In case you haven't seen this morning's Miami
Herald editorial yet, there's a lot to ponder...
As it happens, I happen to receive the City of
Hollywood email agenda notification for city
commission meetings, which I got on Friday,
complete with working links to staff reports
That's unlike the situation in Hallandale Beach,
whose City Clerk's office doesn't post this
information onto their awful website until Monday
morning, often less than 48 hours before the
HB city commission meeting is slated to start.
HB City Hall does the same for the agendas for
Planning & Zoning meetings.
The developers and their lobbyists and attorneys,
like Steve Geller or Debbie Orshefsky know
full-well what's coming-up before you citizens,
whom the City of HB thinks aren't important
enough to get that information until just two
That's not by accident, it's intentional.
That's the way Mayor Cooper and City
Manager Mike Good want it.
The better to keep you in the dark for
as long as possible!
The Police contract is before the Hollywood
commission on Wednesday afternoon and
I'll be there for what promises to be quite a
heated and maybe even philosophical meeting.
According to the info I received, the meeting
starts at 1 p.m. and the union pension matters
get going about 3 p.m..
Also, just for disclosure purposes, so you know,
my father was a Miami-Dade County police
officer for over 25 years, and was on the
Board of Directors of the Dade County PBA
for over 20 years.
(The first night of the McDuffie Riots, when he
was told to report immediately, I had to drive
him from North Miami Beach where we lived
then, down to the downtown Police Dept. HQ
at the Civic Center, not far from the Orange
Bowl -around midnight.
On the drive there and back on I-95 and the
826, I saw parts of Miami on fire, and heard
gunshots ringing everywhere while also listening
to the radio broadcasts of what was going on.
Just in case I was pulled over on the expressway
by some cops, since everyone was ordered to
stay off the roads, I was given the business card
of a police commander or lieutenant for them
to contact to prove I had a legit reason to be
Not that this experience prevents me from fully
realizing how drastically things need to change
with regard to the conduct and attitudes of the
HB Police, starting from the top with Police Chief
Thomas Magill, who needs to be fired for reasons
I've already enumerated on the blog and in past
emails, but also including getting rid of some HB
cops who, quite simply, have no business being
let loose in the community with a gun and a shield
and their perpetual bad judgment.
My blog post on the HB Police situation, complete
with photos, which I've been working on for awhile,
will take place soon, hopefully, later this week.
Trust me, there's an awful lot you don't know about,
which is why photos are so very helpful.
Also wanted to share this very interesting tidbit that
I first read about at Eye on Miami yesterday/early
Saturday, August 29, 2009http://eyeonmiami.blogspot.
We need to be vigilant to make sure that similar
efforts to weaken the checks and balances and
existing threshold of public accountability for
passage, isn't tried at the Broward County
Commission, to benefit their developer pals
at the public's expense.
As one of the commentators responding to this
post presciently remarked, this seems nothing
less than a clear shot to pre-empt FL Hometown
Democracy before next November's election.
The other comments are quite on target as well.
I recently spied a copy of a similar fishy-smelling
paid county advert in the Herald re some other
upcoming M-D County hearings, which might be
the source of an upcoming blog post of mine.
So, what about the myriad low-lights, lies and
half-truths that took place at HB City Hall this
past week at the HB budget workshop, huh?
I'll have that here on Wednesday morning.
Unsustainable pension pandering
OUR OPINION: Cities and police and firefighter unions must renegotiate budget-busting pensions
Warnings not heeded about pension burden
It's as if we're living through a remake of The Blob .
In our real-life version of the 1958 horror classic, the pink undulating clump has morphed into a fearsome mass of 25-years-and-out cop and firefighter pensions.
The sheriff, like the knucklehead cop in the original movie, refuses to heed warnings that this oozing insatiable blob threatens to devour the county budget.
As Hollywood commissioners weigh shutting parks, delivering pink slips and hiking the tax rate to close a $22 million budget gap, they are poised to approve a union contract ensuring steady pay raises and solid pension benefits to city firefighters.
The proposed contract, set for a vote Wednesday, would give firefighters a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment each year for the next three years -- on top of raises they already received for promotions and long-term service. A separate pension agreement guarantees a minimum rate of return to employees, regardless of how well the market does.
Critics say the contract, even with its generally modest increases, comes at a time the city cannot afford it and puts a spotlight on escalating government pension costs.
Miami politics, pensions a tricky balance
It's a political plum any politician would savor: endorsements from the four major public employee unions in South Florida's biggest city, Miami.
Yet for Miami mayoral candidate Tomás Regalado, the support carries with it a tough question: To what extent, if any, will Regalado crack down on union pension benefits that threaten the city's bottom line?
And will mayoral opponent Joe Sanchez -- trailing Regalado in some polls -- use his foe's union support to his own advantage?
Despite an unprecedented high-rise building boom that broadened the tax base for most of the decade, Miami is sliding toward the brink of its worst financial crunch since 1996, when the city flirted with bankruptcy and ceded daily control to the state.
The city has depleted its reserves by more than $50 million to plug operating deficits in four of the last five years, a downturn that began well before the nation's economic meltdown.
To make ends meet, Miami has been moving money from its capital improvement funds to the general city budget -- a practice akin to a homeowner repeatedly taking money set aside for a home improvement project to pay the grocery bills. These moves were not easily accessible to the public.
We ask our police officers and firefighters to do things we won't do because of the risks involved.
In exchange we pay them more, make sure they are well compensated for any harm received on the job and allow them to retire at an earlier age than other government workers because of the stress and risks they face. All of this is fair.
What isn't fair is how much political clout the first responders' unions wield in local governments and in Tallahassee to the detriment of taxpayers.
That clout gets commissioners elected with low turnouts and generates favorable laws in the Legislature.
But when city commissioners agree to hefty raises and more benefits for police and firefighters the pandering creates problems for taxpayers -- as has the Legislature when dumping unfunded mandates on local governments to curry favor with police and firefighters unions.
That's what happened in 1999 when the Legislature approved and then-Gov. Jeb Bush signed a change into law that limits how cities can use a long-standing state fund that helps pay for local police and firefighter pensions. The fund is financed by an excise tax on property insurance premiums -- after all, what do first responders protect, if not property and lives? The Legislature told cities that they could no longer use the fund for basic pension costs -- only to tap into it for extended benefits for police and firefighters.
A double whammy
Lawmakers passed the bill to cities and mandated better benefits. This double whammy, plus a series of later legislative-inspired local tax cuts, has put big burdens on cities even without the recession.
Government pensions are funded by contributions from workers, their employers and the return on investments. With the stock market in free fall in the past year, cities find themselves having to pony up far more than usual for pension funds to make up for investment losses.
And while the stock market shows hopeful signs of recovery, South Florida's housing slump and the recession it fueled are taking big chunks out of municipal budgets.
The city of Miami will pay an extra $32 million into its pension funds in 2009-10. Consider that since 2001, Miami's pension bill has risen from $13.9 million to $60.8 million this year. Pension costs are projected to rise to almost $100 million by 2010.
That will consume almost one-fifth of the city's operating budget -- a Herculean challenge for a city that has a high poverty rate and dwindling property tax revenue because of empty condos and foreclosed homes.
Many Broward cities also are scrambling to close pension holes created by unrealistically generous pension promises. For its firefighter fund alone Hollywood will pay an additional $9.2 million next year, more than double what the city contributed five years ago -- a portent of future pension demands.
Many cities are planning layoffs and cutting back services to balance budgets. Pension costs are just one contributing factor. But in Miami, which misused firefighter pension funds in the 1980s to pay for other city obligations, pensions based on out-of-control salary bumps threaten to bankrupt the city.
Under the so-called Gates settlement, Miami must use general-revenue money to keep the pension plan whole if stock market returns plummet, as they did last year.
Eventually the stock market will stabilize, and South Florida pension funds will see higher returns again, providing some relief. But cities will still be on the hook for ever higher police and fire pension costs.
The benefits are now so out of whack that taxpayers simply can't sustain them.
Yet city officials keep pandering. Hollywood is renegotiating its police, firefighter and general employee contracts as it faces a $22 million budget gap.
Incredibly, commissioners and Mayor Peter Bober agreed to give firefighters a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment each year for the next three years, on top of raises they already received for promotions and long-term service. This salary-and-pensions contract will set the precedent for the others still in negotiation.
The firefighters union made some concessions: New hires' starting pay will drop 14 percent, and they will be guaranteed a smaller return on their pension investments (now at 8 percent; the state's is at 6.5 percent) if they enter the Deferred Retirement Option Program, which is another disaster in the making.
To their credit, union officials in several cities have also said they'll work with their city leaders to find ways to reduce costs.
Clearly, pension-plan concessions are going to have to be part of the solution. Taxpayers are at a breaking point.
Reader comments at:http://www.miamiherald.com/
See also: Hollywood Budget: A Stone Unturned