Hallandale Beach Blog -A common sense public policy overview offering a critical perspective on the current events, politics, government, public policy, sports scene and pop culture of Europe, Sweden, the U.S. & South Florida. In particular, Broward & Miami-Dade County, and the cities of Hallandale Beach, Hollywood & Aventura.
Trust me when I tell you, this part of Florida is NOT the Land of Lincoln. Pictured in upper-left is Hallandale Beach's iconic beachball-colored Water Tower on State Road A1A; September 2008 photo by South Beach Hoosier. © 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Part I: Investigating the continuing dysfunction, lack of appropriate disclosure of public information and the generally imperious anti-citizen attitude at Hallandale Beach City Hall under Mayor Joy Cooper; Matters that anyone could see if they just looked -I looked and here's what I found in late February 2013

This email was the first of two emails sent to City of Hallandale Beach (COHB) officials and employees at Hallandale Beach City Hall in the last week of February regarding longstanding problems that citizens continue to experience with the lack of timely public disclosure of public information, proper legal public noticing of scheduled public meetings, and the continuing problems with the city's clunky website, to say nothing of very curious choices about what is and is NOT placed on the city website by city officials.

It's instructive to note that any Hallandale Beach resident or visitor going to the city's website would've found the very same things that I did when I was looking. 

My only advantage, if you can call it that, was being familiar enough with how poorly-constructed the city's website is and how decidedly non-user friendly it is, with almost no intuitive feel to it at all.

And, of course, the common sense borne of experience to actually notice what was missing and to be able to double-check other places on the website to see if it'd been placed there by either mistake or on purpose, or was simply MIA.

For the tens of millions of dollars the City of Hallandale Beach annually spends, it doesn't seem unreasonable to me and many other concerned residents and small business owners in this city to expect that a current city employee drawing a paycheck actually engages in some degree of quality control and checks things once in a while, to see if everything is where it is supposed to be, and to aggressively fix problems when they encounter them, something which is NOT happening now.

Not by any stretch of the imagination.

A reasonable person might think that the head of the city's IT Dept, Ted Lamott, or the city's public spokesperson, Peter Dobens, might be the two people who by title are the ones that ought to be doing that as part of their job already.

That it wouldn't actually be necessary to mention it to them.

Yes, because that is more or less what they're already being paid for, isn't it, public communication.

And yet we STILL have a website that is not well-organized enough, one that lacks even a basic directory that is properly constructed.

Instead, when searching for information, even when you use the proper name or subject fields, relevant and germane information does NOT appear.
And much of the information placed on the website is placed there in a format that is NOT searchable.

Why would you consciously chose to do that unless what you want to do is make the search query more difficult for users instead of easier?

Lamott and Dobens are paid to make information available to the people who need it, including taxpayers and residents, but nobody I know in this city thinks they're getting their money's worth from either one of them, and that includes yours truly.

Two years ago, I spoke in minute detail to Lamott following a City Commission meeting he had spoken at, after which I spoke for three minutes under public comments about the longstanding website problems that continued to be ignored by him and the city.

We spoke outside the Commission Chambers in the City Hall breezeway and I told him with one glaring example after another that taxpayers were fed-up with problems never being resolved to their satisfaction.
I gave him my contact information and told him that i expected him to get cracking on fixing the problems.

Well, this being where we are, I'm sure that regular readers of the blog will not be surprised to discover that none of the specific website problems I told him about were ever dealt with, and Lamott never contacted me, despite having proclaimed how much he wanted feedback.

Yes, the same exact situation that has occurred so many times in the past with me and others I know in dealing with HB city employees.

They say they want to know but when you tell them what the problems are, you never hear from them again, i.e the Jennifer Frastai Rule.

This email was sent on February 26th, 2013 to the following people:

Sheena James, City Clerk, COHB; Ted Lamott, Director of IT, COHB; Renee C. Miller, City 
Manager, COHB; V. Lynn Whitfield; City Attorney, COHB; Liza Torres, CRA Director, COHB;
Michele Lazarow, Commissioner, COHB -just elected in November and someone I voted for.

Why isn't today's Hallandale Beach Planning & Zoning meeting listed on the city's website calendar?

Last month's CRA Advisory Board meeting, a meeting mandated by the City Commission in December, as well as the eventual Visioning meeting, were also NOT listed on the city website's calendar.

Additionally, that CRA Advisory Board meeting was NOT posted on City Hall's public notice bulletin board near the elevator, even as the meeting was starting.

Why in the year 2013 is getting accurate and timely PUBLIC information onto the city's own website SUCH a difficult and continuing problem for the city?

And shouldn't making sure that public information is actually made public quickly something that logically Peter Dobens should be responsible for, given not only what his position is in the city, Title: Public Relations / Public Information http://www.hallandalebeachfl.gov/directory.aspx?eid=165 but former City Manager Mark Antonio's tortured rationale for why the city would hire yet another employee in the first place to perform such tasks?

Before Dobens was hired, Antonio was very adamant at public meetings about that and yet taxpayers and residents continue to see the city fail or unable to do very simple tasks with regard to making public information "public" that other cities seem to be able to do quite easily.

Why in the year 2013 is the city sometimes using Micro Office Word 97 for the P&Z agenda instead of PDF, as is the case today?

Who, specifically, decided to change the format of the HB P&Z meeting Minutes from Verbatim to Action Minutes, given that those meetings are held during the day when few people can attend, instead of at night as they ought to be, or, as I'd prefer, Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. when the largest number of Hallandale Beach residents can attend and participate?

On complicated or controversial matters, someone who was did not physically attend the meeting would have a very hard time following just how it came to be that decisions were made the way they were, if one were to rely solely on the new Minutes format.

Context is important and under a new system that eliminates context, a HB resident or interested party is left with few choices other than to try to find someone who attended the  meeting and have them explain what happened and why.

As someone who has been VERY critical publicly of the city's website for many years at public meetings for self-evident reasons, what are taxpayers to make of the fact that on the website now, in Docs  under "General Announcements," there has been nothing added there since January of 2012?

Thirteen months without any additions of any kind?

This has the cumulative effect of making me and other residents think that a.) a lot of relevant material is completely missing and was never uploaded when it was supposed to be, and should still be now, and, b.) that the whole category needs to be completely re-imagined and re-configured to be made more accurate and timely so that residents can find information more easily.

There should also be a parameter on that category, if it is kept, that allows a customer to pull either up "Most Recent" or "Most Popular" or both, so you don't have to swim thru ALL the listed documents while looking for something specific.

Frankly, the current category and layout has the practical effect of making you forget what you are actually looking for about halfway thru wading thru the list.

Why are Mayor Cooper's so-called (South Florida Sun-Times) "columns" posted on the city's website?

I would appreciate it if you could please forward to me the name and contact information for the CRA Advisory Board's attorney, as they are not listed on the city's website. 

As it happens, there's nothing current or accurate on the city's website about when the CRA Advisory Board will have their next meeting, or even whether they still need members, and if so, for what categories. http://www.hallandalebeachfl.gov/?nid=50#HBCRA

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Hallandale Beach Blog is where I try to inject or superimpose a degree of accountability, transparency and insight onto Florida and local Broward County government and public policy issues, which I feel is sorely lacking in local media now. On this blog, locally, I concentrate my energy, enthusiasm, anger and laser-like attention on the coastal cities of Hallandale Beach and Hollywood.
If you lived in this part of South Florida, you'd ALREADY be stuck in stultifying traffic, paying higher-than-necessary taxes and continually musing about the chronic lack of accountability among not only elected govt. officials, but also of city, county and state employees as well. Collectively, with a few rare exceptions, they couldn't be farther from the sort of strong results-oriented, eager work-ethic mentality that local residents deserve and expect.
This is particularly true in the town I live in, the City of Hallandale Beach, just north of Aventura and south of Hollywood. There, the "Perfect Storm" of years of apathy, incompetency and cronyism are all too readily apparent.
Sadly for its residents, HB is where even easily-solved, quality-of-life problems are left to fester for YEARS on end, because of myopia, lack of common sense and ineffective supervisory management. It's a city with lots of potential because of its terrific location, yet its citizens have become numb to its outrages and screw-ups after years of the worst kind of mismanagement and lack of foresight. On a daily basis, they wake up and see the same old problems that have never being adequately resolved by the city in a logical and responsible fashion, merely kicked -once again- further down the road.
I used to ask myself, not always rhetorically, "Where are all the enterprising young reporters who want to show that through their own hard work and enterprise, what REAL investigative reporting can produce?" Hearing no response, I decided to start a blog that could do some of these things, taking the p.o.v. of a reasonable but skeptical person seeing the situation for the first time, and wanting questions answered in a honest and logical way that citizens have the right to expect.

Hallandale Beach Blog intends to be a catalyst for positive change. If there's one constant gripe in South Florida, regardless of your age, race, nationality or political persuasion, it's about the fundamental lack of PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY here among Florida's state, regional and local govt./agency officials. Hallandale Beach Blog aims to be a small step towards regaining some of that needed accountability, whether it's thru simple public scrutiny, or requires a degree of follow-up investigation and public exposure of incompetency, cronyism or simple negligence -South Florida's usual governing style.
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Some older elements and building blocks formerly seen at Hallandale Beach Blog, such as photos, graphics and videos have been moved into cold storage. Visit them again or see what you've missed at: http://hallandale-beach-blog.blogspot.com/

New this year: you!

New this year: you!
Close-up photo of the cute head-turning window display at the Apotek Hjärtat -Sweden's largest independent pharmacy chain- located at Ringvägen 113, near the Skanstull T-bana in Södermalm, Stockholm. Sign reads, "Årets nyhet: du! Ett helt nytt och obrukat år är här. Just nu känns det lite lättare att välja om, förändra vanor och bryta gamla mönster. Vi hjälper gärna till. Du vill, du kan, du törs!' (New this year: you! A brand new and unused year is here. Right now it feels a little easier to choose, change habits and break old patterns. We're happy to help. You want to, you can, you dare!) Sounds like good advice that I ought to be following, too! January 12, 2013 photo by South Beach Hoosier.© 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved

Paradise Lost? South Florida

Paradise Lost? South Florida
TIME magazine of November 23, 1981: Paradise Lost? South Florida . Click photo to see original article.

A fish rots from the head down, and so does local government in Hallandale Beach, FL

A fish rots from the head down, and so does local government in Hallandale Beach, FL
City of Hallandale Beach Municipal Complex, 400 S. Federal Highway. The City of Hallandale Beach Municipal Complex: If it's true that a fish rots from the head down, so it does in local government in Broward County, FL. This monument sign on the west side of the intersection of U.S.-1 and S.E. 5th Street, across from Gulfstream Park Race Track & Casino and the Village at Gulfstream Park retail complex, alerts you to your proximity to HB City Hall and the HB Police Department HQ. It's a place and culture whose very own words and actions have made clear to taxpayers of this city -regardless of age, race or income- that it holds itself apart from and above from the very citizens it's supposed to serve, often acting like they don't have to follow the same laws that govern everyone else in the state of Florida and the U.S., whether of logic, reason or contracts. (More to the point of this blog, the Florida Statutes on Sunshine Laws and Public Records.) City employees in Hallandale Beach routinely refuse to answer perfectly reasonable questions posed to them by taxpayers, and as I have found out myself and witnessed, are not above berating you for even having the nerve to ask! As it happens, it's also not a very safe area, despite who operates here, and over the past nine years, the public parking lots have often been pitch-black for 6-9 months at a time, including in front of the HB Police Dept. HQ. Then-Police Chief Thomas Magill even shrugged his shoulders at City Comm. meetings when told about this a few times. As if they couldn't make a worse first impression, at one point, even the spotlights shining on this sign didn't work at night for over FOUR YEARS, either. October 13, 2012 photo by South Beach Hoosier. © 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved.

Palm tree, Stars & Stripes

Palm tree, Stars & Stripes
Palm tree obstructing the sun at Hallandale Beach City Hall, May 28, 2012 photo by South Beach Hoosier. © 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved

Gulfstream Park Race Track & Casino and Village at GP retail complex, Hallandale Beach, FL

Gulfstream Park Race Track & Casino and Village at GP retail complex, Hallandale Beach, FL
Entrance monument to Gulfstream Park Race Track & Casino and The Village at Gulfstream Park retail complex on U.S.-1 & SE 3rd St. Hallandale Beach, FL. October 5, 2010 photo by South Beach Hoosier. © 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved

Hallandale Beach Water Tower, looking east from State Road A1A/South Ocean Drive; May 2009 photo by South Beach Hoosier.© 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved

Singer/songwriter Full of Keys (Anni Bernhard)

Singer/songwriter Full of Keys (Anni Bernhard)
Singer/songwriter Full of Keys (Anni Bernhard) wearing the teal-colored Miami Dolphins cap I gave her in January 2013 (in Stockholm) while recording her 2nd album, "The Grazing Grounds" at Sandkvie Studios in Visby, Gotland, Sweden. Also pictured here are sound engineer and co-producer Linus Larsson and musician/DJ/co-producer Mats Jönsson, April 12, 2013.Click the photo to see her videos, read my blog posts and Tweets about her and learn more about this dynamic and original talent with personality to spare!

North Miami Beach Senior High School, the Home of the Chargers

North Miami Beach Senior High School, the Home of the Chargers
Before I was a Hoosier, I was an NMB Charger, Class of 1979.

In the Heart of a Great Country, Beats the Soul of Hoosier Nation

In the Heart of a Great Country, Beats the Soul of Hoosier Nation
"In the Heart of a Great Country, Beats the Soul of Hoosier Nation." -South Beach Hoosier, 2007.

Let's end the 28-year NCAA title drought!

Let's end the 28-year NCAA title drought!
IU All-American and U.S. Olympian Steve Alford on the cover of the 1987 Indiana University basketball media guide, months after IU won the NCAA basketball title.

The NCAA Championship Banners

The NCAA Championship Banners
Assembly Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. I was there in 1981 for NCAA Title #4 vs. North Carolina. Click on photo to go to the IU Basketball homepage.

Sebastian the Ibis, the U-M mascot

Sebastian the Ibis, the U-M mascot
Like longtime U-M fans everywhere, including me, Sebastian the Ibis, the U-M mascot, hasn't had very much to cheer about lately, given the general state of mediocrity and underwhelming performances coming from the Hurricanes. Isn't it about time for fans to finally see some tangible signs that the new AD is moving things in the right direction? Where are the signs? I'm NOT seeing them. The woeful U-M Women's program is largely composed of teams that are NOT even close to being competitive for NCAA titles like their ACC competition, and they don't even field Women's Lacrosse or Field Hockey teams. It's embarrassing! Click on Sebastian for retrospective photo gallery of The Orange Bowl

Using a map of Stockholm and my Samsung mobile's Latitude app to find out where some friends and contacts in Stockholm were before I called to let them know I'd arrived from Arlanda Airport and had checked into the B&B in Södermalm. If only it had been an OpenStreetMap! January 2013 photo by South Beach Hoosier.© 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved; Click the photo to see OpenStreetMap's amazing map of Stockholm and a whole world of useful maps you never even knew existed

Solrea - Sveriges bästa resesök

Solrea - Sveriges bästa resesök
The colder and snowier it got in Stockholm, the more this simple ad seemed like genius. Sometimes, you don't have to reinvent the advertising wheel. When you're a travel agency and it's cold and snowing, make your target audience think of summers and traveling to an inviting warm beach. Above, one of the many Sistaminuten.se display ads I saw on the side of pay phones throughout Stockholm. This one was located on Ringvägen, across the street from the Åhléns Dept. store (with the Hemköp grocery store in the basement that I frequented) west of busy Götgatan and the Skanstull T-bana, the southern commercial heart of trendy and fun Södermalm. January 11, 2013 photo by South Beach Hoosier.© 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved. I used this photo in my April 22, 2013 blog post titled, Tourism game-changer for South Florida travelers & Fort Lauderdale-area businesses -but only if they're smart and start planning now. Ruminations on the upcoming Norwegian.com flights b/w Ft. Lauderdale and Oslo, Stockholm & Copenhagen, and the need for Broward's hospitality industry to take full-advantage of the opportunity; @Oslo, @norway, @stockholm, @sweden, @copenhagen, @denmark. Click photo to see that post

More travel advertising in Stockholm

More travel advertising in Stockholm
Speaking of advertising, only two blocks from the wonderful 4trappor B&B I stayed at in Södermalm, Stockholm on my trip -and also located on Ringvägen- were two more display ads promoting travel. The one in the distance is for SAS, Scandinavian Airlines Systems, which I flew on to Stockholm, and the one in the foreground, on a public telephone booth, is the "Holiday is where the Heart is" ad campaign for VING. January 12, 2013 photo by South Beach Hoosier.© 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved. Click the photo to see their TV ad!

Risk för snöras, istappar

Risk för snöras, istappar
One of the many such warning signs that I saw on buildings and on sidewalk barricades while in Stockholm in mid-January 2013, alerting you to the possibility of falling snow and ice, often by men shoveling it off roofs. This one was spotted on a residential building in the Södermalm area of Stockholm, on Ringvägen, while I was walking over to the Åhléns Department store on Götgatan. It wasn't until I was walking back later to the B&B that I noticed the inflated Santa that some resident had intentionally placed outside of their window, so it looked like Santa was falling! January 13, 2013 photo by South Beach Hoosier.© 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved.

Ringvägen, Stockholm, Sweden

Ringvägen, Stockholm, Sweden
Poster display on Ringvägen, Stockholm, Sweden. January 2013 photo by South Beach Hoosier. © 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved. The Affischplats plan in Stockholm, while not perfect, strikes me as a pretty good compromise in helping cultural and civic groups catch the public's eye in a way that's better than a free-for-all of groups plastering posters on the sides of buildings and utility boxes, and watching as the weather makes a mess of them. The tangible effort the city makes to get the public involved in a genuine and meaningful conversation about what is going on long-term for the city as a whole, or in a particular neighborhood, is very impressive, and made me wishful that the local government employees and planners where I live and write about regularly in my blog and in conversations with other concerned civic activists did even one-third of what Stockholm's planning employees seem to do as a starting-point.