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Here’s The Scoop … Checks And Balances …. One Year Later …

CHECKS AND BALANCES … ARE IN THEY IN ORDER? ….

Dear Readers … It seems that this writer has come full circle when it comes to local politics in LBTS … The very fact that I posted once again on this site after I said goodbye in December (due to a feeling of the time being right to do so and the open and witnessing transparent government thus far ) …. and voiced some dissatisfaction and concern with the commission/ administration as well as asking in a follow-up post what the political climate is and where the local voters stand at this juncture has resulted in some former foes who became fast allies for a short time to become foes once more… Hmmm…. Quite frankly ….for proud card- carrying G.D. I. …it was never a matter of IF this would happen but WHEN!…And that when is now … or so I have been told! …

Let’s get this one straight … It is not necessary nor is it desirable for supporters of elected officials to attempt to silence those who choose to carry out what is their right and quite frankly their duty living in this country  …to speak up …to question …and voice dissent … In fact it only serves to make those who deal with the issues at hand and not the “personalities”delivering those issues speak louder and more often! ….

For this particular voter …taxpayer and resident … it is silence … apathy and a lack of transparency combined with silence imposed from a few that have long provided the perfect safety net for bad acts taking place behind the scenes whether done with purpose and/or done from a glaring lack of knowledge of the past …

As an active participant in local politics over the last 6 years I have been informed by those who came before me as well as witnessing  and uncovering many bad acts that took place behind the scenes in two past administrations …They grew in succession with fervor when allowed to do so due in large part to those supporters of whomever was in charge at that time attempting and in some cases succeeding in silencing the questioners as they circled the wagons in order to “protect” those “pals” in office or employed by the town…

Many of these bad acts never saw the light of day after they are discovered and took a lot of stubborn determination and
resiliency on the part of a few vigilant people to see they were made public and those involved were held accountable….Many such bad acts are still being revealed long after the perpetrators are long gone or covered by legal agreements that lets them off the hook ….We’ve seen acts of manipulating minutes …acts of closing down a fire department after a loss at the polls … preferential treatment of funding “pet projects” ….behind the scenes direction to “subsidize” (for lack of a better term) … services such as the sewers in both the Sea Ranch Club/SRL North Condos and the south end of town …drummed up criteria to garner votes from the Palm Club at one point in time and feigned ignorance ….(that too was definitely drummed up …. in this writer’s opinion) ….when those votes were not coming forth years later ….a lack of backup materials or bogus backup materials supplied to trusting majorities on the dais by past administrators and past attorneys along with perhaps one or two fellow dais members that produced votes that ended up costing the taxpayers the big bucks …such as the former audit multi-year contract…the former Town Manager’s contract …as well as other sub-standard contracts such as solid waste or west warehouse Realtor to name a few… We had a lack of forthcoming information on how much money we actually had on hand and where it was …. There was unilateral action taken by former Town Managers concerning hiring department heads that didn’t fit the job description by intentionally thwarting those potential candidates for the position in the lack of advertising in the town’s policy required venues … The same unilateral action was taken with “favored” contractors as well as town projects such as the Commercial Blvd. Pavilion ….

Knowing all of that ….and not forgetting all of that …..there is no way this writer or any other well informed constituent should let down their guard and stop watching or questioning the current commission/administration in exactly the same manner! …. There are some questionable and disconcerting situations I see that definitely give me pause …so much so that at times I have felt some unwanted familiar pangs in my gut …  I stated in my goodbye post last Dec. I would continue to be engaged and participate and that is exactly what I am doing…

Here are some of my concerns … I feel this commission/administration after being “on a roll” for the first 3-4 months has stalled and faltered in the months that followed to the present….

I believe the commission meeting -roundtable experiment offered up by Town Atty. Richard Weiss at the procedural meeting at the start of the new term has failed miserably and should be scratched…The intent was really never implemented (the roundtable was to be the longer meeting allowing discussion of new ideas from the staff or commissioners to see if there was consensus to go forward and the commission meetings were to be shorter due to less discussion and consensus formed at the roundtable discussions) …After seeing the recent addition to the roundtables of having presentations and last minute special meetings to allow voting this Aventura model of governing is simply not conducive to LBTS….

I was hoping for a continued line out the door of  “at will” employees who were employed and in some cases elevated to positions beyond their abilities (in this writer’s opinion) as well as “outside the box” implementation of contracting out for town services in order to streamline the number of 30-40+ hour employees with full health insurance, benefits and pensions we currently employ … Do we really need an accountant and two account specialists to work under the Finance Director in a town this size? … (Do we really need a supervisor of Community Standards a department this writer long ago wrote about as a “bogus” dept. …that was implemented under a former Town Manager as a catch-all to skew the numbers of employees and salaries from other departments )…

The town website has been updated to a certain extent but in the process a good  portion of the backup materials for special meetings/workshops and board/committee meetings is now gone …A big loss in this writer’s opinion due to the importance of having what materials were supplied to those making important decisions at the time being available after the fact… Old bad acts of improper or absent backup supplied screams out for those backup materials to remain online…. Also MIA has been the quarterly finance report as promised when the monthly report was canned on the advice of the Town Manager.. If it had been available when it was supposed to be the next concern of mine might have been known earlier …

Consultants …A whole new slew of them … As of now we have spent or are in contract to spend over $125,000 in consultant fees over and beyond the employees still on the payroll … The Commission asked for the list of them at a roundtable meeting a few months back and were provided the list soon after, although it was not included on the Town website in the backup report (it was just noted it was emailed to the commissioners) …Those consultants were unknown to the commission as well as the taxpayers …They were hired under the Town Manager’s $15,000 cap allowance which coincidentally is now under consideration with the advisement of the TM to increase it to $20,000 along with increases in other depts. in the proposed updated purchasing manual..The purchasing manual updates were also done by a consultant… A good portion of those consultants hired are being used for the Master Plan revision …which in turn leads me to the next major concern I have …

The Master Plan…It was my understanding that the commission early on when asked for direction advised the Town Manager to simply revise the 2004 Master Plan ….not to redo it!.. While the wording used since then is it is a revision ….the process I have been watching says otherwise with the cost of consultants…along with the extensive time used thus far by town staff, boards and committees … When it appeared the MPSC was doing a do-over the TM was sent in and directed by the commission to lead them through the revision….What resulted were TM “exercises” that only led to more time wasted with those members who either had no knowledge of the past or did not care to pursue any input from those sitting at the table who possessed it all…  To say it was nerve-racking is putting it kindly… Former Town Planner and current long -time contracted town consultant  Walter Keller … presented the committee with concise pages of what was accomplished, abolished and left to do in the 2004 Master Plan …It went right out the window …

This writer made a public records request for some reports including the Goodkin Report prepared for the town in Aug. 2004  … Thus far, in this long drawn out process of updating the plan which has included not only the use of consultants but three programs with speakers (poorly attended after the first speaker, David Sukor)…one meeting for the retail businesses (one new retailer to town showed up) …followed by one hoteliers meeting (well attended and informative I am told but unfortunately not recorded for all to see)…. and one resident input meeting ( approx 10 in attendance on a Sat. morning which involved overtime for staff and opening Jarvis Hall … The next two are on the 24th 7-9 pm and 26th 10-noon in Jarvis Hall) ….I have not seen or heard anything improving upon what was contained in that Goodkin Report or the 2004 Master Plan!…

Sometime before the April 12th roundtable the Town is set to have RMA to present their findings… Leading that presentation will be Chris Brown, the man who led the way for Delray Beach being revitalized and is currently the Pompano Beach consultant on their redevelopment He impressed many when he spoke at an earlier meeting which led to his hiring … Although the roundtable is 3 weeks out no date has been shown which seems to be a running pattern for all these presentations and meetings ….For this writer this will be the finale of sorts to see what if anything goes beyond what we already had on the shelves and in the hands of the current TM, Commission, MPSC , speakers and newly hired consultants……The Fort Lauderdale consultant (contracted at up to $15,000) was bumped when there was yet another scheduling snafu (Town Clerk White strikes again?) with the parking exemption workshop taking its already scheduled time… There has been no talk of a rescheduled presentation…

The MPSC was ultimately disbanded at the March 8th roundtable after statements made by a few members at their Feb. meeting they had completed their revisions and did not know what else to work on….A new advisory board will be added .. an Economic Viability /Task Force Committee…The TM stated RMA would give insight on what it would entail and they would recommend the criteria needed in order to sit on the committee ….It is hoped by many that the end of this “revision” will come at that April 12th roundtable …

The result of this ongoing, disjointed journey to update the Town’s 2004 Master Plan has been many of those priorities made by the incoming commission that have been sidelined or ignored in making their way back to the dais or table to address and get moving on…

Let me just add at this point that politics like sports allows for Monday morning quarterbacking…and so I will do that now on the issue of the Master Plan revision… After finally finding out about the consultants hired by the Town Manager I believe she should have advised the full commission she was going to do so and then when asked by the commission to “lead” the boards and committees she ought to have called for a moratorium while the consultants did their work …Then there should have been a few meetings with a roundtable of the consultants armed with the previous reports the town had in 2004 to give their take on any additions or deletions required along with those constituents, businesses and consultants still around who participated and implemented the 2004 plan …This should have been combined with input from all residents and businesses …Of course I also would have wanted an all-out marketing of these meetings done well in advance in many different venues in order to be sure we had the same full to capacity Jarvis Hall turnout seen in the photos of the 2004 Master Plan resident meetings….

I am always looking for a beginning—a middle and and an end with anything being implemented large or small …A completed package tied neatly together with the proverbial bow ….Unfortunately that seems to be amiss once again big- time whether at monthly commission meetings/roundtables or with this project with new people placed at the helm…

We have seen three months of the Town Manager reports not being addressed on the dais and heard old familiar statements of the late hour being the reason (although some reports lack updated information in the backup)…The TM and TAtty. reports will now be moved back to behind the public safety reports as they were when this happened under the previous TM…. As nice as this TM may be the expectations must be the same for the position held and not the person holding it…

I was a strong proponent of the full parking exemption plan with no caps and a full- out marketing campaign to ignite some excitement for businesses to come to our town…It was avidly supported by Vice Mayor Dodd and Comm. Sasser (who have suddenly become the minority on the dais) …That too fell on some disconcerting behind the scenes lobbying from the administration to counter it and unnecessarily complicate it …There was major waffling that came from Commissioner Vincent and I was really saddened that it faltered as long and as badly as it did… I was happy to see former Chamber President Paul Novak, the first vocal advocate of the parking exemption at a MPSC meeting he chaired a few years back go out on a limb and write about it although I hoped he would have been joined by more businesses coming consistently to the podium as this issue dragged on… Only longtime resident and P & Z Vice- Chair Yann Brandt was consistent at trying to drive home the win-win this would be at the podium as well as on the dais at P & Z board meetings  …..Recent news in the Sentinel of a couple of big- time investors buying small motels near the beach in Ft. Laud. show that there is a future to be had in hospitality …in the right place with the doors “open for business” which can only happen if you have a reason to invest and a town that offers great customer service to those starting a business without endless impediments that result in jumping through hoop after hoop ….

This writer also strongly believes that business comes before parking and not the other way around in this town….Those with considerable knowledge in this area have affirmed the following…You get the great restaurants to come…retailers will follow…You get first-rate global marketing of coming to this unique tourist destination in south Florida with the widest beach around for miles  ..A pedestrian friendly town with weekly and monthly special events held in our popular and historic town square … Add to that an investor or two who can buy out and take over the two larger hotels at either end of El Mar Drive making them the first class anchor resorts they should be which would ultimately lead to the MIMO type small boutique hotels-motels in between them being updated thus allowing them to charge the big bucks for lodgers as they do successfully in Key West at their Bed and Breakfasts…Visitors would come assured they never have to leave town limits or use their cars unless they want to during their entire stay ….

The coral reef project particularly concerns me due to the past inaction to this vendor and the failure by the full commission to do what we would have done with any other provider …look elsewhere for an alternative …As previously posted, we did not have to look far …A successful reef restoration project is right up the road in Fort Lauderdale… Instead we played cat and mouse citing monies already invested … A lame excuse ….remember the amount shelved for the Jarvis Hall enclosure? …We also extended out a longer contract for monitoring and maintenance for more money …We will see if and when this project becomes a reality so many years after it began…

Lake Colon… Lake Colon …doomed to rise again and again from the Commercial Blvd Pavilion to the Village Grille or beyond, now that it has pushed off to the summer of 2012 due in large part I believe to the Master Plan implementation and the parking exemption issue taking priority…This was an election issue…Former Vice Mayor McIntee downplayed its importance while the current commissioners/ mayor running as candidates vehemently disagreed… So what gives? …

Again, this Monday morning quarterback will give my take on what I would have liked to see happen… I would want this project done asap along with improvements in that general area such as parallel parking (I am not a believer in the reality of no cars east of A1A)…widened sidewalks…historic and informative signage and beach friendly rentals of chairs etc….for the newly approved water activities and coral reef restoration (a positive action taken by the commission …well done) ….and cutting back and/or getting rid of the medians to show those who want nothing done in this town and those who want “the whole enchilada” that a project can actually be done well from start to finish…It would certainly be a first for this town …I would have also liked to have seen some implementation of possibly moving the sidewalks west of A1A in order to veer pedestrians to those businesses in the strip malls with parking lots in front until the economy kicks in and the former plan of reversing the buildings and those parking lots when those buildings are bought and replaced…

On the issue of the “found” millions we have in various bank accounts … should surprise no one… John Thompson is on the record for coming to the podium for years asking about where the money was each time the emergency funds were increased at the budget meetings…Often he was there alone….A hotelier-resident spent a lot of time going over the yearly CAFR when they were finally released connecting the dots ultimately seeing the ever-growing surplus amounts stockpiled …Their questioning was met with stonewalled responses at best… But alas we found out in the Town Manager’s report a few months back that 2 million was transferred to the Bank United facility in town and put into CDs without the knowledge of the full commission…That was followed up with  statements of more funds that would soon be moved as well … Disconcerting?  ..Yes!….Not long ago it was an issue when an account was opened for the VFD beach patrol when it was decided they could not be funded by the fire assessment and that was for approximately $40,000….

One more point on the “found” millions… I am of the opinion that it should be used in part to deal with the expected BSO contract increases (no regular updates/discussion on this priority item) …and to keep the millage rate down again for the next fiscal year… It should be possible to implement with getting back to “outside the box” staffing and fiscally responsible budgeting while addressing and acting on the other priorities of drainage and infrastructure…

I will stop here for now and simply conclude with this as I head home for a short stay and make my way to the podium for public comments at the March 22nd Commission meeting …. No one should be attempting to silence those who ask questions or voice dissent and no one who has questions, concerns or disagrees should fear those who want them to remain silent… Instead they should fear what has happens when they do nothing!…

More to come….

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