Friday, April 30, 2010

A Poster Child for Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment 4

Amendment 4* can’t come too soon for Florida. Case in point, there couldn’t be a better poster child for getting A4 passed than the Diplomat Hotel proposal.

The Diplomat Hotel owners, wanted to build massive condos on their Hallandale property, but because the maximum land use only allowed 50 units per acre and they wanted to almost double that they came up with a scheme to call their land an LAC** so they could have the increased density.

This is a perversion of the intent of an LAC. But, recently, the Hallandale commission passed it 3-2.

Hallandale is the most densely populated city in Broward County, which most likely makes it the most dense in all of Florida, but three commissioners thought they could squeeze some more in and Okayed the plan.

The plan was fought by outraged residents who convinced the County Commission to turn it down; probably because of Amendment 4 looming, but there is no doubt in my mind that it will be back. The hotel’s lawyer was flabbergasted and irate, she is not used to commissioners crossing her.

Now to my point (finally). One of the Hallandale commissioners was contacted by a Diplomat supporter and told that if he voted against the proposal that they would hand pick and fund someone to run against him in the next election.

Was I surprised, no, outraged, but not surprised. I have seen similar things happen in Deerfield Beach in just the last two elections.

This sort of thing happens all over but, I am convinced, more so in Florida as the whole economy has been built on growth and only growth. Current expenses have traditionally been paid for by future building. Over and over again we have seen the boom and then the bust when the Ponzi scheme that is Florida topples.

Powerful land speculators get angry if a commissioner will not rubber stamp a proposal, then out of the blue, a person who has never attended a commission meeting or even been on a city committee, but is buddies with Mr. Speculator, has mega-bucks to run a campaign. The slick advertisements, cutsie slogans and frequent mailers often bring a win. Then the city suffers, as commissioners in the pockets of the powerful do their bidding and disregard quality of life issues. Residents are given lip service, a pat on the head, and then voted against.

Our officials have learned their lesson very well, even the ones who start out trying to do what they are elected to do, represent the voters, are told in effect, and in this case, literally, if you want to stay in office, play by our rules or you are out! So, we, the ones who have to live with the consequences of the betrayal, fume and rant and lose, and the speculators have their way.

Small wonder Hometown Democracy Amendment 4 is eagerly awaited by the Hallandale residents and others who have been betrayed. Each episode, such as the Diplomat Hotel or the Colony West, Woodmont or Crystal Lake Golf courses, has Amendment 4 converts flocking to spread the word.

*Amendment 4 on the Nov. 2 ballot gives voters the chance to vote on proposed changes in land-use plans. Amendment 4 will require that changes in the land use plan which have been approved by the city or county commission will then go to the voters for final approval or rejection in a referendum.

**From Broward County, “Local Activity Centers (LACs) are intended to encourage compact development reflecting characteristics which includes a mixture of community-serving uses such as commercial, office, employment, civic and institutional, recreation and open space and residential, characterized by an efficient infrastructure, close-knit neighborhoods and sense of community, preservation of natural systems, promotion of pedestrian circulation and convenient access to mass transit facilities.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Budget time again for Deerfield Beach

Our commissioners are going to get together on Thursday to start looking at the next budget. I wonder if they will have to raise taxes this time. Chances are they will. Revenue is down but expenses don’t go down.

What have we got in the reserve account? Well if we had waited Boinis out we would have $200,000 more. He would have given in eventually as no one in their right mind would pay anything for that strip of sand, and he would have soon been sick of paying taxes on it. Sure we would have had to wait a little to renovate the pier buildings, but what’s a year or two when we would save 200 large.

How then are they going to save some money for the city, and keep the taxes as low as possible? There’s the recycling contract, the staff showed how the city could go with more than one supplier and save a quarter of a million dollars.

The suppliers presented their program to the Deerfield Beach professional staff who is trained to rank and evaluate the offerings. The staff did just that and used their expertise to come up with a way to save the city a QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLARS! All the commission had to do was agree to use three suppliers and we would be $250,000,000 richer. Of course the commission voted yes on that, it was a no brainer.

BUT WHAT! One outfit was upset they didn’t get the whole thing they whined to the Mayor that it wasn’t fair, because they only got to show their posters and PowerPoints to the staff, not the commissioners.

Are any of our commissioners trained in evaluating this kind of thing, NOPE.

Is this standard operating procedure? NOPE.

But that didn’t matter, believe it or not, the commission voted to undo the yes vote, and start all over, and let the competing companies do a presentation to the commission.

AND, YOU GUESSED IT! The whiners did a prettier show then the others and UNBELIEVABLY our commission gave away A QUARTER OF A MILLION DOLLAR SAVING because, why? I cannot figure it out. I have no idea why. There can be no rational reason.

So the questions must be asked, how did the company get the commissioners to agree to a do over, how did they convince the commissioners to agree to a contract which will cost us a quarter of a mill more!!!! How did they do it? What made it happen? Why did they agree? Who benefits? And, will the city be sued by the (winner), oops, now loser? Bet on it.

And, wait until after the next contract that gets a yes vote. See the loser whine to the commission; hear them say “Hey, you did it for that guy!” We have a really pretty PowerPoint show, we want you to see. You have to change your mind, and rescind the vote for us too.

OMG! If you were a company would you bid on a Deerfield Beach contract? Me either.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Civil Rights Trampled in Tamarac

Unbelievable! Was what a friend said when I told him about my Tamarac ordeal!

Last night, (Thursday) I attended a Tamarac commission meeting where residents were fighting a proposed housing development on a golf course; one of them had asked me to come and speak to the commissioners during the 3 minute public input.

The group had on red shirts and carried white paper plates with the word NO on them to hold in the meeting room.

As the overflow crowd moved in the BSO deputies insisted that we throw our plates in the trash. I explained that it was our right to hold them but he, in a very nasty tone, told me he was following the city attorney’s orders. And we couldn’t have them because waving them around would be disruptive. He wouldn’t listen when I told him it was our constitutional right to have them and if someone was disruptive they could be ejected. I didn’t discuss the issue with him anymore, but as soon as I was in the room I asked the city attorney to tell the BSO to allow the plates. He told me it was his opinion that the BSO was right to prevent disruption, he wouldn’t listen to me either.

I then called my Attorney Tom Connick who was on his way home from a tiring day in trial, but came right over when he heard what was going on. After he arrived he talked to the Tamarac attorney the situation was straightened out as concerns the City Attorney allowing the paper plates provided they were not disruptive.

Tom told me:
“At Tamarac City Hall, after dealing with the City Attorney and his making the announcement, I then went to deal with the Sheriff’s Officer in charge. He was incredibly nasty to me. When I told him that now the people could hold their plates in view but could not wave them or be disruptive, he said he had not heard that. I told him to go verify it because I would not leave until he verified it and advised me that he would allow the signs to be held in view. He then came back and told me the people could hold the plates in view, but could not be disruptive. I told him he had no right as a policeman to violate people's first amendment rights. He didn't want to have any more contact with me, and said he was doing what the City Attorney said. I said that the Sheriff did not have a right to violate people's constitutional rights regardless of what the City Attorney or anyone else said. He said he didn't have any time to talk to me and started to turn to go away. I said I just had one more sentence to say to him, and he ignored me as he walked away.”

This is the second time BSO sheriffs have done this, in Deerfield Beach a couple of years ago we had the same situation, this time it was the city manager, not the city attorney, who told the deputies not to allow people holding plates in. It ended the same way.

Law enforcement officers are supposed to protect our Constitutional First Amendment right of free speech and expression, not trample on those rights. The difference between a democracy and a totalitarian government is the difference between law and law enforcement officers who protect fundamental rights versus law and law enforcement officers who forbid free speech and expression.

I guess it is not so unbelievable after all. Perhaps the BSO needs some remedial Constitutional Law classes.

Oh, yes, the Tamarac City Commission unanimously voted to deny the golf course proposal and voted not to transmit it to the next level. Not sure if the paper plates made the difference, but who knows?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Senate Bill 6, Teacher Pay and Tenure

Mayo’s column on April 10th in the Sun Sentinel, about the importance of teaching to something other than “THE TEST”, made everyone who read it think back to his/her school days.

I grew up in a Leave it to Beaver small town. In elementary school the teachers were strict, yes, but I had fun also, except for one year. Unlike Mike’s, my third grade teacher was a horror, she had her favorites and I was not among them. I could do no right, and Cynthia, teacher’s pet, could do no wrong, Cynthia (“Don’t call me Cindy”) got all the perks, she delivered notices, ran errands etc.

Miss P. was “encouraged” to retire the next year and she “decided” it was a good idea; too late for me and my class, but good news for the 2nd graders. The administration did its job when it was discovered that poor Miss P. had lost it. That is the way it should work.

I had some great teachers, and some, as above, not so great. I still remember the few teachers in junior high who went out of their way to look after me when my world fell apart while my mother was dying of cancer. I don’t know what I would have done if not for their kindness.

Florida is making a big mistake with its new teacher merit pay and elimination of tenure. Tenure protects teachers from arbitrary and capricious actions on the part of administrators and school boards and provides due process. It ensures that if a teacher has a different personal belief from the administration or parents they are protected; tenure insures that a principal who takes a dislike to a teacher or an influential parent, whose child is having a hard time and who blames the teacher, can’t get that teacher fired out of spite. Tenure also protects higher salaried teachers from being fired in budget crunches and being replaced by cheaper, usually less competent, ones.

Teacher evaluations, even those that encompass student achievement, are always subjective, it is impossible to get away from that. Most teachers are doing a good job with the tools and students they are given. If you took the entire faculty out of an “A” rated school and swapped it with the faculty of an “F” school, I would bet the farm that the test results would be the same.

If a teacher is not living up to the clearly defined standards of their job it is up to the teacher’s supervisor to either correct the problems or start dismissal proceedings. If the school culture does not foster excellence, that is the problem of the administration. Schools are in trouble when that is not what happens. It is not the fault of tenure, or the salary guide, or extra pay for advanced degrees (OMG I can’t believe they are doing away with that provision).

When we read about a failing school that has been turned around, the amazing results do not come from punishing the teachers with threats. A charismatic leader, usually the principal, can inspire the faculty, the students and the parents and get amazing results, even in the most underprivileged neighborhoods. All too often when that principal leaves, the school lapses back into mediocrity. The changes were not internalized and could not withstand the loss of the “cheerleader”; that clearly shows the importance of a culture of excellence and an inspirational administration.

A number of years ago, a newly elected governor in New Jersey wanted to know how to get all children to perform at grade level and commissioned a study. When the results came in the study said that in the inner cities, to achieve the desired results, that among other programs there should be implemented interventions such as a strong sex education program to prevent teen pregnancy, early and effective drug prevention programs, education programs and mentoring for parents of babies which teach the importance of reading to children and good nutrition etc, enriched day care and preschool centers, longer school days, very small class sizes for preschool through 3rd grade, and one-on-one remedial help for as long as a student is below grade level.

When the governor saw the price tag of all this, the study was buried and never heard of again.

It does not take more than a serious and unemotional look at the different experiential backgrounds students bring to school to see that there are giant differences in the readiness levels of students. The state prefers to blame the teachers all the while knowing that it is the environment and the system that is the failure.

You can train a pigeon to peck a bell to get bird seed, you can train a dog to fetch, and you can train a human child to pass a standardized test, but will that same child receive an education?

Not if this misbegotten merit pay plan goes through. It is so much easier to blame the classroom teacher than do what is really needed.

What do you think this horror of a bill will do to the moral of teachers? How will the new teachers, who can be booted at any time, feel about their protected coworkers? Why would a senior in high school even consider becoming a teacher?

What can we do? Write to the Governor and your legislators, now, before our schools become teach-to-the-test-mills even more than they already are.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment 4 is the Answer

The article below SCREAMS reasons that people, especially in the northern counties which still have a few open acres, are eager to vote for the Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment 4 which will ensure that land use changes, such as this one which was approved by the Hernando County Commission, go to the voters before getting a final approval.

This project is not needed, is bad for at least 12 reasons, yet had ALL the commissioners voting yes to accept it. Can anyone tell me why they would vote yes? $$$$$

Quarry Preserve project gets bad reviews from Florida Dept. of Community Affairs

April 9, 3:46 PM Hernando County Political Buzz ExaminerMaryann Tobin

It’s called the Quarry Preserve project. However, it has little to do with preservation.In a recently released report from the Florida Department of Community Affairs, there is not much good news for Hernando County’s plan to turn 4,280 acres of acres of unused mining land into a 5,800 housing unit subdivision.

The Quarry Preserve Planned Development District is on the north side of U.S. 98 and Lake Lindsay Road east of C.R. 491, approximately six miles north of Brooksville.In addition to the 5,800 residential housing units, developer, Brooksville Quarry LLC wants to add 200 lodging units, 850,000 square feet of office parks and industrial space, 545,000 square feet of retail space, 3 golf courses, and social facilities.

According to the Florida DCA's 46 page Objections, Recommendations and Comments report the plan is:
Bad for the environment
Bad for the economy
Bad for the housing market
Has no water supply
No sewers
Encroaches on federal endangered wildlife habitat, including 12 endangered species
Creates undesirable sprawl
Will pollute the water supply
Is a bad use of the land
Is inconsistent with the County’s plan for development
Is not needed
And violates state laws

The report states, "To accommodate the magnitude of the land use change, it will be necessary to pump more than 2 millions gallons per day from the aquifer. The amendment does not demonstrate that adequate water supplies are available to serve the amendment.”

Moreover, the plan “does not include any proposed policies to address protection of groundwater resources. “ And, “Deference to a later process outside the comprehensive plan is not consistent with state law.

"Negative economic impact would be widespread as well.

"The county has enough vacant residential land to accommodate an additional 152,000 dwelling units would accommodate 304,000 people, which is more than four times what is needed to accommodate the projected population of the county by 2025.

"The Board of County Commissioners vote to accept the Quarry Preserve project in January was unanimous. The vote to transmit the project for further review was passed by a 3 to 2 margin.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

“Ethics is Fluff”

“Ethics is Fluff” That is what Deerfield Beach Commissioner Sylvia Poitier said during a discussion about awarding the Deerfield Beach Historical Society a $50,000 grant. She has often said that ethics and the sunshine law get in her way, but this time the pesky ethics code and the new city rules initiated by Bill Ganz to track where donated money goes really annoyed her. She misunderstood a letter she received from the Historical Society and thought they were protesting opening their books and accounts to the city as required for the grant. She said the city should come up with another way to help them if they didn’t want to comply. She said, “This ethics…it don’t make sense…it’s fluff”.

In fact, the Historical Society had complied with all the requirements and submitted all needed paperwork and was in tip top shape to receive the city grant. A fact that was abundantly clear to any commissioner who bothered to read the backup material they each get prior to all commission meetings. Sylvia was chafing against the rules that, if they had been in place years ago, would have prevented the city having to hire forensic investigator, Michael Kessler.

Kessler is investigating past grants awarded by the city and is having trouble with the Westside Deerfield Businessmen Association, who received funding through the CDBG program and the Arlington Family Association also a grant recipient. Both have been, to put it mildly, dragging their feet getting Kessler required financial records. City Attorney Andy Maurodis was so frustrated that he asked the commission for permission to bring suit against the organizations if they don’t comply soon. If the current rules were in place when the WDBA and Arlington Family applied for the grant, there would have had to supply the documents up front.

A public relations firm, TransMedia Group of Boca Raton has a novel idea; they are urging the creation of ethics courses and programs at local universities. They mention that there has been a “corruption cloud since 2006”.

They suggest that some officials might need “Ethics Rehab”. "Just like drug addicts court ordered to a rehab program, ethics offenders should be required to enter an 'Ethics Rehab' facility," said Tom Madden, the firm's chief executive officer. “"Just like lawyers and real estate agents, public officials need to take refresher courses in ethics.”

Hmmmm, can you think of anyone who might need a refresher course or remedial ethics?