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An Information Guide to Duck Key in the Florida Keys


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Has Duck Key been disenfranchised?

Commissioners Spehar, Nelson, and McCoy have been severely criticized in several editorials and articles published in the KeyNoter and Key West Citizen. The Commissioners are referred as the "Gang of Three", "amateur tyrants" and the " three-commissioner junta". The Citizen suggests, "It's time to explore the procedure for recalling these bullies."

A February news article in the Key West Citizen was especially critical of Commissioner McCoy

In a January 7, 2006 Key West Citizen newspaper the editorial commented,

"The political landscape of Monroe County increasingly resembles a battleground. . . .

The junta of Spehar, Murray Nelson and Mayor Sonny McCoy has become a closed committee that is operating punitive politics."

As with some circles of national politics, there is no room for compromise. Spehar, Nelson and McCoy vote in tandem on all issues, usually resulting in a 3-2 vote with George Neugent and David Rice providing the loyal opposition.
What has happened is that a significant percentage of the county populace is disenfranchised — including all those who look to Neugent and Rice to provide input into decisions that should come after perhaps spirited discussions among all five commissioners.
It may come as a surprise to Spehar, Nelson and McCoy, but their decisions are not always the best decisions. They could stand to listen, not just to their fellow county citizens, but to their fellow county commissioners as well.
We do not live in a closed society any more than we should be governed by a closed County Commission."

Duck Key is represented on the Board of Commissioners by David Rice. Both Rice and Neugent represent the Middle Keys.

The Keynoter commented in their January 11, 2006 edition that ". . . appointments have been politicized of late." This past fall Commissioner Nugent nominated Kim Wigington to the Planning Commission, but in a break with precedent Commissioners Spehar, Nelson, and McCoy voted not to approve the appointment.

Earlier in December the same three Commissioners removed Debbie Harrison from the county's Land Authority Advisory Board.

The Keynoter wrote of Spehar, Nelson, and McCoy,

"The majority bloc of the Monroe County Commission has now officially codified its unwritten rule that dissent has no place in the realm of public policy in the Keys." . . . "Removing Harrison and other actions by the commission's majority bloc is all about stifling opposing voices and viewpoints.

The Keynoter editorial continued

". . . the holy trio of Spehar, McCoy and Nelson shot down not one, but two of Commissioner George Neugent's choices to sit on another county advisory panel, the Planning Commission. Neugent is on the outside with Commissioner David Rice. "

"Of late, the term “Gang of Three” has been heard more and more throughout the county. It's not a term of endearment. Because only bullies belong to gangs, and it's apparent that bullying is acceptable to the majority of the County Commission at the expense of all other voices."

In December the Citizen characterized Spehar, McCoy and Nelson actions with regard to Harrison as "outrageous" and wrote that the "County move reeks of intolerance of dissent."

The editorial continued,

"It's not like we needed more evidence that the current County Commission majority is apparently intent on consolidating power and eliminating those who might dare to dissent from having any voice in county affairs."

The editorial concluded with the comment that,

"This move also comes right after the same commission majority — Spehar, Nelson and Mayor Sonny McCoy — rejected Commissioner George Neugent's more environmentally minded nominees to the county Planning Commission and installed its own choice instead. Clearly they are unwilling to tolerate a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives having any voice in county government. That's a real shame, because every time we stifle open conversation, we increase the polarization of our politics."

 

FEBRUARY - Key West Citizen Editorial

Parts of a very negative editorial in which the Citizen calls for a RECALL

. . . "County attorney's firing a sham, insult to citizens
Three Monroe County Commissioners — Mayor Sonny McCoy and Commissioners Murray Nelson and Dixie Spehar — allegedly had a simultaneous and spontaneous thought at Wednesday's County Commission meeting: Fire County Attorney Richard Collins because he is in poor health and because he reportedly wants to retire."

The thought "allegedly" was spontaneous . . . . . But (Sunshine Law) violation or not, the political theater that took place Wednesday was a thinly veiled sham and an insult to the citizens of Monroe County.

". . . Collins has been unresponsive to McCoy's and Nelson's attempts to play loose with the law. Collins was less than cooperative with the mayor when McCoy was helping Frank and Kathy Lee Gifford keep their illegal downstairs enclosure in Ocean Reef — Collins later refused to force an assistant attorney, who apparently offended McCoy, to apologize to the mayor.
Collins was uncooperative when McCoy wanted to help Percy Curry, who faced thousands of dollars in fines for a swimming pool built illegally without permits — McCoy insisted on calling the pool a "water retention area."
Collins was uncooperative when McCoy sought to bend the rules to revive a building permit for a friend of his son-in-law.
Collins was uncooperative with Nelson when the commissioner sought to give County Administrator Tom Willi a $10,000 performance bonus as part of a "gentleman's agreement," though it was not permitted under state law."
. . .
"We should not be surprised that our three-commissioner junta has eliminated yet another obstacle to its unchecked control of county affairs. The three have run roughshod over anyone who has dared to disagree with them, and unquestionably would fire the minority commissioners were it within their power.
. . . Neugent and Commissioner David Rice, representing two of the county's five districts, effectively have been politically paralyzed.
. . .
What we are witnessing is government at its worst. We see elected officials who not only are recklessly disregarding the warnings of their advisors in order to advance their own agendas, but they also are eliminating public debate of important public issues by eliminating the debaters. Chastised by the governor and state Cabinet, this gang of amateur tyrants has no credibility in Tallahassee — and what support remains in the Keys political landscape is based largely on fear of retribution.
It's time to explore the procedure for recalling these bullies. That looks like the only option for restoring good government in the Florida Keys. Perhaps that can be a project for Collins now that he has some time on his hands.
— The Citizen"

 

FEBRUARY - Key West Citizen New Article

During February 2006 an article in the Citizen by Ann Henson (ahenson@keysnews.com) entitled "Collins: Mayor's way or highway" was critical of Commissioner McCoy.

"The Monroe County attorney (Collins) says he was fired because he stood in the way of favors and deals orchestrated by county Mayor Sonny McCoy.
Richard Collins accused McCoy of changing an ordinance to help a celebrity couple in Ocean Reef, trying to bend the rules so a former Key West policeman could get a building permit, stretching an opinion by the Florida Attorney General so commissioners could have teleconference meetings, and calling a swimming pool that was built without a permit a water retention area to avoid substantial fines."
"I could not go along with McCoy's way of doing the public business," Collins said Friday.
. . . .

The article explains how Collins and McCoy have different accounts of how their relationship went sour.

Under a section entitled "Changing the laws" reporter Anne Hanson write that the problem started with the enclosing of the downstairs portion of an Ocean Reef home owned by celebrity couple Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford.

The article points out that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not allow living space below a specified height were flooding may occur, and that Monroe County had adopted that provision in order that County residents maintain their eligible for Federal flood insurance.

The Gifford's downstairs enclosure of 3,700-square-foot was listed on the building permit as storage, but instead contained 12 rooms including a maid's quarters, bedrooms, bathrooms, a gym and other amenities. The Giffords were cited for having a "concealed illegal enclosure".

Hanson wrote,

"But at a February 2005 meeting, McCoy urged the commission to change the ordinance regulating the prosecution of building code violations to define "concealed" as being visible only upon entering a home. Since their enclosure had exterior windows, the Giffords were off the hook.
The board advised Collins to take no action in the case."

The article explains that at a follow-up meeting with Collins, County Administrator Tom Willi, Growth Management Director Tim McGarry and assistant county attorney Pedro Marcado present there was sharp disagreement between McCoy and Marcado about whether the intent of the agreement between the County and FEMA was to prosecute violations. After the meeting, Collins said Commissioner McCoy sought an apology in the belief that Marcado had been rude. McCoy was offended by Marcado's dissertation on the subject, and Mercado felt McCoy tried to speak over him with Marcado saying. "I asked him not to interrupt."

No one apologized and " McCoy and Collins have not spoken since."

In the same article in a section entitled "Reviving expired permits" reporter Hanson wrotes that according to sources Commissioner McCoy asked Collins, McGarry and another building official what could be done to assist a friend of McCoy's son-in-law in obtaining a renewal of an expired building permit to finish a half-built house.

"McCoy asked Collins, McGarry and another building official what could be done, but no one could find a way to legally revive it, sources within the county attorney's office said.
McCoy has continued to press the issue for a year and a half.
McCoy admits he asked Assistant County Attorney Bob Shillinger to look into the matter again just last week. But he denies any wrongdoing.
"This thing is an eyesore, it's half finished," McCoy said. "I asked him to look. I didn't ask them to do anything wrong."

Another section in the article entitled " Bending the rules" Hanson wrote that sources told of a resident of Big Coppit Key who had built a swimming pool which may have had code violations and was accumulating substantial code enforcement fines.


"McCoy said he remembers the 3- to 4-year-old case, but doesn't remember that the lot didn't have enough open space for water filtration. According to sources, McCoy called the swimming pool a water retention area and was adamant that it could be defined as such.
The county reduced Curry's fine and allowed the pool to stay.
"Citizens look to their commissioners to solve their problems, sometimes we can help, sometimes we cannot," McCoy said. "Have we done anything illegal? I hope not.
"And if [Collins] is saying I'm telling him to do things illegally, I'll sue him"

Two other sections of the Hanson Citizen article entitled "Stretching the truth" and "Failing to communicate" gave further details of the dispute between McCoy and Collins. As to his firing Collin's is quoted "It's giving me a nine-month paid vacation. And that doesn't serve Monroe County citizens well."

Reporter Hanson explains that Collin's contract provides for continuation of his salary, vacation and sick leave pay, car allowance, and contributions to his retirement account and health plan until it expires in January of 2007.


KeyNoter
Parts of reporter Alyson Matley's February KeyNoter article on the Collin's dismissal appear below.

"The vote by McCoy, Spehar and Commissioner Murray Nelson did nothing to dispel a growing sentiment throughout the county that their three-vote bloc has run amok to the point of killing any dissent. . . . .

Their actions have raised the ire of many residents who say they feel disenfranchised every time Rice and Neugent are quashed by the majority.

Former County Commissioner Shirley Freeman has watched closely since she decided not run for re-election in 2000, and likens the voting bloc to the presidential administration.

“Because they can, they do,” Freeman said. “They're pushing the envelope way over the line, just because they can.”

Collins summed it up as “the price of democracy run amok with no controls.”