Hallandale Beach Blog -A common sense public policy overview offering a critical perspective on the current events, politics, govt., public policy, sports scene and pop culture of the U.S., South Florida, Europe and Sweden. 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 me, South Beach Hoosier. © 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Part 2 of 2 - re Hallandale Beach's groundbreaking tonight at B.F. James Park and the lingering controversy re the swimming pool situation in this small city. How a death at a city pool in 1991 -and race identity politics- continues to roil this city's political and financial decisions. How poor choices made today out of anger or opportunism by Cooper, Sanders & Lewy may sharply limit the options of a majority of city residents for years into the future

Part 2 of 2 - re Hallandale Beach's groundbreaking tonight at B.F. James Park and the lingering controversy re the swimming pool situation in this small city. How a death at a city pool in 1991 -and race identity politics- continues to roil this city's political and financial decisions. How poor choices made today out of anger or opportunism by Cooper, Sanders & Lewy may sharply limit the options of a majority of city residents for years into the future 
I've heard from a few different people regarding what I wrote yesterday about tonight's groundbreaking tonight at B.F. James Park, and how the cost of that park doubling up to $5 Million, as a result of what's being done with a swimming pool there, may well mean that there's now NOT enough money to fix South Beach Park, which is actually the busiest park in the city and the busiest part of the city beach.

Some of the readers who wrote thought I might be unaware of what happened here years ago, and how many of those negative attitudes I described in my email and subsequent blog post here might explain some things we are seeing now, so felt obliged to tell me what they remembered.

Long story short: Five-year old boy drowns at City of Hallandale swimming pool in 1995 that was later known as Peter Bluesten Park....Big lawsuit against the city...
This drowning comes four years after City of Hallandale closed and then covered-up a swimming pool at Dixie Park in Northwest Hallandale, outraging residents.

It's all largely in the 1995 Miami Herald article I have copied and pasted at the bottom of today's email/blog post so you know the facts as publicly stated.

Though I wasn't living in HB then, being up in Arlington County, VA -45-minute walk from Key Bridge and Georgetown- I have read lots of the newspaper articles about what really happened at that city pool and have met and heard people from NW and elsewhere complain about how indignant and angry they were that the HB City's Commission of the time's
ham-handed response.
This followed by four years the city closing and then covering-up of a pool in NW HB, rather than resolve the larger questions that existed at the time.
Like fixing and rehabbing the pool complex and not neglecting it so much in the future. 

(Though to be fair, there STILL seems to be a lot of misunderstanding and "mis-remembering" of the basic facts of the case, and some of that is responsible for the lingering and unsupported conjecture about what "really happened." 
In our community, just as is true with lots of others in this country, some people much prefer to have their own "facts" they choose to believe, and ignore facts they deem inconvenient.)

The NW community felt like they'd been taken advantage of and punished for the simplest of all reasons -they had been! 

I also know from first-hand experience that that incident was brought up A LOT when Comm. Sanders was running for office the first time in the weeks before the Nov. 2008 election, after he had been appointed in that sham procedure that summer that Arturo O'Neill, sitting next to me in the Commission Chambers, predicted moments before it happened.

The one where Mayor Cooper intentionally ignored the city's established rules and procedures for filling a vacancy that had been used the year before -with Keith London after Joe Gibbons was elected to the Florida Houseand refused to let the public speak at the meeting.

That's a meeting that someone at Mike Satz's office should have been able to use as a stepping stone towards a big promotion if anyone there had been paying even the slightest attention, given ALL the illegality and fraud that intentionally and knowingly took place that night.

Sanders and his supporters specifically argued that if Sanders or another African- American from NW was not there on the dais, there would always be the possibility that the city's powers-that-be at HB City Hall, who in the past as well as today, continue to show a disturbing patronizing and  condescending anti-democratic, anti-resident attitude, would do the same
thing again.

That's a hard thing to argue against when you know it's 100% true, which is a psychological burden that anyone who wants better and smarter pro-reform people on the HB City Commission as a whole, like me and so many others of you in this city honestly DO, have to deal with, even though we had nothing to do with why that psychological burden is actually there from 18 years ago..

The problem, of course, is that the very person who is there from NW is so completely unsatisfactory and underwhelming, so consistently NOT up to the task of the very job he ran for and won -twice.

That's why I specifically mention online in my blog on how consistently and rather maddeningly unprepared Comm. Sanders is for meetings, his very poor communication skills with constituents -ignoring them for years by refusing to return phone calls and emails, and then, per the very controversial Diplomat LAC proposal, refused to come to the affected neighborhood in NE HB! 
Something I've mentioned many times on this blog when it happened.

In the days before that Diplomat LAC issue came before them, people from other parts of Broward County who served on Broward's Planning Council -like HB Comm. Michele Lazarow does now- actually drove to HB to see for themselves the area in question and see how it might be negatively affected by all the many condo towers the size of The Duo, esp. traffic, because THEY were so conscientious and keen to know all the facts and as much context as possible re such an important public policy decision.
A decision that they well understood would permanently change the face of this city, with its ONE east-west road thru the city.

Meanwhile, a member of the HB City Commission continually refused to meet with HB residents in their own NE neighborhood -Comm. Sanders.

Yes, Comm. Sanders, who runs for elective office only to ignore the majority of the city's residents -constituents!- from the start! 
Most people would do the exact opposite once they got elected to keep them motivated and in the fold, but his choice is to ignore them

I've really hit hard on Comm. Sanders lack of a work ethic when it comes to the most basic aspects of his job, regardless of where he lives: ensuring proper oversight and public accountability of the city's operations by the elected city commission.

Oversight, the one thing Sanders is supposed to do is the very thing he consistently is least interested in, because he's unwilling to do the work required, preferring instead to swallow whole everything he is told by the City Manager's staff, which comes with an agenda that is NOT positive for either HB residents, taxpayers or small business owners.

Comm. Sanders is, by any reasonable standards, woefully unprepared and even worse as his votes earlier this month re the HB CRA showed, unwilling to change, adapt or evolve.
Unwilling to do the right thing when the golden opportunity is just sitting there, waiting for him to put-up or shut-up after all these years, per the AG's Opinion or getting the FL JLAC to do an audit of the HB CRA.

Instead, Sanders did what he has always done -protect the mayor's flank and given in to the very city employees who are responsible for so very much of the longstanding problems in this city, problems that are NEVER properly and permanently fixed, solved or eliminated.

And so here we are... again, spending more money than is either logical or prudent, all because of what happened in the past in this small city.
Which will limit our community's choices in the future. 

-----
Miami Herald
ANGER BOILS TO THE SURFACE IN WAKE OF BOY'S DROWNING
By Greg Brown,
 Herald Staff Writer
August 13, 1995
Just five weeks on the job, Pastor Nathan Robinson finds his flock in turmoil -- engulfed in anger, grief and confusion.

Everywhere he goes, harried faces plead: What happened to 5-year-old James Lee Johnson, who drowned July 24 in Hallandale's City Park pool? 

Robinson will lead a candlelight vigil at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the pool. Another group led by Hallandale activists plans a community meeting at 5 p.m. today at St. Ann's Episcopal Church, 701 NW First Ave., Hallandale. 

The telephone rings perpetually at St. Luke Primitive Baptist Church in Carver Ranches. Some callers allege racism against James, who was black. While the camp counselors in charge of James were black, the lifeguards on duty were white. Others call to grieve or learn new information. 

"I have to address this church in the morning. I have to address the family almost every night. I have to address people when I walk down the street in Carver Ranches," Robinson said. 

"I have to give them answers. They ask questions. It's a position God has put me into." 

Anger is a natural reaction to such a meaningless death. James, under the eyes of four adults, drowned unnoticed in four feet of water at the pool at 202 SE Fifth St. in Hallandale. According to police documents, two minutes of inattention left James floating face down. 

James' death the next afternoon, July 25, at Miami Children's Hospital has been ruled an accidental drowning. He was buried July 29.

Some in Hallandale see the death as proof that the city's elected officials, all of whom are white, care little about what happens to the city's mostly black northwest section. 

Neighbors of the Johnsons in West Hollywood are numb with shock. They want answers. Now. 

"I'm both angered and appalled at the whole situation," said Lynnessa Wooten, 34, who lives near the Johnsons outside Carver Ranches. 

Wooten says racial issues divert attention from Hallandale's responsibility -- to explain how the boy died. 

"I think it started the instant they found that child at the bottom of that pool," she said. "I think at that instant somebody started covering the city of Hallandale's rear end." 

The commissioners say they are upset by the death, too, but can't speak in detail about the accident. They say they haven't been officially briefed. With a lawsuit likely to be filed against the city, they say, public comment would be improper. 

Karen Woodfin, 28, of Hallandale, is white. Her daughter, Amber Le-Master, 6, was in the swimming group with James on the day he died. 

A stranger to James' mother, Yvoncia, Woodfin attended the boy's wake July 28. She called Pastor Robinson to talk about the loss. 

She, too, says race is beside the point. 

"My daughter was in that camp from the first day. It could easily have been her," said Woodfin. "A drowning, a death, being hit by a car. It can happen to anyone. It doesn't hit that close to home until it happens to you." 

But civic activist Angie Glass, 58, has no qualms about raising the question of race. For her, James' death is the result of city negligence toward the northwest neighborhood. 

Before the civil rights movement, Hallandale's blacks were segregated in northwest Hallandale. Starting in the mid-1950s, Glass said, the neighborhood's dirt roads turned to gravel and were eventually paved. Road signs were installed. 

She prefers those days of a segregated community that blacks could call their own. Northwest "was an excellent community," she said. "We had our ma-and-pa grocery stores. We had our theater. We had a pool." 

The few amenities in the neighborhood have now deteriorated. The city has made no credible moves to rebuild them, Glass said. 

In 1991, the pool at Dixie Park, in the heart of northwest Hallandale, closed, deemed a hazard beyond repair. Today, a muddy crater stands in its place. 

"Everything we got in the '50s they've taken back," Glass said. 

For residents like Cathy Williams, 39, the disparities are crystal clear. 

"It's always considered another town," said Williams. "You look at the landscaping in the southwest section. You look at the pool in the southwest section. They refurbish the paddleball courts every other year. It's a big difference, and it's not a secret. It's lying right there." 

City commissioners adamantly deny that they've shortchanged the northwest. Between 1988 and 1994, the city obtained more than $3.6 million in federal grants to improve the neighborhood. 

Hallandale's city government faces more than criticism from some of its residents. It may face a lawsuit. 

James' family says it plans to sue. Under state law, a city must be warned six months before a lawsuit can be filed. A letter from a Miami law firm representing the family was received by the city this week, but City Attorney Dick Kane says it doesn't constitute a proper notice of intent to sue. 

Hallandale has been sued before for accidental drowning. In 1994, the city and county settled a suit filed by the parents of Willie Roberts, an 8-year-old boy who drowned at a county park under the supervision of a city camp program. 

And in May of this year, the city paid $170,000 to the family of Ramon Turnquest, a 7-year-old boy killed crossing under the care of a city-paid crossing guard. The driver of the car was considered primarily at fault in the Turnquest case. 

City negligence is not necessarily the cause of these accidents, Kane said. 

"The greatest swimmers in the world drown. The most careful people have accidents," Kane said. "My point is, you shouldn't attribute liability to the city because of an accident." 

Commissioner Dotty Ross campaigned in the northwest section before taking her seat in March. 

A volunteer water safety teacher at City Park in the early 1960s, Ross is flabbergasted to hear that people are complaining about the city's handling of James' death. Amid a dozen pink phone message slips on her desk, she said, not one is about the drowning. 

"When you're in public office, the telephone calls I get are not accolades. People call to complain about things." 

She takes the anger to heart. It's a tragedy, Ross said, and the city's image is important when emotions are involved. Hallandale is not taking the death lightly, nor the feelings of blacks who feel slighted. 

"If that's their perception, it's just as real."

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