Saturday, November 8, 2014

In Deerfield Beach, A Conspiracy of Truth

A Conspiracy of Truth - 11/08/14

(Thanks for writing this Jeff, so much better than I could have.)

From:  www.deerfieldbeachusa.com

There's no question in my mind, after reading the IG report of her conduct as mayor and hearing other reports, that Jean Robb has committed malfeasance or misfeasance by her frequent violations of the city charter; and possibly, in some cases, she's violated criminal statutes. The latter is still under investigation. Meanwhile, Mayor Robb is dismissive of the report — her lawyer will take care of it — as if to suggest the report's findings are not to be taken too seriously.
 
 
However, the final report of the Broward Office of the Inspector General (OIG), just issued Nov. 7, 2014, Misconduct by Deerfield Beach Mayor Jean Robb, OIG 14-017, concluded that her pattern of unlawful behavior in contravention of the city charter is serious:
 
The OIG investigation found probable cause to believe that Mayor Robb engaged in misconduct when she attempted to use her position to obstruct City code enforcement efforts involving a local dealership that donated to her chosen causes. We found that Mayor Robb routinely abused her authority by directing staff members without the City Manager’s knowledge and approval. Given Mayor Robb’s long tenure in her position, we must conclude that such abuse was not accidental. Such actions contravene the City charter’s well-considered safeguards separating the executive from the legislature. They also have a predictably coercive effect on employees and circumvent controls designed to protect public resources and maintain governmental accountability. [Emphasis added.]
 
 
 The mayor did not file a formal response to the preliminary report that was issued about a month ago (so she hasn't denied the allegations), and she continues to wear a face of unconcerned indifference in her public appearances.
 
 
 Throughout her political career, Robb has faced attacks on her conduct and character. She's always managed to immerge relatively intact, and that could be the case here, though it doesn't look too good for her now. Also, through it all, she has maintained a loyal band of followers who love her to death and will support her to the bitter end. Unfortunately, the recurring allegations of misconduct distract from the more important business of the city, which is to make better lives for its residents. Mayor Robb, as well, ought to stick to city business rather than spend her time trying to get special privileges for her friends or concocting vendettas against people she less favors. It's in that arena where she gets into the most trouble.
 
 
If there is, now, a grand conspiracy against Mayor Robb to unseat her, as some may believe, it is more likely a conspiracy of truth. At the next stage of this investigation, the facts will out and consequences, follow.
 
 
 Malfeasance is a concept we (Florida) inherited from the law of England. It is a general principle that when a state separates from another state, the law of the former state continues in force until changed. This assures legal continuity. This is why if you should ever happen to be involved in a civil suit for breach of contract, the suit may be decided on legal principles established by English judges centuries ago before American independence.
 
 
At common law, malfeasance is a crime. It is sometimes referred to as a breach of public trust. Malfeasance can also be the basis of a civil tort action in some cases. It still is a crime in the Realm. A recent Canada Supreme Court case discussed it at length, and the UK Attorney General has advised British prosecutors they still may pursue criminal charges of malfeasance in applicable cases. In Florida, the governor's power to suspend a public official for malfeasance or misfeasance dates back to at least the post-Reconstruction constitution of 1885.
 
 
Malfeasance is essentially wrongdoing — a willful violation of the law. Under Florida law, it has been largely subsumed on the criminal side by statute (e.g., official misconduct), but can still result in civil penalties (misuse of office) or be grounds for suspension or recall.
 
 
In other words, malfeasance, misfeasance, breach of public trust, unlawful or unethical conduct — whatever you may call it — is no laughing matter, to be brushed off as a mere legal technicality.
 
 
A related question is why Mayor Robb is so blasé about these reports and the possible consequences — arrogantly so the way I read her. I don't think she is a crook or "crazy." At this point, she hasn't been accused of any crime that is malum in se: bribery, embezzlement, extortion, or oppression, for example. Nor has she been accused, yet, of falsifying public records, conflict of interest, or anything of that sort. Nonetheless, the evidence points to repeated, knowing violations of the city charter by her interference with the city's administration, undermining the council-manager form of government adopted in the charter.
 
 
Government codes of ethics are designed to preserve public integrity. If we had a mayor who was perfectly honest, we probably would not have to worry too much about public integrity. She would always tell the truth; act impartially, setting aside personal biases and prejudices; respect the rights and dignity of all people; and comply with the law whether she agrees with it or not. On the other hand, a thoroughly dishonest public official, from the standpoint of personal ethics, can fully comply with the standards of conduct set out in the ethics codes and never be accused of ethics violations. This, I believe, is the crux of the matter: Jean Robb is short in the personal integrity department. It's not that she does not have the intellectual or mental capacity to know "right" and "wrong" or that she does not totally understand the charter that governs the way the city is supposed to operate. She just doesn't want to do it that way. As the IG report stated: "Given Mayor Robb’s long tenure in her position, we must conclude that [her] abuse [of authority] was not accidental."
 
 
Thus, she does "stupid" things. She hardly ever admits to her mistakes. She resists making amends. If she does apologize, it's half-hearted and she goes back to her old ways. No, she will claim, she didn't demand code enforcement ease up on the car dealer who gave money to her favorite causes — she just asked if. Like she asked if (just if) a certain person could be blocked from her city email account. Nor did she tell city employees to issue a city parking sticker to her pastor or seek to exclude a potential contractor she doesn't like for some reason from a contract bid. She, she will say, was misunderstood . . . or they are lying. Just like Sheriff Israel lied. As Maj. Burns ("M*A*S*H") said, "I wouldn't be so paranoid if everyone wasn't against me."
 
 
If Jean Robb, in the face of the evidence, does not atone or resign, the city may have no choice but to act. The commission cannot let this behavior go unchecked. As Mr. Ganz indicated at the last city commission meeting, if Robb's behavior continues, the city must do something. The commission has options, he said, which is true.
 
 
 If my thesis that Mayor Robb has committed malfeasance or misfeasance is correct, the commission could ask the governor to suspend her from office. That would an option — a good first one to explore.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Advice on how to stay out of jail---from a lobbyist who didn’t


By Kevin A. Ring October 24


Virginia’s legislators and governor should embrace a total ban on gifts of any value from private interests, including lobbyists, to lawmakers. I say this not because I think politicians can be bought with a free cheeseburger or Redskins tickets. I do not believe that at all, but it seems clear that a great majority of the general public does.

I should know. In 2010, a federal jury convicted me of honest services fraud, a junior varsity form of bribery, for giving numerous small gifts to members of Congress and their staffs while I worked as a lobbyist.

From my prison bunk in Maryland, I offer this unsolicited but hard-learned advice for the commonwealth’s lawmakers and lobbyists:

Zero is the right “limit.” Lawmakers should not pick some low-dollar value for a gift limit. Go with zero. First, if you create a limit, no matter how reasonable-sounding, people will try to abuse it. When Congress limited gifts to $50 in the 1990s, the late Abe Pollin allegedly responded by setting the value of a ticket to a Verizon Center skybox at $48. Second, do not be fooled into thinking that limiting the size of permissible gifts solves the problem. Numerous psychologists and behavioral economists have confirmed the principle of reciprocity: People are hard-wired to repay even small favors or gifts. For officeholders, this benign, evolutionary instinct could come back to hurt them.

Any legal prohibition should also apply to lobbyists, not just the public officials they are trying to influence. I say this to protect lobbyists, not hurt them. Every lobbyist knows that conflicted feeling when a lawmaker whose help you need asks you for something you know he or she probably should not take. You want to say “yes” for your and your client’s benefit. And, let’s face it, if a gift prohibition applies only to the officeholder, a lobbyist will find it easy to do the wrong thing. The lobbyist’s other choice is to remind the lawmaker that he or she shouldn’t be asking for a particular gift. Your service as the lawmaker’s moral conscience will not be welcomed in most cases. Far better to be able to say, “Sorry, I would love to help, but I could go to jail if I say yes.”

If you don’t act, the feds will. A career-climbing federal prosecutor enjoys nothing so much as playing white knight to the scourge of public corruption, especially the corruption found in an opposing political party. Congress has given ambitious prosecutors a powerful weapon in the federal honest service statute. The law is so broad that every public official in the country — from a U.S. senator to a local dogcatcher — is subject to prosecution for accepting gifts from private interests.

If you get caught, you will almost certainly be convicted. News flash to lawmakers: The public doesn’t like you all that much, and it likes lobbyists even less. The level of cynicism about public officials and lobbyists is too high in my view for a healthy democracy, but it is real and you best beware. Most employees (read: prospective jurors) are not offered free meals, tickets and trips at their jobs and see no reason that public servants deserve such freebies.

I appreciate that many Virginia lawmakers might think that their integrity is being unfairly attacked because of the misdeeds of former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R). Get over it. When 12 politician-hating laypeople convene in a jury room to decide what they think about powerful public servants accepting gifts from those who want power used on their behalf, they will not care how strongly you feel about your integrity. They will be happy to convict you.

Some lawmakers might worry that a ban on gifts will lead to fewer opportunities to meet with constituents and conduct commonwealth business in informal social settings. These relaxed events can improve government responsiveness by increasing interaction between the public and its elected leaders. And, some might be candid enough to admit, free hospitality and gifts make the job a little more fun. I get it. But I promise the commonwealth’s leaders and lobbyists that even without free gifts, being in politics will be more fun than being in prison.

The writer is an inmate at Cumberland Federal Prison Camp. Before entering prison, he was a freelance writer in Kensington and, before that, a federal lobbyist.

 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Does Deerfield Beach Have Broken Windows?

http://www.cityethics.org/content/applying-broken-windows-theory-local-government-ethics

Applying the Broken Windows Theory to Local Government Ethics

Does the "broken windows" theory, as first stated in a 1982 Atlantic essay by George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, apply to government ethics? The theory says that, if small things like broken windows are ignored, people will think that no one cares and, therefore, they will break more windows and move on to more serious misconduct. It's about setting norms and sending signals.

Forget the misuse of this theory in policing, where individuals are arrested for small offenses, sending them into the criminal justice system when they should not be. The focus of the theory was on fixing windows, showing that people do care, and sending the message that good conduct is the community norm.

Isn't this what a good local government ethics program is supposed to do:  try to prevent and fix the small instances of ethical misconduct through training, advice, and disclosure, so that the big ones don't happen? A good ethics officer should dispose of reports and complaints of minor misconduct and misconduct that isn't covered by the ethics code by talking with the official and trying to get her to understand why what she is alleged to have done (whether or not she actually did it, whether or not there is an enforceable rule involved) might be harmful to the government organization and the community if it were to become (or remain) common.

A well-run local government ethics program is a form of community policing, with the community being the government organization and the ethics officer being the police officer on the beat. This is, for example, the way my colleague Carla Miller does it in Jacksonville. The relationship between ethics officer and official is not primarily an adversarial relationship, but rather a service relationship, in which the ethics officer's role is to help keep officials (and the organization) on the straight and narrow so scandals don't undermine the public's trust in their community's government. It requires that the ethics officer have room for maneuver, a strategy, and clear goals.

It is harmful to the public's trust when every little report and complaint is taken past the investigation and warning/settlement stage into a full-fledged proceeding. Most matters should be dismissed before an enforcement proceeding begins, and those that begin should rarely get very far without a settlement, at least if the ethics officer-official relationship has been working. A leadership supportive of the government ethics program will help make this relationship work.

As it is, there are too few ethics officers to form these relationships, too many ethics programs feel they need to be primarily adversarial, and too much of the news media and too many good government groups do not appear to recognize the value of these relationships, of treating broken windows not as crimes, but rather as something to be fixed in order to set good norms and send the right messages before things go too far.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics
rwechsler@cityethics.org
203-230-2548
 
 
A good essay, but Mr. Wechsler's essay deals with folks who listen and correct their behavior when shown the error of their ways.

Unlike our Mayor who cannot seem to learn, and does not alter her behavior even when the "complaint is taken past the investigation and warning/settlement stage".   

Our Madam Mayor is still trying to go around the City Manager, and continues directly to ask staff to do her bidding.  She wanted an inappropriate notice put on the city web site, and was piqued when told no by the staff member and told that the City Manager would have to approve any posting. 

JEAN!  YOU ARE NOT THE CITY MANAGER!  YOU MUST STICK TO SETTING POLICY, NOT DEALING WITH EMPLOYEES! 

Jean, as you are not able to take advice or direction it's time you realize you are not the right person to be mayor, time to step down. You are an embarrassment to Deerfield Beach.
 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Beautiful Deerfield Beach

Thanks to the Original Save Our Beach committee and thousands of Deerfield voters our beach area is attracting the type of development they envisioned. 

Residents overwhelming voted to keep our beach low-rise and uncluttered. 

The CRA board has improved the look of the beach with new pavers, furniture and refurbished pier. 

As a result, builders of new homes, condos, hotels and rentals are eager to be a part of our in-demand gem of a beach area. 

These are the words of the owner of the new Royal Blues Hotel saying why he located his new boutique hotel on the beach in Deerfield Beach: “for its timeless qualities of 1960’s surf culture, low rise building landscape and its devotion to natural beauty,"

This is the new Royal Blues Hotel which was built to code
www.royalblueshotel.com

 
 

In addition, a new beautiful short term vacation rental building will soon be built around the corner from the Billabong store:



Our beach, because residents demanded that buildings should be low and setbacks generous, is in demand for it’s unique-in-South Florida, ambiance. 

Residents have always wanted our beach to have a small village feel, but former commissioners did not, they tried to bring in massive overdevelopment.  Residents prevented this by making sure the beach building codes are in our City Charter and cannot be changed except by voter referendum.

One of the developers who is now building a new restaurant by the Cove loves the character of Deerfield Beach so much that he said he is going to live here and is now very glad that his former enormous projects were denied. 

Kudos to the commissioners who resisted the pressure from some greedy land owners who wanted to change our codes, kudos to the builders and owners who are building such beautiful projects within our code, shame on anyone who proposes to change our beach codes.  We, the residents and smart builders, know that keeping our beach free from massive congestion and traffic will benefit the whole city well into the future.

There are 2 more examples of what’s to come on our Beach in my Sept. 7 post.  See below.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

News headline: “Deerfield Beach Mayor Engaged in "Ethical Misconduct," OIG Report Says”

For another article about the report go to: www.deerfieldbeachusa.com

After reading the Office of the Inspector General’s report on Mayor Robb’s conduct my first reaction is sadness, first and foremost sadness, not for the mayor, but for Deerfield Beach residents and city workers.
 
This should not have happened! 

The actions which resulted in the findings from the OIG were disgraceful examples of hubris; the actions of a person who feels she is above the rules that govern the rest of us, even after being warned her conduct was illegal. 

This was not one event, it was over and over again, and the evidence shows that when she was mayor back in the 80s it was a problem even then.  A persistent pattern, I understand, which even when sued, and censured, and having a special resolution passed to halt her behavior, did not stop then and is continuing even now.

We have an excellent group of administrative employees, award winning, and responsive to residents.  But their moral is being battered by the mayor’s behavior to them.  Many employees will not talk to the mayor unless another person is also present.  This is sad. 

I was told that at least three employees retired early or left for other jobs in a large part because of Mayor Robb’s conduct. This is sad.

Mayor Jean Robb is not new to politics, she cannot use the excuse of not knowing the City of Deerfield Beach Charter provisions, she was the head of the charter review committee which took each element and scrutinized it to decide if it should be retained as is, changed or deleted.

She knows what she does is prohibited.  She recently had 8 hours of training on ethics laws; 4 hours a year are mandated by state law. She knows better, and, she was warned by the City Manager and the City Attorney.

The OIG report points out the many times that Robb has violated laws since she became mayor in March of 2013.  

As an example the report states that she, without going through the City Manager, directed the duties of employees. 

In the report,  

“The City Manager stated that, pursuant to the Charter, the Mayor and any Commissioner may make inquiries of City staff, but they may not direct or interfere in staff members' job duties or assignments.

 “He also stated that he knew of no instances when any other members of the City Commission attempted to direct the work of City employees.

“He stated he can and has cautioned Mayor Robb about her conduct, and he has directed his staff to let him know if she attempted to affect their job duties.

“He further stated that he believed that the City Attorney has also advised her about the prohibition against her directing the activities of City staff.”

The report also says she obstructed the city’s code enforcement efforts in favor of a car dealership who donated to two of her favorite charities; tried to block the city from awarding a contract to a vendor she didn’t like; on her own committed the city to pay for transportation of a Little League baseball team; had the city clean St. Ambrose’s parking lot and insisted that Fr. Dalton be issued an employee parking sticker.

All this adds up to simply a maverick who, cannot or will not control her behavior.  I lean to the cannot control side because as many times as she promises not to interrupt or disrupt meetings, she continues to do it, as many times as she was warned that she must not interfere with employees duties, she continues to do it, even in public meetings, on camera.  This is sad.

This cannot go on, her word is not to be trusted, in my opinion she will not change.   

Jean Robb should resign, if not, citing the charter provision that she approved, the other commissioners should vote her off the dais.
 
 
The complete OIG Report:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Another Greedy Self-serving Jerk Heard From

At a recent Deerfield Beach Commission meeting another jackass, not a Deerfield resident, got up and complained about restrictive building codes at the beach implying that developers cannot make money; such utter nonsense, and so very self-serving (he owns property in Deerfield Beach). 

 If he and anyone else continue to tell us that our development codes on the beach are too restrictive and developers cannot make money, the Group P6 developments may squash these falsehoods. 

Group P6 paid $540,000 for their 216 SE 19th Ave. property and $1,425,000 for the two lots at the corner of Hillsboro and SE 19th Ave.    Time will tell if these developments actually take place, but Group P6 bought these three properties earlier this year, so they must think they made a wise investment!

Here are renderings of what they are planning.  It certainly looks as if they are OK with the building codes and are planning on putting up a couple of profitable buildings.




Our beach codes are written to make the best use of our beach area and were approved by 75% of the voters.  They make sure properties are not crowded lot line to lot line with massive buildings.  The codes were written with the residents’ quality of life in mind.  The codes were written so that the beach would have a chance at staying the type of village-feel low rise area so desired by everyone who comes here and raves about the great time they had on our lovely beach.

None of the visitors, snow-birds, or residents want what accompanies the kind of development that the aforementioned jackass wants. 

So when you hear someone mention that our codes “stifle” development, or are not generous enough, make sure you ask them if they are going to live or vacation here, or if they just want to make a bundle of money off the misery of Deerfield’s beach goers.

 

Friday, August 8, 2014

School Board, Wake Up!

Most cities don’t have a city resident on the School Board, just someone from a large regional district.  This means that “our” representative deals with not only our 7 schools, but dozen’s more in other cities. This keeps the School Board members so far removed from the home towns that they don’t see the local needs, or the unfairness of many of their decisions.

It is impossible to have enough time to get to know each school’s and city’s needs, and so perhaps decisions are made without enough knowledge.  For example, deciding that schools don’t need to have School Resource Deputies. 

With what this country has seen in the recent past taking place on our school campuses, elementary, middle and high schools, police in each school are not a frill, but a necessity.

For years Deerfield Beach has begged and borrowed money for School Resource Deputies for its schools, not a city responsibility, but these are our children. 

This expense should be a School Board budget item.  However, when Commissioner Ganz contacted them he was greeted politely, thanked for his call, and then in effect told, “Take a flying leap”.

Decidedly money and politics count more than children in our School Board’s list of priorities. 

 The money for next year, $199,562.00 for 2 deputies, which should be paid by the School Board, is instead, with the Commission’s approval, coming from Deerfield Beach’s LETF Resources (money confiscated from drug deals and such). 

There is no way Deerfield Beach should be on the hook for the entire expense as the children in the schools come from many other cities. The School Board is not stepping up to the plate, so we have to, but each of the cities which send students to Deerfield Beach should pay their pro-rated share.  Who can make this happen?  Whoever it is should get cracking.

Think of the things two hundred grand could do for our city, for example, helping prevent crime with children’s programs or, perhaps, helping victims of crime.  This won’t get done because we are shouldering the entire burden of keeping our kiddies safe in their schools.

Our Commission has its priorities straight, however unfair it is, our city is paying the cost.  To our Commission, our children's safety comes first, I can't say the same for the Board of Education..

Perhaps we should grab our “pitchforks” and attend a few School Board meetings.