The Da Alachua Code (kind of like the Da Vinci Code, only local)
First off, not everything done by the ALA has been bad for Alachua. En Toto though, they have been very bad for Alachua and continue to be so. They started to attend Planning and Zoning Meeting to object to developments wanting to be built in the city limits. The core group included James Stephens, Robert Perez, Paul and Diana Rothseiden, Eileen McCoy, Busy Shires and Tamara Robbins. For the good, they influenced the City to add a new zoning category to allow for manufactured housing to be placed in neighborhoods with site built homes. They challenged the city for allowing a charter school to be placed on the old Rolling Green property. As it turned out that school didn’t live up to its promises and caused many problems for the recreation program next door. It was forced to move by the City. Tamara Robbins objected to mosquito spraying and wanted the City to build bat houses around town as well as to start to have city staff trespass on private property looking for standing water. She volunteered to “inspect” our properties herself. Fortunately that didn’t happen. There may be a few other changes that they championed but I am not aware of them.
The City had a chance to attract a Dollar General Distribution Center to the old industrially zoned IBM property. It had recently been sold to WACO after close to twenty years sitting vacant. WACO actively promoted the Industrial Zoning it had. Some of these people along with residential neighbors including Susan Murray formed a non-profit corporation called Alachua Community Association, Inc., hired Attorney Patrice Boyce and fought the City to try and prevent this development. They made many claims that were untrue such as the site was a Superfund contaminated property. They got the County to help pay for a consultant to study the impacts of the distribution center which turned out to be a win-win for the City. They were very unhappy with this report that they had helped paid for and made a weak argument that the nationally recognized consultant didn’t know what he was doing. They were unsuccessful in stopping the City and Dollar General.
After that skirmish the core group took over the corporation name and changed it to ALA- CHUA. They met regularly at the Rothseiden’s house and in a 2000 email from Busy Shires, circulated by Sustainable Alachua County, their announced their plans to elect ALA members to the commission, audit the City, down zone the WACO property to agriculture and sue the City. They became organized for upcoming commission races in an attempt to get one of their members elected to the commission. Paul Rothseiden was the first to run, unsuccessfully. They refined their techniques with outside political help (including Scott Camil and Colin Whitworth) and successfully got Tamara Robbins elected on the motto of “Leadership that Listens”, to which she showed no leadership and only listened to her core of friends. They started a campaign of whispers and misinformation with Robbins advertising her Democratic registration in a non-partisan race while her minions whispered that her opponent, Jean Calderwood, was a Republican and since they had stolen the Presidential race in 2000, Calderwood would disenfranchise them. They worked with Colin Whitworth who published Moon Magazine to print articles on the supposed evils in Alachua, which they handed out all over town, hence the beginnings of the Da Alachua Code. (Colon Whitworth was hired as Deputy Clerk soon after Robbins and Rothseiden were both on the Commission)
The Code was a mixture of cherry picked facts, misinformation, conspiracy theories and a big helping of smear tactics and out right lies all packaged into a story that sounded credible on the surface and “believable”, like the Da Vinci Code, until you looked deeper. Michael and Connie Huess started the on line news source, The Alachua Post, to slant reports in support of the ALA. They posted an article by Gabor Zovanyi entitled Growth Management Strategies which outlined the ALA plans to stop growth in Alachua. You can search for it on the Alachua Post web site.
When another local family started the Alachua Today newspaper as another view of the politics they were attacked and their newsstands vandalized, as well as other businesses in town like a local veterinary hospital owned by Dr. Calderwood. It was then that we realized that we would also have to organize to get another view out to the citizens. Unfortunately we were a day late and an absentee vote short and Diana Rothseiden was elected over Gib Coerper in the next election. The irony was that Coerper was leading in the popular vote and lost with the absentee ballots. The ALA never challenged that election. I wonder why, since they were going door to door to get people to vote by absentee ballot and hand carried many of them to the voters. They also set up a private shuttle to bring sympathetic voters to the polls on the day of the election.
It didn’t take long for the voters to see just what this group’s view was for the future of Alachua. They drove Mr. Jarboe, the City Manager at the time, to deep depression with constant attacks about his managerial style then fired him in a very questionable Sunshine violation move where Robbins, Rothseiden and possibly Burgess conspired to fire Jarboe and replace him with Clovis Watson (in Ms Robbins’ own words). Mr. Jarboe described Tamara Robbins as “evil” to many for the way she treated him and the staff. They set about firing long term city staff and replacing them with like minded people, i.e. Colin Whitworth. Commission Meeting were filled with strife, often lasting well beyond midnight.
During the terms of Robbins and Rothseiden we saw not only the decimation of the staff, lies spread about them, the stopping of grant applications needed for future growth such as the wastewater system, failure to refinance bonds during a low interest period, stopping development of plans for a much needed city hall and police station but the actual attempt to return grant money already given to the City that would help corporations coming to Alachua who would have brought tax dollars and jobs with good pay and benefits. Many of these actions followed Zovanyi’s no growth check list.
The ALA had long argued that the WACO land needed to be a Development of Regional Impact. When WACO applied for and went thru the process and agreed to stipulations they wanted to see, they voted it down. WACO told them that if that happened they would still develop the property in a piecemeal fashion. We lost all the agreements for landscaping, buffering, land for a new fire station and a recreation park, noise abatement and down zoning for retail and residential use the DRI contained. When WACO began to piecemeal their land the ALA started their long planned lawsuit against the city over the WACO contract and the Wal Mart Distribution Center in an attempt to stop development in the industrial park.
By this time many Alachua citizens had organized with group leaders and citizen meetings to show the voters with public records and newspaper articles just what was going on. When Mr. Watson began to rehire the old staff to return morale and get a work force that could actually get city business done they turned on him and Mayor Burgess with vicious personal attacks. Mr. Watson turned the tables on them by making public all the e-mails and phone calls they made to him. Commissioner Robbins even filed a police report claiming that she felt threatened by him because of a conversation they had on the phone. Nothing ever came of her complaint but it became part of The Code.
The community meetings about Wal Mart showed the voters what we had been telling them all along. When Paul Rothseiden got up and told commission that the ALA had elected “you gals” to vote their way, all could see the writing on the wall. When Mayor Burgess voted for the Wal Mart Distribution Center she had to be escorted to her car by the police because of the ugly comments made by the ALA members present. After the ALA lost the majority of supporters from the Black community because of their elitist attitude regarding the Wal-Mart Distribution Center (McCoy referred to them as the "dumbing down of America" jobs).
The ALA drew out their lawsuit as long as they possibly could by stalling and amending their complaint. They never deposed anyone nor did any discovery on their accusations. Two judges finally had had enough and dismissed the suit with prejudice. Judge Roundtree was especially poignant in his remarks about their conduct during the suit. Judge Chance even fined them for their actions during the suit. Now they cry that the suit never was tried on its merits (their fault) and the judge was wrong in his ruling even though the Appellate Court agreed with Judge Roundtree. This is another point in The Code.
This brings us up to today. The ALA has found a new voice for The Code, Charles Grapski, an outsider but sympathizer to the cause. He firmly believes in The Code. They also have brought in County Commissioner Byerly who is married to Busy Shires. The ALA has supported Byerly in his campaigns and many believe he has assisted them in their organization. He is also a recipient of Mr. Grapski’s e-mails. Mr. Byerly made a very visible presence at City Hall with Mr. Grapski claiming that the City had “responded to Grapski’s requests with intimidation and juvenile bureaucratic gamesmanship“ even though he has never conversed with any City official to confirm or investigate the claims made in The Code. Now he is part of The Code.
Posted by Bud Calderwood