Well, that’s not exactly what I mean. I guess what I really mean is I’m not going to be doing any more reporting, so if you’re sending me money for that, please stop.
I don’t want anyone to misunderstand. I still believe reporting – the honest and impartial telling of the news – is a critical element in a free society. I still believe it is too often badly done.
But I won’t be doing it any more. At least not for a while.
See after several months of freelancing and a few more months selling coverage directly to readers I have reached a conclusion.
I can’t be a part-time reporter. Reporting is not – at least for me – something that can be done that way. When I’m a reporter I feel like I have to know everything that’s going on, or at least everything that’s going on that I’m likely to write about. I have to be familiar with every issue. I have to know every player. I have to know all its history, why and how it matters and who it ought to matter to.
That takes a singular sort of focus. It takes a tremendous amount of reading, checking, talking to people, attending meetings, researching, phone calling…well you get the idea.
It also takes an alarming amount of time. Virtually no competent reporter works a 40-hour week, though the lucky ones get paid for one. The job simply cannot be done that way and done well. It can be – and it had become – overwhelming.
I have too many other things going on. I have too many distractions. Without discussing how much of my time goes to what let’s just say I’ve got stuff to do. Lots of stuff. Stuff that I consider important and stuff other people rely on me to do.
One of those things continues to be writing. I do love writing and I am vain enough to believe I’m good at it. Plus it’s therapeutic.
But writing is not reporting. Writing is telling stories. Writing is expression. Writing is opinions. And yes, writing is occasionally analysis and commentary.
If you are one of the ones sending me money to read my reporting I thank you very much. If you feel like I am abandoning you I apologize. If you want your money back ask for it.
Or you can continue to read what I write. Those of you who have read bylinecharliewhitehead.com – what I like to call Monkey With a Keyboard – will know what to expect.
Some of it is about local issues. Some of it is about our communities. Some of it is about events in general. Some of it is stuff that’s been rattling around inside my head and I had to let out.
That I won’t stop. At this point I’m pretty sure I couldn’t stop that if I tried.
So stop sending me money if you’re doing it solely to read my reporting. I may find myself in a position someday to do it again, but for now I have to stop.
A certain Lee County commissioner is right in his NP opinion that there is misinformation about impact fees. He is either ignorant of its sources or willfully misleading. Builders and developers have always told the lie that impact fees hurt the building economy. Every study I have ever seen that wasn’t paid for by a builder/developer group disputes that. The factor that controls new home pricing is profit. Period. Spend as little as possible to build the house and sell it for all the market will bear. Only a complete lack of media institutional memory and understanding allows those lies to carry weight.
The commissioner says impact fees were used to push the city south and the gated communities east. The decisions that allowed the sprawl we have seen were not caused by impact fees. The decisions were made by county commissioners – commissioners who, now more than at any time since the 1980’s, were selected by builder/developer money. Including the one making the false statements to the NP.
Spending of impact fees is not limited to new roads, new schools and new parks. I think it’s just possible the commissioner believes it is, though he might be parroting the line his builder/developer funders feed him. Impact fees are spent on NEW CAPACITY. It is not some esoteric fine point. Adding square footage to schools. Adding lanes to existing roads. Adding infrastructure at existing parks. All of these can be accomplished with impact fees.
This argument is part of a bait-and-switch builders, with the support of county shills, have run on taxpayers for years. For example with impact fee funding coming in the school district used impact fee revenue to buy land and build schools. With impact fee revenue not coming in the school district must find other sources for that funding. Those sources are the same ones that pay teachers, buy school books and do all the other things the district must do.
The commissioner’s use of ‘an 8-lane flyover’ to scare residents is unconscionable. Again, the decision to build or not build a flyover is made by locally-elected officials. If they decide to build a flyover it is not because there is an impact fee revenue stream.
For the commissioner to credit himself and the other commissioners with national/worldwide economic changes that increased local building numbers is hugely arrogant. Commissioners axed the impact fees as a pay-back to those who put them in office, raided Conservation 2020 funding to plug the budget hole they created and now want credit for the economic changes that coincidentally took place on their watch. Do not allow them to sell these lies.
‘The plan proved successful’? Is that success illustrated by the huge lines of traffic we are currently suffering? Is it the radically reduced capital budget that seems destined to make things worse for the next several years? Is it the proposed new sales tax for school construction commissioners have foisted on the school district and on taxpayers?
The commissioner says that a choice between higher taxes and impact fees is a lie. There is a grain of truth there. Commissioners need not choose between higher taxes and impact fees. They can choose to simply allow the services citizens demand – and have paid for – to continue to deteriorate. If this is the choice they are making then they should tell citizens that.
For them to attack growth management and planning advocates for ‘blatantly sharing misinformation’ is laughable, or it would be if he was not in a position to decide. If they are in office to make sure the builders and developers and speculators who put him in office make lots of money then they should be honest and say that. If he is truly a servant of the people, as he so often claims to be, then he will take steps to make sure growth pays for growth. For the growth will come. The only questions is whether those who profit from it will pay the cost it creates or whether the rest of us will. Either the commissioner knows that and is willfully misleading citizens or he is too uninformed to be a commissioner.
Some will point out that when I ran for office I said I would consider reducing impact fees. That is true. I said I would consider reducing impact fees short-term as long as another revenue source, something like a mobility fee, was explored. It wasn’t.
The 4-1 vote that commissioners took to continue the 80 percent reduction after a year was a dark moment for the county. It was obvious to everyone who wasn’t a builder or in one’s pocket that the reduction was costing the county (taxpayers) desperately-needed funding it would never get back. It was obvious that the larger global changes were increasing local building. It was obvious that the reduction was unnecessary.
Unfortunately it was also obvious who commissioners really work for.
Let’s file this one under ‘You can’t make this shit up’.
I plucked this item off a weekly law enforcement report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This, kiddies, is why we reporters must always read these things. This is word for word from the report, with my commentary added.
Officers Nasworth and Davis were dispatched to the Raulerson Hospital in Okeechobee regarding a subject suffering from an alligator bite. Serious business. Officers Nasworth and Davis made contact with the subject who advised them that he was in the process of cleaning an alligator he had just killed. So this gator is dead. This is important information, especially considering what happened next. Its nerves were still activated causing it to bite him. So this dead gator bit you? The subject advised Officers Nasworth and Davis that he took the tape off the mouth of the gator and opened it to look at the teeth brilliant move when its jaws snapped shut on his left thumb, lacerating it severely. I bet. The gator fell on the ground after its jaws closed on his hand and a tooth went through the subject’s boot, ultimately cutting his foot. So this dead gator bit you on the thumb, got loose and bit you on the foot? Officer Nasworth and Davis completed the alligator bite report.
No word on whether Officers Nasworth and Davis managed to complete the report with a straight face.
I remember touring The Beach with Captain Kerry Greiner immediately after the storm. I remember bumping over sandbars crossing Estero Boulevard in his sheriff’s office SUV. I remember the ‘century tree’ that snapped, and the top sticking straight up out of a roof down in the 6000 block. I remember the Reef – and I miss it.
I remember coming home to find a 9-foot metal 2-by-2 javelined through the side of my house. Nine feet off the ground, hurled by the storm through the ¾-inch sheeting and the half-inch drywall and sticking 18 inches into what was then my office.
Out back my seagrape tree had been blown over and was laying on my back porch. There are two great stories about that tree.
I remember my friends not being allowed to return to their homes. I remember people who fled at the last minute, thinking to ride out the storm and return to clean up, finding armed guards forbidding them from crossing Matanzas Pass Bridge. I remember days later a parent, a PTA member, tazered at the foot of the bridge.
It was not renegade cops. It was not a crazy out-of-control man acting unreasonably. It was people thrust into an untenable situation.
My friend was one of those people who fled before the storm at the last minute. Hurricane Charley was a killing monster – lest we forget. Many of us thought to ride it out but turned tail at the last minute when the storm intensified and made a hard right turn – right at us.
Myself I herded two of the neighborhood hardcores into the mini-van and headed inland. I had hidden Debbie, Allison, Rachel and Michael away in the hotel at Summerlin Square – far enough inland to escape flooding but close enough to return if we dodged the bullet. Jeffrey and Don and I wedged ourselves into the minivan (packed already with valuables we had decided were safer there) and made it to the hotel.
I don’t recall how long we stayed at the hotel – huddled with other refugees watching trees lay down and improbably flying items soaring by. It was surreal.
I remember driving back after the worst has passed. I remember a line of power poles snapped off along San Carlos Boulevard. I drove slowly, dodging the worst of the debris in the road and plowing through floodwaters (I was in my old 1993 Volvo 960 – a veritable tank) until we reached San Carlos Island.
San Carlos Island is between the mainland and Estero Island. Most of southwest Florida knows where Estero Island. Few know San Carlos Island.
As you drive to Fort Myers Beach, and most everyone has, you drive over San Carlos Island. It’s in between the bridges – duh.
The water was getting steadily deeper, and I recall driving into the Goodwill parking lot to find high ground.
Don and I tried to drive home, but Main Street was underwater. I got as close as I could and decided better. Don went for it and I watched him wade waist-deep down Main Street.
Of course by the time I returned to the hotel I had a flat tire. Try as I might I couldn’t avoid all the debris strewn on the roads.
I returned a few hours later. There was a roadblock in front of Johny Leverock’s – what’s now Pinchers Crab Shack. That’s where Kerry and I loaded up and went for our tour of the beat-up Beach.
I went back to the hotel that night. The next morning I went back. I went by my house first, finding very little I could do. So I drove down to the bridge. There was of course already a crowd.
I had a Press plate on my car and a Press I.D. in my wallet. Then I had a deputy at my window.
“You wanna go over and do your job?” he asked.
Yes, I did.
And then I was driving over the bridge. Past armed guards.
It’s hard to explain how it feels to drive down a road you know well and see soldiers – young men mostly – kids really – carrying rifles walking down the street.
Those streets were deserted – almost. Hundreds stayed on Estero Island and rode the storm out. I never heard an estimate of how many. I remember emergency managers – Town Manager Marsha Segal-George on the local front, the fire chief, the sheriff – struggling over whether to feed the island refugees or not. The thinking?
We don’t want people on the island. If we feed them they can stay. It was decided they should be fed, and I remember people lined up for food at the Beach Theatre.
I remember going to meetings at Town Hall. Meetings where they discussed conditions on the island.
Part of the problem was that a lot of people don’t understand a lot of things. Sewers and plumbing is one such thing – or is it two?
The people running the town – or at least the people running the sewer system – knew it wasn’t working. Water (and sewage) still flowed downhill, but pumps do not pump without electricity.
“They’re lying!” is an accusation I heard repeatedly. “I flush my toilet and it works just fine.”
Of course lots of those same people were carrying buckets from the canal or the bay and using them to flush. Gravity being what it is the toilet would in fact empty when water was dumped in.
With pumps not running, however, what was flushed simply sought the lowest level. That liquid bubbling up in yards and in roads was not water.
I remember stopping at a good friend’s house on San Carlos Island. It was a sort of home base for those who could not go home. People could get there, but not over the bridge. Many of them asked me to check on their homes while I was on the island. I did. What else could I do?
I remember people who had lost much losing more because they could not go home to clean up the damage and salvage what could be saved.
I remember hearing about Coast Guard boats patrolling Estero Bay and turning back boaters trying to make it to the island. I remember friends who swam the pass to get home.
I remember parasites in pick-up trucks patrolling the streets and ‘helping’ by picking up recyclable metal and hauling it off to sell. I remember residents running them off – sometimes none too gently.
I remember the old land-line phones came back on way before the cell phones started working again. It’s why I still have a land line and an old-fashioned phone in a closet.
I remember heat. It was mid-August. Turn off your power for the next week and see how you like it.
I remember what locals called ‘The FEMA X’, marked on structures ruled by someone (maybe not FEMA) to be uninhabitable. I remember the fear people had when they found their home or their business so marked.
I think what I remember most might be a speech I heard a resident give at a Beach town council meeting several days after people were allowed to return home. I don’t remember who gave it.
I do remember is believing he was speaking for hundreds – perhaps thousands – of others. This man was beyond outraged. He was beyond offended. He was talking about having tried to cross the Matanzas Pass Bridge only to find armed guards blocking his way.
“I am a free man,” was the gist of it. “I have the right to come and go to and from my home. You are my government. I do not cede to you the right to forbid me go to my home.”
There was more. I don’t remember the words specifically, but the feeling stuck with me.
I wrote this for the girls I coached this weekend. People seem to like it, so I’m putting it here too. The people involved here are wonderful people. All of them. I thank specifically Gilbert Gutierez, Ana Estrada and Gabby Sanchez. I’m lucky to know you and the girls are lucky to have you.
I want to congratulate the District 9 Big League girls for their third straight trip to the Little League World Series. It is an impressive feat by some good hard-working girls and some excellent coaches.
I also, however, want to congratulate the District 18 girls I had the honor to coach in the Southeast U.S. Regional. These 15 girls are not travel-ballers, not college players and not a 365 day a year team. They are not, like the others, the dozen best selected from a pool of 100.
What they are is what I have heard called “real” Little Leaguers. They love to play softball. When Lehigh Acres Little League and Fort Myers Beach Little League are playing they are on the field. They are good kids and hard workers like their more accomplished (softball-wise) counterparts.
The team Lehigh and The Beach put together to play in the tournament was 10 girls from Lehi and 5 from The Beach. There were no tryouts. Those who wanted to play played. There were no girls sitting at home wishing they could be part of the team. No one was cut.
I have always been proud of the inclusive nature of Beach Little League – my league. We are a teeny tiny league with annually only around 100 players – total – between the ages of 4 and 18.
That puts us in a difficult position when it comes time for Little League’s post-season All Stars. We fielded a 9&10 year-old softball All Star team this season because we luckily had enough girls that age to create a team. They played in the District 18 tournament. They did not win.
I am nonetheless proud of them. I am proud of their hard work and their positive attitudes. I am proud of their coaches, who knew the odds going in. I am proud of the league itself, which invests time and money to get kids on the field and afford them the benefits that team sports provides.
Lehigh Little League, though much larger than The Beach, is the same. It is hard-working volunteers and good kids. It is coaches surrendering huge chunks of work time they can ill afford so that kids who are not their own can have experiences they believe make them better people. It is parents who cart kids to practices and games at the end of long work days, and who surrender huge chunks of their own time. It is board members, district officials and umpires who spend countless hours on the agonizing behind-the-scenes tasks that allow kids and coaches to take the field.
What it is is ‘real’ Little League.
I am rooting for the District 9 girls. They are good kids who work hard and who make consistent sacrifices to be part of something special. And I thank their coaches. They are fine people surrendering huge chunks of their time to make good things happen for kids.
So are ours.
For the record our District 18 girls played four games. They lost them all. That doesn’t make them losers. They are winners. I’m not sure about Lehigh, but I know no other Beach Little League team has ever played in the Southeastern U.S. Regional.
Be proud of them. I am.
I know someone who’s way more Mom than most. In fact I’m married to her.
Way back in time – long enough ago so I don’t remember specifically when – my Debbie started taking care of kids. Lots of kids. Our friends’ kids. Kids from church. Kids from school. Kids from Little League. Kids.
There’s a cadre of kids – not all of them are kids any more – who have been lucky enough to have spent sizeable percentages of their childhoods in the company of my Debbie. She’s changed more diapers than a maternity nurse and wiped more tears than a mortician.
And it’s not just that she loves kids – which she does. If you have a kid and a job and you see my Debbie with kids you want her taking care of yours when you can’t. Many a parent has worked many a full day confident that their kids were in the very best of hands – my Debbie’s. They were at the library or at the park or at the church or at some other wholesome event she’d somehow found somewhere, but they were with Debbie.
We have four of our own, (one of ‘mine’ who’s always been hers too and three of ‘ours’) so our home has always been full. It’s even more so now, with Debbie nanny-ing for two lucky families and our daughter now carrying on Mom’s tradition. I believe either of Debbie’s current families would be thrilled to build a spare room and have her move in. They can’t have her. We need her here. I need her here.
Thank you Debbie for the full house. Thank you from all of ‘your’ kids over all of the years. Thank you from the many parents who could comfortably drop them and dash off to work. Thank you from the kids who really are yours, who like their father forget to appreciate.
This is despite the ‘reporting’ of a no less reputable news source than the venerable Co-ed.com, which identified Fort Myers Beach – my home – as the Ninth Trashiest Spring Break Destination.
Now I could spend a few words addressing the trustworthiness of the source of this information. After all my first attempt to access this first-class reporting on this critical issue was blocked because the site was identified as pornographic, but I thought addressing the claim might be more my style.
You see the fact that people come into my community to misbehave does not make my community trashy. Families live at Fort Myers Beach. Children are raised here. Good people live their lives here.
I know. I have raised three kids here. We have well-attended churches. We have an elementary school. We have a town-owned rec center with wonderful children’s programs. We have things Spring Breakers seldom see.
It is true that people misbehave here. Folks come here to enjoy our year-round sunshine and first-class beaches. There are bars here. There is a strip club. There is a beach-front hotel that encourages the kind of activity Co-ed.com relies on.
But I want to try to explain something to the people at Co-ed.com.
When you walk your dog in your neighbor’s yard and refuse to clean up after him it’s not because your neighbor’s yard is trashy. It’s because you are.
People come into my community and behave in ways they would never consider behaving in their own community. They flock here from college towns all over the east and the Midwest. They drink to excess and they fornicate with relative strangers. They do drugs and act foolish and sometimes they get arrested. I assume this is the behavior Co-ed.com defines as trashy.
That does not make my community trashy. That makes them trashy.
So when a couple hundred drunks gathers on the beach for a booty-shaking contest, when they swill too much booze and grope strangers and they are here from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania and whichever college town has turned them loose that week, it doesn’t mean we’re trashy.
It means they are
I get that that group of people – sadly a much too small group – is not the same as We the People of southwest Florida. I get that to win an election you have to know who’s going to vote and target them specifically. The ability to do so – or act like you can – has put real money and political clout in some local pockets.
So vote for the tall one. Vote for the woman. Vote for the short one. Vote for the one with glasses.
Judging by the non-debate I was chump enough to watch on my laptop the other day it doesn’t matter.
You see these candidates – or their ‘people’ – understand the electorate. They know that in a special Republican primary election, held in an off month in an off year, perhaps 50,000 people will actually cast ballots. Maybe. Maybe fewer.
They know that there are four candidates on the ballot, and that all four will get at least a few votes.
So. The person who will be our next representative in Congress could get fewer than 15,000 votes.
Don’t laugh. The next guy’s predecessor Trey Radel won the Republican primary in 2012 with 22,284 votes. A panicked party hierarchy, sensing disaster, did everything it could to keep Radel away from Washington, but a 6-way split in a closed primary spat out the candidate who promised most loudly that he hated the current president more than the rest, that showed himself to be the most intransigent, the most vitriolic. That swore that he would personally slay the Obamacare dragon. In short that he was more the conservative caricature than the rest.
That was in a regularly-scheduled Republican primary. An election with other local seats hanging in the balance. In short an election in which voters could reasonably be expected to participate.
Not so this one. This one is a stand-alone scheduled for April 22.
And let us make no mistake about it. This is southwest Florida. Whoever wins the Republican primary will be our next representative. The last time a non-Republican was elected to a county-wide office in Lee County was 1988. Collier is even more Republican and even more conservative. I have nothing against Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, candidates without party, write-ins or anyone else who wants to make the effort, but here they don’t win.
When Radel inevitably spun in national pundits speaking gleefully about one more Florida political joke loved repeating the fact that Radel won with 62 percent of the vote, implying the people of the district were obvious idiots. Rubes.
In so doing they exposed their complete lack of knowledge of southwest Florida’s political landscape. Radel faced a Democrat and an Independent in November, that’s true, and the Democrat was by far the most qualified candidate.
But he was a Democrat. He was doomed.
So when the tall guy, the woman, the short one and the guy with the glasses take turns saying how much they hate Barack Obama and how quickly they will gut the Affordable Care Act, when they preach to the choir against the evils of entitlements and government overreach while railing against medical marijuana and supporting continuing federal flood insurance subsidies (huh?) it comes as no surprise.
They know what plays. They know what those people who are involved enough, excited enough, motivated enough to go to the polls in a closed Republican primary in a weird month in an off year – the electorate, remember? – want to hear. They know that with the vote split four ways they only need to convince 15,000 or so.
It worked for Trey Radel.
Note: Yes, I do know the names of all four of the candidates. I know a heck of a lot more than that about some of them. Most of it I don’t like.
The man national news outlets are calling Florida’s Cocaine Congressman bought an 8-ball (3.5 grams) of cocaine from an undercover cop outside a Washington, D.C. restaurant on October 29. He entered a plea agreement to a misdemeanor possession charge Nov. 20.
Radel has entered rehab in Naples, and has said he intends to keep his seat. His party in the two counties his District 19 represents and at the state level want him gone.
In a statement Terry Miller, chairman of the GOP executive committee in Radel’s home Lee County, said his prayers and best wishes are with Radel and his family.
Miller said the decision rests with Radel, but urged him to resign immediately and said if he does choose to stay in office and seek another term the party will not back him.
“His actions clearly disqualify the pursuit of another term and if he should run for re-election he would not enjoy our support.”
Radel has not answered questions about the frequency of his cocaine use, though official reports say he had bought the drug “several times” from a dealer turned informant. Local prosecutors said he was “routinely using and buying cocaine.”
Radel also told authorities he sometimes shared cocaine with friends, and could have been charged with distribution.
Calls for Radel’s resignation have come from all corners. So far he appears to be digging in, having hired a crisis management public relations firm. He even attended a pricey fundraiser is Naples two days after he was charged.
The southwest Florida Republican hierarchy did not want Trey Radel to be a congressman, fearing the former right-wing radio talk-jock would be an embarrassment in Washington D.C.
I guess they were right.
The southwest Florida campaign trail was a strange place in 2012. I ran for a Lee County commission seat and lost. Radel ran for the District 19 Congressional seat and won. District 19 is most of Lee County and coastal Collier County, so Radel and I were at many of the same events. It was strange time for me because I walked the trail as a candidate, not as a reporter as I had so many times before.
But that wasn’t the only reason.
Radel was one of six Republicans looking to replace Connie Mack, who was moving on to run against Sen. Bill Nelson. Dark horse Joe Davidow was on the ballot, and Naples banker Byron Donalds had his supporters, but the party faithful schooled mostly around former State Representatives Gary Aubuchon and Paige Kreegel and Chauncey Goss, the son of former Congressman and CIA chief Porter Goss.
The wild card was Radel, and he scared the establishment Republicans to death. He had some name recognition, based first on his stint as a reader of TV news and then on his time on local talk radio.
Radel polled consistently at around 30 percent before the election.
Party leaders were afraid that the presence of three mainstream candidates on the primary ballot would split what was expected to be a paltry turnout, leaving Radel to ride the Tea Party vote into the General Election.
Each of the three mainstream candidates, any of whom was far more palatable to the party leadership than Radel, got a visit. Each of them, Aubuchon, Goss and Kreegel, was asked to step aside.
None would blink.
I haven’t gone back to the people who told me the three were approached. I heard the story a lot, and from solid sources. When you’ve spent most of three decades as a reporter people tell you things. I am a registered Republican myself, though I ran without party.
The way they explained it was the Radel voters would be Radel voters regardless. Their belief was Radel couldn’t beat any of the other three face to face, and if any of the three dropped out his supporters would go to one of the other two. The fear was Radel’s Tea Party faithful could carry him through a fractured Primary.
The Primary played out precisely as the party leaders had feared. Only 30-some percent of the district’s GOP voters went to the polls. Radel’s passionate 30 percent came through, as he got 32 percent of the vote. The other 68 percent of District 19 Republicans chose someone else.
If any one of the other major candidates had backed down southwest Florida might have been spared Trey Radel.
What happened next was sad, but predictable. Radel stood against Democrat Jim Roach, a Vietnam vet and retired GM researcher. Roach is intelligent and well-spoken, but not Republican. No non-Republican has won a partisan southwest Florida election since the 1980’s.
The party hierarchy held its collective nose, ignored the pornographic domain names Radel’s company had registered and the phony sites he’d set up to lampoon his opponents and circled the wagons around ‘their’ candidate. Reliably Republican Lee County and even more reliably Republican Collier simply searched out the ‘R’ on the ballot and made their mark. They sent Radel to Washington.