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HERE’S THE SCOOP…. DO THE RIGHT THING COMMISSIONERS….

October 12, 2021 by Barbara

DOING THE RIGHT THING AS A COMMISSIONER WHEN HIRING A TOWN MANAGER…

Dear Readers…. The Lauderdale -By-The- Sea Commission will make a decision tonight that will make or break our small town as a result!

A little background…. Last January the commission fired former Town Manager Bill Vance in advance of his 2nd year in the position…. Mr. Vance was supposed to be going on a medical leave and the Director of Public Works Ken Rubach was to step up as Acting Town Manager….Mayor Chris Vincent believing the position would be temporary put forth Director of Development Linda Conners due to her length of employment….

Right from the start there were many  in town who questioned even a temporary time as Town Manager for Ms. Connors due to her tenure as Town Planner from 2011-2015 and as the Director of Development from 2015-2021…..The concerns were due to many mistakes, missteps and insufficiencies the Town had to deal with resulting from her actions in both positions …..

After the first few weeks buyer’s remorse kicked in for some over Ms. Connors and the idea was floated to have former Mayor Scot Sasser put his hat in the ring…..A Special Meeting was swiftly set in to motion …..too swiftly for those of us who value the process ….. The former mayor too realized that in an effort to assist the Town as he was urged to do the optics were not as they should be and he respectfully asked for the meeting to be canceled…..He did however state his interest to continue in the process along with others who had responded to the Town advertisement for applications…. That too was discarded when the Town invited former city manager Ken Parker who assists municipalities in searching for managers to their March 23, 2021 commission meeting  …..Mr Parker who had no familiarity with our town opined about never looking for a Town Manager during budget season….which runs counter to LBTS history ….and put forth that the pool of candidates would not be strong if they were made aware that an Interim Town Manager was installed from the town staff position assuming that person was highly qualified…… The commission with the exception of Mayor Chris Vincent who tried to appeal to his fellow commissioners that the process was still important to follow and the budget was not the sole criteria for a Town Manager took Mr. Parker’s advisement as gospel ….The commission voted 5-0 for Ms. Connors to remain Interim Town Manager until October at which time it would be put on the agenda…

The agenda for tonight has under Old Business 12.a to revisit the Town Manager position and to do the following…

  1. Negotiate a contract with Linda Connors to fill the Town Manager position.
  2. Extend the Interim Term for Linda Connors.
  3. Direct Staff to Hire FCCMA or a consultant to conduct a search and assist as necessary in the Town Manager recruitment.

Option 2 is the only option this commission should approve……The commission knows that there are only 4 meetings until the January 2022 candidate filing period for 3 seats on the new 2022 commission….It has long been the practice of outgoing  commissions to not proceed in matters of such high importance this close to a town election that would tie the hands of a new commission…

The Town Charter states the following ….  Ms. Connors and all applicants must meet what is required  in it….. There can be no wiggle room with …’the accepted competencies and practices’ portion which should never have been inserted and should be removed asap….

  • Sec. 5.3. – Town Manager—Appointment, qualifications and compensation.
    The Town Commission shall appoint a Town Manager who shall be the administrative head of the municipal government under the direction and supervision of the Town Commission. The Town Manager shall hold office at the pleasure of the Town Commission. The Town Manager shall receive such compensation as determined by the Town Commission through the adoption of an appropriate resolution. The Town Manager shall be appointed by resolution approving an employment contract between the Town and the Town Manager. The Town Manager shall be appointed solely on the basis of education and experience in the accepted competencies and practices of local public management including, a graduate degree with a concentration in public administration, public affairs, public policy, or public finance and two (2) years’ experience as an appointed city manager or county manager, or four (4) years’ experience as an assistant or deputy city manager or assistant or deputy county manager. Alternatively, the Town Manager shall be appointed on the basis of education and experience in the accepted competencies and practices of local public management that is determined by the Town Commission to be commensurate to those listed in the prior sentence.(Ord. No. 2013-13, § 2, 10-22-2013)

If for some reason a majority of the commission chooses to ignore the protocol of their predecessors and usurp the next commission by negotiating a contract with Ms. Connors their constituents should inquire if they have done their due diligence  in making the decision to go for Option 1…….

The Interim Town Manager has never submitted her resume to the town due to the cancelations of the process last winter….Have they researched her accomplishments and failures?…..Have they evaluated her performance as they would any new candidate or Town Manager by reaching out to residents and businesses for their experiences as well as town employees?….. Or…are they fearful that because they failed with the hiring of Bill Vance they prefer to avoid the process altogether?… All of the above should long be held in voter’s memories if each commissioner does not provide us with their extensive criteria for choosing to make Ms. Connors our Town Manager permanently at this time…

I want to let Readers know that I did my due diligence concerning Linda Connors and what I found along with my conclusions is based on research just as I have done since 2006 concerning past Town Managers and Town Manager Candidates…. My findings are below….. which I intend to speak about and provide to the commission tonight….and enter in to the public record…

‘Mayor, Commissioners-

I will put forth why the Interim Town Manager should not be installed permanently especially at this time.

This commission will find that I have researched previous Town Managers in- depth beginning with former Town Manager Bob Baldwin to Esther Colon to Connie Hoffman and Bud Bentley and the other candidates in 2010 as well as former Town Manager Bill Vance and other candidates for the position. I have written about them as well as coming to this podium.

Therefore, my research into Ms.Connors is a continuation of that to make sure this commission or any future commission and the residents know as much as possible before they make this all important decision for the Town Manager.

All of what is included below is factually based on Town archived records, internet searches, in- person exchanges and public records requests. All can be accessed to verify. I have included my own opinions on the conclusions I found.

I wondered why former Town Managers Hoffman and Bentley did not put forth the Director of Development in 2017 as Bud Bentley retired, especially since she was their hire and has been employed by the town since 2011 as Town Planner and Director of Development since 2015.

I believe that answer can be found from many missteps and mistakes made under her watch in the Development Services Department with the largest most impactful being eighteen ordinances she did not properly notice prior to 2018 which when found during an ongoing 2018 property development hearing culminated with the neighbors of a W. Tradewinds McMansion after nearly a year of fighting both the Town and the property owner to lose their intercostal views when the new owners were allowed to go ahead with their backyard setback increase as a result  of her actions which negated the updated non- noticed ordinance that would have prevented it.

There were 17 other ordinances requiring a re-notice and commission votes as well on March 27, 2018.

The video of that meeting shows this commission were all on the dais to witness this and to hear these outraged neighbors who had their properties forever changed due to Ms. Connors stating she should be fired.

Ms.Connors was involved with the single/ duplex conditional use requirements when it originated in order to protect and preserve our historic hotel district on El Mar Drive as an author and as the Town Planner representing its significance to the 2012 P & Z Board and again with the 2017 P & Z Board.

It was a real shock that on July 7, 2021 as the P & Z Board held the Quasi Judicial Hearing for 4112. El Mar Drive that was delayed from May 2021 were deliberately lacking in staff direction and historical documents from the Acting Director of Development Campbell and Interim Town Manager Connors showing the importance of the single family conditional use application and requirements thus tying their hands as the board members themselves stated when reluctantly approving an 8000 sq. foot contemporary home that ran counter to the 2012 intentions.

Ms.Connors continued to cast aside the significance of the conditional use when the Quasi Judicial Hearing was removed from the July 27, 2021 commission meeting stating in her Town Manager Report it was ” just another level of review.”

The hearing was delayed over the citizen outrage that arose after the July P & Z hearing debacle.

At that meeting the commission directed the Town Attorney to look into removing single family/ duplex homes on El Mar Drive due to the conditional use being cast aside.

That new ordinance came to the P & Z Board as an inclusion with another land use change on September 1, 2021. Several of the P & Z members reiterated their frustration with the July hearing and its outcome and voted against the grandfathering of 4112 El Mar to rectify their votes to approve and despite veiled assertions that the applicants have property rights and can use Bert J. Harris to sue the town.

At the September 13, 2021 commission meeting the commission passed the single- family home ordinance and the grandfathering of 4112 El Mar Drive while still in the dark concerning the facts of this property application process.

A public records request on September 14, 2021 showed that the applicants applied and received a development review on July 28, 2021. This required the Town contracted Architect to do an architectural review. Leo Hansen did 3 reports that mirrored the conditional use requirements, stating the contemporary home did not meet LBTS architectural standards in material, size and being harmonious and non- adversely impacting the adjacent neighbor and neighborhood. He ended his final reports saying the applicants showed no desire to change their home and recommended they study the Town architecture citing the Seaward Hotel as a desired example ( as shown in our Architectural Standards Manual.)

Although the applicants did not want to go back to the architect after the first report and disagreed with the report wanting instead to go ahead with the Quasi Judicial Hearing the Interim Town Manager and staff did not let them proceed as they requested.

A public records request I made for 4112 El Mar Drive showed that in January 2018 Ms. Connors in an email informed Rob Gordon about the conditional use requirement, the process and stated she could not answer the likelihood of approval by the commission. In August 2019 Town Planner Susan Leven informed Chip Falkanger, a broker for the property, that he would need to obtain a conditional use. On October 28, 2019 Linda Conners received an email from the realtor Chip Falkanger asking about conditional use requirements and side setbacks. Ms. Connors replied that the property was ‘exempt’ from conditional use and the side setbacks were 5′ ‘both incorrect responses.

On October 13,2020 the owner of the property Rob Gordon contacted Director Conners to verify the information she provided to Chip Falkanger ‘ in an abundance of caution’ as they were ready to start plans.  At that time they were going to build a duplex townhome with 5′ setbacks and he wanted to re-confirm both the side setbacks and the exemption from conditional use.  Ms.Connors one year later, responded ‘ I  have reviewed the email and the code referenced. Unfortunately, the information provided referencing Section 30-242 is incorrect. The section of the code clearly states that the regulations apply only to those properties that are west of Bougainvilla Drive. As 4112 El Mar Drive is east of Bougainvilla, the provisions would not apply.’Director of Development Connors provided the wrong code and wrong area in 2019.

The owner and attorney for 4112 El Mar Drive were the same owner and attorney that found Ms.Connors lack of notice for the property on N.Tradewinds in 2018.

Finding this information one has to wonder if this was why the Director would cast aside the single- family conditional use as this application proceeded.

The commission is to decide grandfathering 4112 on 2nd Reading on 10/12/2021 after basing their stance on conditional use and architectural review but with the trajectory and background now known to do so is to disregard the Interim Town Manager and Development staff actions to date and to unfairly offer property rights to these applicants while taking away property rights to the adjacent property.

As Interim Town Manager Ms.Connors came to the commission in 2021 to recommend that they dissolve our Historic Preservation Board ordinance to create such a board.

A look at the history shows the ordinance was passed in 2018 which was after the June 2017 meeting of the Broward County Historic Preservation Board convened to discuss the changes for requiring cities to be Certified Local Governments.

Strangely, in 2019 Ms.Connors informed the commission that the Broward County Historic Preservation Board was going to make changes and require municipalities to become certified local governments although Ms. Connors participated in the 2017 meeting and before the ordinance was passed to form a board in our town.
The commission voiced their concerns about home rule and what the new requirements which Ms.Connors was to bring forth at the Broward County meeting dealing with these changes.

Transcripts from that April 2019 meeting show that the board offered to assist the town in reaching the new criteria and that home rule would not be impacted in the process.

Director Connors never came back to the commission that I could find in the archives. There was no attempt made to reach out to our community for qualified residents to join the board as she stated she did not believe we had the caliber required in our town.

Another reason for not pursuing the board was the lack of an historical Architect. I found through my public records request for 4112 El Mar Drive that our Town contracted Architect Leo Hansen is the past president of the Broward County Preservation Board.

Interim Town Manager Connors came at the 11th hour in 2021 stating all the false assertions of our town not being able to form a Historic Preservation Board with the new requirements when she was well aware of the aid offered by Broward County along with contacts to succeed without allowing the commission to direct her from 2019.

From the commission comments made at the 2018 ordinance and the comments the commission made at the 2021 dissolution I believe the outcome would have been quite different if the commission knew the facts.

In 2021 in the Town Manager Report the Interim Town Manager informed the commission a head-shop called Grateful J’s and 2 smoke shops were approved for the west end of our downtown.

Ms.Connors as both Town Planner and Director of Development was well aware of what commissions and constituents did not want in our town. She was also aware of the 2009 ordinance stating the following

‘The Town Manager or designee shall consult with the Town Commission on any proposal to find that a use is similar, prior to authorizing such use in the B-1-A district.’

No matter the designation the Development Department decided these stores fell under the red flags right in front of them to stop these businesses from being approved!

Ms.Connors was involved with all actions put in place over the last decade to improve and redesign the west downtown corridor.

At the October 6,2021 P &Z Board meeting to discuss a new ordinance to update the previously allowed businesses the attorney for Grateful J’s stated if his client was told they were not wanted they would have passed on our town! Instead he stated they were welcomed even receiving a Welcome letter from the Town.

Ms.Connors came and stood at the podium and tried to justify this happening due to the ‘Specialty’ Store designation used for the application. This store stated its name to know what type of store it was  (they have other locations ) in their application but left out any reference to paraphernalia in describing what would be sold.

The P&Z Board as well as members of the audience did not buy the designation explanation and the commission should not either.

The new ordinance takes away the 2009 Town Manager consulting the commission before approval and inserts what Ms.Connors did with this debacle legitimizing the Interim Town Manager’s actions.

From January 2021 to June 2021 the Interim Town Manager never brought to the dais the Florida Legislatures change to Home Based Businesses.

We only found this out in September at the P&Z Board meeting when it was on their agenda for a new ordinance to accommodate the new legislative changes.

A look at the Florida League of Cities website showed that emails were sent out throughout this process urging municipalities to join as 141 others did. Our town did not! Our Interim Town Manager is budgeted to be a FLOC member so she must have received this information but chose not to bring it to the dais and the residents.

When this brought forth outrage from the neighborhoods there was no response from the Interim Town Manager for why we were not informed and participating.

Our lobbyist at the first 2021 Budget Meeting told me that emails were also sent to the town from them throughout 2021. The same lobbyist that Ms.Connors wanted to remove from our 2021-22 budget. The commission directed her to keep our lobbyist in the budget.

A Resolution was voted on after the fact at the Special Meeting on Oct.4, 2021 after our lobbyist told us no change would be coming in the upcoming year.

Ms.Connors chose to subvert the Downtown Sidewalk Expansion Round Tables on three separate occasions.

Round Table discussions have brought great success to prior town projects during her tenure as Town Planner and Director of Development and to change the formula as Interim Town Manager keeps up Ms.Connors choice to turn her back on what we have long found works well.

The October 4, 2021 Special Meeting needlessly riled residents and businesses up by Ms.Connors attempt to tie the expansion to the need for more parking by purchasing a lot being used already by Aruba for $2.5 million for 16-20 spaces on A1A and/or partnering with FDG ( old Holiday Inn) for 200 spaces at the south end of El Mar Drive.

On the 10/12/2021 agenda her insistence to tie increased parking to the expansion continued with the explanation for the Old Business item to update the 2015 parking study. The commission did not receive all relevant backup as has been the case since 2018 and the hiring of former Town Manager Vance.

The Interim Town Manager promoting the Steven Fett design renderings was akin to the El Mar Drive Streetscape Project redesign in scope of change. Mr. Fett to his credit at the meeting asked for the Jarvis Hall attendees to speak after his presentation resulting in some commissioners, restaurateurs and residents to speak out to return to a Round Table Meeting to start over with the “base” of what we have now with the expansion.

After the meeting, Mr. Fett spoke to me and he said too felt this venue was not the right way to begin this project.

A few days later the Interim Town Manager put out a town alert along with yard signs and banners throughout the town for the Oct. 27, 2021 Round Table. She included the Steven Fett presentation PDF and promoted these design plans for the downtown expansion.  Once again Ms. Connors has pushed for her vision of changing our town as she did with the El Mar Drive Streetscape Project.

The Interim Town Manager as Director of Development joined Town Engineer Jay Flynn in an all-out push to redevelop El Mar Drive. She verbally stated her view that the “old loudmouths” who did not want the Jay Flynn/EDSA designs should be disregarded.

Ms.Connors fought against the outcry from the residents until their voices could no longer be ignored. After the decision was made to walk away from it she would not remove it from future projects or the town website and only did so after several directives from the commission.

There are other troubling issues both as Director of Development and as Interim Town Manager that show that the problems in her department such as we saw in 2018 with the massive amount of ordinances that were negated continue.

The Development Department is still under her Interim Town Manager and watching the P & Z meetings since June of this year shows a board that has not been fully supported in any way. Just to watch these meetings it is undeniable and in both September and October Ms.Connors was in attendance and needed to take to the podium to instruct both the staff and the board how to proceed.

In September Ms.Connors sat down next to me after the meeting and her response to my stating the need for his board to receive staff assistance and guidance as the 2012 P & Z Board had with the conditional use ordinance was to state this board was inferior to that board and to then state it shows why we would not be able to get the quality of Historical Preservation Board members.

At the September Code Compliance Meeting Bethany Banyas negated a $200,000.00 lien on a private home due to a code error in filing. This was under Ms.Connors as both Director of Development and Interim Town Manager.

At the same Code Compliance meeting we heard from professional office building tenants that their building was deemed unsafe and they had 2 hours to vacate. The tenants stated they were not allowed back in and the impact of this drastic action to both their businesses and their clients. The building official from CAP was a disgrace and the Town offered no aid or comprehension when the building official stated the building issues were a public safety issue. The Town did not rope off the areas surrounding the building until after this meeting took place. This too falls under Ms. Connors as Interim Town Manager.

The Marina Hotel, another big project that requires residents and businesses to be in town and to be participants was being pushed by Ms.Connors to proceed because as she said “government does not stop.”  At a public meeting held by the developer he was agreeable to postponing until residents returned. The Interim Town Manager and the Development Department still put forth a public meeting with the commission prior to the return and before it went to the P & Z Board. The meeting was finally canceled after pushback but not before riling up the residents, as we have witnessed throughout Ms.Connors tenure in both positions.

Equal treatment has been an ongoing problem for Ms.Connors as both Director of Development and Interim Town Manager with businesses crossing her and staff while other businesses were privy to leeway concerning code violations and permits.

Ms.Connors told me when we walked El Mar Drive right after her appointment as Interim Town Manager that as Director of Development she was the “bad cop” to the Town Manager’s ” good cop” and she could fill the ” good cop” role. Unfortunately, she has proven she cannot.

The opportunity was there for Ms.Connors to immediately revert back to the successful leadership of former Town Managers Connie Hoffman and Bud Bentley but she chose not to.

Ms.Connors on that same walk on El Mar Drive told me she and Ken Ruback were really running the town for former Town Manager Bill Vance. If true and in hindsight she chose to continue the failed leadership of Mr. Vance time here with the same poor results.

As Interim Town Manager Ms.Connors did not get the 2021-22 Budget out until 6:30 PM on the Friday before the first budget meeting on Monday September 13, 2021.

The required Sun-Sentinel published notice for the budget was incorrect stating our proposed property taxes were increased. They were in fact lowered with a 3 to 2 commission vote to rollback the rate. No correction was published after I notified the Town of the error and no response to my email concerning the error was ever responded to.

Our residential permits were delayed resulting in an extension beyond September 30th due to it. The Town finally put the permit application online due to the number of residents inquiring per the Town Senior Office Specialist even as the date for the actual permits were hopefully before the September 30th renewal date.

As Interim Town Manager, Ms.Connors continues to be the planner of changing LBTS vs. preserving LBTS as she was as Director of Development.

I along with the majority of your constituents believe this town deserves a Town Manager who will preserve and protect our town and will honor our Mission and Vision Statements to its full extent.

Thank you,

Barbara Cole

Dear Readers…. I have not witnessed what I am seeing at this time in our town since 2006,2007,2008 and 2009 ….businesses, restauranteurs and residents are reticent to participate and make comments tonight concerning the Interim Town Manager fearing repercussions from her administration and staff in the future….I thought those days were long gone and never….ever….did I think I would encounter them again….sad to say….sad to write….sad for the future of our town….

More to come……

 

 

 

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