Field of Dreams
Photo permission Mike Trainer
KLS PHOTOS PRODUCTIONS
The future of tennis depends in part on fair and accurate reporting by the media so that everyone will know the players, the scores, and the issues confronting the matches. The most ostensible issue in Miami Beach at this time is the proposed constitution of Flamingo Park Tennis Center's 17 new tennis courts, whether they shall be hard or soft or a mixture of hard and soft. That issue is superficial in comparison to the underlying sentiments of everyone involved in what Miami Herald reporter David Smiley has called a "flap." Lifting up that flap reveals a can of worms that might bring the Administration and several Commissioners down.
A damning email, alleging gross mismanagement of the Flamingo Park Tennis Center by Green Square, Inc., pointing out several alleged violations of its contract and alleging conduct that some parents who have the best interests of their children in mind might find disagreeable even if they engage in it themselves, was sent on Monday, April 12, 2010, at 3:56:43 PM to numerous persons, including officials such as Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez; Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower; Miami Beach City Attorney Jose Smith. News organizations were also addressed, such as Miami Herald Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal; Miami Herald Investigations Editor Mike Sallah; Sun Sentinel Sports Editor Joe Schwerdt; Sun Sentinel Editorial Editor Antonio Page; Miami SunPost Co-Publisher Kim Stark; News Desk Editor at WSVN; Miami SunPost President & Co-publisher Jeannette Stark.
The Miami Mirror published the information. I turned the information over to Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez and his assistant Hilda Fernandez asking them for their comments on the allegations and information about the City's background check and drug screen policies. Neither of them has replied. The City Manager is formally accountable only to the Commission, and has publicly joked that Miami Beach residents think he works for them.
Now I am informed that the local tennis association has been accused of putting me up to reporting scandalous information. That is a complete falsehood. I am an independent journalist with the free press. My critics have dubbed me a “loose cannon journalist.” Sometimes my friends bring up subjects that I say I will look into, and they often say, “Please don’t.”
On June 21, I made a formal public records request, recorded by the City Clerk as #5360, for copies of the drug screening and background checks required by the contracts with Green Square, Inc., asserting that this information should be immediately available, in the Contractor's file. As of June 24 the records have not been received from the City Clerk, and I am perhaps already too apprehensive that the information if any might be tampered with. I would not be surprised if there were no checks nor screenings, as I am informed that there had been no audit of the firm's records over the last ten years, from the inception of the original contract, but that there would be one in February of this year, the results of which have not been forthcoming.
Miami Herald Beach Beat Reporter David Smiley was not addressed in the damning email mentioned above; however, the executive editor and investigations editor at the Miami Herald certainly should have delivered a copy to him. His reporting so far has been somewhat unfair. Of course we might give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that is due to his misunderstanding of the issue. After all, his coverage of the Miami Beach beat cannot cover everything we think is important, nor can delve too deeply into everything about any one subject.
However that might be, many Miami Beach residents feel deliberately slighted by the Miami Herald's inadequate coverage of certain subjects, such as the criminal aspects of Miami Beach, a city the FBI has listed in the top ten most dangerous cities under 100,000 population in the country, a local issue that David Smiley should be acquainted with as he was in fact sent relevant material by me. Just this week, a 23-year old man with a long criminal record was murdered in a Washington Avenue club in South Beach's notorious Seventh Heaven - the old crack-hood between 5th and 7th. Crime-ridden Seventh Heaven is the scene of frequent car thefts, knifings, rapes and murders, and law-abiding residents believe much of this is due to the policies of the City Commission and their administration by the City Manager, not only for Seventh Heaven, but in respect to the rest of South Beach as well, policies that in effect erode the quality of life by promoting rowdy and raucous mass activities that attract criminals and aggravate criminal behavior, and by understaffing the police department to the point of utter exhaustion and perhaps trigger-happiness - on the bright side, some bad guys do get shot and overtime can result an officer receiving pay in excess of $200,000 per year.
There is a definite tendency of reporters, including David Smiley's predecessor, not to bite the most powerful hands that feed them, and to bed down with the political and business leadership lest they be cut off from the power elite. After all, readers love power so much that many of them worship absolute power. Of course they also love to see powerful people fall. In any event, the Miami Herald publisher and editors should keep in mind that the City of Miami would be a backwater, virtually third-world city without its glorious Miami Beach.
But let's return to sloppy and unfair tennis reporting:
In a report published June 20, 2010, entitled 'Tennis coach to stay another year,' Mr. Smiley referred twice to a "June 14" Miami Beach City Commission meeting where the Flamingo Park tennis courts were reportedly discussed. But there was no meeting on June 14. Apparently he was referring to the June 9 meeting, for which his report was published June 13. His June 20 report stated, "During the June 14 (sic) meeting, the commission reversed its earlier position, agreeing to build give hard courts and 12 clay courts at the park."
Then Mr. Smiley concluded his June 20 piece with a ten-percent truth that makes it a falsehood since it was grossly unbalanced:
"The decision, if it holds, would allow the school [Miami Beach High School] to practice at a nearby facility on what parents and students have said is a preferable surface to clay."
But only a dozen or so parents have stated a preference for concrete or other hard surface, whereas a recent survey, of a much larger sample of the tennis playing population, submitted to the Commission shows that 90% of local tennis players prefer to play on so-called clay - although called clay, the "soft" court surfacing is not real or natural clay. It is well known that kids like to play on clay, and that if their parents were educated to the dangers of playing on hard surfaces and to the fact that playing on clay results in better tennis playing, most of them would prefer clay for their kids - even Tom Mar, a principal with the management company that runs the Flamingo Park facility said in June 2009 that he did not want his eight-year old son to play on hard courts.
And in his June 20 report regarding Beach High tennis coach Jonathan Nelson, Mr. Smiley reported that, “Commissioner Deede Weithorn said during the June 14 (sic) meeting that Nelson, 59, had resigned from his position. Weeks earlier, principal Roseann Sidener told The Miami Herald that the school was looking for a new coach. Nelson said the school is looking for a replacement, but there has been a misunderstanding about when he will resign.” He reportedly told Mr. Smiley that he would stay another year.
But Mr. Smiley should have asked both coaches about the hearsay: according to that widely circulated hearsay, both the girl's and boy's tennis coaches were threatened with dismissal by the Beach High principal if they publicly favored taking their charges to play on clay courts at Flamingo instead of supporting play on the proposed new hard courts there.
In his June 13 report on the June 9 commission meeting, Mr. Smiley wrote: “The coach of Beach High’s men’s tennis team recently resigned and part of that decision, according to Principal Roseann Sidener, was because of the stress of trekking the team up to North Shore Park to practice.”
But the coach is not “trekking” to nearby North Shore Tennis Center, also managed by Green Square Inc., which has 10 of the hated clay courts and only 2 beloved hard courts. The coach is in fact trekking to Normandy & Normandy Fairway, which have a total of 6 hard courts.
Now, then, to offset the Miami Herald’s inaccurate, sloppy and unfair reporting on the issue, here is this journalist’s biased perspective on what actually transpired at the June 9 commission meeting:
The world-famous Flamingo Park Tennis Center is city facility privately managed by am organization descended from the seminal tennis pro Nick Bollettieri, whose "killer forehand" has been compared to a "Mafia hit." The Hards say they want 5 hard courts at Flamingo for the Miami Beach High School tennis teams. The Softs say "not at my tennis center", not unless additional courts can be added onto the present footprint of 17 courts, which would require using some green space at the end of the present facility.
But the Flamingo Park neighbors that do not play tennis, and who barely use that green space except to relieve their dogs and play soccer from time to time, do not like the idea. Neither did the historic preservation people, even though the space was not historically green. Mayor Matti Bower was reportedly moved to tears over the very idea of using that green space – she said she wants five of the existing clay courts at Flamingo converted to hard courts instead.
Well, said the Softs, put your hard courts somewhere else nearby for Miami Beach High, and leave us be. Maybe we can get the Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships back to our clay courts, where they were held for almost fifty years until the maintenance got so lousy that they moved to the 18 Laykold cushioned hard courts at Crandon Park Tennis Center, which has a grand stadium for the final matches to be played in.
Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez, who is responsible for setting far more policy behind the scenes than the part-time city commission does publicly, ostensibly left the surfacing controversy up to the Miami Beach City Commission. However, an individual in his communications department has ridiculed the squeaky wheels who object to the Hard faction's plan, conveying the City Manager's contempt for complainers. That is a good example of the City Manager's complaint about those who object to his policies, who "complain about a single bad blade of grass in a nice lawn." How about, five concrete courts in a 17 court center?
However that might be, the Commission itself cannot seem to make up its mind given all the surreptitious wire-pulling by the Gang of Five - the major Hards pushing for hard courts at Flamingo, although one or two of them have posed as Softies for good effect.
The Commission scoring has gone from Soft 12 to Hard 5, to 17 Soft Hard 0, after a great deal of testimony by everyone concerned. But then it went back to Soft 12 Hard 5 in a backhanded move on June 9 orchestrated by Commissioner Deede Weithorn, whose brother-in-law Victor Weithorn manages the Center for GSI (Green Square Inc) Bollettieri, and whose friend Dr. Roseann Sidener, principal of Beach High, has been pushing hard for five hard courts at Flamingo for the schools teams to practice and hold tournaments on so they will not have to go elsewhere in the area as they usually do. They are presently going to Normandy and Normandy Fairway – a number of statements were made by the Hards to the effect that Normandy was unsuitable and unsafe, but those statements were investigated and turned out to be completely false.
The general public figured the matter had been finally settled, at 17 soft courts at Flamingo, with hard courts to be put elsewhere, somewhere nearer than Normandy. But a land use referral item was put on the June 9 agenda as to where the five hard courts would be placed. Wouldn't you know it, a surprise motion was made and seconded to put them at Flamingo, not somewhere else.
Commissioner Weithorn twice said that anyone who objected to putting the hard courts at Flamingo did not care about our kids, giving a "terrible message" to their parents.
That remark certainly did not sit well with Commissioner Ed Tobin, who pointed out that the high school teams do in fact have a place to play, and also can play on clay (soft) courts if they so choose. He called Commissioner Weithorn's remarks "inflammatory" and said the process was unfair and illegal.
Michael Gongora, who is apparently one of the "squeaky wheels" Victor Weithorn referred to during a Miami Mirror guerilla interview, and who is an openly gay commissioner and who noted that he is the only commissioner without children, pointed out that the commissioners in favor of all clay courts at Flamingo Park have "always honored kids." He objected strenuously to what he called "flipping the process upside down" i.e. suddenly reversing the decision to have all clay courts without a new public hearing.
So the three commissioners - Mssrs. Tobin, Gongora, and Libbin - not in on the conspiracy conceived in advance with the help of City Attorney Jose Smith, called the foul, but Mr. Smith, against whom, according to Miami Herald David Smiley, a futile complaint has recently been filed with The Florida Bar for allegedly playing hard ball to advance the Administration's cause on another issue, said the move was legal, whether or not it was morally right or wrong, thus setting a precedent for dishonorable if not unethical conduct in the future - formal rules of ethics are often used to pave over hypocrisy and justify bad behavior.
Instead of using her position as Madame High Commissioner to denounce the dirty tennis game playing out before her, Her Honor Matti Bower, who said she was devoted to the hard court cause, gibble-gabbled about raising the issue again and again, likening the process to the movie Groundhog Day, except the protagonist of the movie, she chortled, actually learned something. At one point she tried to cackle down Commissioner Gongora's objections to the disgraceful maneuver; he, an experience politician and lawyer, would not put up with her babblement. Still the motion carried 4-3 as planned, and Commissioner Weithorn, who promised before the question was put that she would never change her mind, exulted.
To view every minute of the travesty in order to adjudge the accuracy of this Miami Mirror report in respect to the June 9 meeting, go to the City Clerk's page at: