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Kings Bay secession nipped in the bud

When a prominent landowner denounces the idea of disbanding Crystal River or separating from it, there's little enthusiasm left.

The rebellion is over! Long live Crystal River!

A flagging insurgency bunkered in along plush Kings Bay Drive appeared to have been dealt a coup de grace Monday night. It was one of their own, an enraged, wealthy engineer named Kennedy Smith, who landed the death blow.

While Smith was away on vacation last month, two close neighbors _ Smith's relative Weston Stow and business associate Steven Lamb _ dragged him into a controversy by confirming a rumor about growing interest in the neighborhood for disbanding Crystal River or establishing an unincorporated gated community within the city. They said they had talked to Smith about those two radical ideas for changing the status quo.

But before a City Council that showed little enthusiasm for the rebels, Smith passionately defended his civic allegiance.

"My wife and I could have lived anywhere we chose in the world, and we picked Crystal River," he said. "We love it here and we intend to stay."

Smith was not the first Kings Bay resident to rail against secessionist talk. But his words carried considerable weight, especially since he owns one of the street's biggest tracts and was mentioned among the leaders.

His short denunciation rang like music in council members' ears _ or like the sound of a nail being hammered into a coffin, said council member Paula Wheeler.

"I think he had to let the vast majority of friends know," she said afterward.

The winds of discontent began blowing through the city at large after Stow and Lamb expressed their interest in splitting from Crystal River.

For Stow, a major issue was performance. He lambasted the supposed lack of professionalism on the part of the City Council, criticizing members for their personal disagreements this year when former City Manager Russ Kreager was unceremoniously removed from his job.

While suggesting the county could govern better, Lamb took another tack. He said he believes the cost of government could be reduced by eliminating redundant spending, but he avoided criticizing the City Council even as he raised the potential benefits of a gated community: increased property values and safer streets.

To the satisfaction of city officials, they were able to suck the wind out of those ideas early on. State law forbids the establishment of residential enclaves, and the City Council has final say over any effort to eliminate the city's charter.

Tuesday, Stow acknowledged receiving a tongue-lashing from Smith, who chafed under the glare of media coverage.

"I would like to apologize to all you council people . . . and the rest of the people in the city of Crystal River for the embarrassment this has caused," he said during his appearance before council.