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Friday, July 27, 2012

Send in The Clowns...

   Fernandina Beach has been blessed by many different resources.  We have the historic district full of old homes and old stores and warehouses.  We have the rivers and marshes and, of course, the beach.  We have public pools, tennis courts, a golf course and a city owned marina.  It is a virtual empty canvas, small town America at its finest, a place where you can paint your life's dreams.  More importantly we have wonderful residents who, in their diversity, make this a place just about anyone could live.

  But, that could also be part of the problem.  People move here and decide they need to fill in that canvas for all of us but not with their pocket book.  What attracted them isn't good enough after a few months or maybe a year.  We can do this better, or "the best way is this!" they tell you.  I always tell friends who buy new homes and want to immediately renovate they should wait a year or two and live in the house and with the house before they make major changes.  A new hometown should probably be even longer.  Cycles of a community aren't just four seasons there is much more.

  We have had more than our fair share of newcomers whose two cents towards improvements have cost us as a community.  Not just monetarily, which they certainly have, but in camaraderie and neighborliness.  The Independence Day celebration where a city commissioner had to brag about his donation after the public reaction was wholly negative towards him.  How divisive he turned out to be!  How interesting that Sammy Alvarez, a hometown boy who went off and came back after a military stint was finally outed as a Green Beret, the elitest of the U.S. Army.  "Who'd a thunk it?" was repeated many times after his letter railed against the Great Hooha. 

  How about the $44,000.00 in "uplights" that didn't.  They didn't "uplight" at all!  "What happened?" everyone wanted to know.  Well, another case of someone who had a brighter idea, pun intended.  A city employee certainly outside her field of expertise that let downtown deteriorate and decided that it would be easier to remove the tree lights and reward a specific company by writing the request for a product for their benefit.  Made her life easier, to hell with the appearance of our beautiful historic downtown.

  Parking meters! Again, and again and again ad nauseam. They were done away with decades ago because they weren't good for the community.  But no, we can spend thousands and thousands of dollars to buy these things, administer them and repair them in hopes of generating a few dollars.  All while our city's budget is swollen beyond its seams and ready to burst ala California.

  Two rec centers!  "Too many" if you're the Great Hooha and have no respect for our community's history.  Sometimes there are deeper currents than a few dollars that don't regenerate themselves.  For instance, does the police department pay for itself in dollars into the city coffers?  I would bet its not even close but who thinks you do away with police protection.  Same with the Fire and Rescue!  Those are people who help make our city what it is but we need to pay for them.  Programs for children are in the same group.  May not pay for themselves in dollars but the community benefits far exceed the dollars spent.

  No, our leadership for years has been of the opposite school of thought,  Ignore what makes this good for the people and that we can afford.  Spend money on other things!  McGill Aviation for instance! And don't forget their lawyers, almost a million dollars later.  Our City Attorney assured us we would prevail on appeal, it was money well spent.  What she meant to say was that in her opinion it was "our money" well spent.  What agreement did she have to share in the loss?  Pay half of the additional costs in interest, transcript costs and attorney's fees.  I bet not!  She won't lose a dime for her "leadership" on this issue.

  How about the money we're spending on Forward Fernandina.  Bursting budget, rising taxes, increased user fees and, I'm willing to bet, another increase in the taxes we call franchise fees to pay for all of this.  "Hey money is cheap," they tell us.  Of course that was the prevailing opinion in California also - four towns in bankruptcy and the whole state government one foot in the same hole and the other on a pile of banana peels.  Don't worry left coasters, Fernandina is following in your footsteps.

  How about our recent interim city manager.  The one we paid an additional month's salary because his contract for a temporary job - isn't that what interim is supposed to be - included a thirty day notice clause.  It was only seven or eight thousand dollars you will be told.  Yeah, that's right, but it was our seven or eight thousand dollars.  Not a stewardly way to spend tax dollars!

  I am certain Frank Sinatra is delighted with government in Fernandina.  If he had it to do all over again he would certainly live here where our city anthem has to be one of his old hits, Send in the Clowns.  How else do we attract them all?  Zoul and Czymbor are only two examples there have been others.  Lawyers, engineers, building officials are all part of the parade.  We need to change this pattern and return to a simpler, sounder and safer way of governing.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Gift...

  The gift that keeps on giving!  No, its not learning how to read, or fish or tend a garden.  Those are all gifts we should be thankful for.  Ones that good people took their time to make sure we got.  Whether it was that first grade teacher, or our dad or grandmother or that sweet neighbor that spent time with you when she knew you were on your mom's last nerve.

  No, the gift I'm talking about is that one we Fernandinans got from Michigan - Michael Czymbor!  He led our community down the primrose path and we now stand at a Grand Canyon sized dilemma called financial ruin.  He robbed Peter to pay Paul.  He treated our utilities like a never ending bank account and had the ability to do so because the "Five Buffoons" took his balderdash hook, line and sinker.

  I remember the day then Mayor Susan Steeger tried explaining the proposed budget with a line item showing $500,000.00 from parking generated fees.  "Ya'll don't understand, budgets are fluid," she told a friend and me.  Fluid certainly, the kind that is flushable because that is exactly what the situation was worth.  Czymbor sold the greatest commission of all time on that approach and it didn't matter that the $500,000 was never going to come about, for purposes of selling the public on his abilities it showed a balance sheet in agreement.  Like the emperor with no clothes though, it all fell apart.  Thank God!

  Citizens finally had enough last November and threw two of the bums out.  That was enough to re-gift our great leader and send him on to Palatka.  Putnam County beware!  Caveat emptor!  Czymbor is on the loose and your bank accounts are in danger.  We found that out here in our little outpost on the edge of the continent.

  How does a City Manager hide a $429,000.00 obligation from the board he serves at the pleasure of.  How does a board continue to show their face when they allowed it to happen.  It is at the very least misfeasance but quite possibly malfeasance!  A breach of their fiduciary duty to this community, their constituents.  Those they were elected to serve have instead been served up whole hog style, apple in the mouth and roasted to a crisp.

  I feel like a four year old on a family road trip.  "How long before November mommy?" is the question I keep asking though.  The three remaining commissioners, in good faith, should each resign with this kind of Damoclean sword hanging over our collective heads.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

TV Interviews

   Last night was a particularly troublesome night for me.  It was the night before a jury trial which is usually a night with little sleep, a lot of work and even more stress.  What made it worse is that two particular TV interviewers that I don't particularly care for had guests on that I had to see - at the same time.

  Piers Morgan, the Brit wannabe Larry King, had Justice Antonin Scalia and some professor who co-wrote a book.  I more often than not disagree with Scalia, his way of thinking and, more so, his way of writing decisions.  But, I'll be damned if he's not a great guy and someone I would love to spend time with away from a courthouse.  He is a classic of his generation of Italian male Roman Catholics.  Justice Scalia is funny, intelligent, well spoken and definitive in his positions.  If you don't know where he stands its simply because you choose not to know.

  Sean Hannity, on his Fox News show, had George Zimmerman and Mark O'Mara.  I have to admit my first thoughts on hearing that were why any criminal defense lawyer would let his client go on national television and be subjected to questioning.  Others I know wonder why the Judge hasn't issued a gag order?  Well, color me surprised!  GZ not only handled himself well he answered questions appropriately, made eye contact and was seemingly thoughtful at the right times as the interview progressed.

  Being a near troglodyte when it comes to electronics I couldn't record either of them and had to count on the fact that each would be replayed during the wee hours when I knew I would still be awake and working.  I guess it was a rather lucky break.  I got to see both!  Enjoyed them both immensely for entirely different reasons and was impressed that there was something worth watching on weeknight television.

  GZ's disposition last night will serve him well if he has to take the stand in a second degree murder trial.  He did well!  O'Mara was there to divert areas of conversation that were potential minefields such as the perjury charge against his wife and to touch on some legal issues that Hannity raised.  I do realize if there is a potentially sympathetic audience it would be Fox News and their usually conservative leaning watchers.  But, all the same, GZ did what he needed to do and did it well.

  What a great night for TV.  Too bad it isn't being replayed tonight I 'd watch again!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Rush Is On...

  The allegations are out!  Now George Zimmerman has gone from racist murderer to sexual abuser.  "I always wanted to keep it quiet..."

  Let's suppose what GZ's cousin is saying is wholly true, every sordid bit of it.  Why now?  Piling on, they call it in football.  It's illegal in football and should be in life as a whole.  If the young lady wanted to keep it private then she should have done so.  No public accusations until there is a news level she never dreamed of in her life.  Why would you do it?  Bring yourself under the scrutiny of the world press in a matter that is of no relation.  Is it her fifteen minutes of fame?  Some would say it must be true or she wouldn't have made herself a public figure and expose herself to the probably unending attention of anyone and everyone who has already made up their mind about the guilt of GZ.

  But, that willingness to come forward may carry some credibility with it when you do it for the purely simple purpose of exposing an abuser.  Once that person achieves some level of fame or infamy your reasons are now questionable.  I have told many people that if you dreamed something as a ten year old and told your best friend there are prosecutors out there who will try to indict you for a conspiracy.  Watch the reaction now!  Is this a prior bad act that will subject GZ to impeachment if he testifies?  There is already talk about this showing his true character.  Balderdash!  There is no talk out there in the community of him being an abuser.  No one else has said this openly.  But watch what happens, the fruitcakes will be espousing every imaginable accusation about him.  The bugs will be coming out from the woodwork because they can.

  Look at it for GZ.  How does one disprove a negative?  No one has said anything about this in his entire adult life.  He has gone about life, married, enrolled in school got jobs all without this issue ever raising its ugly head.  Now, out of nowhere he is blindsided by a hit and run driver who he can not defend himself against.  If he stands up and calls her out the reaction is "methinks thou dost protest too much!"  If GZ sits by in hopes that it dies a quiet death "he knows its true or he'd do something about it" is the argument.  A true Catch 22!

  This is a case that should be decided on the facts alone.  Nothing else!  Not all the talking head lawyers who offer their opinions on a situation of which they have little or no inside knowledge.  Not the lawyers for the dead young man's family - they have a monied interest in this matter - they are advocates and their position has a slant to it that they are pursuing for their clients.  Not the rabble rousers who have come in seeking their few minutes of fame on the back of the deceased young man's corpse - both sides by the way.  Not the idiots that post on all the newspaper websites with their racist views, illogical rants and half baked legal theories unsupported by the law - again both sides.

  Criminal trial as sport has risen to a level of distaste that impacts the finest criminal justice system known to humanity.  OJ made it a daily drama and it has now sunk to new lows.  Cases that would have suffered the fate of all non-celebrity matters are pushed to the forefront of each news cycle.  Why?  Simple answer - green American dollars!  Hype sells.  Sordid hype sells big!

  The NFL in its earliest days had professional football players who held second jobs during the off season.  Who can forget Bart Starr and his Cadillac dealership.  There were many others also.  Now, criminal trial lawyers - defense and prosecution - will be attending acting classes along with marketing 101 and hiring clothing consultants and getting the $400 John Edwards haircuts.  Book agents and ghost writers will be next!  We were once a simple group, close when necessary, solitary ships most of the time.  Like the NFL of old, we were regular Joes and Janes going about our life, unrecognized by most of society.  Not any more!

  Did anyone learn from the Casey Anthony trial?  The world was convinced she would be found guilty and die in jail.  Her peers decided otherwise and there was an uproar because the rush to judgment had been ignored by jurors who didn't do what the people wanted.  I guess what it amounts to is a modern high tech, instantaneous information lynch mob.  We've made up our mind now find a way to justify it.

  That isn't justice and it isn't the American Way.  Let justice be done!  Everyone shut up, sit back and let the criminal justice system funnel this case through the process.  Like sausage being made it may not be pretty, but what comes out is pretty darn tasty most of the time.

Friday, July 13, 2012

If you Can't Afford To Live Here...

  Can Fernandina afford to limit services for our youth?  The biggest criticism I have heard about our town in my 20 plus years here has been the lack of entertainment opportunities for our youth.  I guess it doesn't matter if you're the Great Hooha.  He's got his, tough luck kids!

  The Great Hooha - Tim Poynter for those who don't know of his lack of concern for our traditions, being from Cincinnati or some other such God forsaken place - wants to know what we can afford.  Well, the first answer that flies to my mind is if all the business people, especially those holding public office, acted as the stewards of the community they are supposed to be we would be able to do a lot more for those who need it.  Other restaurateurs are told $550.00 per seat but the Great Hooha pays none.  When you're counting your nickles and dimes $30,000.00 is a lot of money.  When you have to beg money from the citizenry to honor our traditions, our veterans and our forefathers it is even more money.  The Great Hooha himself bragged about his "early" donation of $1,000.00!

  I call balderdash on his homunculus self!  I say the Great Hooha made a three per cent (3%) investment of what he owed the city in hopes that no one would know of his scheme to avoid impact fees. 

  I call double balderdash on the idea that we cut money by cutting programs from children but we continue to mortgage and spend in the wake of the financial woes that have beset us.  Three California towns have filed bankruptcy recently, but only two because of overspending and declining revenues.  Lucky for us!  The third one filed because of an airport lawsuit...  Oh hell, what do we do now?  We have a lawsuit over our airport we've lost at every turn and continue to spend good money after bad trying to get it back.  Gamblers call that doubling down.  I hope voters will call it irresponsible actions by commissioners and city lawyers!

  Reading the reputedly responsible views of the Fernandina Observer I learned that franchise fees are different than the taxes the commission is talking about raising.  Triple balderdash it is!  We pay money to an independent - wink, wink - company who our government gives an exclusive franchise to operate within our city limits.  They in turn give that money to the city for the privilege of operating within the city.  By any other name that is a tax!  Yes it is a tax collected by a middleman who probably gets to keep a few cents per hundred to add to their burgeoning bottom line but city government is taking our hard earned money in the guise of a franchise fee.  I thought the franchisee paid the fee to the franchisor.  We are the city of Fernandina and yet our elected leaders are tapping us like a bottomless well.

  Sorry, I digress.  We are using franchise fees to pay for Forward Fernandina so that is okay in the Great Hooha's way of looking at things.  It isn't raising taxes to pay for this program its raising franchise fees.  As he told us some time ago, speaking from the mount to us peons below, "if we can't afford to live here leave!"  I guess we could apply that to the increased franchise fees and if you can't afford them just disconnect the electricity.  After all refrigeration, lights, air conditioning and the other modern conveniences are not all that important.

  What is important?  Simple question and a sensible one too.  Downtown!  That's what is important.  The trouble is all you people who don't have businesses downtown, or live down here need to realize its your obligation to pony up to make sure we stay on top down here.  You peons be damned!  Think about it, not just oh gee whiz we've been talking about this for so long, etc, etc, etc.  Forward Fernandina, what does it do for your neighborhood?  The franchise fees, what are they going to do for your neighborhood?  Does the waterfront come alive off Atlantic, or off Citrona or even Jasmine?  Does a library that is the responsibility of the county really have to be downtown?  Does it have to be downtown at the expense of $50 for every man, woman and child in Fernandina?  And, on top of it, since we are borrowing that $50 we have to pay interest on it too!  That is not responsible government!

  Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their community!  Step back Great Hooha because you have proven you aren't good and this isn't a community you belong to, you see it as your servants.  Your affection for Forward Fernandina is almost incestuous!  It makes me wonder if the first word is really Forward and not another f-word.  From you, I wouldn't doubt it for a minute.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Right to Remain Silent

  Comedian Ron White tells stories of his apparently checkered past and relates events where he had the right to remain silent but not the ability!  That failure to exercise your rights can be more harmful than most realize.  I cannot tell you about the number of video tapes I have seen of suspects in custody, handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, who share information that they would never want to be heard by anyone else, especially law enforcement.

   The proceeds of a robbery safely hidden or disposed of to never be found again, but for the foolish loose lip syndrome that infects people when confronted by law enforcement.  Drugs hidden in a place they would never be found, even with the help of a dog, given up by the back seat discussion of co-defendants in custody.

  There is no constitutionally protected right to privacy in a public place or the backseat of a patrol car.  I don't care what you saw on TV.  It doesn't matter what Judge Judy said!  You have no expectation of privacy in places other than your home or other such protected locations.  Digging a shallow grave in your backyard in full view of your neighbors is not protected behavior!

  Talking on the telephone from a jail cell is not the place to invoke a poorly created code to cover some nefarious action you wish to discuss.  With modern equipment and digital recording there is very little you can do that won't come back to haunt you.  Have you ever looked at the light posts in shopping mall parking lots.  Yes those are cameras on top and yes they can take videos of you on their property without your permission.  Yes it is dumb to drive the stolen vehicle to a mall and enter a store using the credit cards you found inside.

  I am not attempting to counsel people on committing crimes but I am telling you your actions, your speech and your behavior can carry consequences that you don't anticipate.  The reason there are criminal defense lawyers is that law enforcement can take innocent intentions, words or actions and view them in a way that you end up in custody.  When that happens people are often astonished!  How could they arrest me?  It happens routinely across our great country and innocent people end up in a system they don't understand expending their resources, or those of their families, getting out of the hot water they so casually stepped in without thinking.

  FACDL has a T-shirt I wear frequently that provokes comments.  The front says - "You have the right to remain silent...!"  The back finishes with - "Now use it!"

  Don't think for a minute that is insignificant advice.  Look at George Zimmerman and his actions in the days after the unfortunate death of Trayvon Martin.  He was a good law abiding citizen.  Had nothing to hide!  Wanted to cooperate with the police.  If I asked for a lawyer they would think I was guilty!  They said I probably didn't need a lawyer it was just a few questions!  I have heard them all  from all kinds of people that have wandered into my office because they are either under investigation or have already been arrested.

  It starts out quite simple, "you wouldn't mind explaining to us how it went down would you?"  Having nothing to hide people voluntarily comply.  Now, no one thinks that the situation they are describing was emotionally charged, happened so fast and has been replayed in their mind so many times that it is no longer a picture perfect rendition of the events.  Then the questions start that pick your story apart and you change a word or two, where you were standing or how something might have actually happened instead.  Soon thereafter you hear "please put your hands behind your back and turn around."  Next its handcuffs snapping shut!  Eventually cell doors!

  Our Constitution is there for a reason and it serves purposes for all of us.  When you fail to avail yourself of its protections you can end up in hot water and, even worse, sometimes jail or prison.  Just think about the number of times you see law enforcement officers facing charges.  Who is always next to them?  They will "lawyer up" in a New York minute and zip their lips with alarming speed.  I will bet you George Zimmerman wishes he had done the same.  You should!

Life's Lessons

  When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for people to learn the hard lessons of life it can be painful to watch.  As a criminal defense lawyer it is often made more painful by the repercussions individuals suffer for their actions that they never contemplated.  It is not unusual for people conferring with their defense lawyer, for the first time at least, to be reticent in their recitation of events that have led them to seek counsel.

  I tell people there are two different kinds of lies - commission and omission.  Willfully misleading is a lie of commission - for an example consult the news about Mrs. Zimmerman and her pending perjury charges.  Failing to disclose is a lie of omission - Mr. Zimmerman's testimony in the first bond hearing that failed to correct his wife's lie of commission.  Both are lies and both have consequences!

  The difference of an additional month in jail plus an increase in bond amount of $850,000.00 is a large consequence by anyone's standards.  Further, Judge Lester's ruling suggested the Zimmermans had misled Mark O'Mara, one of the defense lawyers who has been there for them.  I tell clients if they lie to me and I make a representation based on their falsehood I will look like a fool for a few minutes and they will most likely end up in jail.  Now, I have the Zimmermans to use as an example of that very premise.

  The moral of the story is don't lie!  Don't color the truth or ignore someone else who has misled when you have the opportunity to set the record straight.  The failure to do the right thing at the right time for the right reason can bring you harm.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Politics At Its Worst

  A few years ago I read a quote about Congress that was not attributed to anyone in particular but it described our current political status better than anything I've heard or read -"The problem with Washington is we have too many Democrats and too many Republicans and not enough Americans."  That pretty much sums up the story.  The obstructionism in Washington is unparalleled in history.  There is no interest in doing the business of the people for the best interests of the people it is all about achieving whatever goal the leaders have set.

  One should wonder why independent minded men and women who were strong enough to get elected to Congress would worry about the thoughts of their peers on what they are doing.  Simple!  Money.  The root of all evil.  Filthy lucre.  Thirty pieces of silver.  Call it what you will, that is what happens when the congress gets together.  The ones in power control the money through the PACs and the money doesn't go to Representatives that buck the party leadership.   It goes to those who go along.

  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell admitted a couple of years ago his single most important thing to achieve was making Barack Obama a one term President.  Whoa!  Hold on there Mr. McConnell I thought the business of Congress was to run the country for the best interests of the people.  That hasn't been the goal since probably the days of President Nixon but for certain not since Ronald "Dutch" Reagan.  During Reagan's tenure he and Tip O'Neill got together on a regular basis for some old fashioned fun.  They and a few others had a few adult beverages, played some cards, smoked some cigars and agreed where they could and agreed to disagree when they couldn't agree on some policy position.  But, it was about the country as a whole not their particular parties.  No, not Mitch McConnell's Congress!  Not the House of John Boehner!

  What brings me to this is the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or whatever the official name of Obama Care is called.  "This is the wrong thing!"  "It needs to be pulled out by the roots and start all over!"  That is what the Republican politicians were saying on the Sunday morning news/talk programs across the channels.  There was no room for negotiation or modification or improvement.  No, just plain old we have to get rid of it and do so now.  The attacks that it was done in a partisan manner are ringing on deaf ears.  Everything in Washington now is partisan!  If there was a better way and a more fair approach why wasn't it taken when the Republican's had the majority in both houses or there were more congenial working arrangements?  This whole issue originated during the Nixon administration and the lobbying dollars were against it so the politicos were too.  That is what is driving this bus, the same old thirty pieces of silver.

  The Supreme Court ruled!  John Roberts, the Chief Justice that the neo-conservative right embraced with open arms was the deciding vote.  Get over it!  Move on!  Use the FIDO approach - forget it, drive on.  There are other more important issues facing our country than whether or not the health insurance industry is happy with the health care model we are going to use.  What about employment?  What about our slipping education system?  What about our military and its diverse set of fronts it is now engaged on?  What about Veteran's benefits for all those who have suffered in these multi-front battles we are waging?

  Congress needs to heed the advice of a WWII flight instructor to a scared cadet soloing for the first time.  "Grab your left ear with your right hand, your right ear with your left hand and pull your head out of your ass and fly the plane."  We are a country in great need of someone willing to fly the plane!