At the Sept. 1  city commission meeting, City Attorney Shawn Smith reported that a prestigious law firm in Tallahassee reversed an earlier decision and declined to represent the City in the commission-directed effort to restrict cruise ships.  It is noteworthy that the Radey Law Firm was the fourth well-regarded firm to reject the City’s case.  

What is most remarkable about the Radey Firm’s turning away from the case is that they reversed their earlier decision to take the case after receiving a list of 15 strident questions about conflict of interest forwarded by Mayor Teri Johnston.  Those questions were written by Safer Cleaner Ships, not the city attorney.  The city attorney had already completed his analysis of potential conflicts and the Radey Firm had also finished their internal conflict review.  Both decided there was no conflict.

But Mayor Johnston forwarded the SCS-generated conflict challenges verbatim, going behind the city attorney’s back. Her action said, “I don’t trust the city attorney in this matter.”  In essence, she was merely a mouthpiece for the SCS angst that their own attorney was wisely rejected by Mr. Smith as being inherently conflicted on the issue. Ms. Johnston’s long time slavish devotion to the SCS cause was made starkly clear. Throughout, she has wrapped her own anti-cruise tourism prejudice in the SCS mantra of “will of the people.”

Throughout history the “will of the people” has attempted to  oppress minorities and their opinions.  The People elected a murderous tyrant to be Chancellor of Germany. The People wrote and passed segregation laws across much of the South after the Civil War.  The cry of “Will of the People” is often corrupted by malevolent intent. In the case of Safer Cleaner Ships, the so-called will was tainted by lies and misinformation.

It is now abundantly clear that the SCS campaign about cruise ships’ water quality degradation, coral reef and fishery decline, and COVID spread was all false. Not one of their allegations has withstood close scrutiny nor scientific review. Their referendum campaign was designed to promote fear and prejudice, and truth was their first victim. 

This writing is not about disparaging the mayor. Rather it is a plea for her to finally step up to a leadership role and realize she represents all Key Westers rather than a small group of intolerant malcontents and a regrettably misinformed electorate. Regardless of her personal bias, she must rise above being a conduit for their disinformation. Leadership takes courage, independent thinking and bold action.

It is time, Madame Mayor.

John E. Wells

Ships’ Agent