Running Gun Battle in IRB is Fought in E-Mail Lanes
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - The running gun battle between Commissioner Jose Coppen and Mayor Bill Ockunzzi continues with the latest exchange of fire bringing a citizen, Lee Wilkerson, into play.
Many of the city's residents are aware of the acrimony and feud between Ockunzzi and Coppen, but few get to see the written exchanges between the two.
Such vitriolic and bitter mailings are public record and after wading through more than 6,000 or so words of the material, this story is a distillation of the heated rivalry.
It is clear that the two do not like each other and that their exchanges by e-mail - funneled through city hall - are as much personal as subjective, and all public record.
The whole episode reached the heights of hilarity and amusement last Saturday when Ockunzzi sent out an e-mail more than 4,000 words in length, re-capping all of the running gunfight, justifying with each turn of the road his conduct, motives and aspirations.
Obviously, the massive mailing was done in anticipation of this very story and indicates the panic that has set in. Unfortunately, the dozen or so known addressees of Ockunzzi's Saturday e-mail are a mere drop in the bucket compared with the thousands who will read this story in publication.
It is understandable and very believable when one hears of the "good old quiet days" (pre-Ockunzzi) when Indian Rocks Beach officials tended to business and the city was quiet and happy.
That was not so long ago, but painful times seem to elongate the minutes and hours.
The running gun battle between Ockunzzi and one of the members of the commission is all a matter of written record and a careful analysis reveals what is going on.
At the top of the list lately is Coppen's criticism of overblown spending over the next five years.
Simply put, Coppen says that with the state Legislature in the process of revising tax formulas and with doubts about what the city tax in-flow will be, this is not the time to be adding up a vast spending list.
Ockunzzi, in almost an imitation of the great Wallace Beery in a sort of "Aw, I was jest kiddin'" said the gobs of money talked of being spent was just that - so much talk. Not really going to do it, just talking about it.
So, Coppen wondered, why waste time on something that may not and likely is not going to happen.
Lee Wilkerson, a citizen, got into the scene with some rather sharp criticism of Ockunzzi who, like so many who come under fire, lashes out like Shakespeare's Lear and blames the press. It's that dang reporter who's causing all this distress, he seems to say.
There was an attempt, well nigh unto a year ago now, that an attempt was made to squelch reporting. It didn't work. All that was indicated was borne out in time - most of it concerning the ghastly Grieshaber affair, a story that has not yet been fully told.
But in the latest doings -
A sampling - Wilkerson to Ockunzzi on the afternoon of June 7 -
"I was not able to attend the (June 5) workshop . . . but if even a small percentage of what I am hearing is true, the news is very disturbing. I have read your drawn out explanation in defense of our current city tax and budget situation and I am not surprised that your leadership toward reducing spending . . . is nonexistent.
"Please do not continue to patronize us with your fence-straddling approach . . . I have never trusted that you have the citizens of IRB as your first interest."
This was answered by Ockunzzi with a very long and rambling e-mail whose essence was found at the beginning and then repeated many hundreds of words later - ". . . you can't believe everything you read or believe that everything your read is the whole truth."
Ockunzzi's e-mail itself is undoubtedly (and ironically) included in this category, presumably.
This stuff goes on for more than 6,000 words (you are reading about 730 or so here). A real chore to wade through (especially the parts containing the old bureaucratic double talk, now you see it now you don't bafflegab), let alone analyze and write about.
As one wise soul says, it's a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States - "cruel and unusual punishment."
There will be more later.
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