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]


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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