Saturday, June 26, 2010
Another elected official arrested, Commissioner Patte Atkins-Grad of Tamarac is accused of bribery and unlawful compensation. According to the Sun Sentinel article, prosecutors said one of the first things she did, after being elected, was to accept $4,000 cash from a developer to fund her victory party. There are also many others under investigation; subpoenas are flying around Broward County like confetti.
What does it mean? Are Broward County’s prosecutors finally catching up to the other Florida Counties and actually investigating corruption? Our county has been very lax in this area. Or are they only opportunists piggy backing on the feds arrest of Broward County Commissioner Joe Eggelletion and trying to look good by cracking down on elected officials who were already ratted out by their fellow miscreant.
It seems that all the Broward prosecutor really had to do is sit with a tape recorder when Joe, trapped by the FBI, told about accepting gifts and cash from the developer brothers Shawn and Bruce Chait to get the land use changes they wanted and then keep the tape going when the Chaits, I assume hoping for some leniency in sentencing, informed on the others, such as Atkins-Grad, that they did “favors” for. Not too much detecting involved here, but it does look good for the arrest statistics. Ah, well, at least some of the rats are trapped.
This brings up an interesting question. If the land use change was granted because commissioners were bribed, should it be reversed? What was the vote margin, were the non-bribed commissioners influenced by the passionate advocacy of the bribed ones? This is something that must be looked into. It is wrong to let the change stand.
Think how furious the residents must be, who in good faith, appealed to their elected officials to do the right thing and deny the Chait’s request to change their golf course land use from recreational to high density residential; yet another poster child for Amendment 4.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Don’t wait for Mayor Peggy Noland to hold a town meeting, (scarce as hen’s teeth), or Joe Miller to actually hold a meeting, or in that infrequent event to bring up or deal with anything controversial.
Don’t hold your breath waiting to learn anything about District 2 or anything else going on in the city at Commissioner Poitier’s occasional, single topic, self serving meetings; all you will hear is broad sweeping rants about injustice and why “her people” should vote for her, and some inflammatory nonsense about how badly the city treats her. People in glass houses….
Oh, yes, you folks in District 3, if you had come across the street to Bill’s meeting you would have found out what a district meeting looks like, you would have had the novel experience of finding out what’s going on with code enforcement, what services our city provides for senior citizens at the Focal Point center, what really happened at the Mango festival fiasco, what is going on with 10th street and the MPO’s plans, and what’s happening with the city budget (we have a new philosophy of budget development); you would have learned that even with cuts, something like 45 to 60 part-timers are being RIFfed (Reduction In Force), your taxes will most likely still go up, and why. You would have heard our new BSO chief, and met his handsome new second in command.
And, best of all, you would have been given a chance to ask questions of city staff and Commissioner Ganz, and, he would have listened to your long winded rants politely (mostly) and (gasp! unbelievable as this might be to a member of another district) would have acted on your concern if there was anything the city could do to address it.
The cookies are good, the water is cold and the coffee hot (well, they forgot the creamer, I know, picky, picky!) so next time, come on over!
Sunday, June 20, 2010
We can't trust politicians with development; is it time to trust ourselves?
6:29 PM EDT, June 19, 2010
If I asked 100 people what a comprehensive land-use plan is and if they'd want the chance to vote on it every time their local government changes it, I'm pretty sure the response would be, "Com-pre-what?"
But when I ask South Floridians if they'd like to have a direct say in approving big new projects that would change their towns — say converting a golf course into condos, or a cow pasture into a mall — usually the answer is, "Yes."
Which brings us to Amendment 4, the hot-button initiative that's coming to ballot booths in November.
If at least 60 percent of Florida voters ratify Amendment 4, all future land-use changes would have to be approved by voters in local referendum.
In theory, the idea sounds reasonable. It's an understandable reaction to rampant growth and the feeling that local governments have given away the store to developers and lobbyists.
But in practice, I don't know how it's going to work.
For every big and controversial project that will have to pass voter muster, the proposal could add a handful — or scores — of arcane matters to ballots already teeming with candidates, amendments and local items. And it could end up stifling plenty of worthwhile developments.
Even with the amendment's potential for unintended consequences, a Mason-Dixon poll released last month showed support at 61 percent. And 21 percent of voters said they were undecided.
That tells me two things:
1) Amendment 4 has a serious chance.
2) The level of disgust and distrust with the Developer-Lobbyist-Politician Vortex has gotten so intense, voters are willing to gamble on the unknown.
"Even if I had to vote on 900 things, I'd rather do that than have things the way they are now," said Bett Willett, of Deerfield Beach. "We need a seat at the table."
Willett is an Amendment 4 supporter and Broward County Planning Council member who's been active with the Hometown Democracy movement.
Headed by Palm Beach attorney Lesley Blackner, Hometown Democracy got Amendment 4 on the ballot with a lengthy petition drive that snagged more than 700,000 signatures.
The initiative scares the dickens out of developers, business interests and local politicians.
Naturally, they're coming out against Amendment 4 in full force. Opposition groups have raised nearly $5 million, with big money still pouring in. Expect a barrage of attack ads heading into November.
And expect a host of anti-Amendment 4 "educational" efforts sponsored by local governments. On Thursday, for example, the Broward League of Cities hosted an event that featured an Amendment 4 opponent. The opening reception was sponsored by Ruden McClosky, the big law firm that represents many developers locally.
Some opponent concerns are valid, but there's going to be plenty of distortions and hype. After all, current land-use plans allow Florida to grow from its current population near 19 million to 80 million residents. Perhaps landowners will just have to figure out a way to deal with the constraints.
When I first wrote about Amendment 4 last year, I was leaning against it. My rule of thumb: If I don't fully understand an amendment or its consequences, just vote no.
I still have my misgivings, but the more I see the power brokers squirm, the more I think, "What the heck — maybe it's time to try something different."
Especially after seeing the spate of corruption convictions in Broward and Palm Beach County politics in recent years, including the one where former Broward Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion admitted to taking a bribe from developers who wanted to build condos on a golf course.
When the game is stacked like that, what chance do ordinary citizens have?
Maybe Amendment 4 runs counter to the basics of representative democracy, in which we vote for officeholders and they make the decisions.
But when representative democracy turns into a kleptocracy — sold to the highest bidder, constituents be damned — maybe it's time for a radical correction. Maybe it's time for voters to trust themselves more than the limited pickings they put into office.
Amendment 4 would provide one more check and balance on a system that has swung too far out of balance.
If it passes, the politicians, lobbyists and developers have only themselves to blame.
Michael Mayo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4508. Read his blog online weekdays at sunsentinel.com/mayoblog.
sun-sentinel.com/news/columnists/fl-amendment-4-mayocol-b062010-20100619,0,3125918.column South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Copyright © 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Ho hum, boring, this is a no brainer, thought I. I am not in favor of spending city money on properties for developers, but the commission, it seems, is.
The review committee went over many proposals and ranked the Urban Group the highest. The Urban Group has experience with CRAs and came out in the raking on top of all other bids so I assumed (yeah, I know) the commissioners would respect the work of the committee and pick them.
But, I forgot, this is Deerfield Beach. Sylvia immediately interrupted with a comment about how Campbell & Rosemurgy should be the one.
Keven Klopp, wearing his hat as CRA Director patiently explained that a local firm would most likely have conflicts and although Rosemurgy ranked high, the Urban Group ranked higher, and was an out of town company which would lower the possibility of conflict. He mentioned however that the location of the company did not enter into the ranking of the committee, and the Urban Group was still the highest. Sylvia didn’t like hearing that. Not to be outdone by Sylvia, Joe piped up with a comment about Dreyer’s REMAX firm, and wanted to know how they ranked. Dreyer lives near Miller and they are good friends.
Keven patiently went over the process and the thinking behind the choice and again got a lecture from Sylvia which had no point that I could discern. Come the vote and The Urban Group was turned down.
I guess Joe wanted Dryer, Sylvia wanted Rosemurgy and Marty, who had not said anything during the entire discussion, must have been thinking of what he owed to his campaign donators and also voted no.
The beat goes on in Deerfield Beach, I am not even mildly surprised about Sylvia and Marty, however I thought better of Miller. I really was surprised that he apparently chose a personal friendship over the recommendation of the committee especially in light of the fact that he so often mentions his morals and ethics and religious beliefs.
When it was his turn to vote, he paused, made a bunch of faces, furrowed his brow, and pursed his lips as though the decision between a friend and the good of the city was a really hard decision. Then he voted no.
I was really disappointed in him.
Now, the commissioners are going to look over the proposals themselves. WHAT WAS THE REASON FOR A SELECTION COMMITTEE????? I guess they want to rationalize why their friends should get the contract and not the best firm.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
My letter to Fred:
You are so right that in a perfect universe we would not need Amendment 4. But, as you noted Florida is far from perfect.
I have been working to get A4 passed for years in spite of the dirty tricks the opponents have used. Sadly the YOLO gang and their hand picked and financed politicians have had free reign over Florida for decades, and they don't want that power taken away from them.
Their arguments are the whining of spoiled brats who just cannot see why they cannot continue having their way in spite of what they have done to our quality of life, ecology and water supply.
Because of what they and their not-often-enough-convicted bought and paid for commissioners have done to Florida, WE the people, who have been ridiculed, ignored, and disenfranchised by our "representatives" are fighting back. We want a seat at the table.
When I first started to collect signatures for Florida Hometown Democracy I went to events and gatherings, when people heard what we were doing they were eager to sign, and very often they stayed to tell me tales of what happened to them in their communities when they dared question what the city commissioners were doing.
One told me that the Mayor called her a weirdo; all had an instance of some overdevelopment horror, and frequently they rubbed their fingers together indicating that they thought the politicians were bought by developers.
I could tell you many similar instances of my city, Deerfield Beach, where the land speculators got their way in spite of outraged uproar by the residents.
Please, Fred, keep up the fight against the YOLO crowd. And, be ready to have very powerful people try to shut you up.
After all, real journalism is rapidly disappearing, in part, because the advertisers don't want their feelings hurt, and fearing loss of revenue, editors kowtow to them.
Why else would the editorial staff come out against Amendment 4? Any right thinking person who cares about the future of Florida will welcome it.
Fat cats hate slow-growth amendment
BY FRED GRIMM
Power boys do love YOLO, Fort Lauderdale's slickest pickup joint, where they can valet their Italian sports cars, order Cristal and make believe that pretty girls in tiny dresses are oblivious to pot bellies, thinning hair and acute Viagra dependency.
Wednesday night was different. The lobbyists, builders and business titans who gathered at YOLO, just across Las Olas Boulevard from Scott Rothstein's old law offices, were more interested in deluding voters than young women.
They came to kill Hometown Democracy, or at least raise a couple of hundred grand toward defeating the proposed constitutional amendment.
Outside the restaurant, a few dozen decidedly less flashy demonstrators carried signs supporting the slow-growth amendment. One placard, featuring a black feline in silhouette, said, ``Yes Amendment 4. No Fat Cats.''
Fat cats hate restrictions they'd endure under Amendment 4, which would require voter approval before Florida cities or counties approve developments prohibited by comprehensive land-use plans.
The amendment would cripple Florida's construction industry and stifle the state economy, they argue.
The catch phrase among the YOLO set was ``job killer.''
Despite such foreboding, polls indicate 61 percent of Florida's likely voters are apt to vote yes. It hardly matters whether the amendment would actually improve governance. Just the fact that the YOLO gang opposes No. 4 inspires a yes -- make that hell yes -- vote.
It's just too much to hear talk of good government from the same selfish interests who transformed South Florida into mindless sprawl, creating Ground Zero for a nightmare recession with a giant inventory of foreclosed houses, deserted shopping centers and unsold condos.
They invented this Ponzi-scheme economy based on perpetual growth that forces older residents to pay ever-escalating taxes to finance roads and other infrastructure in new developments.
Voters watched as representative democracies were supplanted by lootocracies, with city and county commissioners acting as wholly-owned subsidiaries of lobbyists, voting to approve whatever awful project could come up with the requisite campaign contributions. Or, as the unfolding scandal in Broward has revealed, outright bribes.
In a perfect universe Amendment 4 would amount to a lousy idea. But in Florida's universe, state and local governments have evolved into retail outlets. (Only the occasional federal indictments deters the influence business.) South Florida has devolved into a place where the single most powerful person in government has no official capacity. The self-proclaimed ``super lobbyist'' Ron Book, by the way, hates Amendment 4.
Retiring Miami-Dade Commissioner Katy Sorenson, a champion of actual government reform, understands the frustrations propelling Hometown Democracy. But she worries that special interests will simply pour gobs of developer money into low-turnout land-use referendums with expensive campaigns designed to ``confuse the issue.''
The YOLO gang ought to steal her much more persuasive argument: ``Vote no on Amendment 4 because us fat cats will get what we want anyway. We always do.
``Vote yes. Vote no. Who cares? We win either way.
``Hey, baby. Wanna take a ride in my fat cat's Maserati?''
Friday, June 11, 2010
The results are in; Deerfield Beach Commissioners Noland, Poitier and Popelsky are official rubber stampers. No matter what fat cat comes along, they bend over and say yes. No perceivable brain activity between request and approval. The county, thank your lucky stars, said they wanted more information; wanted to make sure the land use change was good for the county; the terrible three just said yes.
With almost no thought given to the repercussions of their acts, they approve whatever the lobbyists pitch. Good-by representative government. We have government by the buddy system. If you are the commissioner’s buddy, you get what you want. Peggy’s and Sylvia’s good friends at Sun Recycling get a “Sure buddy, don’t worry about taxpayers dollars, even though you are more expensive who cares, you’re our friend so here’s the contract on a silver platter”. Popelsky was ready to give them the contract when it was a quarter of a million over the other bid. HOW DOES THAT MAKE SENSE FOR THE TAXPAYER???
They said of course, buddy Eller, it is a shame you can’t add to your millions with a profitable golf course (which I understand used to be well maintained, but when I played it last month was so bad I wouldn’t waste my money on it again) who cares that Fairway Drive is too small for the traffic, and Hillsboro is already rated F, don’t worry that Broward County is totally built out and has precious few open spaces left, and there are acres of empty industrial and commercial spaces begging for tenants. Those things pale in comparison to buddy Eller and his cronies’ need to make a quick buck. Yes, of course they knew what they were buying when they bought the golf course, and it wasn’t an industrial zone.
How dare they!! Have they no shame! Our city is gasping for funds and they throw away thousands on a recycling contract. Hillsboro Boulevard is drowning in traffic, (at 3:30 last Wednesday it took me 20 minutes to go from Powerline to 95) but the knee-jerk three voted yes for 31 acres of industry.
Take the traffic from that misbegotten venture and add in future hundreds of cars from the high density plan next to the Tri-rail station and forget any movement on Hillsboro between 3:30 and 6:00 any weekday.
Let’s see now what did they swear to when they took the oath of office?
Thursday, June 10, 2010
From senior citizens, a city commissioner, a candidate running against Ron Klein for Congress, to college students, there were about 40 people who demonstrated in front of the YOLO Restaurant last evening with our hand-made Vote YES signs while we watched Mercedes after Mercedes pull up to drop off those who are considered by some to be the crème de la crème-- influential with tons of money and everything to lose--they got the best parking spots.
From a car that was owned by Scott Rothstein who just got sentenced to 50 years in prison to Wayne Huizenga, and people adorned with Rolexes dressed as if they stepped out of Vogue with pockets full of cash, all came to give a lot of money to defeat Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment 4.As they are caught up in the rapture of lies and influence, I couldn’t help but think that some people really have no clear understanding of this Amendment.
They were there to rub shoulders with the rich, famous and infamous no matter what. They have been told over and over again by the Chamber of Commerce that this will be bad for business and they have gone along with the sham.
On the other side of the fence we were all dressed for the occasion and all with a common message: "Our communities, homes and taxes are far too important to leave to politicians and lobbyists," said Bett Willett, a Deerfield Beach community activist and local Amendment 4 leader. "We deserve a seat at the table and a vote."Read about it in the Sun Sentinel"
Mismanaged growth destroys communities," said group president Blackner. Amendment 4 will simply add "another layer of protection against unwanted developments."Rising taxes, falling home values, gridlocked roads, dwindling water supplies and Florida’s disappearing beauty are just some of the devastating consequences of Florida politicians’ habit of rubber stamping speculative plan changes.
Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment 4 changes all that by giving voters veto power over these changes to your community’s master plan for growth.
Vote YES on 4 this November 2.
Posted by Lynn Anderson at 9:15 AM
Labels: Fla Hometown Democracy
Pictures from Wednesday's Amendment 4 Rally:
Friday, June 4, 2010
Conflicting interests and questions about a Florida Supreme Court justice’s vote
3 June 2010, 4:37 am
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Charles T. Wells Retiring Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles T. Wells knew he faced a conflict of interest in his relationship with his future employer at Orlando’s GrayRobinson when he disqualified himself from cases involving the law firm on Dec. 30, 2008.
But that did not stop him 30 days later from participating in a ruling that, in effect, backed a statewide political fight led by prominent members of his soon-to-be employer.
The group that lost the ruling – Florida Hometown Democracy – now wonders if Justice Wells’ vote was unduly influenced by his employment opportunity at GrayRobinson.
“It doesn’t smell good,” said Palm Beach environmental attorney Lesley Blackner, Florida Hometown Democracy’s president. “When I found out he was going to work for GrayRobinson it seemed like there was a high potential for conflicts of interest.”
Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to perform their duties impartially, and to disqualify themselves when their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” The canons specifically say that judges negotiating for employment with a law firm are “disqualified from any matters in which that law firm appeared.”
Wells voted on Jan. 29, 2009 to deny Hometown Democracy’s motion to rehear a decision the court had made six weeks earlier to approve a controversial growth management ballot petition. Both votes were 4-3.
The petition’s sponsor was Floridians for Smarter Growth, a competing political action committee bankrolled by developers and statewide business interests. Smarter Growth’s measure is not on this year’s ballot because supporters did not collect enough signatures, but could be in 2012.
Hometown Democracy’s proposed growth management initiative is on the November ballot as Amendment 4. If approved by 60 percent of Florida’s voters, it would amend the state constitution to require voter approval of changes to comprehensive land-use plans.
Supporters say Amendment 4 would give citizens veto power over unwanted growth. Opponents say it will lead to higher taxes, stunted growth, lost jobs and lawsuits.
Broward Bulldog reported in April how Justice Wells took a senior job at GrayRobinson weeks after authoring the Dec. 18, 2008 opinion that approved Smarter Growth’s ballot petition. The Bulldog also reported how Wells failed to file state required final financial disclosure forms upon his retirement the following March. The forms were filed after the news site asked him about it.
Wells said in interviews in April and May that there is no connection between his vote as a public judge and his job as a private attorney. He said he got the job because of his longtime friendship with firm co-founder J. Charles Gray, and was free to cast his Smarter Growth vote because “the case had nothing to do with GrayRobinson, directly or indirectly.”
GrayRobinson, however, was strongly aligned with Floridians for Smarter Growth and its creator and funder, the Florida Chamber of Commerce. And for at least six years, its lawyers have had an ongoing interest in the PAC’s fortunes as leaders of the big-money fight to defeat Hometown Democracy.
GrayRobinson announced it had hired Wells in early March 2009. Terms were not released.
Wells does not recall the date he was hired. But on Dec. 30, 2008 he sent an email to Supreme Court Clerk Thomas Hall declaring that he would step aside from cases involving GrayRobinson and another possible employer.
“I need to recuse from cases in which the Bryant Olive firm and the Gray Robinson firm are counsel. Thanks,” Wells wrote. Bryant Miller Olive is headquartered in Tallahassee.
Wells, who served as chief justice from 2000-2002, declined to discuss why he wrote the memo, which was made public by the Supreme Court at Broward Bulldog’s request.
Ross Burnaman is a Tallahassee attorney who represented Hometown Democracy in the Smarter Growth case and in other matters. He said he was not informed of Wells’ recusal in cases involving GrayRobinson.
“The GrayRobinson firm was not representing any party of record in any cases I did while [Wells] was on the court. And beyond that I don’t have any comment on this,” Burnaman said.
GrayRobinson, one of the largest law firms in the state with about 220 lawyers in 10 offices, did not represent Smarter Growth. Its lawyers, however, have worked to defeat Hometown Democracy – Smarter Growth’s lone adversary – since 2004.
At the forefront of that anti-Hometown Democracy effort is GrayRobinson senior partner Frederick Leonhardt, a top lobbyist in Tallahassee, major Republican fundraiser and a member of the quasi-public government agency Enterprise Florida.
Leonhardt is on the policy-setting boards of five influential groups opposed to Amendment 4. The most powerful is the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Leonhardt first spoke out against Hometown Democracy as chamber chairman in 2004-2005.
At the time, he also ran VoteSmart.org, a chamber front organization created to oppose Hometown Democracy and other ballot initiatives perceived as anti-business.
GrayRobinson contributed $16,000 in cash and in-kind legal services to VoteSmart.org in 2004, state election records show.
VoteSmart.org later changed its stated purpose from advocacy to voter education.
Leonhardt and the Florida Chamber remain among Hometown Democracy’s main adversaries.
On March 12 of this year, GrayRobinson and Leonhardt hosted a meeting of the President’s Council Commercial Real Estate Forum – a group Leonhardt chairs – at the firm’s Orlando headquarters. According to the firm’s website, Leonhardt “moderated the program focused on defeating Amendment 4.”
The program concluded with “unanimous agreement on a motion initiated by Jason W. Searl, of counsel in GrayRobinson’s Orlando office, to work together to raise funds and engage others to defeat Amendment 4.”
Three days later, records show, the Florida Chamber contributed $125,000 to Smarter Growth’s successor in this year’s fight against Hometown Democracy and Amendment 4 – Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy.
ISSUE COMES TO TOWN
Citizens’ “Vote No on 4” campaign comes to Fort Lauderdale’s YOLO Restaurant on June 9 for an ambitious fundraiser sponsored by the Broward Workshop. The workshop, a nonprofit group made up of top decision makers at 100 of the county’s major businesses and professions, has pledged to match dollar for dollar the first $100,000 that’s raised.
Those expected to attend include former Miami Dolphins majority owner Wayne Huizenga, Autonation’s Mike Jackson, JM Family Enterprises’ Colin Brown, developers Terry Stiles and Phil Procacci, nursing home owner Ralph Marrinson, lawyers Ed Pozzuoli, Debbie Orshefsky and Don Hall, and lobbyists Ron Book, George Platt and John Milledge.
The chair of the host committee is Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis, a director of Floridians for Smarter Growth.
There have been other efforts, too.