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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Tallahassee Rules Against Mayor Cooper and Comm. Ross

April 3rd, 2008
3 pm

If you use choose to use the information in the DMS letter below, please be sure to credit me, "South Beach Hoosier."

Dave
www.SouthBeachHoosier.blogspot.com
www.HallandaleBeachBlog.blogspot.com
______________________________________
Posted earlier on Hallandale Beach Blog www.HallandaleBeachBlog.blogspot.com

Wednesday April 2, 2008
1:00 p.m.

The State of Florida's Dept. of Management Services http://www.dms.myflorida.com/ ruled decisively Monday against the boisterous and all-too-often, self-serving claims of Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper and Commissioner Dorothy Ross, who voted along with Commissioner William Julian on March 5th to deprive the city's citizens of the opportunity to serve on the Hallandale Beach Police Officers' and Firefighters Retirement Fund.

This decision follows weeks of bitterness and allegations of parochialism and plain-old selfishness against both Cooper and Ross by active duty Hallandale Beach police officers and firefighters at a series of contentious and highly combative City Commission hearings, which featured dozens of members at the night meeting in February.

What was voted on:
An Ordinance of the City of Hallandale Beach, Florida, Amending Ordinance 2004-09, The Hallandale Beach Police and Fire Pension Plan to Provide for the Authority for Two Commissioners to Serve as Members on the Police and Fire Pension Board of Trustees; Providing for Conflicts; Providing for Severability; Providing for an Effective Date (Second Reading)(City Attorney)(see backup) CAD# 002/07

Since Julian's Feb. 20th swing vote against the city's first-responders led to a 3-2 decision to amend the city's charter at the first of two public hearings, threats of a union lawsuit against the city to reverse the decision and members seeking political payback, have animated and roiled much of HB's small political chattering class for the past two months.

The Benefits Administrator further ordered that the original language be reinstated to comply with statutory provisions and warned Mayor Cooper, "No further restrictions or conditions may be placed on these two resident appointees without jeopardizing receipt of future premium tax moneys."







In the near future, Hallandale Beach Blog will seek to discover how much money city taxpayers paid for the privilege of having outside attorney David Tolces sit at the dais for those hearings.

While his legal advice went sour pretty fast, Tolces wasn't without his comic element, as when he said in response to a citizen's question at a hearing asking how much he was charging the city -for telling the mayor what she wanted to hear according to critics- he quipped that the information would be easy enough for someone to find out by simply filing the requisite Public Records request paperwork.

Well, we'll see about that now, won't we, since we know that at least one person will, in fact, try to ferret out that information. For history's sake.

As it happens, the DMS decision was never mentioned at Wednesday morning's regular HB City Commission meeting, which featured city commissioners recommending votes against most of the Broward County Charter Review Committee's recommendations to voters in November.

With rare exceptions, the City Commission largely belittled the efforts and political handiwork of the committee that's worked for months throughtout the state's second-largest county to bring Broward County firmly into the 21st Century, and seeks to take ethical and member districting decisions out of the hands of county commissioners.

As is so often the case at HB city hearings, the agenda ran behind schedule and had the usual procedural screw-ups, as when the mayor plowed thru the agenda and the City Clerk twice failed to remind her to seek public comment.
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http://www.miamisunpost.com/archives/2008/03-13/031308newshallandalebeach.htm

Miami Sun Post
Hallandale Beach
Power Play
Firefighters, police rail against amendment to pension board
By Claudia Boyd-Barrett
March 13, 2008

Vigorous protests from police, firefighters and concerned citizens were not enough to sway the Hallandale City Commission last week from approving an amendment that would permanently assign to commissioners two seats on the five-member Police and Fire Pension Board permanently to commissioners.

City Mayor Joy Cooper and Commissioner Dorothy Ross already sit on the board, but its governing ordinance states that city residents, rather than officials, should hold those seats. The amendment that passed on first reading last Thursday changes that language to specify city commissioners.

Mayor Cooper defended her backing of the amendment, arguing that the pension board needed her and Ross' presence and expertise. Vice Mayor William Julian, who also voted to pass the amendment, said having commissioners on the board helps protect the interests of citizens, whose taxes fund the pensions.

Their arguments did not sit well with the police, firefighters and some citizens gathered at the commission meeting.

"I think this stinks of impropriety," police Officer Gary McVeigh said. "It looks unethical. We're just wondering why the adamant fight for this? It makes no sense to us."

Daniel Alford, a firefighter paramedic and pension board member, told commissioners he thought the amendment resulted in a conflict of interest for Cooper and Ross because they would be more interested in looking out for taxpayers than the police and firefighters on the pension plan.

Outside the meeting, firefighter union President Jim Bunce echoed concerns that the commission was violating the city charter by passing the amendment without a public vote.

The Hallandale City Charter prohibits commissioners from holding any other office during their term and says any amendments to the charter must be approved by referendum. Bunce said he would prefer that the pension board seats in question be given to people from the community with professional expertise.

"Out of 50,000 people in this city who could sit on this board, they're saying they're the only two that should," Bunce fumed. "They're stealing power that the public has to give them — they're just taking it!"

However, City Clerk E. Dent McGough said the city was amending an ordinance and not the charter, so it did not need a referendum vote.

Commissioners Keith London and Francine Schiller both voted against the amendment.

It was London who initially questioned the legality of Cooper and Ross sitting on the board after he learned that it is unusual in Florida for commission members to hold such positions. He said he feared the dual office-holding would open the city to potential lawsuits.

"By having two positions filled on both the Pension Board and the City Commission, we have consolidated the decision-making to fewer people, increasing the odds of a wrong decision being made," he wrote in an e-mail.

"Our City Commission should listen to what the people want."London said the Police Benevolent Association was threatening to sue the city if the ordinance passes a second reading.

Commissioner Julian said that the $80 million fund is currently in good standing.
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Miami Herald
March 6, 2008

Hallandale Beach commissioners on Wednesday voted to allow themselves to serve on the police and fire pension board.
The 3-2 vote angered many members of the police union who have threatened to file a lawsuit.
The union argues that city commissioners are serving two offices, which is against state law.
But the city's attorney has said that as long as the city's laws allow commissioners to serve on the board there's no conflict.
Mayor Joy Cooper, Commissioner Dorothy Ross and Vice Mayor Bill Julian voted to keep Ross and Cooper on the pension board that oversees $80 million in investment funds.
Commissioners Keith London and Fran Schiller voted against it.
_____________________________________________
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
STAFF REPORTS
March 6, 2008

Hallandale Beach
Commissioners can be on pension board

Despite the threat of a lawsuit from the Broward County Police Benevolent Association, city commissioners Wednesday approved a law allowing them to serve on the city's police and fire pension board.

The decision, approved 3-2, is mostly a housekeeping change because the mayor and one commissioner already serve on the board.

Under the city's charter, the board must have one police officer, one firefighter and two residents.

Commissioners must approve the appointment of a fifth member who is chosen by the four members.

Union officials say commissioners have a conflict of interest being on the board because they represent the city's interest.

"I do not agree with [the change in the law's language]," said Officer Alex Vera, a union representative. "The [union's] legal challenge will come unfortunately at the great expense of the city's taxpayers."

Mayor Joy Cooper and Commissioner Dorothy Ross, who have been serving on the board, voted for the change, as did Vice Mayor Bill Julian.

"I don't believe there's a conflict of interest," Julian said.

Commissioners Keith London and Fran Schiller voted against it.

Vera said the union plans to sue the city, Cooper and Ross.
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Miami Herald

HALLANDALE BEACH
POLICE AND FIRE PENSION BOARD
BATTLE BREWS OVER A BOARD PROPOSAL
If passed, a Hallandale Beach law would ban residents from serving on a pension board, but a Broward police union is threatening a lawsuit.

By Jasmine Kripalani
March 1, 2008

A Broward County police union threatened to file a lawsuit against Hallandale Beach after the city introduced a law that would ban residents from serving on the police and fire pension board.

Instead, the law would allow only commissioners to serve. But Jeff Marano, treasurer of the Broward Police Benevolent Association, said commissioners could be violating state law by holding two offices.

"You cannot serve two masters," he said in a written statement. "How can we expect a commissioner to put pension issues first when they represent the city's interests?"

Commissioners are scheduled to take a final vote on the issue at a 10 a.m. March 5 commission meeting at City Hall, 400 S. Federal Hwy.

The city has hired an outside firm to counsel it on the issue.

"Based upon the attorney general's opinion, it allows public officials to serve on other boards if there's an ordinance that grants them that authority," David Tolces, the attorney hired by the city.

City Commissioner Dorothy Ross, who has served on the pension board for 10 years said there's nothing illegal about it. She argues that residents lack the experience in overseeing the pension's $80 million investment fund.

"I would be concerned for new people to suddenly be placed on this board making decisions," she said.

Mayor Joy Cooper, who could not be reached for comment, published an editorial in a local newspaper that appeared Thursday.

In the South Florida Sun-Times, Cooper blamed Commissioner Keith London, who brought up the problem of dual office-holding at a commission meeting in January.

"I have been at a loss over this whole circumstance and am not sure of the commissioner's intent," she wrote.

London said his only agenda is to raise the issue before the public.

"When I went to a conference, I learned that this was not best practice throughout the Florida Retirement System," he said. "This is not the norm, not even close to the norm. It needed to be discussed."
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http://www.miamisunpost.com/011708newshallandalebeach.htm
Miami Sun Post

Hallandale Beach
Breaking the Law?
City commissioner accuses his colleagues of illegally holding two offices
By Nicole Alibayof
January 17, 2008

A Hallandale Beach city commissioner accused the mayor and one of his colleagues of breaking the law.

Commissioner Keith London raised the question last week about whether or not Mayor Joy Cooper and Commissioner Dorothy Ross can be charged with holding two offices.

Cooper and Ross sit on the city commission and the pension board of the city's police and fire departments.

City Attorney Dave Jove said technically it is not illegal, though holding two offices can be perceived as a conflict of interest.

The commission will discuss whether an amended ordinance or a special election is needed to rectify any problems at its Jan. 22 meeting.

"Certainly I don't believe there's any credibility on concerns that were raised, but I am willing to sit down and talk about the issues that were brought up," Cooper said during the Jan. 9 commission meeting.

"No shame or any bad name has ever been associated with me," Ross said.

"If they ask me to step down, fine, but no one knows more about the pension plan than me."

The pension board consists of five members, two of whom must be residents of Hallandale Beach appointed by the commission, according to the Hallandale Beach City Charter.

Currently Cooper and Ross sit as those Hallandale Beach residents.

However, another section of the city charter forbids the mayor and commissioners from holding any other position, city employment or elected public office during their terms.

Three-year contracts between the city and the police and fire unions have to come before both the commission and the pension board, giving Cooper and Ross greater leverage to negotiate them.

"If that doesn't reflect two bites out of one apple I don't know what does," London said.

The commission wants to amend that ordinance by changing the terminology to refer to elected officials serving on the pension board as ex-officio voting members.

By changing the terminology, elected officials will be allowed to serve on both the pension board and the commission, City Attorney Jove said.

Jim Bunce, union president for Hallandale firefighters, didn't think the language change would be enough.

"An ordinance cannot supersede the charter," he said.

"The charter is clear and there are prohibitions; they should amend the charter and do it right if they want it to be legal."

Bunce worked as a firefighter in Davie for 27 years.

He said the same issue was addressed in Davie and the commissioners were removed from elected office.

His argument worried some commissioners who felt that the charter might have to be amended by referendum.

Cooper, though, said it would take months to create a code to address the problem.

"My primary goal and objective is to make the pension plan successful," she said.

"I don't think you could get more experience or more efficiency than with a commissioner."

A representative for the police union disagreed.

"We are not in favor of commissioners on pension boards," said Michael Braverman, attorney and spokesman for the Police Benevolent Association.

"As the certified collective bargaining agent, it's problematic to go to the same place twice; manipulation by government skews the process."

Vice Mayor Bill Julian and Commissioner Francine Schiller proposed discussing the pension board in greater detail on Jan. 22.

"Let's see how it plays out," Jove said

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