Monday, September 27, 2010

Suzanne Mulvehill's and Commissioner Cara Jennings' Special Interest Contributors

RE-POST - This is a record of the campaign contributions from casino building tenants from the 2008 election.  Commissioner Mulvehill is taking credit for saving the casino building - with a big push from the tenants to do so.  How are the tenants going to benefit from the rehabilitation of the casino building if they have to be out of the building for 15 months or so or more?  We are being told that the city will not be paying for relocation costs.  How do the current tenants benefit from rehabilitating the existing building?  When the city commission chose the architect last spring, one of the major questions was whether or not the tenants could stay in the building during construction.  Something is not adding up - unless the real news is waiting until after the election?

I think it's important, especially due to the grandstanding done by Commissioner Jennings prior to the election, that we look at the campaign treasurer reports of her campaign and those of the candidate for whom she is "Door Knocker Coordinator." Without going into great detail, the main parts of the "anti pay-to-play" ordinance were that you could not except campaign contributions from a "professional business entity" if they had a current contract with the city or could possibly have one in the future, if someone did come before the Commission with business that was not foreseen at the time the contribution was made then that Commissioner or Mayor would have to return the money and that the limitation apply to relatives of the contributor as well.

Those that voted against the ordinance probably saw the unworkable nature of this "ethics" ordinance in that it is difficult to determine if you may have a contractual arrangement with the city in the future. Also, most campaign accounts are closed out soon after the election. With my campaign, there was no money left. If I had won and was in a position where I would have to refund the money according to the requirements of the "anti pay-to-play" ordinance, where would that money come from? And the point is, it already had been spent for its intended purpose - to get a candidate elected. Refunding it would not lessen the "debt" owed to that person or entity. There might be a need for the Commissioner or Mayor to recuse themselves from voting, which would be above and beyond state law.

What it would do is send a chilling effect to those "professional business entities" that either currently do or want to do business with the city. Like is the case in so many rules and regulations, they are usually targeted at the last situation where some questions arose regarding contributions and Commission actions. It would also benefit those candidates that do not tend, or at least appear, to rely on contributions from such "entities." Hello Commissioner Jennings.

So, let's see how this would apply regarding the filed treasurer reports from candidates Mulvehill and Jennings. Now, there was a judgment call that I made regarding whether or not these contributors represented a special interest. As proposed, the ordinance would have applied to a "professional business entity" which I believe includes non-profit organizations. There are also individuals with legal actions against the city and I might have been able to more inclusive in who would fall into this category. But for the sake of this discussion, I limited that to one situation in particular where someone is about to come before the Commission on an appeal of a Planning Board decision.

Anyway, this is what I was able to extract from the reports. Here is Suzanne Mulvehill's. I do not have the benefit of having her "run-off" election treasurer's report. This is just money given prior to the general election.

Let's deal with the first two contributors on the list which I just touched upon. Both have been vocal opponents of anything that the Gulfstream Hotel has proposed and against what was approved by the Planning and Zoning Board related to our signature historic hotel. Mr. Celi currently has two lawsuits against the City which challenge the denial of an appeal of a PZHRPB decision related to the hotel property. It is my understanding that he has appealed a third decision and it will soon be appearing on a City Commission agenda. I have it on good authority that the item was about to appear on last Tuesday's City Commission agenda, but was moved to the Commission's first meeting in December. You can draw your own cause and effect relationship. Mr. Celi did not contribute to Commissioner Vespo's campaign. The City Commission has to sit as an "impartial arbitrator" when they hear the appeal. We shall see.

The rest of the contributors on the above list are all tenants or relatives of tenants at the casino building on the city's beach property. No surprise then that Suzanne Mulvehill is working on their behalf trying to preserve the current sweetheart deals each have at our oceanfront property. The difference between market rate lease rates for oceanfront retail/restaurant space and what they have been paying really represents a subsidy by the tax paying residents of the City of Lake Worth. These people would be especially interested in continuing that status quo. If elected, would Suzanne have to return the campaign contributions gathered from these "professional business entities" due to their contractual relationship with the City in the form of their leases? Could she vote on anything related to the beach property? If she did vote, whose interest would she be representing - the tax paying residents of Lake Worth or the private business interests of her contributors? Remember, money given in the election would already have had its intended effect if she is elected. Returning the money after-the-fact (from where?) means little.

Now we have Commissioner Jennings' list of what I think are special interest contributors. The first two are only a problem if the IBEW represents workers on the city payroll and if Adopt-a-Family has a current (I think they do) or future contractual relationship with the City - according to Cara's proposed ordinance. You know the one that she keeps hitting Commissioner Vespo over the head with. Mayor Jeff Clemens actually suggested during discussion of the "pay-to-play" ordinance that the term "professional business entity" shouldn't apply to non-profit organizations. Mayor I beg to disagree with you as we shall see concerning the next grouping of Commissioner Cara Jennings contributors.

Now, I have known Ed Grimm for a very long time. While not a close acquaintance, I remember him from my early days in Florida when I worked for the City of West Palm Beach. He is a nice guy and I have enjoyed working with him on the CRA - both of us were appointed at the same time earlier this year. Ed is also Chairman of the Lake Worth Community Development Corporation Board of Directors. I know this since he has represented himself as such at various public meetings and the information appears on their website - that information is a recent addition. It is entirely possible that Ed's father (I assume), he and his wife are close personal friends of Cara Jennings and/or REALLY believe in the job she is doing for the City of Lake Worth that two of them contribute the maximum amount to her campaign. Add to that the contribution from the Lake Worth CDC's executive director and the fact that Commissioner Jo Ann Golden is project manager for the Lake Worth CDC and the picture gets a little cloudier. Just where does the City end and the Lake Worth CDC, a private non-profit organization begin? Aren't there a lot of surplus land arrangements with the Lake Worth CDC and the City? Aren't there other programs where both entities share an involvement? By bringing up these questions I am not saying that what the Lake Worth CDC does is in question or that they aren't serving the public good. But doesn't this seem to be at the least a very "cozy" relationship? How are the taxpayers of the City represented when items related to the CDC come before the Commission? In a fair and balanced manner? Are there other arrangements that we may not know about?

And then we have Celi and Maroney on Commissioner Cara Jennings' reports as well as Suzanne's. Hmmmmm. I wonder which way she will vote on Celi's appeal when it comes before the Commission? Maybe the same way she has the two times a similar appeal has come before the Commission - to overturn the Planning and Zoning Board's decision.

Lastly, these are public reports and they are meant to be looked at and studied to see if there are potential relationships that the public has a right to know about. And, if not me, who is going to do this?

I also found it interesting that Commissioner Cara Jennings mailed her last (G4) report in on the day that it was due - an acceptable method to avoid a fine. But that meant that the City didn't receive it until November 3rd - the eve of the election. This from a person who insisted that her campaign report would be posted on her website immediately when it became available.

Let's have a shot at preparing an omnibus ethics ordinance and address the serious flaws in the one as proposed by Commissioner Cara Jennings.