Letters

Daryl Jones, the Man Who Never Met a Conflict of Interest He Couldn't Embrace

Thank you for Jim DeFede's article "Flying High" (February 26), reporting on State Sen. Daryl Jones and his links to the passage of legislation that erodes public disclosure of environmental costs in the reuse of former military bases. Senator Jones, recently nominated to be Secretary of the Air Force, now faces confirmation hearings.

In the last days of the 1996 legislative session, I called Senator Jones's staff to ask whether the senator knew anything about a last-minute effort by Dade County to change a state law affecting state planning requirements for Homestead Air Force Base. Earlier that year a confused Dade County Commissioner Natacha Millan inadvertently led fellow commissioners to change requirements for air-base planning to a higher standard of disclosure according to rules for the development of regional impact. Millan's bungled vote was an amazement, delivering to environmentalists an unexpected gift from a determined foe.

The commission vote, if left uncorrected, could have cost Homestead Air Base Developers, Inc. -- Millan's supporters -- many hundreds of thousands of dollars and would have held them to higher standards of disclosure in proving that their plans would not adversely affect public lands the American people have already paid a great price to protect. But in order to correct her vote, the statutory time deadlines of state law needed to be changed by the Florida Legislature.

Mr. DeFede now reports that in 1996 Senator Jones was integral to the midnight effort that resulted in a last-minute change to the state law, allowing Millan and her allies on the county commission to reverse their votes, shifting the burden of environmental disclosure and its cost to citizens. Though unreported by the press at the time, the event became part of the lore of the Homestead Air Force Base fiasco.

As a member of a Sierra Club delegation, I recently had occasion to meet with Senator Jones. I pointed out that, if confirmed as Secretary of the Air Force, he would be in a powerful position to influence the outcome of a new federal environmental study for the air base, authorized by the White House in December 1997.

The Everglades Coalition, representing more than 40 local and national environmental organizations, had persuaded the Clinton administration that a new federal study was required by federal law because Dade County had expanded the scope of the proposed airport far beyond what had originally been considered by the air force. U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, Jones's sponsor for appointment as Secretary of the Air Force, fiercely opposed the White House decision to require a supplemental environmental impact statement.

Based on this record of partisan sponsorship, I asked Senator Jones whether, if he were to be confirmed as Secretary of the Air Force, he would agree to remove himself from all involvement in the new federal study of Homestead Air Force Base. Senator Jones said he would not agree to recuse himself from the new study unless ordered to do so by the president of the United States.

Around the nation, conservationists are horrified by the precedent Homestead Air Force Base will set for major airport development at the edge of our national parks. Dade County public officials such as Mayor Alex Penelas claim that their primary concern is the economic welfare of South Dade, and that environmental concerns such as aircraft noise, toxic water spewing into pristine Biscayne National Park, the effects on protected wildlife and on Everglades restoration, the loss of agricultural lands, the growth of suburban sprawl are adequately addressed by existing laws.

But in the Homestead Air Force Base fiasco, public officials have squandered so much good faith that any reasonable observer would infer that the consequent trail of litigation can mean only one thing: Dade County and sympathetic elected officials like Sen. Daryl Jones have declared war on our national parks. The American people love our national parks. What is happening here is a national disgrace.

Alan Farago, conservation chair
Sierra Club Miami Group
Coral Gables

Your Two Kitchen Knives for My .38 Revolver
Regarding Tristram Korten's article "Shoot Out the Lights" (February 26), it is quite obvious that defense attorney Philip Gerson has no idea what he is talking about when he says that the police officers in question should have "just disarmed her from those knives," referring to his client Gwendolyn Ramsey.

Had Mr. Gerson done any research on the subject, he would have learned that defending yourself against a knife attack is not as easy as it looks on television and in the movies. Furthermore, studies have revealed that someone armed with a knife can seriously wound or kill a police officer before he or she is able to draw a sidearm.

Rey Valdes
Miami

We Come in Peace, You Leave in Pieces
I strongly agree with Gwendolyn Ramsey's attorney, Philip Gerson. There was no intent to harm others. The police officers were not at Ms. Ramsey's home to harm her. The officers were at Ms. Ramsey's home to take her into custody for her own protection and the protection of others.

It was Ms. Ramsey's decision, however distorted by her mental condition, to charge the officers while armed with knives. Perhaps Mr. Gerson himself should try to disarm an emotionally disturbed person, knives in hand, who is charging at him saying she is going to kill him. Largely, officers are not trained to disarm people with knives, nor should they be.

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