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Friday, March 27, 2009

More Political Ethics Horror Stories from South Florida

My comments follow these two terrific Palm Beach Post articles I stumbled across this morning, while looking for something else.
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Palm Beach Post

Florida Public Utilities Co. balks at handing over papers on rate plan

By Susan Salisbury, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

March 26, 2009

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http://www.palmbeachpost.com/opinion/content/opinion/epaper/2009/03/26/a16a_engelhardtcol_0326.html
Palm Beach Post

An ethics issue in the Gardens

By Joel Engelhardt, Palm Beach Post Editorial Writer

March 26, 2009

---------------------------------------

I guess the utility folks in Palm Beach County think they're in
the Duchy of Hallandale Beach, where state and ethics laws are
ignored as a matter of course if they conflict with the agenda of
the powers-that-be at HB CityHall.

I'm curious, do any of you know whether or not the current
process is one where the utility company is required to either
print or post the info publicly by a certain time or face a fine or
punishment, or, do they just do what they want, and practically
dare someone to notice that they're not in compliance, and put
the onus on them to file a formal complaint?
(Sounds like Hallandale Beach City Hall's attitude!)

As to the lobbying situation described by Joel Engelhardt
above in Palm Beach Gardens, I'm reminded of the crazy
Hallandale Beach City Commission meeting I attended a few
months ago, where Hallandale Beach Comm. William Julian
wanted to desperately throw some crumbs of lobbying work to
former city lobbyist, congressman and crook Larry Smith
after the city had summarily replaced him with Ron Book.
(Mayor Joy Cooper recused herself for this vote.)

And because Julian and Smith and then later, Ross,
almost seemed on the verge of tears if something wasn't
done to assuage them, some innocuous language was
agreed to, giving Smith something that nobody can
quite fully explain, least of all, the very commissioners
themselves who voted for it.
Something like, Book does X and Y, but if Z,
somehow Larry Smith gets money for doing
something or another.
It really was that vague, too.

This change in lobbying was done largely
because, apparently, historically Smith
-no relation!- provided the city with
information AFTER the fact.

That is to say, after the Florida legislative
session had ended, rather than before or
during, when it might've actually done
some good.
That is, to the extent that the City of Hallandale Beach had
any real business spending taxpayers' funds up in Tallahassee,
before they finally spent some money on creating some
much-needed and long-overdue directional signs around the
city.

(You know, like normal American cities have in the year 2009,
indicating for residents and visitors alike where HB City Hall,
the Police Dept. HQ, the Fire/Rescue HQ and the HB Community
Center are located, since there is STILL not a single one in the
city currently doing this.)

My favorite part of the hearing came when former Smith
associate Franklin Hileman, then working in City Manager
Mike Good's office as Manager of Intergovernmental Relations
had to explain what the specific criticism of Smith was, and
Smith's attempt to spin and finesse that away.

Based on my own experiences with him, Hileman -who no
longer works for the city- was Exhibit One of the highly-paid,
poorly-performing caliber of people working for the city, who
didn't know how to properly follow-up with the public on
matters in a manner that engendered either trust or condidence.

I know what you're thinking!
You're thinking that actually getting the information in a timely
fashion, as Book guaranteed his firm would do in the future if
hired, was already the default position for the city's abysmal
lobbying operation all these years, right?
That even people as clearly incapable of managing to keep
their own parking lot lights on at night, as Mayor Joy Cooper
and City Manager Mike Good have proven, would expecte to
receive info on proposals and bills before they'd been approved
or defeated.
Nope!

But what WAS typical and entirely predictable was the response
to the common sense request by Comm. Keith London to
actually be able to read the information from Book & Co.
when it arrived at HB City Hall from up Tallahassee or their
office down the street in Aventura.
Legislative information that was part of the entire lobbying
package he was being asked that day to vote for and pay for.

No, London was told that the information would first be sent
to Good & Co. at the City Manager's Office to peruse before
he could ever see it, and then, only when and if they chose to
share it with him.

As if the information, legislative updates, paid for by Hallandale
Beach taxpayers, belonged exclusively to the unelected
Mike Good and his staff, not the very people who were
actually elected by voters to set legislative policy for the city
by those same taxpayers and voters.

Naturally, because it was completely ass-backwards, not
surprisingly, the Rubber Stamp Crew of William Julian,
Dorothy "Dotty" Ross and Anthony A. Sanders dutifully
relinquished part of their own legislative power to unelected
Mike Good, who will read the information Book sends before
anyone elected by the voters.
But he's an administrator, not the person who sets policy, right?

That's what the mayor keeps saying to critics like me and others,
but if that's so, then why is HE the person who actually gets to
decide who receives the legislative information and when, rather
than have all of them get it?
Exactly!

I guess those three commissioners who voted to turn their back
on their responsibilities hoped Good's highly-paid staff would
at least create some crib sheets for them, explaining it all, so
they could at least partially comprehend what's been written on
the taxpayer's dime.

As a well-informed citizen who knows a thing or two about
both early American history and the ideas behind creating a
separation of powers -even though this is, admittedly,
not a perfect comparison- I was outraged that elected
officials, even in the foolishly naive Hallandale Beach of
Joy Cooper, would consciously mock themselves in ways
I'd never consider: self-castration.

Quick!
Name another South Florida city, town or county where the
elected representatives would willingly and publicly say that
they don't want to read the valuable lobbying information,
or, as was the specific case with Comm. Julian, actually
say he's happy to have someone else read it instead of him.

Here's an idea!
Why don't you call or write those three individual
HB city commissioners -and the mayor- and ask them
whether or not they've actually read the legislative
information from Book's firm since the legislature
started their session a month ago that was paid for
with taxpayer's dollars.

Or, is the embarrassing reality for this city
where three of the city commissioners would
voluntarily castrate itself, the fact that Mike
Good & Company have not yet shared it with
them?

H-m-m-m...
The Florida legislative session is in about its fourth
week, I think, so they should have an answer for
you by now, shouldn't they?
Given that its been a few weeks, if they were really
paying attention, the mayor and those three
commissioners ought to have been able to tell you
by heart at least a few of the bill numbers associated
with issues they're either for or against, before they
went to Tallahassee, shouldn't they?

But can they actually do that?

What do you suppose the answer to that is?
-----------------------------------------------------------------
Based on what the Palm Beach Post's Joel Engelhardt
has written today, above, showing the kind of real verve
and barely-contained anger that I rarely see when its really
needed by the barrels in either the Miami Herald or the
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, it definitely sounds like this
lobbyist Tom DeRita is trying to finesse a matter that should
actually be pretty black and white.

Pregnant or not pregnant?
Lobbyist or not a lobbyist?
Yankee fan or Yankee hater?
You can't be both!

In some ways, it sounds to me like what DeRita is attempting
to pull off is the same sort of intellectual self-deception that
thousands upon thousands of people from non-profit
organizations or trade assocations in Washington, D.C. tried
to do for years in the 1990's.
Though they engaged in what almost anyone who knows how
Washington works would consider to be traditional lobbying
activities, they kept making excuses for why they never
complied with the federal lobbying and disclosure laws, and
registered at the appropriate office at the House or the Senate,
or both.

Not surprisngly, the number one excuse was always,
"It's okay, we're a non-profit."

That conveniently ignored the fact that it was not a legitimate
excuse and that some of the most highly-paid people/lobbyists
in all of Washington work for non-profits, as the print copy
of the most invaluable of all magazines regularly reminded us,
The National Journal,

(They still do that online, too, at

LOBBYING & LAW

K STREET SALARIES NO MATCH

FOR WALL STREET

CEO COMPENSATION AT 500 NONPROFITS WAS UP IN
2007-08, BUT STILL LAGS BEHIND THE PRIVATE SECTOR.


For most of my time in the D.C. area, I was actually friends with
quite a lot of people who fit into this particular category, and the
vast majority of them worked for educational groups of one sort
or another in very nice digs along K Street, Connecticut Avenue
or up around Dupont Circle.

When I'd point out the intentional ethical murkiness of this at
parties, get-togethers, ballgames or the Oscars party or whatever,
and remind them that they were exactly the folks who most
consistently clamored for increased transparency and more
accountability in Washington, not less, they'd sagely nod their
heads but say that if they didn't do what they did, things would
really be bad for their particular cause or agenda.
So they gamed the system even while protesting that they
didn't really have a choice.

Self-justification like that can eventually lead to becoming
ensnared into all sorts of ethical knots and career dilemmas.
Years later, many of these people acknowledged to me that
they wished they'd done the right thing immediately, when
they had the chance, because if they were ever up for an
administration position, they'd have to acknowledge if asked
that they (and their bosses) knew the lobbying registration
laws and simply chose to look the other way, bite their
tongue and hope nobody would ask questions.

Me, I always thought that in a fair competition, spectators
were best served by knowing who all the players were,
on and off-the-field, regardlessof what side they were on.
Clearly, not everyone in Washington shared that outlook,
even other Democrats I knew and liked and who said all
of the the right things.
Yet they'd rise to outrage when others did the same thing
they'd done for years, if it was some issue they had an
intense interest in.

Truth or Consequences?

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