Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sadly, nothing changes, and why I keep going to Deerfield Beach Commission meetings

My friend and fellow activist, Art Seitz, a professional photographer who lives on the ocean in Ft. Lauderdale, is a leader in the frustrating fight for quality of life and honest government in his city, and the county and state as well. 

 Art sent a link to a Miami Herald article which concerns Miami-Dade County, but is universally applicable:
  http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/06/14/4178576/miami-dade-commission-donations.html   

OK, duh??? you say.  SSDD, so what else is new.  Yup, I agree.  This is hardly news, developers and lobbyists donate to commissioners – commissioners say it doesn’t influence their vote – the public (us) say riiiiiiight, sure, no influence here.  

Every few years journalists spend hours on funding exposes,  researching campaign money, and then tracking where it goes - then the article appears and everyone goes tsk, tsk, what a shame, how awful, the lobbyists chortle, the commissioners cringe a little and life goes on as before, and  Florida suffers a little more from the horrible decisions of our elected bureaucrats.
 
Here is a familiar sequence of events in Florida.  And why we have a shortage of water and open green space, and why we have horrible traffic congestion:

1.     A developer wants something like a dispensation to push the building line further into the Everglades, or a land use change to build a massive development on a golf course, or some such, and presents it to the governing authority. Whatever it is, it involves more than the existing code allows, more money for the developer, and, oh, yes, a kick in the teeth to the residents of Florida.

2.     The commissioner, in whose district the land is and who has heard from hundreds of outraged residents in his\her area, says the public doesn’t want this and there is not enough water to support this project; this denial plays very well with the audience.

3.     The developer says, no problem, we can fix that.

4.     The commissioner then gets a large infusion of cash into his/her campaign chest. In some cases cash mysteriously appears in a commissioner’s golf bag.

5.     The developer, represented by a VERY expensive lobbyist, comes back with the same proposal, tweaked a tiny bit and with a shiny PowerPoint presentation showing how the environment will benefit from his project, the traffic will decrease in the area, how the water problem was solved, and how the Florida panther will flourish next to the development.

6.     The district commissioner smiles and votes yes; the other commissioners defer to his/her vote because they want the same consideration on their projects, the developer goes home happy, the commissioner goes home richer, the public goes home appalled.

Many elected officials go into office hoping to benefit personally, they are scum to begin with and only perfect their scumminess as time goes on.  Lobbyists are well versed in how to exploit that proclivity to the max.

But, how many really promising grass roots leaders, elected by hopeful residents, quickly morph into the above kind of politician?  What happens to their ethics, their identification with residents, and their desire to make a positive difference?  Have you heard some say they will only serve one term, only to change their minds when the power of the office becomes addictive? 

Yup, that’s what happens, the heady Lorelei of POWER.  The virtually irresistible lure of having people kowtow to your wishes, of being included in the circles of the shakers and movers, of having the say over million dollar budgets, being able to affect the lives of your constituents,  and the constant ego stroking of those who want to do business with your commission. 

Do you remember the screaming from the elected officials when ethics and sunshine laws were passed?  Do you remember how they said they didn’t need such laws; they were never influenced by free dinners, yacht rides, vacations, free golf carts or free election celebration parties?

After reading the article one friend sent me an email which said,

“Even the stock excuse given by Ron Book is corrupt, "I like to get my calls returned."  By implication he is saying he would not get his calls returned.  Further, what a crock, if Ron Book only got his calls returned, and nothing more, does anyone think that is enough?  Part of developers' business is getting special treatment from government, and campaign contributions are part of the cost of doing business.

And where does the average Joe and Jane stand when their rights are adversely affected by what government gives developers?  We know the answer.”

Sadly, we do know the answer. That's why we need to make sure we know what's going on in our own city, why our commissioners need to know we are watching.

 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Leader at Last

Ben Preston, in his short time on the Deerfield Beach Commission, has done more for his district in accomplishments and in morale improvement than was done by any past  District 2 commissioner.

The folks in District 2 often felt that they were slighted, or ignored when it came to city support, but not anymore. 

Ben ran for office not because he wanted to be a commissioner but because he felt that being on the commission would enable him to help the people in his district help themselves.  And he has done that. 

Everything in the list below was done in response to what the residents wanted, all could have been done in years past but no one listened until Ben came along.

Ben feels that our children are our future and is doing everything in his power to make sure as many Deerfield Beach students as possible stay in school, or return to school and graduate.
  • Ben, in response to residents’ suggestions, spearheaded the new policy on how long the public has to speak at commission meetings; the new policy allows the public 4 minutes (versus 3 minutes) and an additional minute can be granted at the discretion of the Mayor.
  • Ben initiated the renaming of Westside Community Center to the Johnny Tigner Community Center.
  • Ben had the name of SW 10th Ct. changed to Bethlehem Ct.
  • Ben started Project 2nd Chance, a GED class program culminating in a graduation ceremony for successful participants.
  • Ben spent hours and hours getting the 1st ever Deerfield Beach Elementary and Middle School Debate Competition started which was such a success that everyone wants it to be a yearly event.
  • Ben fought for an Appeals board as a resource for volunteer coaches involved in city athletics.
  • Ben was successful in bringing baseball back to Westside Park with the new little league and adult baseball fields.
  • To improve the appearance of District 2, and to improve safety conditions, Ben expedited the repaving of SW 11th Drive, the repaving of SW 15th Street, the installation of sidewalks in North Deerfield and moved to get a drop-off lane at the High School, which also eased traffic congestion on SW 15th Street.
  • Ben supported the BSO/FAU Owls on Patrol program.
  • Ben, knowing that appreciation is a great motivator, moved to get a trophy case at City Hall where awards and achievements can now be displayed.
  • Ben listened to the people who were upset at the potholes in the cemetery and made sure they were repaired.
  • Ben moved to help provide transportation to and from football games for the parent run Packer Rattlers youth football team.
  • Ben listened to the many residents who complained to the city about wild chickens and made sure they were removed. Some had been complaining about this for many years.
  • Ben organized a field trip for Deerfield Beach children to see the movie Red Tails about the all African American Tuskegee Airman.  The event included an essay contest and awards
  • Ben was quick to answer complaints about trash and litter dumping and Instituted regular D2 street cleanups and has been actively fighting to eliminate illegal dumping in D2, which seems to be working ,as there has not been a single case of illegal dumping in more than two months.
  • Ben’s efforts in championing his district has led to the city working to keep District 2 as clean and as possible, for example frequent pressure cleaning of the columns at the entrance to Westside Park which has a new deer statue, and there is new focus on cleanups of parks.
  • Ben responded to residents and so the basketball courts at Westside have recently been resurfaced.
  • Ben worked with BSO to increase patrols and investigation activities at Mayo Howard Park after residents contacted him about their concerns, and also worked to move up the timeline for repairs at Johnny McKeithen Park, and the elimination of drug activity at Johnny McKeithen Park.
  • Ben, again alerted by residents and crime reports, worked with BSO to fight elderly intimidation.
  • Ben supported the redevelopment of the Teen Center set to open this summer.
  • Ben worked with the Butters Construction Company on the donation of a new community center in their new business park.
  • Ben listened to the residents’ concerns about our Martin Luther King Day celebration and worked to make historical changes to the parade. This year was the first year ever that the parade crossed Federal Highway it was also the largest parade this city has ever seen, he is continuing to work to make the celebration even better.
  • Ben helped to make the People's Trust transition from Boca Raton to Deerfield Beach as seamless as possible, while working with the late CEO Mike Gold, to develop relationships with the community.
  • Ben was instrumental in securing a $25,000 donation to the SW 15th Street (which runs in front of the Deerfield Beach High School) beautification Project set to break ground this summer, and is working to get SW 15th street renamed as "Buck Pride Way”.
When I compare Ben’s outstanding effort in getting residents involved to that of the last District 2 commissioners I see a pattern emerging.  Ben’s message is together we can make a difference - help me help you.  He is proud of his fellow District 2 residents and makes sure that their accomplishments are made public. 

Ben often distributes certificates of achievement to residents and employees who have made contributions to the quality of life of our city.  This is an exciting improvement compared to the past commissioners’ message of keep quiet, don’t complain and don’t make waves.  Keep up the good work, Ben!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Person or the Actions?

Yes, I am appalled by how Jean Robb is acting and what she is doing, but only because she is a danger to the quality of life of our beach and city.  Her rudeness could be tolerated but her actions and vocal attacks against the best interests of the city cannot.  

Keeping the OVER developers from ruining the quality of life of Deerfield Beach is how I became interested in City Hall.  I was a part time resident in 1993 when we bought our first place here near the beach, and now am a full time resident.  The commission and city manager in 1999, when I first started to question what was happening to the beach area, were kissy-poo with every developer who wanted to use our beach for personal profit.
I learned about the OSOBs and happily joined them in their fight to keep the main beach parking lot from being turned into a commercial development, and have been working with them to keep the beach area from worse traffic and congestion ever since.  Not an easy job, however (see the OSOB time line, www.originalsaveourbeach.org ) with help from residents in all districts our efforts have paid off. 

Mayor Robb wants to undo our protections for the beach.  She has said many times that she wants to allow land owners to be able to build without the restrictions put in place after residents were shocked by the massive Tiara East building and wanted nothing like that on the beach again.  The then commissioners, forced by the public, put lot coverage and height limits on beach building. 
The commission with Al Capellini and Peggy Noland and from what I saw, controlled by City Manager Larry Deetjen did away with those limits to benefit a developer.  But, remembering what happened in the past, the again shocked residents, through referenda signed by thousands of residents and voted into the charter, restored the building codes. 

Mayor Robb’s lame excuse that allowing curb to curb buildings on beach lots will eliminate the drug rehab houses is laughable.  All cities are beset by these ADA protected facilities; codes have nothing to do with it.  Mayor Robb’s support for doing away with the beach building codes after she supported the OSOB past efforts, and has always been a voice against overdevelopment is puzzling.  
I and thousands of residents and members of the OSOBs, will fight her efforts to change the codes.

I spoke against her effort to thwart the Sullivan Park renewal and the Cove Shopping Center parking lot upgrade.  Happily, the other four commissioners also disagreed with her and we now have both projects going forward. 

As of this moment I believe our commissioners are on the right track with development in the city, if my thinking changes you will read it right here. 
Do I support Bill Ganz? Yes, of course, as he has the fiscal and quality of Deerfield Beach upper most in his mind, he wants what is best for the city.

Do I support Ben Preston?  Yes, and in a future post you will see the many reasons why.
Do I support Joe Miller?  Well, that road was much rockier for me; however Joe has learned a lot in his time on the commission and is now looking at everything from the viewpoint of what is best for the beach and the whole city.  

Richard Rosenzweig is new to the commission, however he is strong in his belief that the city should be for the residents, and they are the ones he answers to.
We now have a commission who is not in favor of development for the developers gain, but development that enhances the city and adds to the quality of its life. This is a far cry from the commissions of the past when the public was scorned and belittled and behind the door deals were the norm. 

 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Deerfield Beach Mayor on a Power Trip

This is an excerpt from a post on the www.deerfieldbeachusa.com website, please go to the site to read the entire post.

Is Jean Robb Der F├╝hrer? - 06/21/14
A local resident and occasional speaker at city commission meetings, Patrick Jolivet, emailed a letter to Mayor Robb protesting her alleged attempt to block certain emails, including his, to her official city email address. He wrote, "It is important for you to understand that you are not Adolf Hitler and Deerfield Beach is not Nazi Germany." Jolivet's full letter is on the MAOS blog.


Obviously, the city cannot block emails or any other form of communication to City Hall under ordinary circumstances. If the charge is true, I am simply dumbfounded why the mayor would think she could do this. Then again, she thought she could use her personal email for city business to avoid the public records law until she was advised she could not...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nothing has changed in Deerfield Beach


In the Sun Sentinel from a local minister in 2005.  The controversy is as fresh and new today as it was then, and nothing has been done in all these years to make it right! 
 
Sun Sentinel February 2005

Invocations aren't appropriate


I have been a Lutheran pastor for 27 years and believe strongly in the separation of church and state.  I don't believe that God really cares a whole lot about what happens at a City Council or Commission meeting as long as there is no injustice perpetrated upon another human being unless the environment is being polluted or plundered. 

God has more important things to attend to rather than zoning issues, parking problems and other more important issues of running a city.

 These issues are important, but I don't believe they are issues that need the Divine Presence to work out. That's why God gave us brains.

 Personally, as a clergyperson in Deerfield Beach, I don't believe that prayers or invocations are appropriate at city meetings. These are not spiritual gatherings. It kind of goes along with my view on athletes making the sign of the cross before they shoot a basket or swing a bat. I think it helps only if you are good at the foul line or have a .550-plus batting average.
 

 But hey, this is just my opinion.

PETER BROWN,
Pastor
ZION EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH  DEERFIELD BEACH

Friday, May 30, 2014

Marginalized in Deerfield Beach

From David Cohen responding to the Supreme Court decision in the Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway  case challenging the invocation prayer at city meetings:
I do not presume to retry the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) case but I must challenge the decision of the homogeneous majority as a violation of my human rights — I am now legally marginalized. 

When our city’s presiding officer opens each civic meeting by introducing the invocator which is followed by intoning “Everyone stand.” Or “Would you all rise!” it does not come across as a request.  When the invocation, in one form or another cites — emphasizes —  a belief that is inconsonant with mine,  I am consigned to the OTHER caste.

In their very nature, these invocations do proselytize though, according to the SCOTUS majority, it's always been done so it's acceptable as a time-honored custom.  How does this differ from the equally long-standing customs of slavery, of Jim Crow laws and from the ongoing legislation that truncates rights of minorities?

 I have long advocated a moment of silence as an inclusive procedure.  This is supported by scriptures of several creeds and accepted by many non-believers — equal as citizens also.  I cannot understand why any person of conscience in this 21st century republic would not wish to honor this simple step toward mutual respect and unity.

David Cohen — marginalized man


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hey, Deerfield Beach! How About a Moment of Silence?


Mayor Robb made it a point to mention that the Supreme Court ruled that prayer at commission meetings is “perfectly legitimate”. 

 The court decided 5-4 that opening a meeting with prayer is legal.  However, legal does not mean right; does not mean that many people who have to attend meetings are not offended.  Legal does not mean MUST, it means MAY.  I have long held that if any reflection is needed it should be done in a moment of silence which does not rub people’s noses in another’s religion.  That is why you will see me sitting during invocations at commission meetings.

When this was suggested some years back by a Jewish resident, and brought up by Commissioner Militello, Jean Robb took offense and brought the head priest of St. Ambrose Church to voice disapproval.  All well and good, they have every right to state their opinion. 

However, when Fr. Dalton then accosted Commissioner Militello and shook his finger in her face and said that he would personally make sure she didn’t get reelected, I was shocked.  I couldn’t believe a priest would do such a nasty thing. 

He indeed carried out his threat and convinced many of his District 1 parishioners not to vote for her. In doing so I think he risked losing his church’s non-profit status as he is not allowed to do any politicking in church.
 
What was most unbelievable is that all she did was respond to a resident by suggesting a moment of silence.  Was Dalton’s overreaction the Christian thing to do?  Surely not! Certainly not in the Methodist Church in which I was raised.  We were taught to respect others' opinions.

 
A retired Montana Supreme Court Judge says it better than I could, below is an excerpt from his article.
 
An American Constitution Society for Law and Policy
Web Site Guest Post
 
I Will Stand No Longer for Prayer

May 8, 2014
by James C. Nelson, Justice, Montana Supreme Court (Retired)

…I cannot not accept the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 5, decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway. In that case the Court held that the town opening its  official board meetings with a Christian prayer offered by members of the clergy does not violate the First Amendment and does not discriminate against minority faiths or coerce participation with non-adherents. 

The Court’s decision is flat wrong. It respects neither the history underpinning the adoption of the religion clauses, the wall of separation, nor the reality that “We the People” are a pluralistic and diverse society encompassing all degrees of sectarian believers, agnostics and atheists.

Nonetheless, that decision is now the law of the land—created from whole cloth and judicially blessed by the right wing Christian majority of our Nation’s highest Court. And, that puts me in a box.

For many years I have stood during opening prayers in public meetings of federal, state and local government. I did so out of a sense of respect for the beliefs of others and for decorum – notwithstanding my personal dis-belief in the prayer and the god prayed-to. But, while respect can be freely given, it cannot be compelled.  And, thus, The Town of Greece leaves me but one option.

I will stand no longer for prayer! I will not, as the Supreme Court suggests, leave the room during the invocation. Rather, I will sit during the prayer in the meeting room in which I am constitutionally entitled to assemble.

I will not be bullied nor will I be shamed into standing. After all, it is not I who is violating the constitutional separation of church and state. I cannot and will not be compelled to participate in any fashion in government sponsored prayer.

To be clear, my problem is not with those who profess and practice belief in one form of religious doctrine or another.  That fundamental right is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Rather, my issue is with public officials who insist on foisting their personal religious beliefs – through prayers in particular – on persons, like me and on others who do not believe, at public meetings.

Stated another way, I take issue with government officers who insist on mixing their official duties with religious prayers, pontifications, Bible readings, and calls upon their God, before, during or at the end official public meetings.

Yet, the Supreme Court in The Town of Greece appears to take the position that this sort of Church/State incest is just part of good ole’ American government – no harm, no foul. Well, the Court is wrong. It is harmful to the First Amendment rights of non-believers and there is, accordingly, a foul of Constitutional magnitude. 

Any legal rational that facilitates some public officers’ seemingly incessant attempts to force their religion down the unwilling throats of non-believers as part of government meetings undisputedly violates the First Amendment. And if that truth offends the religious sensibilities of the fundamentalist Christian jurists doing the facilitating, then so be it. Indeed, thanks to the Roberts five and The Town of Greece, everyone can now be offended – officially and as a matter of law.

There are many “ocracys” that the framers of our Constitution tried to prevent. Chief among them was theocracy. For, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, those who torment us with their religious beliefs will do so without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
 
And now, sadly, they will also do so officially, with the divine sanction of the Supreme Court of the United States.

We the People may be stuck with the Court’s newest law; but, as for me. . . I will stand no longer for prayer."