to the Broward Govt HQ early Wednesday
morning for the next Ethics Commission meeting,
at 8 a.m., I was surprised over the weekend
in perusing the county's scheduled meetings page,
to see that there's yet another County Commission
meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning.
Morning agenda, 10 a.m.:
Public comments agenda, which includes
humanitarian relief to Haiti, at 2 p.m.
Since I wasn't able to make it up there in time
last Tuesday for the actual vote on the Courthouse
issue, I'm inclined to swing-up there tomorrow
to see if there's any residual effects, or any public
speakers want to get a few things off their chest,
now that this decision has had some time to sink in.
Anthony Man's blog post from Friday, below,
includes a link to the newest version of the proposed
ethics legislation, an issue which the Herald has
largely ignored, like it does so many other issues
in Broward County.
(Did you know that the person in charge of the
Broward's Herald bureau for most of last year
was rarely present in the the Broward office in
It's all-too-true, and was told to me by a frustrated
Herald employee in a position to know who keeps
me in-the-loop on what's going down at
Herald HQ at One Herald Plaza.
They've been losing a ton of money on that building
in The Pines, too.
And did you see the column yesterday about
improved local news coverage here?
Zero about Broward, a subject I will be writing
about here on the blog later this week.)
I think it's very curious given how much the
Sun-Sentinel has proven over the years that
it loves to quote him -even on issues that
he's not qualified to speak to, per se- that
in Scott Wyman's Friday blog post, after writing
that the proposed Ethics legislation would
"ban commissioners from moonlighting as lobbyists,"
Wyman doesn't drop Steve Geller's name and
mention what he happens to thinks about this idea.
(Or what fellow lobbyist and frequent
Sun-Sentinel quote-machine and Broward
Dem Chair Mitch Caesar thinks about it?
Is it that the South Florida media can't find
Caesar, or that they don't want to incur his
wrath by pressing him to answer questions
he'd find uncomfortable and not have their
phone calls returned?)
Many if not most of the Geller supporters I've
run into -none of whom are friends of mine,
it goes without saying- not only personally
think that Geller's main rationale for running
for Commissioner is to lobby Broward cities and
govt. entities on behalf of his law firm's clients
and make a lot of money, but also think that it's
NOT an ethical problem.
They don't even think it'd be unethical for him
to lobby cities and entities located in his own
district, here in Hollywood and Hallandale Beach,
HB being a city with a mayor in Joy Cooper
who publicly said at a 2008 City Commission
meeting that I was at, that she only wished
that Geller could've stayed State Senator
Hardly surprising that such a thoroughly
anti-democratic, disingenuous -and
thin-skinned- pol like Dan Gelber-supporter
Joy Cooper doesn't care for citizen-initiated
But as most honest and observant people who've
followed things here know, Cooper has a huge ego
and sense of entitlement, which is why she had
no compunctions about telling City Manager
Mike Good to approve funds to build her a
brand new office at City Hall last January,
even though under the city's charter, the only
power she has is that of being presiding officer.
That's it -no vetoes, no nothing.
Joy Cooper is the same two-faced person
who has always said for public consumption,
especially when African-American
residents of NW HB were present,
that she was always FOR specific
geographical districts for HB commissioners.
Yet while I personally want to see it actually
become a reality, as is the case in Hollywood,
when the HB City Commission-appointed
Charter Review Commission actually brought
that proposal up to the City Commission a few
years ago, so that it could be voted upon and then,
if approved, placed on the ballot for citizens
to vote on one way or the other, Cooper & Co.
voted AGAINST it.
Yet despite that vote of her's, Cooper acts like
it never happened.
Getting back to Geller supporters now, they think
he's entitled to lobby if elected and exploit the system,
having more than once actually used the phrase
'spoils system' in a way that you don't hear much
Well, at least they're honest about it, which is more
than can be said for Geller himself in all of this.
That leads me to ask, once again, when exactly is
Steve Geller of Cooper City going to comply with
the existing law and actually move into the
Broward Commission District seat he is running for,
and when is the sleep-walking South Florida
news media going to actually press him to state
a specific date when this is going to happen?
Don't hold your breath!
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Fired school district official wins legal battle but doesn't get apology
Former inspections supervisor warned about building safety issuesBy Megan O'Matz, Sun Sentinel
February 6, 2010
If the Broward School District had listened to Charlene Rebecca Blackwood instead of firing her, could some of its construction department problems have been solved a long time ago?
Some think so.
"She was a prophet. What do they do to a lot of prophets? Try and silence them," said community activist Charlotte Greenbarg, president of The Broward Coalition, a group of condo and homeowner associations.
The school district disagrees, calling Blackwood a bully to her co-workers and an ineffective leader — characterizations she vehemently denies.
"We didn't discipline her because she raised alarms about school construction. That's her job," said Eugene K. Pettis, an attorney representing the district in the case. "But… you don't treat your staff and behave in the ways she behaved."
In November, after a four-year legal battle, the School Board agreed to settle. It awarded Blackwood $217,500 in back pay and attorney fees, and its own legal fees totaled $145,000. The settlement comes during a severe budget crisis when the district has had to cut teachers, electives, supplies and renovations.
Blackwood, 68, wanted more from the board members than money.
"I feel like I have been owed an apology," she told them in an emotional appeal last month. She did not get one.
Her saga began more than a decade ago when, as a senior supervisor of building inspectors, she began complaining that new schools were opened despite "life safety" code violations. That contractors were allowed to walk away without fixing problems. And that leaky school roofs were being repaired improperly, leading to mold and mildew.She warned that some schools that doubled as hurricane shelters had equipment on the roofs, such as air conditioners, that were not properly secured and posed a hazard in a storm. The district took steps to fix the problem, but Blackwood said it dismissed other issues, such as opening schools prematurely.
Today, years after they opened, scores of schools still are operating without documents showing they meet code.
"They didn't want an effective building department," Blackwood said in a recent interview. "They wanted to neutralize the inspectors so the contractors could not be interfered with in doing their construction. Whether it was bad or not, they didn't care."
Recent internal audits back up some of her concerns. They show inflated construction costs, overbillings, and millions of dollars wasted to fix mistakes in building designs. In September, School Board member Beverly Gallagher was indicted on charges of taking payoffs from undercover FBI agents to rig construction contracts.
Board member Stephanie Kraft said that while a lot of the issues Blackwood raised were legitimate, she was "overzealous" in her approach and alienated some co-workers, board members and key administrators.
"She didn't know how to pick her battles," Kraft said. "Everything to her was a mountain. Even the molehills were mountains. It's unfortunate because there was a lot of validity to some of the stuff she said. But because she made everything a big deal, you couldn't deal with her at all.''
Kraft acknowledged there is great urgency to open a new school on schedule. Otherwise the district has a "nightmare" of a problem housing students elsewhere.
At a hearing of a newly formed district ethics commission last month, speakers told the panel that school employees who are critical of district leaders or policies have been labeled disgruntled and retaliated against, creating fear among the ranks.
"The Blackwood case is indicative of that," Nick Sakhnovsky, chairman of a district facilities advisory council, said in an interview. "Anyone who has a contrary opinion should not immediately be shut down or vilified."
Build Broward courthouse right
Confronted by a public hostile to footing the bill for a new county courthouse, Broward Commissioners dithered but ultimately made the right call: To build anyway.
There's no arguing that the 50-year-old courthouse is in bad shape. Its many parts, three additions to the main structure, were built under lax codes and couldn't withstand a Category 2 hurricane. Mindful of the construction slump, commissioners knew they could get a good price on a new structure. However, the commission must ensure that the new building is strong, roomy enough to accommodate future growth and has a decidedly green -- as in eco-friendly -- tinge.
Voters reject tax
What made the decision so tough is that voters in 2006 rejected a tax increase to pay for a new courthouse. Broward voters, relatively friendly toward most capital-improvement bond issues, were fed up -- or else county officials did a poor job of convincing them of the need for a better facility.
Voters said, in essence: ``We elected you to lead, to be the deciders, so do it.'' Stuck between a genuine need for a new facility and taxpayers' reluctance to shell out more money for it, commissioners took responsibility.
The resulting deal won't raise property taxes, but that's based on a technicality. Taxpayers will soon pay off about $38 million in debt for libraries and parks, meaning county taxes would drop about 25 cents per $1,000 of taxable property. To pay off the debt for courthouse construction the county will assess taxpayers about five cents per $1,000 of taxable property at a time when property values are dropping. So taxes won't rise along with the new courthouse, but they won't drop as much as they could have, either.
Fill funding gap
Still, this was the most practical choice. The county has set aside $120 million for construction. It will use a legislatively mandated increase in court fees and federal stimulus money to help cover the $328 million price tag. That leaves a funding gap to be filled by the five-cent property-tax assessment.
The new courthouse's 20-story tower will be built on the west side of the current structure, adding parking, more courtrooms and offices for public defenders and prosecutors.Now that the commission has stepped up, its next task is to ensure the county gets the best construction prices and that the new courthouse is built to outlast its predecessor.
Reader comments at:
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Backlash against courthouse tax could hurt Broward commissioners
By Scott Wyman, Sun Sentinel
February 5, 2010
When Broward county commissioners decided last week to tax residents for a new courthouse, they risked the wrath of voters.
Critics warn that the backlash could cost at least some of them their jobs.
"I recognized the decision would be unpopular, but in a representative form of government, we have to do what we think is right," Commissioner Stacy Ritter said.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected the project in 2006. But the existing building has only deteriorated since.
Plumbing is so bad in the old wing of the courthouse that burst pipes have caused repeated floods. The elevators constantly break and are so antiquated that parts must be specially made.
Court workers are suing over health problems caused by pervasive mold. The electrical system is so maxed out that an employee once blew out a computer in the next office by plugging in a space heater.
Consulting engineers say the building might not survive a Category 2 hurricane.
Since the defeat at the ballot box more than three years ago, county officials reviewed and rejected options, including the renovation of the old wing or the purchase of an existing office building. They also investigated whether construction could be delayed.
The commission went with plans that cut the cost from $510 million to $328 million.
A 20-story tower will be built on land the county already owns on the downtown Fort Lauderdale court campus. The central wing will be demolished and turned into a plaza that connects the high-rise to the jail and newer court wings.
The tax increase to pay for it will cost the average homeowner $8 a year for the next 30 years. But the issue is not just the money. Some are incensed over the fact that commissioners decided to impose the tax without seeking voter approval.
"We may need a courthouse, but now is not the time," said Charlotte Greenbarg, president of the group of homeowner and condo associations known as the Broward Coalition. "We haven't hit bottom in this recession and people are hurting. Voters will be angry over the insensitivity that commissioners showed in their actions."
A task force of judges, lawyers and elected officials led the effort to explore alternatives.
Their review concluded renovating the old wing would be more costly. Not only would the interior have to be gutted and brought up to existing building codes, but the exterior walls are in such poor condition that they must be replaced.
Space would have to be leased for judicial offices and courtrooms during seven years of renovation work. The county would have to pay to renovate the leased space to accommodate court operations and meet security requirements.
The task force looked into other locations for the court building, such as the neighboring 110 Tower, but county officials decided the renovation work needed to ready an older building for court operations would be too extensive-–adding a heavy cost on top of the purchase price. They also said private buildings off the county's court campus would lack a direct link to the main jail that allows the easy movement of dangerous inmates.
Waiting also was considered unacceptable.
The county's point person on the court project, Pete Corwin, said a delay risks repeated prolong closures of the courthouse because of major maintenance problems. In recent years, the courthouse has shut down for days following some of the flooding caused by burst pipes. And there's no telling when a potentially devastating hurricane could hit the building.
Delaying a new courthouse also could increase costs, officials said. Federal assistance available through President Barack Obama's economic stimulus program is set to end this year, and interest rates and construction costs are low.
"The easier answer would be to push this off or to renovate, but those are not the right things to do," Mayor Ken Keechl said. "We have a constitutional obligation to provide space for the judiciary, and something needed to be done now."
But to Commissioner John Rodstrom, the concerns about a delay are exaggerated, contrived to ensure the result that influential judges and lawyers have long wanted. He cast one of the three votes against the courthouse.
"The fix was in," Rodstrom said. "I know there are problems and the courthouse is not in the best condition, but the time is problematic. It is time to hunker down and save money. There is an anti-tax sentiment out there, and we should listen to it."
Sun-Sentinel's Broward Politics blog
Commission could lose influence on contracting, be banned from moonlighting
Posted by Scott Wyman
February 5, 2010 09:26 AM
February 5, 2010 09:26 AM
A new ethics code being drafted for Broward County commissioners amid a growing corruption scandal will rein in their influence and require greater disclosure of their business dealings.
A task force assigned with writing a code of conduct agreed Thursday to ban commissioners from moonlighting as lobbyists and limit their control over what companies win county contracts. They’d have to disclose any contact with lobbyists on county business and their fundraising on behalf of charities and political campaigns.Read the rest of the story at:
Sun-Sentinel's Broward Politics blog
Satz wants new anti-corruption law
Posted by Anthony Man
Amid a series of public corruption scandals that have so far hauled up eight Broward and Palm Beach county officials on charges, the top prosecutors in the two counties are joining forces to seek passage of a new law tightening the screws on dishonest politicians.
“It will fill a lot of loopholes and hopefully restore peoples’ confidence in what went wrong,” Broward State Attorney Mike Satz said Thursday.Read the rest of the story at:
In compliance with Section 286.011, Florida Statutes, announcement is made of the following meetings for the week of February 7, 2010 through February 13, 2010.
This information will be posted in prominent locations at County facilities and on the County’s web page (www.broward.org/sunmeet.pdf).
If any person shall decide to appeal any decision made with respect to any matter considered at these proceedings, it shall be the responsibility of that person to ensure that a verbatim record is made including testimony and evidence upon which the appeal is to be based.
If you require any auxiliary aids to communication, please call Public Communications Office at 954-357-6990 so that arrangements can be made in advance.
February 9, 2010 - Tuesday
9:30 a.m. Meeting of the Broward County HIV Health Services Planning Council, Outreach QI Network, 915 Middle River Dr., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
10:00 a.m. Regular meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, Governmental Center Room 422, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
10:30 a.m. Meeting of Waste and Recycling Services, Resource Recovery Board, Technical Advisory Committee, Programs Subcommittee, Government Center West, Waste and Recycling Services 4th Floor Waste Wing Conference Room, 1 N. University Dr., Plantation, FL.
1:30 p.m. Meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, Proclamation Announcements and Presentations, Governmental Center Room 422, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
2:00 p.m. Public Hearing of the Board of County Commissioners, Governmental Center Room 422, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
3:00 p.m. Meeting of the Broward Healthy Start Coalition, QI/QA Committee, Broward Healthy Start Coalition, #304, 6555 Powerline Rd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
5:30 p.m. Meeting of the Housing Finance and Community Development Division, Review current Broward County State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) 2008-2010 Local Housing Assistance Plan strategies and recommend new strategies or revisions to new 2011-2013 LHAP, Housing Finance and Community Development Division, Suite 201, 110 NE Third St., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
February 10, 2010 - Wednesday
8:00 a.m. Meeting of the Ethics Commission, Governmental Center Room 430, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL. (The public is invited to attend but will only be allowed to ask questions/comment from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.)
9:00 a.m. Meeting of the Children’s Services Administration Section, Needs Assessment Committee, Governmental Center Annex Room A-370, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
9:00 a.m. Meeting of the Transportation Department, Review community bus 2010 interlocal agreements, Mass Transit Division Administration Bldg. #1, 2nd Floor Conference Room, 3201 W. Copans Rd., Pompano Beach, FL.
10:00 a.m. Meeting of the Emergency Management Agency, Emergency Coordinating Council; Forum to foster coordination between county and municipal governments in Broward County, with other public and private organizations, which plan for and respond to disasters and other emergencies; Emergency Operations Center, 201 NW 84th Ave., Plantation, FL.
10:30 a.m. Meeting of the Cultural Division, Broward Cultural Council, Public Art and Design Committee, Main Library, Bienes Conference Room on 6th Floor, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
1:00 p.m. Meeting of the Aviation Department, RLI #R0729109R1, Professional Design Services for New South Runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to include full design of the New South Runway and preparation of the Design Criteria Package for Runway/Taxiway Structures; Post, Buckley, Schuh, and Jernigan, Inc.; Negotiations, Aviation Department Airport Development Conference Room, 100 Aviation Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
2:30 p.m. Meeting of the Enterprise Technology Services, Computronix Master Agreement, Negotiation, Governmental Center County Attorney Office 423, Conference Room No. 4, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
3:00 p.m. Meeting of Waste and Recycling Services; In lieu of scheduled Infrastructure Subcommittee meeting, a tour of the Reuter Recyling Facility will be held; 20701 Pembroke Road, Pembroke Pines, FL.
3:30 p.m. Meeting of the Office of Economic and Small Business Development, Broward County/Greater Fort Lauderdale Broward Economic Development Alliance, New Five Year Agreement for Economic Development Services, Negotiation, Governmental Center Room 430, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
5:30 p.m. Meeting of the Housing Finance and Community Development Division, Housing Finance Authority of Broward County, Suite 201, 110 NE 3rd St., Ft Lauderdale, FL.
6:30 p.m. Meeting of the Planning and Redevelopment Division, Broward County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Discuss issues regarding bicycles and pedestrians and advise Board of County Commissioners, Governmental Center Room 329F, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
February 11, 2010 - Thursday
8:30 p.m. Meeting of the Aviation Department, Contract #T308103CAF, Cost impact to comply with runway safety and phasing for airfield modifications, Central Florida Equipment Rentals, Negotiation, Aviation Department, 100 Aviation Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
9:00 a.m. Meeting of the Construction Management Division, RLI #200030904-0CM-01, New Courthouse – Optional Services to Consultant Services Contract, Spillis/Candela/Heery/Cartaya, Negotiations, Governmental Center Annex Room A-550, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
9:30 a.m. Meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization; Discuss prioritization of transportation projects, to ensure local transportation issues are addressed and funds are appropriately allocated; Governmental Center Room 422, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
9:30 a.m. Meeting of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, Tourist Development Council, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Suite 200, 100 E. Broward Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
9:30 a.m. Meeting of the Office of Public Communications, 2010 Census Complete Count Committee, Promotions Subcommittee, Ongoing planning, Governmental Center Room 302, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
10:00 a.m. Meeting of the Seaport Engineering and Construction Division, RLI #20050927-CPD-1, General Architectural Services at Port Everglades, Third Amendment to Agreement, Bermello Ajamil & Partners, Negotiations, Port Administration Bldg., Room 301, 1850 Eller Dr., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
10:00 a.m. Meeting of Water and Wastewater Services, RLI #R0728501R1, Energy Performance at Water and Wastewater Services, Chevron Energy Solutions, Negotiations, WWS Administration Bldg. No. 1, Administration Board Room on 1st Floor, 2555 W. Copans Rd., Pompano Beach, FL.
11:00 a.m. Meeting of the Management and Efficiency Study Committee, Procurement Subcommittee, Governmental Center Annex Room A-460, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
11:00 a.m. Or immediately following the Fire Chief’s Provider meeting, Meeting of the Office of Medical Examiner and Trauma Services, First There First Care Conference Committee, Office of Medical Examiner and Trauma Services Conference Room, 5301 SW 31st Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
1:00 p.m. Meeting of the Broward Regional Health Planning Council, Inc.; System of Care Workgroup, System of Care Planning in Circuit 17, Broward Regional Health Planning Council, Conference Room 115, 915 Middle River Dr., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
1:00 p.m. Meeting of the Purchasing Division, Reconvene Selection Committee, RLI #R0754608R1, Wind Mitigation, Governmental Center Room 430, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
2:00 p.m. Meeting of the Seaport Engineering and Construction Division, RLI #113098-RB, Berth No. 34 Consultant Services, Third Amendment to Agreement, CH2M Hill, Negotiations, Port Administration Bldg. Legal Conference Room on 5th Floor, 1850 Eller Dr., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
3:00 p.m. Meeting of the Public Safety Coordinating Committee, Main Courthouse, Court Administration Conference Room, North Wing, 201 SE 6th St., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
6:00 p.m. Meeting of the Cultural Division, Broward Cultural Council, Social Networking between Emerging Cultural Leaders and Broward Cultural Council, 9360 NW 18th Dr., Plantation, FL.
February 12, 2010 - Friday
8:00 a.m. Meeting of the Ethics Commission, Governmental Center Room 430, 115 S. Andrews Ave., Ft. Lauderdale, FL. (The public is invited to attend but will only be allowed to ask questions and/or comment from 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.)
2:30 p.m. Meeting of the Broward County HIV Health Services Planning Council, Mental Health/Substance Abuse QI Network, 915 Middle River Dr., Ft. Lauderdale, FL.