Saturday, February 16, 2008

How we see ourselves

After that last post, it occurred to me that I ought to look at Key West in another way, the way that a resident might. This resident anyway.

Visitors see our enchanted island as I saw it the first time I returned here in 1999, a dreamy sort of place, with a feel of island, a vacation isle in the warm, a magical place with an indefineable yet ever-present aura made up of sights, sounds, smells that are vaguely foreign, especially to those from less-tropical locales.

We who are fortunate to live here, most if us, still get those feelings, but we also see things that most tourists know nothing of. Familiarity, it is said, breeds contempt. But no, it isn't contempt that some of us feel, it's more like outrage, like when the Monroe County Commission does something extremely stupid, something that benefits a few at the expense of the many. Like when three of them, the Gang of Three as it is called, overturned the recommendations of their professional Planning Department and the volunteer Planning Commission and pretty much destroyed a carefully-crafted plan to preserve the working waterfront. There's a Latin adage, cui bono, that means "who benefits?" One-time mayoral candidate John Mertz proposed a three-pronged test in 2003, questions that ought to be asked about any proposal to change something that is working the way that it is. The three questions are: 1) Who wants it and why?; 2) How will it benefit the Key West community?; and 3) Who will it damage and how can we lessen that damage? John was focusing then on some of the earliest moves by developers to transfer transient rental licenses into Old Town neighborhoods from elsewhere in the City of Key West. The three-pronged test is a very valid way to assess things like the this and others of a similar type. Oddly enough, the original impetus for the test, transient rental license transfers continues as an issue. Oddly enough, Ed Swift is the one who would benefit from a current proposed transfer of licenses from developer Pritam Singh (and Singh would benefit financially from sale of the licenses). The proposal is on hold while the two try to round up enough votes on the Planning Board, something they haven't been able to do since last September. That's a topic for another post here in the near future.

Cayo Don lists and other problems in Paradise in his most recent entry to his Key West Chronicle. His post was picked up by another South Florida blog, Eye on Miami, wherein GimletEye, one of a pair who write that blog, takes off on Ed Swift, naming him Demagogue of the Year.

I had a conversation last week with my friend Stan. The topic of that exchange turned to the environment and then to Swift's partner, Chris Belland, CEO of Historic Tours of America. I proposed to Stan that maybe Belland (and Swift) weren't the bad guys that many here believe they are, that at least they were taking concrete action to a good end. Stan wasn't having any of that. He assured me that whenever you hear of Swift and Belland doing something "good", that there's a selfish motive behind it. I'd like to believe that's the view of a cynic, but Stan isn't a cynic and he's been here for over thirty years and knows the players better than I do.

I'm ever sensitive to my own biases in these matters and I realize that I can't expect how I think about something to always prevail over somebody else's ideas on that same matter. All I can do is tell you how I feel about it and persuade enough others to understand why my way is better than theirs, or someone else's. Or allow them to persuade me to their ways. I have an open mind (I like to think).


David Lybrand said...

I've questioned my own impressions of Swifty in the past, after watching some of his performances at the City Commission where he actually seems to show some real concern for "workers" or other aspects of Island life.

But then, when the whole picture is viewed (beyond the closely cropped area he focuses on) it virtually always shows how self-serving his actions are. For example, he'd lobby for accolades for his Railroad Yard "affordable" complex behind Keys Energy, but duck when the Steam Plant monstrosity assoicated with it comes into focus....

His (and Pritham's) efforts at this Thursday's planning board meeting are to subvert a law meant to PRESERVE permanent housing, which he and Pritham want to use for the opposite purpose -- to convert about a dozen moderate-cost apartments into TRANSIENT units. How does that fit into his constant self-promotion of being a defender of the working stiff?

I was recently doing some research on the Citizen's site and got hits on several "Swift Boat" letters by him attacking the motives of Last Stand, who's "crime" (in his eyes) is to question his attempts to hide his efforts at personal gain behind a veil of self-proclaimed "public service".

I have no doubt that the whole "assisted living" debacle (see for background) was driven by his participation on the FKACC's board. Again anyone who questioned the inequities in the overall plan were "Swift boated" as heartless rabble-rousers.

I'd sure like for Ed to prove my observations are misguided. So far all indications are in the opposite direction.

Concerned Neighbor said...


Thanks for remembering the "three pronged test." You got the three questions right. (The original post is lost in cyberspace.)

It's a foolproof way of testing those "initiatives" that appear from time to time, usually with a sense of urgency, but which seem to have no actual public author or sponsor.

Many thanks to you and others like you who help us keep an eye on the self appointed arbiters of what the public supposedly needs.

John Mertz

David Lybrand said...

Great to see your name (and a number of other concerned citizens on the lawsuit against the City to stop Pritham's latest attempt to get all those transient licenses pushed into Old Town from the old Hampton Inn. Interesting to see that his lawyers withdrew the request again before it could be voted on at the Planning Board. I do believe that they had probably wised up to the point where the request would have been turned down.

But regardless of what MIGHT have happened, the lawsuit will at least resolve the mis-use of the transfer ordinance that Pritham was trying to take advantage of. Got to watch them every second....

Use OpenDNS