Dear South Miami Commissioners:
I am a South Miami resident of 30+ years as well as a Girl Scout troop leader and service unit manager for the Tropical Florida area. I attended the commission meeting last night and was both encouraged and discouraged by what was said during the proceedings. I was especially proud of the girls who attended and spoke in defense of the Little House property and their meeting place. I was equally upset by commissioner Bob Welsh and his ongoing attack on both the Girl Scouts and this special property.
I also attended the Master Plan meeting last March 2017 when the Commission made a promise to the Girl Scouts that they did not want to take the property from us and turn it into a city park. Yet, nearly a full year later, we are once again addressing the same issue with the same commissioner. I understand that the resolution was withdrawn, but with a motion to work together with Girl Scouts and potentially rewrite a new resolution to be proposed at a future meeting. However, I would like to address a few items in the resolution that were not openly discussed during the limited time allowed. Mr. Welsh’s resolution was titled “A resolution authorizing and directing the City Manager to solicit proposals from contractors licensed to restore native pine habitats to restore the property at 6609 SW 60 Street”. The points that follow this introduction had nothing to do with Pine Rockland habitat restoration and, in fact, contained several blatant untruths:
The resolution referenced the lease agreement dating back to 1953 as well as the City Charter and commission’s legal authority at the time to write such a lease. This, I feel is merely an attempt to question the Girl Scouts’ right to use the property and lay the groundwork for breaking the lease. Secondly, it stated that the “Girl Scouts are currently occupying the property by the sufferance of the City”, which implies that in some way we have broken the law and are occupying the land illegally, which is not the case. This language has absolutely no relation to the title of the resolution and no bearing on our ability to maintain, restore, use or otherwise enjoy the property as we have been doing for the past 65 years. I, along with many others present last night, respectfully demand that this language be excluded from any future resolutions.
The members of the Urban Landscape Committee have not asked – nor been denied – access to the property at any time in the past year. I was present when our CEO, Chelsea Wilkerson, issued a verbal invitation to the commission and the Urban Landscape Committee to visit to the property at the Master Plan meeting. We cannot accommodate walk-ins because only background-checked GS leaders, girls and adults are allowed on property when girls are present for safety reasons. Additionally, the gate is locked when the property is not in use for security reasons, as there have been break-ins in the past. Ms. Wilkerson confirmed that she has not received any verbal or written requests to visit the property from anyone outside of Girl Scouts in the past year. However, at my November troop meeting, a man did push open our front gate and wander down the driveway while I was in the middle of an outdoor activity with the girls. I met him halfway, to put myself between the stranger and the girls for safety. He asked what the property was and if he could look around. I politely informed him that the property was not open to the public and that if he wanted to make an appointment or find out more, he needed to call GS Council and speak to the CEO. At no time did he identify himself. If he was a member of the ULC, he did not say so. However, I still would have told him the same thing. Random strangers are NOT allowed to push open our gate and walk in whenever they like. The safety of the girls comes first and foremost, and quite honestly, he seemed a bit questionable in both his motives and intent (so much so that I locked the gate behind him after he left).
Mr. Welsh also erroneously states that “Boy Scouts approached nearby neighbors around Christmastime 2017, selling wreaths to obtain money for their Boy Scout project of cleaning invasive and noxious plants at said property, which, as of this date, has not happened”. This statement is false on several accounts. First, it was one Boy Scout, my son Logan, who sold wreaths in the South Miami area. His troop was selling them as a fundraiser and he opted to apply the profits to his Eagle Project at South Miami Little House. Second, at no time did his Eagle flyer, proposal, plan or final report mention removal of invasive species or noxious plants as a focus of his project. In fact, knowing the permitting issues related to the property he specifically avoided including it. Logan was unable to attend last nights’ meeting to defend his name and project, however he asked that I do so on his behalf. His Eagle project, which was completed on March 3, 2018 with the help of over 90 volunteers, included four parts (see attached photos):
Fire Circle Renovation – removal of dead wood in surrounding area, removal of old wooden log seating, installation of new concrete keystone fire ring, new sand and build, paint and installation of 8 new 6’ benches.
Trail Signs – removal of damaged trail signs and replace with new metal signs with PVC post sleeves, light cleanup of trail entrances (dead wood only) and a few weeds and air potatoes located at trail entrances.
Wash Station/Potting Area – removal of old outdoor laundry deep sink, installation of 4×4 framing and pea gravel drainage area, build and install 8’ potting table/wash station, plumbing connection to proper drainage, installation of gutters along 30+’ of roofline and connection to 2 new rain barrels, and installation of a dedication plaque.
Memorial Pine Rockland Butterfly Garden – removal of 1+ trailer loads of dead branches and debris from Hurricane Irma damage that had to be manually removed due to their remote location, removal of 4 rotten wooden benches, replacement of planter box framing around a memorial tree, installation of 2 memorial plaques, build, paint and installation of 4 new benches, planting of 40+ Pine Rockland native species (he partnered with the Connect to Protect Network and a local nursery) and spreading of native Pine Rockland wildflower seeds.
Mr. Welsh also refers to the “Little House and it’s parking lot”, which is also incorrect. The Little House does not have a parking lot. The area he is referring to is the 66 feet of swale/setback between Ludlam Rd. and the Girl Scout property fence line. This section of land, noted in our lease, is not a part of the Girl Scout property and is, in fact, owned by the City of South Miami. It, too, was originally a pristine Pine Rockland habitat and looked exactly like the Girl Scout property. The few trees remaining in this area were planted as part of a Boy Scout Eagle project about 30 years ago. The City of SM has “maintained” their Pine Rockland section by dumping gravel in this area each year to allow for overflow parking for the school and games at Palmer Park. The section inside the fence that has been maintained by Girl Scouts is far better preserved. If Bob Welsh’s real goal is to create a pocket community park and to restore a Pine Rockland habitat, I would like to propose that the City of South Miami start with that piece of land, which has no lease agreements in place and is currently a “blank canvas”. I know several Girl Scouts who are looking for Gold Award projects – my daughter included – who would love nothing more than to restore this empty lot and help teach the community how to take care of its natural resources.
Furthermore, I was appalled that Mr. Welsh accused Girl Scouts of being “too white”. One could accuse our South Miami Commission of the same – a panel of older white men without a single woman or person of color – hardly representative of our diverse community. Our Girl Scout community is extremely diverse and open to any girl who wants to join. We actively recruit at all schools in the South Miami area and were recently recognized on a national level by GSUSA for our membership being closely aligned with our community demographics. Mr. Welsh should check his facts before repeating information that is neither based in fact nor relevant to the issue at hand.
I was also deeply offended that he tried to tell a room full of Girl Scouts what Girl Scouting was all about. I highly doubt that he was a Girl Scout at any point in time and am therefore curious as to how he arrived at his strong opinions regarding Girl Scout values. Additionally, his offhand comment about girls needing to “get out there on the weekends with chainsaws and clean the place up” both shows his ignorance of Girl and Boy Scout safety regulations as well as Pine Rockland habitat restoration procedures. Perhaps he should try talking to an actual Girl Scout rather than making assumptions. We are far more than just cookies, camping and earning badges. We teach girls to speak out for what they believe in and become strong leaders of tomorrow. I witnessed this in action last night and could not be prouder of our girls.
I am hopeful that once the air has been cleared of all the untruths coming from one misinformed commissioner, that we can move forward in partnership with the City of South Miami. I would very much like to be included in all future discussions and plans both for the Little House restoration and the possibility of turning the vacant parking lot into a Pine Rockland pocket park. I look forward to becoming an integral part of the planning and restoration of the Pine Rockland habitats in South Miami.
Karen Gottlieb, CMP