and to all the great work he has done for this City, the independence of city employees should be both protected when it is attacked and restored when it has been corrupted.

 

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Arnaud and Naja Girard
Arnaud and Naja Girard, publishers and editors of the new, digital, Key West the Newspaper (The Blue Paper) previously reported for the former Key West The Newspaper, Key West’s longest running independent weekly, published by Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D., from January 1994 until November 2012. The Girards are perhaps best known for their discovery of and extensive research surrounding the US Navy’s 1951 claim of ownership of Wisteria Island but are also responsible for top investigative stories including breaking news coverage of the highly controversial in-custody-death of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving Day 2013, the catastrophic police tasing of Matthew Shawn Murphy, and the property tax scandal involving Balfour Beatty to name a few. Arnaud and Naja have lived in Key West since 1986.
 June 3, 2018  Posted by at 2:27 pm Naja and Arnaud Girard, News  Add comments

  2 Responses to “Is What the Mayor Did at the May 8th Tree Commission Meeting Illegal?”

  1. Cates’ case will rely on (c) “closely scrutinizing by questions and personal observation, all aspects of city government operations so as to obtain independent information to assist the members in the formulation of sound policies to be considered by the commission.”

    If he had added a question, e.g., “I don’t understand why you so dislike the poinciana,” he might be in the clear. As it is he is only offering tendential observation.

  2. “I’m really disappointed the way you spoke against it when you’re an employee of the city of Key West and you’re giving your personal opinions that you don’t like Royal Poinciana trees. These people are doing policy for the city and so does the commission and we’re the elected officials and these are the appointed commission that makes the decision and then the employees implement them. I was very disappointed in that.” ~ Mayor Cates, May 8th, Tree Commission Meeting

    Looks to me, in addition to Mayor Cates violating the city ordinance, he did the same thing to Demaria that he said she did to him. They both gave their opinions, and they both were city employees, but Demaria could not criticize Mayor Cates’ choice of official tree, but Mayor Cates could criticize Demaria’s choice of a different tree.

    There is far more to this thanks City Commissioner Margaret Romero during the ensuing May 15 city commission meeting.

    My recollection of and thoughts about what I saw and heard at that city commission meeting:

    Commissioner Romero said that she had attended that tree commission meeting and it had been agreed that the Tree Commission would try to hold a public workshop and get more citizen input, before the Tree Commission voted its preference for the city’s official tree. The Tree Commission asked when was the soonest this could be before the City Commission, and the City Clerk Cheri Smith said in June, because it had to be put on the city commission agenda 7 days before a city commission meeting, and there was not enough time to do that in May.

    Yet, naming the official city tree was on the May 15 city commission agenda:

    # 17 Naming the Royal Poinciana Tree as the Official Tree of the City of Key West. No sponsor.

    When Commissioner Romero objected to the item being on the city commission agenda, after the Tree Commission had been told the item would not be taken up until June by the City Commission, Cheri Smith said she had put it on the city commission agenda after receiving a request for more information from City Commissioner Clayton Lopez.

    Then ensued tense discussion about, (a) the City Commission cutting the Tree Commission out of the process before the Tree Commission had finished its own deliberations, and (b) putting the item on the City Commision agenda with only 6 days lead time, which violated the city’s own ordinance.

    The excuse floated and agreed upon by all elected officials but Commissioner Romero was going with only 6 days notice had happened numerous times before and it was no big deal.

    During the ensuring City Commission discussion on the dais about approving item #17, it became clear to me that this was Mayor Cates’ agenda item, even though his name was not on it. He spoke passionately at length for the royal poinciana being the city’s official tree.

    My impression was that Mayor Cates was incensed that Commissioner Romero spoke out, even though she said she was in favor of making the royal poinciana the city’s official tree, and when t#17 was voted, Romero voted YES. It was unanimous, 7-0.

    Adding to the drama, under the City Charter, the Mayor appoints the members of the Tree Commission but Tree Commission members only can be removed by the City Commission.

    Looks to me what happened was Mayor Cates was concerned the Tree Commission might side with Demaria and he cut her and the Tree Commission out of the process.

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