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Here’s The Scoop…He Said…She Said…They Said….


John Thompson ….was last year’s “Man of the Year”…at his former paper…BTSTimes…then owned and operated by MacMillan and wife…before he was let go..(without his knowledge)…by way of hearing it through others after a CIC Board meeting took place…where he was asked to leave…due to a disagreement in the new set rules of secrecy demanded by the new CIC Chair and Vice Chair…(none other than the new owner and operator of the BTSTimes)…Cristie Furth and the Vice Mayor’s wife Moe McIntee… A letter was read after his departure… from the Editor-Publisher of the Times with disparaging remarks about their “Man of the Year”……(John was the only member of the board not in receipt of a copy of the letter )… After this  took place…John needed to implore the Board for a copy of the letter in order to respond to it and defend himself…He was also consistently left out of Board correspondence..after this evening……due to his long standing principles…of transparency for the organization as a whole… not decision making being done by a few…

In that vein…he is still being disregarded by some on the Board…despite the fact he was elected to represent the members..(with the most votes received) to maintain his Board seat until elections in April…

Mr Thompson as all those who know him are aware…sticks to his beliefs…his sense of right and wrong and is dogged in seeing anything he perceives being amiss rectified…no matter how long it takes or how far he must travel…to complete the task at hand …until its conclusion ……

He has left our town…once more…

The first time was a few years back after making the move from Sea Ranch Club to John Knox Village…a move in residency only…for he stayed involved in our town  due to his many friends and supporters requesting his presence…his guidance…his  meticulous research and his journalistic skills …as they moved to rectify the wrongs that still existed in our town. John complied, in many ways putting  the completion of his move to our neighboring town…and what awaited him there…on hold… to benefit us all and finish what he too started.

How sad it was to watch the increasing insults…coming at the end…after that “big win”…not from those he opposed all these many years, but from those he stayed around for, counseled, campaigned for, supported and called friend.

His “usefulness” had expired in their small “agenda” mindset, and the very attributes they so admired…his knowledge of the history of this town, his resolve in expecting  the same  fairness, transparency, decency from those now in the majority as he fought for from their predecessors became an unwelcome liability, a thorn in their Mc-sides…

So they began to act like their predecessors ….throwing out insults…”he doesn’t live in this town”…”he’s antagonistic”…and much worse accusations…none of which need to see more print…

Although  John has now moved on the “rest of the way”…finally getting involved in  John Knox Village after turning them down for so long in order to accommodate those of us who prevailed upon him ….. true to his make-up…he managed to tie up a few loose ends…in finishing what he started….

He will complete his term on the CIC Board…included or excluded by the Board……and not run for re-election…as stated in a e-mail sent out to all the members…and he will continue to support the VFD and those elected Commissioners…and friends in town…who continue to seek his counsel…

He also finished his complaint and appeal against the Futures paper…

His letter to the Editor of the Sentry paper was published…and a response to his actions appears in this issue of the Futures from Executive Editor Geesey …..currently online..

All 3 are below…John’s e-mail to the CIC (sent to this writer by  members in receipt of it )/ His letter to the Editor of the The Sentry 12-4-08/ The link to the Future’s response to his complaint/appeal……

THE CIC E-MAIL….Dec. 14,2008

Dear Fellow CIC Members,

I apologize for not having written in nearly three months to update you on the status of my service in the position of CIC Director to which you elected me last April. You will recall that when I last wrote, I advised that a majority of the board had voted to exclude me from attendance at Board meetings unless I promised not to disclose what took place at those meetings until the majority of the Board was ready to do so, and not to correspond directly with members (as I am now doing) without the permission of the full Board. I reminded them, and you, that I could not accept such restrictions because I had promised you before the April election that I would do my best to keep you informed of what is going on, and give you my best objective analysis of LBTS events – just as I used to do in By-the-Sea Times before being “let go” by the publishers.

But in the interim, I have not been entirely idle. First, I was engaged in follow-up of elections-code complaints I had brought against the (then) unidentified sponsors of the mysterious website that published political advertisements and other propaganda before the November 2006 election in apparent violation of the relevant Florida Statute. A month ago I rode the Greyhound red-eye up to Tallahassee and back to attend a decisive Elections Commission hearing with somewhat surprising and unpredictable results, as described in the attached article.

Moreover, I was asked again this year to accept a position on the Board of Directors of John Knox Village, where Ingrid and I now live. I had to decline last year due to the importance I attached to debunking old-guard myths in my opinion pieces in the Times and to my support for challengers in the 2006 LBTS municipal elections. Now that those commitments have been successfully fulfilled, I could not think of any good excuse not to accept a spot as one of three resident directors on the JKV Board. As I found out, that places numerous demands on my time in form of committee work and attendance at events, like the one that keep me from attending the December 14 CIC Caribbean Christmas Party. If Renee O’Neal organizes a party anything like last year’s, I know I will sadly have missed a red-letter event.

Due to the demands of my JKV position, I regret that I will be unable to offer my services as a CIC Director again next year. I am, however, fully prepared to serve out my current term, so as to honor the commitment I made to CIC members when I accepted their election as a Director last April. But I remain unable to do so as a result of the position of the current Board majority.

I had asked the other board members to put that issue on the agenda of the last CIC Membership Meeting, and call for a formal write-in vote by the full membership on whether they wished to have CIC Board meetings held in the “sunshine” and freedom for directors to relay concerns to other members without board censorship, or whether they supported current board prohibitions on “leaking” discussion and decisions until a “sanitized” version could be agreed, and on free communication between individual directors and members. I said I would happily resign if the majority of members favored the Board’s more authoritative approach, so that a new director — who concurred in that approach — could be appointed or elected.

The Board did not place the issue on the agenda. I was simply told that – unless I agreed to the restrictions on free communication – I would continue to be excluded from substantive Board meetings and communications (as I have been since August 6) and that the Board could operate very well with only eight (8) members.

I assure you that this is not about me in any way. I fully realize I am no longer a “stake-holder” in LBTS. And even when I was, my work in organizing the CAC and CIC, my candidacy for office, and my journalism were never performed in the hope of any personal gain or glory, but because I recognized a responsibility to offer knowledge, experience and skills I believed could be of significant value to my former LBTS neighbors.

When Cristie Furth asked me to join her and Kay Yanni in forming the original Citizens Action Committee, it appeared to me they intended a political sort of committee that would support the interests of one faction in the split-up of the former Main Street organization. I said frankly that I had no interest in being part of such a partisan activity, but would willingly serve on a non-partisan committee that openly sought LBTS citizens’ inputs on issues likely to come before the Commission and – if there appeared to be a significant consensus among citizens – communicate that consensus to commissioners. That is the basis on which the CAC was organized and run.

Only when the old-guard commissioners stubbornly ignored the expressed will of a majority of LBTS citizens did I reluctantly lead the reorganization of the CAC into a political committee – the CIC – able to initiate petitions to effect needed charter amendments and electoral (voter-initiated and approved) ordinances. When the Commission even went so far as to misinterpret and/or ignore voter-approved charter amendments by “imaginative” commission ordinances of doubtful legality did the CIC go one step further and endorse commission candidates who had committed to respect the popular will. I was surely not the only one back then to be shocked by the arrogance of the old guard, not only in ignoring both the popular will and obvious facts presented to them, but in their concerted vilification of any like Marc Furth, Jim Silverstone, Ken Wardlaw, Stuart Dodd, Barbara Cole, Jerry McIntee or myself who seriously researched and presented objective viewpoints different from their own.

I have always viewed the CIC as an open organization committed to freedom of speech and due process as tools to foster an informed electorate capable of communicating their concerns to a popularly elected commission that would honor those concerns. My concern now is that the current CIC leadership appears to be morphing the Committee into a political organization more dedicated to insuring the tenure of the current commission majority than proactively seeking and supporting the will of a majority of LBTS citizens. I do not think the situation is helped by the fact that the current CIC leadership includes a member of a current commissioner’s family and others closely aligned politically with that commissioner. Worse, I am deeply disappointed by the fact that the new-guard opposition majority — in which so many (not least myself) had placed so much hope — appears to be developing into a “cult of the personality” where any who dare to question a particular commissioner’s positions are not engaged or debated openly on the issues, but are again personally vilified in the well-known tradition of the old guard.

But I emphasize this is not about me. A dozen or so CIC members responded to my September message that if I resigned from the CIC Board they would also be leaving the CIC. I replied that I would resign from the Board only if that was the will of a majority of the members who elected me. But I urged them NOT to resign, but rather to hang on, and to work for the sort of CIC they believe in. I must agree with those who argue (albeit in their own self interest) that I no longer live in LBTS. I have labored long and hard to foster due process and good governance under the law in LBTS. Now it is time for others who share that concern – and who are willing to devote the necessary time and effort – to step forward as candidates for the CIC Board next spring. If only those having close ties with one or another political faction offer themselves as CIC board members, I fear the CIC will continue on down the road to full-fledged political-party status, and will thereby sacrifice its very commendable status as an objective, public-spirited organization seeking to defend freedom of speech and information, learn the will of an informed electorate – and act in accordance with that will!

Best wishes to you all for a happy and blessed holiday season,

— John


Last-Minute Federal Injunction Reprieves

Secretive LBTS Political Website Sponsors

(Letter to the Editor, Pompano Beach Sentry, December 4, 2008)

A new political website aimed at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea voters appeared suddenly a few months before the November 2006 general elections. With a name confusingly similar to that of the Town’s established newspaper, By-the-Sea Times, the newcomer proclaimed:

This web site represents the online outreach by a group of concerned citizens who have come together to form a positive “think-tank” with the hope of increasing awareness and encouraging participation in the town’s future.”

But nowhere on or off the site was there any identification of the group of concerned citizens. The political nature of the site, however, was perfectly clear.

The vast majority of articles and unsigned editorial comment dealt with ballot propositions at the upcoming November elections. There was extensive criticism of a March 2006 charter amendment setting a town-wide 3-over-1-story height limit for new construction and praise for a more liberal alternative amendment, Proposition 1 on the November ballot. One item stated flatly, “Vote for Proposition-1.” Other articles argued against another ballot proposition to establish term limits for Town Commission members. Still other articles criticized the LBTS Volunteer Fire Department and praised BSO’s Fire Rescue – another hot political issue, albeit not on the November ballot.

Florida’s Campaign Finance Statute, Section 106 FS, clearly provides that any group of two or more persons who accept contributions or make expenditures for the purpose of expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate or the passage or defeat of an issue must register as a political committee and file regular reports of contributions and expenditures. Similar rules apply to publishers of “electioneering communications” which take positions on candidates and issues without actually urging “Vote for” or “Vote against.” The Statute also requires that each such advertisement include a disclaimer stating who authorized it and who paid for it. The website sponsors observed none of those requirements.

The Statute provides an exception in case of “editorial endorsements by a newspaper, radio or television station, or other recognized news medium.” But the political website was clearly not a newspaper or other recognized news medium, all of which clearly list their editors and publishers, which the new site did not. A good month after the website appeared, “By The Sea Future, Inc” finally registered as a Florida corporation for profit. But still there was no identification of the “group of concerned citizens.” The single principal listed on the corporate filing was William Pinhas, President, VP, Secretary, Treasurer, etc. – a resident not of LBTS, but of Fort Lauderdale.

Nor did the corporate filing include any claim of newspaper or other news-media activity. Whereas the corporate filing of By-The-Sea Times clearly states, “The purpose for which this corporation is organized is: NEWSPAPER, MEDIAL OUTLET,” and lists the names of those responsible for funding and editing the newspaper – the MacMillans, the By-The-Sea-Future-Inc corporate filing lists purpose simply as “any activity or business permitted under the laws….” and does not list the names of actual organizers or editors.

Many, including this writer, therefore assumed that the site was sponsored by a group with clear political and/or business interests in passage or defeat of various November 2006 ballot issues, who concealed their identities in the hope that website visitors might believe the site was in fact sponsored by a group of impartial, civic-minded individuals.

That assumption was confirmed when, following clear rejection by LBTS voters of the website propaganda at the November 2006 elections, a hard-copy BytheSeaFuture newspaper began publication on January 19, 2007, as a companion to the website. The newspaper’s masthead for the first time listed Editorial Board members, including property-owner and would-be developer Michael Arker, Mark Brown, President of the North Beach Civic Association (successor to the SBCA political committee) and Cindy Geesey, a board chair under the old-guard regime in power up until January 2008.

A fourth member of the “concerned citizens” group was outed when Cindy Geesey wrote in a later edition of the paper that Bob Terrien, a political activist and one-time mayoral candidate and more recently Treasurer and President of the Chamber of Commerce, “was a founder of By the Sea Future, handled all the accounting, and provided creative and editorial input.” Failure to identify Terrien even when the hard-copy paper appeared in January 2007 may be explained by the fact that, during the period in question, he served successively as Chamber Treasurer, President and again Treasurer, while Chamber administrative expenditures quadrupled from 2005 to 2007.

Since it appeared that these financially and politically interested individually had clearly violated the Florida Campaign Finance Law, this writer filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission. I found it particularly unfair that while one group — the Citizens Initiative Committee — scrupulously observed the campaign finance laws, others did not, and thereby avoided disclosing the extent of funding of their political advertisements by developer Arker, and the others, possibly even drawing on civic association or Chamber funds. Under Florida law, persons against whom complaints are filed may not disclose the complaints until they have been resolved. As complainant, I was not bound by any such restriction, but did not want to take advantage of a right respondents did not enjoy, and therefore have remained silent until now.

The Elections Commission Staff reviewed my complaint, appearing to give the benefit of every doubt to the respondents. The complaint was twice rejected on legal grounds, but I was told I could appeal to the Commission itself, which I did. The Staff argued first that I had not provided any evidence that the Editorial Board of the printed newspaper had also been the editors of the pre-election website. When shown that that the editors themselves stated in their Mission Statement in the January 19, 2007 newspaper, “Last year, … we began publishing the popular web site,” the Executive Director suggested such evidence was not admissible since it was “hearsay,” something I had read in the paper. At the hearing on November 12, however, the Commission Chairman rejected that argument. First-person statements by editorial board members are not “hearsay” and do provide evidence of their responsibility for the pre-election website.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, or rather, a very fortunate thing for the secretive “group of concerned citizens” responsible for the ’06 political website. The Federal District Court for the Northern District of Florida on October 29 – just two weeks before the hearing on the complaints, issued an injunction against the Florida Elections Commission declaring unconstitutional large portions of the Florida Campaign Finances Statute. In short, the Court denied the State’s right to regulate any electioneering ads short of express advocacy (“Vote yes” or “Vote no”) or its equivalent.

A further court “clarification” on November 2 denied the State’s right to regulate any “issue advocacy” (advertisements for or against ballot issues – rather than candidates) whatsoever, as infringement of the First Amendment right to free speech. And since the State cannot regulate such advertisement, they cannot require registration or financial reporting by organizations that engage in such advertisements. That injunction provided a last-minute reprieve to the editors and publisher of the pre-November 2006 political website who had engaged in activities now no longer regulated or subject to penalty

The emergency injunction was issued in response to a petition by four separate groups including Broward Coalition of Condominiums, Homeowners Associations & Community Organizations and the National Taxpayers Union. In principle, we can only welcome the injunction as a desirable reaffirmation of free speech, which we fully support. But it is noteworthy that the four petitioning organizations refrained during the run-up to the November 2008 elections from publishing any electioneering communications or issue advocacy on their websites until after the injunction they had sought was granted. That was in stark contrast to behavior of the secret sponsors of the LBTS political website who, during the run-up to the November 2006 elections, ignored the Florida Campaign Finance laws then still in full effect.

Now, unless the injunction is overturned, the FL Legislature will need to revise Section 106, FS, substantially, while groups engaging only in issue advocacy and electioneering communications will be able to operate much more freely than in the past. But bodies like the LBTS CIC and the South Pompano Civic Association – which conduct express advocacy for or against candidates – must still register as political committees, report finances, and publish disclaimers with their ads.

John Thompson

Pompano Beach

LINK TO FUTURE’S RESPONSE…Dec.19,2008…page 2

More to come…

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