Monday, December 22, 2008

Two CRA Items that received more than the usual amount of discussion...

At our CRA workshop meeting in November, we discussed the draft Transit Oriented Development report put together by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. The report looks at many aspects and demographic statistics in Lake Worth. As the discussion moved on during the evening, one of the members referred to the high percentage of renters in Lake Worth as compared with other communities and the impact that can have over the long term. In an off hand way, he compared their effect to that of "locusts."

At the time, I remember reacting - internally - with surprise that this board member would use that term. It was one that I wouldn't choose to use, but it did convey what he was thinking. It was his opinion, not the board's opinion. The meeting went on as normal after that.

At the next City Commission meeting, a point was made of this board member's reference to renters being like locusts. I was not at the meeting and have not heard that portion of the meeting, but I understand that the feeling was that the board member should make an apology at the least and that somehow this reflected poorly on the rest of the CRA board for not condemning the use of the term.

Personally, I have been a renter in Lake Worth longer than I have been an owner of property. I rented when I was first appointed to the Planning and Zoning board and earlier when I was part of the Leisure Services board. One of the things that I have liked about Lake Worth is that I have been able to enjoy living here and, as my circumstances changed, been able to find a home to own. So, for many people, renting serves a purpose and meets their housing needs without having the responsibilities and expenses associated with ownership. I think we do need to be aware of higher concentrations of rental properties in certain areas of the city and that we should do all that we can to encourage home ownership - so that we can act to avoid blight that sometimes results from absentee ownership of rental properties.

As far as what is said at City Commission, CRA and advisory board meetings, everyone needs to be cognizant that what they are saying when they are on such boards is part of the public record. And, this goes for those of the general public who partake in public discussion at the podium. There needs to be a sensitivity about the words that are said and the impact they may have on one or a group of people. The board member that made the comment, at our last meeting, acknowledged that it was a poor choice of words and apologized. So, with that, I hope that we can go on and the matter is put behind us.

As an aside, when I was chair of the Planning and Zoning board, I was fairly liberal in allowing what was said by board members and the public. One time, I remember being surprised by a board member that was telling a story about a neighbor - the subject of which was in front of the board at the time - and during the telling of the story used the word "m*****f*****" quoting what the neighbor had referred to the board member as being. That caused a stir and most couldn't believe that those words actually came out of that person's mouth, but we got over it.

The moral of the story: Speak carefully - love thy neighbor as thyself.

The next item that some in the community have talked about concerns the raise that was approved for the CRA executive director. The following is an answer to an e-mail from someone who asked for my reasons in voting for the salary increase.
What I can tell you is what went into my decision which led to my affirmative vote for the 10 percent increase. I don't speak for the entire board, however I will point out that the vote was 6-1 for the raise - the only dissenting vote was from Wayne Marcinkowski.

Personally, I am envious of anyone who is able to have a well-paying, secure job that can count on a substantial paycheck every two weeks. Working for myself as I do and having my job related in someway to real estate, times are difficult and payment from clients has slowed. Unfortunately, there are many others in the same boat as I find myself right now, or in worse condition - without a job, without a raise, threatened by layoffs, being foreclosed, etc., etc, etc.

But, that being said, that does not mean that we can't compensate someone appropriately when they are doing a great job and working on multiple projects, while keeping the board informed and involved on a daily and weekly basis. The main goal of the CRA is to reduce slum and blight by attracting investment and improving public infrastructure - all ways to stimulate the local economy, encourage job creation and private investment in areas within the CRA district. This happens over the long term. Our Executive Director is charged with many tasks - see attached progress report presented last week's meeting - and professionalism and continuity in the position is important if we want to see the kind of positive changes we need to see so that Lake Worth is a better place to live, work and play.

Joan Oliva has done a good job over the past year with the CRA - based upon my interaction with her, she is justified with the 10% raise that we granted - which includes a contract mandated cost of living increase of 4%. So, you can think of the 6% difference the portion that represents a "merit" increase. The budget reflected the potential of an increase in this ballpark.

A final consideration is that other CRAs in the area have larger staffs than the LW CRA and therefore our Executive Director is asked to do more - but is actually paid less than counterparts in other communities.

Was it a difficult decision to make? Yes, many decisions that you have to make on an appointed board are difficult and you are accountable for the decisions you make. I am comfortable that this decision was based on what was good for the long term administration of the CRA and the city as a whole.

I hope this answers your question.

Wes Blackman

FYI - I am working on a series of posts regarding the beach - some history, the new building, setbacks and process. Expect to see those coming here soon.