Above and below, looking north on south-bound U.S.-1/South Federal Highway towards Hallandale Beach City Hall, July 10, 2013 photo by South Beach Hoosier. © 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved.
Taken within the context of a sweltering South Florida summer -above via a heat map photo- that's often robbed us of our desire to live in South Florida full-time, or at least get into our car any time after its been sitting in a parking lot under a brutal and unforgiving sun for hours on end, for fear of our skin melting, and literally having the life sucked out of us after opening the door, today is a real red letter day at the blog.
The reason for that is that we have some genuine positive news to share with you all courtesy of Tom Lauder that actually advances the narrative that is the continuing drip-drip-drip scandal of the Hallandale Beach CRA, and what has gone on in this city the past ten years.
Not just the public policy scandal of all the wasted time and squandered opportunities to actually do the right thing in this city to actually eliminate blight and improve the area economically in a way that's actually tangible, which is a scandal of sorts, of course, but the larger financial one that directly led to millions of dollars going out the door with near-zero scrutiny and oversight by the very people at Hallandale Beach City Hall who were supposed to provide it on behalf of the citizens, taxpayers and small business owners of this city.
But who didn't.
I sent the following out as an email this afternoon because it helps to tie together more information about those mysterious text messages between Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper, HB City Manager Renee C. Miller and the mayor's pal and Broward lobbyist, Judy Stern, and their attempts to prevent an audit of the HB CRA from taking place via County Auditor Evan Lukic's office.
It also helps connects-the-dots more on how the city's elected officials and administrators handle public record requests that get a little too close for comfort.
Rather than name every official I sent it to like I have sometimes in the past, let's just say that this time I've sent it to a wider variety of people than usual here and up in Tallahassee -and points-in-between- as well as some of the leaders of the Florida State Senate and members of the Florida Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, the latter of whom many of us in this city are counting on to get us the truth we've long been denied.
My comments are after this very timely article by Tom Lauder.
Media Trackers Florida
Hallandale Beach Mayor Fails to Report Texts to Lobbyist During Meeting
By Tom Lauder
July 31, 2013
Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper exchanged multiple text messages with controversial lobbyist Judy Stern during a June 4 government meeting but did not log the messages on a lobbyist contact report as required by state law.
Earlier this spring, Hallandale Beach residents asked the Broward County Commission for assistance after a Broward County Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigation “identified numerous instances of gross mismanagement that stemmed from institutional deficiencies in the establishment, organization and function of the CRA [Community Redevelopment Agency].” Some of the residents raising concerns included Hallandale Beach Commissioner Michele Lazarow and former Hallandale Beach Commissioner Keith London.Read the rest of the post at:
August 1, 2013
I wanted to let you all know today that since I sent a formal request to the City of Hallandale Beach six weeks ago, it is refusing to fulfill my Public Records Request and comply with Florida's Sunshine Laws in providing me with all the text messages between Broward lobbyist Judy Stern and HB Mayor Joy Cooper and HB City Manager Renee C. Miller in their lengthy efforts to prevent Hallandale Beach residents from getting the true facts.
This, even as the three of them lobbied Broward County Commissioners and staff, including County Administrator Bertha Henry on this matter, to prevent a thorough audit of the Hallandale Beach CRA via the Office of Broward Auditor Evan Lukic.
A thorough audit that HB residents desperately want so they will finally know precisely what really happened to millions of dollars.
I was told Wednesday in-person by HB City Clerk Sheena James, prior to the city's CRA Budget Workshop, that the city would be unable to comply with my request because, rather conveniently, they say their phone carrier -that is, AT&T, the carrier who is paid tens of thousands of dollars every year by Hallandale Beach taxpayers for telephone services used by Hallandale Beach elected officials and staffers-DON'T have to provide requested public records without a court order, even if the parties 'owning' the phones request them.
Personally, I think HB City Hall is laughing at the idea of their being able to successfully thwart my honest efforts to get to the truth on this matter, and get my hands on public records that I have strong reason to believe contain some very incriminating comments by the three of them, possibly, even about me.
When I brought this up during my three minutes to speak prior to the actual meeting, I specifically mentioned that HB citizens would be very interested in hearing from CRA Attorney Stephen Zelkowitz in the future on why the city doesn't simply log those messages in a timely fashion, since it seems clear to me that the city is using the carrier as a buffer to not comply with legitimate Public Records Requests, and that in any event, there will be requests by
someone at some future point for text messages, since they are public records, so the city better figure out what they were going to do to comply with the law.
After I returned to my seat, Mayor Cooper then responded in a semi-sarcastic manner that she only wishes she could get access to all those messages (Of hers!)
I was not amused, chiefly because I know the truth is that she does NOT want those messages being made public.
In any case, Mayor Cooper then went on to say, rather tellingly, that those text messages between herself, lobbyist Stern and HB City Manager Miller, regarding their efforts to thwart an audit, were "private."
No, those text messages about the City of Hallandale Beach and its CRA were and are public records that I'm legally entitled to see under Florida's Sunshine Laws.
But that callous and condescending response of hers shows you the caliber of the individual that the beleaguered citizens of this town are dealing with, in that Mayor Cooper is someone who has repeatedly shown in the past that she will use any means necessary to thwart both the spirit and the letter of Florida's Sunshine Laws -even to the point of suing a HB citizen-
and she continues to do so today.
You may also be interested in knowing that Wednesday night at the HB CRA Budget Workshop, where city management employees out-numbered actual residents in the room by a factor of 12:1, I told the assembled CRA Board of Directors and the CRA Executive Director (City Manager), along with the city's various Dept. heads a fact I had already shared with some
Broward County Commissioners and well over a hundred other interested parties before and after that June 4th meeting mentioned in the article above.
To wit, despite the fact that the Broward Inspector General's final report was issued months ago, the city has refused to place a link to the report or the city's own response to it on the city's website for residents, taxpayers and small business owners to read for themselves.
But because HB City Manager Renee C. Miller and CRA Attorney Stephen Zelkowitz were going to be speaking at that June 4th County Commission meeting against the request by HB Commissioner Michele Lazarow and former HB Comm. Keith London, and thought that it was important for the County Commission to be able to see and review them, they transmitted
both, so Broward County actually had links to both on their agenda for the meeting.
So, Broward County was given the information that the city has refused to provide its own citizens on the city's website, even though the city's taxpayers and the CRA paid the legal fees in the official city response, as well as for Zelkowitz to appear at the Broward County Commission.
So we can pay for all of that but we can't see it on the website that we're also paying for.
That's how things are done here, and it's not by accident.
Yes, the Broward OIG report that characterized as "gross mismanagement" the performance of the City of Hallandale Beach officials to describe what they found when funds are given to people and groups in this city without anyone actually EVER following-up and checking to see what actually happened to the CRA funds, or even whether they were actually used for the purpose they'd been proposed for in the original application.
Yes, HB City Hall operated on the honor system with all that money.
People and groups that claimed to be non-profits but who weren't according to the IRS, and who didn't file required documents, and yet who were quite content to not properly disclose all sorts of relevant basic information, even while they strongly resisted almost all attempts at basic transparency to the citizens of this community, or to the public at large.
Now you know why the concerned residents of this city so desperately want the Florida JLAC to perform a thorough audit that will tell us the truth, since the very people at HB City Hall who are supposed to be providing responsible oversight of the HB CRA are also the people almost entirely responsible for the mess it's in, and the great loss of confidence the community has in City Hall's ability to perform even simple tasks honestly, ethically and competently.
Yet these people, like Mayor Cooper, are also the one who are trying their best to keep the public in the dark about the facts as long as possible thru intentional obfuscation, needless finger-pointing and serial misrepresentation.
And the community saw another perfect example of that very thing last night, as if we needed another reminder.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, and please DO let me know when a decision is made regarding JLAC's future intentions on this important public policy matter to Hallandale Beach's VERY frustrated citizens.