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Here’s The Scoop …LBTS Sewer “Subsidies” Do Not Mean The Pot Was Calling The Kettle Black In The 2008 LBTS Municipal Election …

PALM CLUB  V. SEA RANCH CLUB CONDOMINIUMS …

Dear Readers… below is an excerpt from the latest edition of the BTSFuture in which Editor Mark Brown addresses the LBTS “Sewer Subsidies” and states the Town has subsidized sewers bills for Sea Ranch Club  and Sea Ranch Lakes North Condominiums over the last 12+ years since annexation into the Town … While I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Brown on his stance that former Town Manager Colon should have made it known that the Town was doing this as a practice …Sea Ranch Club and Sea Ranch Lakes North Condominiums did not ask for that to be done and did not require it to benefit them as  private properties when annexing into LBTS… What SRClub did ask for was to to be “whole” with LBTS residents in paying their Pompano Beach sewer bills at the same rate as LBTS residents once they annexed into the Town…At the time of discussion over the annexation SRC pointed out to former Town Manager Bob Baldwin that they were being charged more and were also charged a surcharge from Pompano Beach.. The Town’s Commission in 1997 held a Special Commission Meeting and voted 5-0 to go ahead with the annexation of all four SR Condominiums and after that vote to approve various items SRC wanted such as police, buoys, zoning protection,indemnification and the sewer rate …It was a meeting held in the Sunshine… unlike the annexation items wanted or promised when the north side of Town was annexed in….

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Excerpt from Mark Brown Article BTSF July 23, 2010 publication ..page 5…

“Sewer Subsidies: As part of the annexation agreement of 2001, the commission
promised to extend municipal sewer service into four neighborhoods in the north end
of town, including the Palm Club. The first three projects were built as planned, but
the commission reversed course in 2007 and killed the Palm Club sewers, saying it
was wrong to spend public money to benefit private property.
As it turns out, the town has been doing just that for the past 12 years, by using public
funds to subsidize the sewer bills at the four condos which make up the Sea Ranch
Club. This was part of a deal which the town made with Sea Ranch when it agreed to
be annexed into LBTS in 1998. So far the town has paid more than $1 million worth
of sewer bills at the Sea Ranch Club, including $127,000 last year alone. The town
has been subsidizing the sewer bills at other private properties as well, but not nearly
as much as at the Sea Ranch Club.
Colon knew about these subsidies because she approved the checks each month, but
she never said a word about them when the commission debated and voted to kill the
Palm Club sewers. Similarly, she blindsided the town attorney by not sharing this information
with her after the Palm Club sued the town and the case went to court. Her
silence on the sewer subsidies has left the town and the commission in a very difficult
position which now has to be addressed.”

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NOT THIS AGAIN!…..

In 2007 during the campaign for the LBTS Municipal election this writer was contacted by Comm. Jim Silverstone who said he had found something that would make the Palm Club Sewers issue look like peanuts in comparison … He asked me for a copy of the SRC end -of- the- year budget (I live in SRC) and explained that it looked like the Town had been paying for our sewer bills for years… I gave him my copy and made a call to my friend John Thompson…I will admit as the co-campaign manager for the CIC- candidates running for the 2008 LBTS Commission I was more than a little concerned about Silverstone’s  request and the possible ramifications that could come from this issue being raised at this point in the campaign no matter if there was any validity to it or not…

Readers will recall the CIC candidates were not for the sewers being put into the Palm Club after Mayor Oliver Parker “let the cat out of the bag” and informed his constituents of the Palm Club’s status as a private property … He stated he had been in the Palm Club looking at property and that was how he found out the status…claiming he did not know prior…Many PClub residents came forward after his declaration of ignorance and countered his assertion stating he knew full well… John Thompson, who was also a campaign committee member for the CIC slate coined the phrase it was “a horizontal co-op”… Sea Ranch Club residents overwhelmingly, along with other condominiums and LBTS taxpayers adamantly voiced their outrage over taxpayer monies going to put sewers in on a private property …We knew that it was a winner not to support the move no matter that the Town had already expended funds (over $200,000) already in preparation…now that Parker let everyone in on this very well kept secret… John MacMillan and Comm. Jerry McIntee along with Comm. Jim  Silverstone wanted to persuade our candidates at the start of the campaign to support the sewers in PClub…We were told behind the scene that MacMillan and wife were the #1  real estate agents in PClub and wanted to keep it that way… As for the “Broom Boys” they felt we should hold onto the 90 votes we would get if we backed the sewers…The only candidate that signed onto the M&M plan was Peanuts Wick who was running for Mayor …after a meeting was put together by MacMillan with two of the candidates in his real estate office building on Commercial …(Birute Clottey was not invited or included)… John Thompson and our campaign committee along with candidates Dodd and Clottey countered and held steadfast to the facts that taxpayers cannot legally pay for improvements on private properties and the big win would come from those in SRClub that opposed the sewers… We were always careful to state that PClub got a raw deal and while we felt for them, we could not support their stance… John Thompson after hearing my recounting of Jim Silverstone’s “investigation” stated he was on the board for SRC at the time of annexation and SRC did not ask for the Town to pay for the condominiums sewer bills…only for an equitable sewer bill rate once joining LBTS…He too took a copy of my 2007 budget from SRC which every owner may obtain each year upon request…After looking it over and comparing it to my costs for sewer on my house on Washingtonia along with another resident in Silver Shores, the amounts appeared to be the same…He also found that the amount paid by SRC had increased rom Bldg. “B” which is only 2/3 as large as Bldg. “A” and “C” from approx. $14,000 in 1998 after annexation to $33,000 in 2007 …He added that nowhere in past or current budgets could he find any indication of payments directly from the Town to SRC which would have to be reflected if the Town were subsidizing SRC… He added also a letter dated Feb 4, 1997 from former Manager Bob Baldwin to SRC after a Special Commission Meeting held on Feb. 3, 1997 at noon in Jarvis Hall…and a  Q &A sent to SRC concerning the annexation on Feb 19, 2007 (excerpts below) ….At that time in 2007, Mr. Thompson ended with the following statement …

“I have given all the attached data to a certain Commissioner  and told him I think it would be a big mistake to suggest any shenanigans on the part of SRC. If, perchance, the Town had been paying more than it should have been (for which I find no evidence), I think it could only reflect poorly on the former Finance Director, and that the excuse “only following orders” has been ruled out since Nuremberg, and could not excuse any irregular payments by a responsible town official. IMHO!”

Readers obviously know that Commissioner Silverstone and whomever he was working with in Town Hall (Town Manager/former Finance Director Colon?) did not move forward with their investigation and/or reveal it… A little over a month ago this writer heard from another resident that it appears that LBTS has been paying for SRC sewer bills…I reminded this person of the above incident in 2007 and after that heard nothing until Monday…. I could not believe it was back on the front burner albeit being on the front burner behind the scenes …that is until yesterday’s BTSF came out… On Monday I went back through my archived materials and found the above letter and an attachment from John Thompson and contacted a few people … I also contacted John and told him this was back in play once more… He again reiterated what SRC had asked for …an equitable sewer bill rate ….nothing more …and sent me some of what he had from his vast archives… including the minutes from that 1997 Special Commission meeting …which presents a real eye opener and opens the door for some very heavy questioning about who participated in that Commission meeting…that unanimous Commission vote to agree to annex in SRC and SRLN and what appears to be a conflict of interest both in not disclosing a conflict and perhaps benefiting from any subsidy the Town has been providing  in the last 12+ years without the knowledge of the taxpayers including SRC taxpayers!… OUCH and GULP!…

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Excerpts from the Feb 3, 1997 Special Commission Meeting …Noon….

The Mayor was Thomas D. McKane III….Vice Mayor Parker….Commissioners Jim Pollock/Ernie Fontaine/John Yanni…the meeting began at 12:05 pm and also in attendance were Town Manager Bob Baldwin and Town Attorney Jim Cherof…The meeting was to discuss “New Business “Request for Commission direction on points of negotiation for the Annexation proposal”….TM Baldwin stated he originally planned to discuss this item at the last Commission meeting and that he had been “giving presentations to the residents of four Sea Ranch Condominiums”…Baldwin also told the Commission “he attended the meeting of the Annexation Committee of the Broward County Legislative Delegation on January 15, 1997. At that meeting, the committee approved unanimously the Town’s bill to annex the four condominiums and present it to the full delegation. Mr Baldwin added, the Chairman of the Delegation indicated he would like the Town to negotiate the terms of the annexation with the residents of the condominiums prior to the final Delegation hearing.  Mr Baldwin stated two people spoke in favor of the annexation from the condominiums. One of the residents thought the Town could negotiate better terms.”

“Protection of zoning and quality of life- the condominiums are concerned with zoning and height restrictions. ” Baldwin said the condos wanted to make sure if there was a hurricane they could rebuild and wanted their current zoning protected.

“Indemnification from litigation arising from annexation – Mr. Baldwin explained residents of the condominiums are concerned they would need indemnification from any litigation arising from the annexation because of language in the Pompano Sewer Agreements.”

“The effect on the Condominiums water rates”…Baldwin said the residents were concerned about the water rates “but his understanding is they have the same rates as Town residents, so there would be no change.”

“The effect on the Condominiums sewer rates- Mr. Baldwin stated the City of Pompano Beach has indicated they would not be willing to renegotiate the sewer agreements with the condominiums and bring them into the Town’s master sewer agreement. Mr. Baldwin commented his information was obtained by word of mouth, and he is not sure what would actually happen. He added, he thought the Commission would be amenable to coming up with an aggregate sewer rate, in case the condominiums could not be included in the Town’s master sewer agreement.”

“The effect on the condominiums garbage service.”…Baldwin said the service to the condos was provided currently by Southern Sanitation and they would continue until the annexation took place or their contract expired.

“Mr Baldwin told the Commission he would need direction on these items.”…He went on to say he scheduled a meeting with the condominiums a few weeks prior but it was canceled and that he was then invited with the City of Ft. Lauderdale to a Jan 27, 1997 meeting …He attended and there were 30 people who indicated they wanted to delay the bill…After hearing that mayor McKane added the 3 condos had established an annexation committee and the chairman had attended all of the Town’s annexation presentations and the committee would be going in front of the Delegation to request the annexation bill be tabled …wanting more time to look it over… He added he told them he was in favor of tabling and only spoke for himself but would let the commission know…”He added more information has emerged that the City of Fort Lauderdale is actively soliciting the condominiums.”…McKane went on to express his concern over Ft. Lauderdale “creating much of this havoc” and stated he would actively seek the support of SRLakes to stop Ft. Lauderdale from annexing in the four condos… Commissioner Pollock stated the millage rate could possibly be lowered to 3.5000 if annexation occurred and stated the lack of registered voters in SRC and the accuracy of a vote …He was also for annexation .. Vice- Mayor Oliver Parker  stated  he disagreed with tabling the annexation and it was the logical choice to annex into LBTS due to a “two minute response time” from the police vs. Ft. Lauds’s 20 minutes….He agreed the millage could go down to 3.6 or 3.5 and stated the condo boards teamed together for this and something happened blaming Ft. Laud….

TM Baldwin told the Comm. Ft. Laud. “indicated” they were not interested but they came to that meeting to hear they were not only interested but “desirous” to annex in the four condos contrary to what he was originally told…Baldwin stated “he has been dealing in good faith with the condominiums. He told the Commission representatives from the condominiums came to the Town originally, the Town did not go to them.” He went on to say at his 2nd meeting at SRC over 100 people were present and appeared in favor of annexation adding the Town had not received any phone calls against it only calls for it…He added the fourth condo SRLakes Condominium seemed in favor of it…

VM Parker stated it “would be a win-win” and a delay would mean 14 months…He added the Town’s legislative consultant opinion was not to table the bill…and he said the Town should take that position with a “fall back position” of a referendum but he did not want it to go for a vote unless it was necessary

“Vice -Mayor Parker asked Town Attorney Cherof if the contract the Town has with the City of Pompano requires them to dispose of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea wastewater at a particular rate?”

“Town Attorney Cherof responded that was correct.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker questioned whether the City of Pompano would be bound to that rate if the four condominiums came into the Town.”

“Town Attorney Cherof stated it would appear so, except there is another contract that the city of Pompano has with the four condominiums which predates the one with the Town and requires those four condo’s to pay a surcharge to the City of Pompano.”

“Vice-Mayo Parker asked Town Attorney Cherof if the contracts he referenced have a lifespan?”

“Town Attorney Cherof responded that they do have fixed terms.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker asked what the terms were.”

“Town Attorney Cherof told Vice-Mayor Parker he did not have either one of them with him, but the terms were long term.”

Vice -Mayor Parker asked if the contract with the Town would take precedent over the contract with the condominiums?”

“Town Attorney Cherof responded that it would seem to take precedent, but the only way the Town would find out the answer to that question would be through a court proceeding.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker asked if that would be a declaratory judgment action.”

“Town Attorney Cherof responded that was correct.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker commented it would not be terribly expensive.”

“Town Attorney agreed.”

“Vice- Mayor Parker  asked if the Town would be exposed to any litigation if the Commission agreed to the Town Manager’s suggestion of paying a blended sewer rate temporarily, or subsidizing their rate to bring it down to the rate of the Town during litigation of the contract issue.”

“Town Attorney Cherof replied that he did not think the Town would be. He said the nature of the Legislatures deals with these issues would resolve an issue of this type. Mr. Cherof added they have the power through special act to anticipate problems that would arise through annexation and resolve them in the process.”

“Town Attorney Cherof said it would seem to him that a court would be persuaded if the State Legislature decided these four condominiums were to be in the Town of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea that decision would bear greater weight over an old sewer contract where another municipality was charging a surcharge.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker told the Commission he thought the Town should continue with the bill.”

“Vice-Mayor moved to continue with the annexation as is.”

“The motion was seconded by Commissioner Yanni.”

Commissioner Fontaine was also in favor of continuing the bill and added if the delegation wanted a referendum vote the Town should abide by it stating he was against forcing annexation but adding the Town was not doing that…

“Vice-Mayor Parker clarified his motion that it continue with the bill as filed without requiring a vote, but if it became necessary to have a vote, the Town have a fall back position ti agree and put it to referendum.”

“Town Manager Baldwin told the Commission this annexation proposal has always been above board, nothing unethical ha been done. He said the condominiums would agree and never accuse the Town of doing anything that was not upfront. “… He spoke of  two opposing groups with a larger group undecided…”Town Manager Baldwin asked the Commission if they could frame the motion in such a manner so that the bill would continue as suggested by the Vice-mayor, and leave it up to the Delegation as to whether it would go to a referendum.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker stated his motion to instruct the Town’s legislative consultant to continue with the bill as written without a referendum attached to it unless it becomes necessary.”

“Town Manager Baldwin stated the Broward Legislative Delegation has asked for an expression from the Commission as to how they want to proceed with the bill. Mr. Baldwin added the Condominiums  have also asked for an expression from the Commission.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker stated he thought the Commission should proceed with the bill as is.”

“Town Manager Baldwin stated it is really up to the Delegation to decide how the annexation occurs.”

Commissioner Fontaine stated the Commission needed give Baldwin and the legislative consultant “a vote of confidence on the original plan.”

“Mayor McKane asked the Clerk to call the question. The motion made by Vice-Mayor Parker  and seconded by Commissioner Yanni passed unanimously.”

“Town Manager Baldwin asked the Commission if they would address the points outlined in his memorandum.”

“Town Manager Baldwin asked if the Commission would be inclined to attach something to the bill to insure that their zoning would be protected.”

“It was the consensus of the Commission to attach a stipulation to the bill that would protect the zoning of the four condominiums.”

“Town Manager asked Town Attorney Cherof to address the indemnification issue.”

“Town Attorney Cherof told the Commission as he understands it, some people in the condos have asked the Town to indemnify them if they are sued as a result of the annexation.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker pointed out if the Florida Legislature makes them part of the Town without a vote there would be no grounds for anyone to sue them.”

“Town Attorney Cherof told the Commission his recommendation is not to indemnify the condominiums because there is no need to do so. He added it is too broad of a statement to make. He said it would be different if the Commission authorized hum to file a lawsuit for a declaratory judgment.”

“Town Manager asked if the Town would defend them if they were to become citizens of this Town.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker stated he would move if in the event a lawsuit is brought the Town would intervene to defend, but the Town would not indemnify.”

“Town Attorney Cherof stated the Commission should indicate they are not going to indemnify at this time, but you are prepared to take all action necessary to intervene in a lawsuit arising from the annexation.”

“It was the consensus of the Commission to follow the recommendation of Town Attorney Cherof regarding indemnification of the condominiums.”

“Town Manager Baldwin asked the Commission if in the event the condominiums cannot be brought into the Town’s Master sewer agreement would they be willing to have an aggregate sewer rate to distribute the sewer rates.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker stated if the Annexation were to go through the Commission should authorize the Town Attorney to file a declaratory judgment action to bring them under our sewer rate. Vice-mayor Parker said only if the judgment failed should the Commission authorize an aggregate sewer rate.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker asked Town Attorney Cherof if it would hurt the Town’s position if they went on the record stating they would be willing to create an aggregate sewer rate now.”

“Town Manager Baldwin replied the condominiums are concerned they would have a higher sewer rate than other Town residents.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker stated the Town’s response should be the Town will file a lawsuit, a declaratory judgment action to bring the condominiums into the Town’s contract with the City of Pompano Beach. He said they will fall under the Town’s contract rate for wastewater disposal.”

“Vice-Mayor Parker told the Commission if the Commission went on record in advance and say the Town would be willing to have an aggregate rate it would weaken the Town’s position in court. He said it would indicate a willingness on the Town’s part to renegotiate the sewer rate.”

“Town Manager Baldwin stated he believed it was the consensus of the Commission that if the annexation took place there would be some type of reduction of the millage rate based. He said that is essentially based on revenue projections he had.”

“Town Manager Baldwin told the Commission the Police Chief has prepared a proposal for hiring tow new police officers. He stated they would add one new shift, a beach patrol.”

“Mr Baldwin told the Commission the Chief is proposing to add to the  buoy enforcement by buying a Zodiac watercraft. He wanted to make sure the Commission is amenable to some kind of increase in police service in the beach area in the event the condominiums thought it was desirable.”

“It was the consensus of the Commission to increase police services in the beach area if it was desirous of the condominiums.”

“With no further business the meeting adjourned at 1:50 pm”

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The Feb. 4, 1997 Letter to John Thompson…

It stated the Commission met the day before…discussed the annexation and they approved several items as follows…

“1. Supported an amendment to the annexation bill, protecting the zoning and quality of life of the condominiums. The Commission committed that the current zoning and land use of the condominiums would be maintained.”

“2. Agreed to defend the Condominiums in the unlikely event of litigation resulting from annexation.”

“3. Agree to take the necessary action to reduce the condominium resident’s sewer bills to a rate charged by the City of Pompano Beach to Town residents.”

“4. Agreed to reduce property taxes following annexation.”

“5. Agreed to add an additional 8-hour, 7 days-per-week police shift to increase patrols on the beach. This would include hiring two additional officers, and buying an additional watercraft to better enforce our buoy project, keeping boats of condos beaches. (cost:$115,000)

He went on to state the Commission decided to direct the administration to proceed with the annexation bill as originally files and if necessary for it to go to referendum the Commission would support that as well…He ended his “sales pitch” ..

“I assure you that the annexation into Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is in the best interest of your residents and the Town. “…..offering LBTS to “continue to strive to be your good neighbors.” if the annexation fell through…

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The Feb 19, 1997 Q & A …

It answered the questions on EMS changes …stating it would be the same/Police protection …the above additions/cleaning the beaches and who’s responsible…LBTS would take over/ garbage rates…. explained the above stay with service currently used until annexation then join LBTS same “uniform rate negotiated for all the Town’s residents”

“WILL OUR SEWER RATES DECREASE?”

“YES. The Town Commission has agreed to lower the condominium resident’s sewer fees. The Town intends to bring the condominiums under the Town’s master sewer agreement wit the City of Pompano beach. This would decrease your rates (based on current rates) from $1.81/per one thousand gallons plus the additional flat fee to $1.51/per one thousand gallons with no flat fee. If neither the City of Pompano Beach nor the courts allow this change, the Town will exp[lore other options. The Town Commission is committed to making the sewer rates the same for all residents. That means your rates will be lowered.”

The next question dealt with the Towns FD handling high-rise fires…answer VFD receives extensive training and has 2 new trucks and 25 firefighters…and ISO rating of 4…Pompano has a 4/Ft. Laud has a 3 and mutual aid/ Recreational facilities..tennis courts…shuffleboard..boccie ball..basketball and social hall/voice in local affairs…yes/ zoning of building protected…yes… as stated above/ where to apply for building permits..Broward County / property taxes …lower if annexed in/ annex delayed…could be annexed elsewhere by legislature

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BC- Now the questions of what happened…and what happens now….

First of all how was it possible for former VM Parker to not disclose in the minutes he owned property in SRC?…

How was then-VM Parker allowed to vote on this issue?…

If indeed the Town dropped the ball and never made an attempt to end the contract between Pompano and SRC/SRLN or never followed through with a declaratory judgment after the annexation if Pompano was still unwilling to stop the surcharges and the Town is found to have been subsiding SRC and SRLN for the past 12 years hasn’t Parker the former VM – Mayor been in violation of benefiting from what he voted on?…

We heard that Parker has stated the subsidy was in the annexation agreement…

We heard the Town Manager said it is not…

What is really surprising is in the Feb 3, 1997 minutes …it is Parker himself, that does not want the subsidy or any hint of a willingness to aggregate the sewer cost included stating it will cause a problem if this went to court…(see above)….so why state it was in the agreement?

The Town now needs to go back and find out what was in the Pompano/SRC fixed/long term contract Mr. Cherof said he did not have with him on Feb 3rd, 1997 stated…

If Mr. Cherof went to Pompano to change the terms…

If Mr. Cherof was directed to begin a declaratory judgment by the Commission…

Why in all these years those contracts did not run out? …

Why there was no renegotiation as sewer fees increased?…

What impact did the 2001 annexation have and what happened with their rates?…

Do they pay as residents or non-residents with a surcharge?…

It appears from the above what LBTS has been paying is the surcharge discussed from Pompano Beach while SRC has been paying the sewer bill rate that LBTS residents pay….

And of course who knew what ….when…and for how long?…

Did Parker know?….

What if any legal problems does this pose for the two former Town Managers…Baldwin and Colon?…

In conclusion though…as we get to the bottom of all this …it is the hope of this writer that it does not pit neighbor against neighbor…because there is no doubt in my mind the residents of SRC/SRLN and PClub were all acting in good faith and were all kept in the dark when it came to the behind the scenes antics and actions taken by certain people in our Town on all levels…

more to come….

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