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Give up war against home for mentally disabled

Citrus Commissioner Wayne Weaver apparently can't figure out when to give up, even when he's clearly on the wrong side of an issue. Despite widespread rebuke from the public and other elected officials, Weaver, at the behest of a couple of property owners, continues to wage his nasty little war on the developmentally disabled citizens of our county.

On Tuesday, he went before the Inverness City Council to reprise his harangue, imploring the council to change its ordinances so those with mental disabilities would be forbidden to move into an Inverness neighborhood.

At issue is an eight-unit apartment building for independent mentally handicapped people that the Key Training Center wants to build on Zephyr Street. The apartments apparently meet city zoning guidelines; a coveted federal loan has been granted to build them; government subsidies have been assured to help tenants pay their rent, and the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council has given the project its blessing.

The apartments should be an attractive addition to the neighborhood. Key Training Center will carefully screen applicants for the apartments to make sure they are capable of living alone, holding jobs and functioning well in the area. Residents of nearby Whitton House, another Key facility, have proven to be quiet, considerate neighbors.

Still, Weaver has decided these less-fortunate people shouldn't be allowed to live in this area _ which, incidentally, is in his own neighborhood. By some twisted logic, he says that because another facility with retarded people is within a couple of blocks and a retirement center across the street, the training center should look somewhere else for land.

Weaver showed up Tuesday chock full of misinformation. He misstated the cost of the apartment buildings, the amount of the government loan, the amount of the government rent subsidies, the cost of Whitton House and the function of the new project. He expanded his diatribe to include a nursing home across the street, accusing the residents there of peeping in windows and stealing tools out of garages and the owners of the home of breaking city ordinances _ a charge flatly denied by city officials.

Most inaccurate of all, he insisted on calling the Key Center clients "mental patients," a term that implies insanity. That is a totally erroneous description of the future residents of the Key apartments. They are absolutely NOT insane. They are retarded, and there is a big, big difference.

There is ugly irony in Weaver's objections to the Key apartments.

Every week, he's on some political stump somewhere raving about the building restrictions being imposed on the county by the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) in an effort to preserve the natural beauty of this county. Weaver has called DCA Secretary Tom Pelham an insulting, obscene name because Pelham is insisting that the county develop in an orderly manner.

Now Weaver turns around and starts preaching for some kind of new law that would impose untenable residential building restrictions upon the most vulnerable members of our society, the mentally impaired.

Besides being wrong-headed, this is hardly a consistent stance to take.

To their credit, the Inverness council members kept their cool. They asked their attorney to research the law and report if some federal or state law requires a distance separation between homes such as Whitton House and the new Key apartment project, but they gave no hint they were buying Weaver's feeble arguments against the Key project. In fact, council member Walter Cannon said he had "not heard a whisper" of complaint against any Key facility and, rather, had heard only compliments about it.

Give it up, Mr. Weaver.

In an area of predominantly mature individuals, where anyone could be stricken with a mentally incapacitating illness at any moment, he's skating on mighty thin ice to oppose a project that could benefit those whose mental abilities, through no fault of their own, just happen to fall outside of what this commission considers acceptable for his neighborhood.

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