Some had already seen it, but it proved to be quite a healthy cold shower for those who'd thought that as ridiculous as some of the anti-Amendment 4 rhetoric had gotten the past few months, there was no way that any of Florida's local governments would be stupid enough to try to mess with something as basic as listening to the will of the people as expressed thru a vote. Forgetting, of course, where we live.
Judging by the responses I got throughout the day via emails, I think it's safe to say that those few people have been completely dis-abused of this lazy thinking now, after digesting the true significance of this column.
I also wondered if perhaps the Republican National Committee might not end up having some doubts about the logic of awarding the 2012 Republican National Convention to the Tampa Bay area after hearing about this kind of anti-democratic nonsense masquerading as public policy, which, frankly, is straight out of the Florida League of Cities playbook.
Well, in any activity affecting government and the public's rights in Florida, someone inevitably has to earn the sobriquet of "Most brazen."
Far too often, our mismanaged and unethical City Hall crew here in Hallandale Beach makes our city the unwitting winners in competitions where there are no real winners, http://sunshinereview.org/index.php/Hallandale_Beach,_Florida but for once, it looks like HB is going to have to simply watch from the stands as St. Petersburg makes a mockery out of democracy and voting.
I, for one, am happy to let them take the slings and arrows, though I'm sure that the City of Miami, given their track record of late, per their recent CRA shenanigans -see below- is working hard on 'halftime adjustments' so they can try to catch-up and then pass St. Pete in the waning days to win that dubious title.
If anyone can do it, it's the City of Miami.
Past columns of St. Pete Times columnist Howard Troxler are at: http://www.tampabay.com/writers/howard-troxler
He's one of a number of their columnists and reporters that I link to on my blog also.
That's not by accident.
St. Petersburg Times
St. Petersburg's cynical plan to thwart Amendment 4 (redux)
By Howard Troxler, Times Columnist
In Print: Thursday, July 29, 2010
With St. Petersburg's final decision not until September, let's take another look at that city's attempt to thwart Amendment 4.
Amendment 4 on this November's ballot is known as "Hometown Democracy." It says that voters of each Florida city and county should have direct say over certain growth decisions.
By "certain growth decisions," I mean changes to each city and county's "comprehensive plan," a huge, complicated document governed by state law. Every city and county in Florida has one.
Right off the bat let's suppose that Hometown Democracy is just a terrible idea. All those elections!
The issue here is what St. Petersburg proposes to do if the voters pass it anyway.
Here is St. Petersburg's idea:
The city is creating a decoy map, calling it the only "plan" covered by Amendment 4, and declaring that this simplistic, pretty-colored map is the only thing voters control.
Meanwhile, the city's real comprehensive plan — and the real decisions about where developers will build — would stay under the control of the City Council.
It is a trick that will surely be challenged in court.
Naturally, the City Council approved it by a 7-1 vote on its first reading.
The city bats its eyes sweetly and claims that it is just trying to make Amendment 4 "better."
(This reminds me of an off-color joke; e-mail me at email@example.com and I'll tell it to you.)
The city also claims that it would still hold an election for most big developments. I do not believe that for one nanosecond.
(1) The whole idea of Amendment 4 is to achieve voter control of comprehensive plans — REAL comprehensive plans. Creating a decoy plan does not make Amendment 4 "better." It guts it.
(2) The argument that Amendment 4 is a bad idea still cannot justify the city's end-run around the Constitution.
Amendment 4 might be a lousy idea. But if 60 percent of the voters of this state vote in November to put it in our Constitution anyway, then the city should obey it.
The mayor and members of the City Council took an oath to defend the Constitution, didn't they? Or did each one mutter under his or her breath, right hand in the air: "Except when I know better than the stupid voters"?
(3) If this trickery is allowed to stand by the courts, then the petition process in the Florida Constitution is meaningless.
This is the most important thing at stake. The Constitution is even more important than what the Sembler Co. is going to build next.
If the government in Florida can defy the voters by tricks and labels, then the Constitution does not matter. The voters can pass any change, and the government can just re-name the thing in question and go on with its business as usual.
In sum, this is a disingenuous attempt to dodge democracy.
It speaks poorly for the seven council members who voted for it. It speaks poorly for the mayor and his staff who are pushing it. It is morally wrong.
How can the City Council do it? How can its members walk around in public, holding their heads high, proud of trying to beat down the ignorant riff-raff, proud of trying to block citizens from running their own democracy and their own Constitution, all so they can keep letting developers build what they want?
2 Miami commissioners want CRA funds to pay staff
By Charles Rabin
Posted July 21, 2010
Two Miami commissioners want to transfer $105,000 from community redevelopment funds to their own offices, a move experts say could be illegal and skirts the intent of helping blighted communities.
The request, to be voted on Thursday, comes as commissioners grapple with a free-falling city budget -- and as they look for ways to shore up their own staff finances.
"They're over budget in their commission offices, big time,'' said Mayor Tomás Regalado, among those questioning the idea.
Legal experts say Community Redevelopment Agency money -- intended to spur redevelopment in blighted areas -- should not be shifted outside the impacted communities. If the vote passes Thursday, the CRA money would flow to City Hall in Coconut Grove, well outside the targeted districts.
Two commissioners head CRA districts, and both support the transfer: Richard P. Dunn II and Chairman Marc Sarnoff.
Commissioners, who make up the CRA boards, are being asked to take $52,500 from the Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA and transfer that money to their district offices to cover "necessary expenses incurred in the discharge of duties.''
That CRA district is run by Dunn. The same total is being sought at the Omni CRA, headed by Sarnoff.
Dunn said top staffers in his office, such as chief aide Alexander Koteles, spend about 30 percent of their time dealing with CRA issues, visiting constituents to study their concerns. CRA money "goes to the commissioner's budget to cover for the person who spends time at the CRA,'' said Dunn.
Sarnoff echoed Dunn.
"You have all those obligations you never had before,'' said Sarnoff.
The two resolutions would grant the respective chairs $30,000, and each other commissioner $15,000.
Some observers question the wisdom -- and legality -- of such a move.
"It's a real gray area because you're not allowed to spend CRA money on city services,'' said Brad Knoeffler, a Park West developer. "They don't have any money in the general fund. They're looking for money.''
The state says property tax dollars accumulated in a CRA district must stay within that boundary. The statute also demands CRA money be spent on projects that have a chance of bringing economic vitality to an area.
In a letter to Dunn, CRA Executive Director James Villacorta, a former assistant city attorney, quoted a state statute that says a ``commissioner shall receive no compensation for services, but is entitled to the necessary expenses, including travel expenses, incurred in the discharge of duties.''
Frank Schnidman, director of the Center for Urban Redevelopment Education at Florida Atlantic University, disputed Villacorta's opinion.
Commissioners are ``basically providing a slush fund out of CRA money that is supposed to be used for slum and blight. It's an attitude that's pervasive in Miami,'' Schnidman said.
Replied Dunn: ``I disagree. A slush fund is when something is provided without services.''
Schnidman and Knoeffler believe the CRA money would be better spent on propping up local businesses in Park West, Overtown or the Omni area.
Dunn says he's in a tough spot. Commission budgets have been slashed to under $250,000.
That money comes from the city's general fund, or through property tax dollars. Office staff is paid through a commissioner's budget.
Sarnoff said a pair of audits show his office is over budget after being slashed in the cost-cutting move by the city, which is on the brink of financial collapse. But Sarnoff says he has enough unspent money from previous years he can roll over to balance his books.
"But yes, under both budgets, we'd be over budget,'' said Sarnoff.
Dunn, who admits his office is slightly over budget, denies using CRA money to balance his books.
"No I'm not,'' said Dunn. ``I mean it helps. It helps to stabilize my books.''
Not mentioned here on the press page for the City of Miami CRA when I checked Thursday afternoon, http://ci.miami.fl.us/cra/Press_Releases.htm, is the fact that the Miami City Commission fired multi-area CRA Director James Villacorta late last Thursday night.
Miami Commission fires head of Community Redevelopment Agencies http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/07/23/1743826/miami-commission-fires-head-of.html
This comes as no surprise to anyone with common sense who watched in dismay the way the City of Miami put logic on its head by intentionally changing the boundaries of the CRAs, without a public vote for affected voters, in order to scare up more public money for the poorly-located Marlins Stadium in Little Havana, on the site of the iconic Orange Bowl.
That karma is going to be a real bitch in a few years!