PB: Lawsuit Exhaustion

by SDM

The Miami Herald Neighbors ran an interesting article titled “Nine months after the election, lawsuits linger in Palmetto Bay.” It’s a good read and is covering a serious topic for the community, though most SDM readers are familiar with the subject matter by now.

What struck SDM was the following section of the article:

Frustrated residents

Like many Palmetto Bay residents, Andy Newman traces the division in the village back to a series of legal disputes between the village and Palmer Trinity School. Residents and council members have been divided over the size of the school’s planned expansion, its effect on neighbors, and the costs of litigation.

Newman, who lives near the school, said he will be affected by the expansion, including the increase of traffic. But, he added, at this point he wishes the council would move on from Palmer-related contention and function as a unit.

“It has been a hot potato for quite some time,” he said. “But it’s time to just come together and resolve the situation.”

Florida International University law professor George Knox said the contention in Palmetto Bay could be alleviated if elected officials as well as constituents have an informal conversation together – not at a council meeting or through community blogs.

“The idea is to have a heartfelt conversation, face-to-face. What is it that you are fighting against and why?” said Knox, a former Miami city attorney who teaches negotiation and mediation.

“People have taken sides in the political process and that has impaired the ability to cooperate, to work out solutions to community problems,” said Knox. “And if the citizens resort to the courts to resolve political issues, that seems to say that they don’t have confidence in their political system, and they’ve lost their will to fix it.”

(Emphasis added by SDM.)

As a history lesson, this blog ran its first post on July 25, 2011. The topic? A critique of the village council’s behavior toward Palmer Trinity School. Following is the entire text of that initial post (SDM has become much more long-winded since then. :) ) :

At its July 19 meeting, the Palmetto Bay Village Council voted unanimously to send their dispute with Palmer back to the courts for a resolution.  Councilman Patrick Fiore raised a critical question when he noted that the Village had spent nearly $500,000 to defend its position.  Palmetto Bay tax payers need to ask how much more can they afford to spend?

The truth is that the Palmer issue had already created serious divisions in this community before this blog launched. Mr. Newman’s neighbors created a non-profit corporation called Concerned Citizens of Old Cutler, Inc. (CCOCI). Current City Councilwoman Joan Lindsay was a leader of this organization.

CCOCI began a political campaign against Palmer and urged the village council to adopt an extraordinarily hostile posture towards the school – there is no other charitable way to put it. At some point, before Lindsay joined the council, she convinced Mayor Stanczyk to offer a poison pill amendment to the Palmer development approval, which is the now-notorious 900 student limitation that the court found to be so objectionable. (Village staff had recommended a maximum student population of 1,150.)

Apparently, CCOCI figured that the rest of the community would lie down and let them spend the village into poor house over a differential of 150 students spread over 30+ acres of property. Thus began the division in the community between the anti-Palmer faction and those of us who wanted the council to cease and desist.

Now, after years of litigation, the Palmer saga looks to be coming to an end. (It might have ended sooner had the council adopted Mr. Knox’s idea of having a heartfelt conversation face-to-face, but we will never know now.) We still don’t know what the cost in dollars will be to Palmetto Bay, but SDM can’t agree more that “people have taken sides in the political process,” as Mr. Knox said.

Where we disagree is with the notion that communicating through blogs is somehow not part of the natural political process. Would the opponents of CCOCI’s take-no-prisoners attitude know what was going on inside village hall – what’s really going on – without this blog and others acting as a resource? SDM thinks not.

Certainly there are those inside village hall that wake up every morning praying that SDM has retired. With all humility, SDM is sure that they prefer the pre-SDM world to today’s. Pre-SDM, village insiders did whatever they wanted and virtually none of the Village People knew what the CCOci’s puppets were up to. Now, at least some of us are a little better informed.

SDM Says: Sometimes the courts and public speech are the only way to rein-in a government run amok. We’ll shut up and bow out of the conversation when there’s nothing left to report – or when we retire.

SDM Aside to Mr. Knox: Your idea of a community dialogue outside village chambers, with elected officials present, strikes SDM as a violation of the sunshine law as well as an attempt to escape the webcam. Might want to rethink that one…

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