It’s Not Just About Michael Barfield

Before my parents, Father Jim and Nikki Nilon, donated the Bidwell House and the Crocker Church to the City of Sarasota, they housed their homeless mission in the buildings on Florida Avenue – two blocks from the Salvation Army.  For over two decades, they have devoted their lives to helping the homeless in Sarasota. I mention this because it is in their honor that I continue to assist in whatever way I can to change the way we work with whom Sarasota City Commissioner Suzanne Atwell refers to as the “Expendable people.”

The definition of “Expendable” is this: “of little significance when compared to an overall purpose, and therefore able to be abandoned.”  It is my sincerest hope that Commissioner Atwell just confused the term and did not realize what she was saying.  However, she used the term several times throughout my radio interview this past Wednesday when she was heralding city attorney Robert Fournier’s diatribe on Michael Barfield and the ACLU lawsuit against the City of Sarasota for citations imposed upon the civil liberties of the homeless.

As I watched with my jaw hanging open to the performance laid out before us on Monday night, I was gobsmacked with the rationale given by Mr. Fournier, stating the only reason the city should not reach a compromise with the ACLU is that “Michael Barfield will never be happy.”  In fact, the only person ever mentioned by name that evening was Michael Barfield – as if this is all his doing.  Yes, Mr. Barfield is the face of the ACLU.  But Mr. Fournier knows better.  After all, he met with most of the team the week before.

This team of people whom I mention is made up of people well known in our community.  One is former Assistant Public Defender and attorney Adam Tebrugge.  He closed his practice several months ago to work for the ACLU.  Adam, along with ACLU attorneys Andrea Mogenson, Nancy Abdu and Tracy Pratt, vetted the case and helped prepare the complaint.  Another name you will recognize is mine. Yes, I am one of the researchers on the case. I’ve poured through hundreds of documents and citations that are the basis of this legal complaint submitted to the courts on behalf of the six individuals named in this lawsuit.  It is this knowledge that allows me to say Attorney Fournier is wrong in his characterization of our efforts and appears to manipulate a calculated response out of the commissioners.

For decades, I have seen commissioners come and go.  Each one of them had the opportunity to actually do something when it comes helping our homeless. Yet, the only thing they have really become good at is talk.  And lots of it.  As they waste taxpayer money on lawsuits that a child could avoid, they have the ability to sleep at night knowing taxpayers will continue to pay the bills.  And to detract us from the real issues, they created a monster and named it Michael Barfield – as if to say it’s all about him. Well, now it’s about me too.

I don’t think the rights of any person should be delayed because of the inability of our city commission to do its job.  And the position that the commission puts our police officers in every night when they hit the streets is a disgrace. If the commission does not want to have a qualified homeless shelter in this city, fine by me. But we better recognize the responsibility of our decisions. The money they spend defending those decisions brought on by our city commission will cost a lot more.

I know what it is like to not have a home, to be impoverished, to not be able afford a legal defense and to be considered “expendable.”  We are all citizens of this country, no matter what our status.  And we all deserve to be treated with respect.  So the next time you complain about this lawsuit, make sure you give the right people the credit.