If comedian Jerry Seinfeld had made a companion episode to the close talker and the soft talker parodies, his third might have been modeled after Clearwater resident George Kelly — the fast talker. The Clearwater newsstand owner explains why he's now suing members of the State Supreme Court for $1-million each over his case involving Clearwater's infamous roundabout. Only after the taped recording of his comments are slowed down, rerecorded and slowed down again, can you hear this: "What I'm basically saying is that the seven justices of the Supreme Court screwed me ... all I ever asked for is the secretary of the Department of Transportation to retake the roadway and make it safe, which is a specific obligation under the terms of the transfer agreement between the city and the state."
Funny thing is a lot of people agree with Kelly. Unhappy residents have swarmed public hearings on the $11.4-million roundabout, a European-style circular intersection at the entrance to Clearwater Beach. There has even been an average of just under an accident a day since the circle of confusion was completed in December 1999. But Kelly may be talking too fast for some officials to hear. His rants are often dismissed as the mumbling of an annoying city gadfly. The local mainstream media don't follow his campaigns or lawsuits anymore. However, Assistant City Attorney Dick Hull said that "sometimes he (Kelly) makes some interesting suggestions, and he's a pretty nice guy." Kelly, akin to a noisy bulldog, who relentlessly barks when he senses threats, has never been one to let mainstream snubs silence him. In high school, the British Columbia native says, his anger at a teacher prompted him to write a profound term paper arguing that Isaac Newton invented calculus after his theories of gravity. Then three weeks later in final exams, Kelly just signed his paper and wrote, "Fuck you." Needless to say, he didn't graduate. "Going to school is just a waste of time," Kelly says. "Everything I ever wanted to learn, I've probably already studied." Money is a language everyone understands. And Kelly obviously has some, although he is guarded about its origins. Over the past 10 years he has bought more than eight full-page ads in the St. Petersburg Times, The Tampa Tribune and the Washington Post to espouse his discontent with politics. The cost for such an ad starts at $10,000.
Kelly also keeps the copy stores rich. "You should see some of the novels he delivers up here (at city hall)," Hull says. "Just the copying charges have got to get expensive." He added that at $250, it's also not cheap to file with the State Supreme Court.
As he drives around Clearwater in his Cadillac DeVille, pointing out the decay in local politics, Kelly, with his receding salt-and-pepper hair and jeans, slightly resembles filmmaker Oliver Stone. He points to the site of his first battle with City Hall, the Maas Brothers building. He says he and a mall architect in 1993 planned to bring Saks Fifth Avenue to the first two floors of the three-story building, but the city decided to lease the first floor to Stein Mart."
"I made sure the city knew what I was trying to do, and that money was not really a problem," Kelly says. "All of a sudden out of the blue the city signs an agreement with Stein Mart. It's an upscale Kmart! I said this is crazy! And to show you how crazy it is they leased only one floor of a three-story building. What are they going to do with the other two stories?"
Kelly's falling out with the city of Clearwater left him with a thirst for city hall blood. In 1993, he went after officials again when they bought the SunBank building, which Kelly calls "a green piece of shit." For a short time, the city had plans to turn it into city hall, but Kelly and other opponents succeeded in blocking the conversion. The city quickly sold the building for a loss of about $1-million.
Next on the Kelly tour of city screw-ups is the city police station and city hall, which Kelly sued over, arguing that voters should approve it. "These people wanted to avoid going to a referendum because they realized people would say, "Screw you, why are you building this piece of crap in the middle of nowhere for,'" he says.
Part of Kelly's logic is that a referendum would have allowed the city to save millions through bond financing. But Kelly's lawsuit only delayed the construction of the project, costing the city an estimated extra $1-million.
You are probably starting to wonder why someone with so much interest in city politics doesn't run for office himself. It's one the few questions Kelly answers softly: "I don't have the patience or the temperament. And it would interfere with my reading," he says. "I'm not going to sit there, put in a great deal of effort over whether Mr. Jones is entitled to a third toilet on the second floor. That's not my mentality. ..." Actually, according to the city clerk's office, Kelly attempted to run for mayor of Clearwater in 1999, but didn't qualify. Not only is he not registered to vote, he is not a U.S. citizen. When asked about it later, he says, "I was going to file, but decided not to. I've never gotten my citizenship because it's just never been a priority. Call me lazy. But I am a Clearwater resident." As Kelly wheels into a parking lot along the downtown waterfront, he talks of a recent victory, but with a grimace as if the weight of all his current challenges makes it hollow. It's one of those wins where a majority of Clearwater voters shared his sentiment — the proposed $300-million redevelopment project on the city's waterfront. Kelly wrote a 20-page letter objecting to the plan. He ran it as a full-page ad inside The Tampa Tribune. He says after running three-and-a-half pages of ads the prior year in the St. Petersburg Times, the newspaper wouldn't run his tome without editing it. So, he made copies and distributed about 6,000 of them. "I don't have a problem with development, but not when you pay these guys to rape you," he says of the failed proposal.
As you might guess by now, Kelly doesn't practice much verbal restraint. When he drives his Cadillac around Clearwater's new roundabout, straddling two lanes, well, let's just say the tape later had to be slowed again, again and again. "That fountain is just a piece a shit that doesn't belong here. ...What I normally do is drive right down the middle of the goddamn thing. How are they going to hit me now? ... They've absolutely ruined the community with these condominiums around here. ... These businesses are dead in the water. If you want condos, put them on the Intracoastal."
Kelly complains that lanes of traffic have been reduced, there are no emergency service lanes, there are too many points of entry and exits on the roundabout, and there's a confusing exit to a six-car parking lot — all complaints others have made.
"There's been no finding that it hasn't been safe except for his," Hull says, adding that Kelly's assertions are merely conjecture. He added that Kelly doesn't really seek a remedy from the city in his federal lawsuit. "We're just background."
But Kelly is more emphatic and tenacious than your average Clearwater Joe. After the city hired a consultant for roundabout improvements, Kelly wrote to Mayor Brian Aungst asking, "Are you people fundamentally stupid or willfully ignorant?"
When that didn't get the response he wanted, Kelly filed a lawsuit that he wrote himself, arguing that the city of Clearwater violated its 1998 agreement with the state Department of Transportation. The agreement gave the city ownership of the portion of State Road 60 that contains the roundabout and promised, "no action will be taken to compromise the integrity of Causeway Boulevard and Marianne Street as part of the SR 60 evacuation route. The city agrees that there will be no lane reduction or reconstruction that will compromise the current operating level of service. ..." Kelly maintains that, since the city violated this agreement, the state DOT should take back that portion of the road.
Initially Kelly filed his lawsuit with state Circuit Court, but was told it was not within the court's power to return the road to the state. So, he filed a pleading with the State Supreme Court, which tossed it back, saying that it needed to be heard by a lower court and that Kelly's charges are "hypothetical and conjectural at best that Clearwater residents are placed in jeopardy."
Now Kelly is suing the State Supreme Court in federal court, arguing that it has violated his civil rights by not hearing his case. "What's at stake here is more than most people might imagine," he says. Kelly also says his lawsuit, if successful, could result in justices being removed from the bench. But that may be just a dream. The federal court has already dismissed the justices from the lawsuit, and the city is arguing to be dismissed also.
Plus, as George Waas, an attorney with the State Attorney General's office, says people who represent themselves usually don't fare well in court.
Kelly has been unsuccessful in getting a lawyer to represent him. "Show me an attorney with any balls or brains, and I'll hire 'em on the spot," he says. "There's not an attorney in the state of Florida who will touch this with a 10-foot pole. What I'm basically saying is that the Supreme Court is corrupt."
Of course, that's nothing that hasn't been said before. Lawsuits against the Supreme Court are nothing new, Waas says. And neither is Kelly new to the State Supreme Court. Not only has he filed lawsuits there before, but Kelly also wrote something he calls "Law and Justice for Dummies," a treatise that criticizes the state's highest court for its role in the 2000 presidential election. In December, Kelly paid to publish it in a full-page ad in the Washington Post.
The fast talker says he suspects that it played a role in State Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells' later reversal. "And I wouldn't be surprised if the Justices of the United States Supreme Court didn't read it," he says. "Obviously this is their home paper in their own back yard. That maybe made a hell of difference too."
Sometimes you just can't play the tape slow enough.