Saturday, September 16, 2006

Procedure, Procedure, Procedure

Much like its kin "location, location, location" as an answer to what are the three most important factors in real estate, the City of Lake Worth needs to abide by the mantra "procedure, procedure, procedure", lest it create future opportunities for legal actions, legal fees and resulting delays in progress.

Case in point: The Ron Exline lawsuit. For those who are not aware of the claims here, the City is being sued for potential Sunshine Law violations in turing over negotiation authority to staff and an elected official in a series of meetings relating to the purchase price and ultimate density for a project known as Las Palmas - fomerly the First Union Bank buidling. The suit also alleges that the City Manager polled commissioners out of the "sunshine". Furthermore, it alleges that the City did not go through the proper channels (read: "procedure") in that the determination whether certain property should be considered surplus was not forwarded to the Planning and Zoning Board for its recommendation as required by Section 2.1 of the City's Code of Ordinances. The applicable section reads as follows:

(b) Declaration of surplus property. (1) When the city commission finds that any real property owned by the city is unuseable or not needed for city purposes, after receipt and review of an advisory recommendation of the planning and zoning board, the commission may declare the real property to be surplus property by a simple majority vote. A list of surplus property shall be reviewed at least once a year for public sale. A property may be withdrawn from the list at any time upon the concurrence of the majority of all the members of the city commission. The inclusion of a property on such list shall not constitute an offer to sell the property.

Now, what is so difficult about that? I am not going to weigh in on the merits of the case and do not know the details regarding its status, other than it is an going lawsuit against the City. But, one must ask that if we had followed the established procedures, would we be facing this lawsuit at all?

As of August 28, 2006, the City has accumulated a total expense of $79,525.76 in legal fees in defense of this legal action. What else have we lost? Here is a brief list: Another blow to level of trust the citizenry has of its municipal government, a delayed project which results in vacant land immediately adjacent to our downtown; continued questions regarding the legitimacy of City actions, etc.

I can assure you that as commissioner I will insist that we go "by the book" in all matters - especially as it relates to the disposition of real estate. Note to the administration - the City's Code of Ordinances is not a "pick and choose" set of guidelines - it is the law.

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"

Digging through the City's Files - Current Lawsuits

Mayoral candidate Mary Lindsey and I spent much of the day Friday doing our own archaeological dig through the City's records related to current lawsuits against the City. The following is what we discovered:

On August 13th, during an interview on The Live Show on, “Reader” asked this question:

"Mary are you aware how many lawsuits the City has pending

and what the monetary exposure the City facing in these"

On August 14th, I sent a request for that information, via email, to the city information officer, Queenester Nieves.

On August 15th, I received a call from Ms. Nieves asking for clarification and following our discussion she promised to forward the request to the City Atty’s office.

On August 22nd, I stopped in the City Atty. office to inquire on the status of my request. I was told that the city does not keep a running list of pending lawsuits and to find out I would have to go through all the office files myself under supervision of a staff member. I agreed and was promised an appointment would be arranged in the next few days to view the files the following week.

By August 25th, I had still not been contacted so I sent another request for this information. In addition, I requested information on two other related questions.

On September 13th, I had still not heard anything, so I submitted the requests again, via email and asked Mr. Boyer to intervene in the matter. He did and an appointment was arranged for 10am on Friday September 15th.

On September 15th, as arranged, I met with the City Atty. staff to review the files in an attempt to answer certain questions. I was joined by Wes Blackman, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board and candidate for district 3, who offered to help me comb through the files. I am grateful to Wes for his valuable assistance. His notes regarding today’s events follows. These are the questions we were trying to find the answers to:

  1. How many lawsuits are currently pending against the city and what is the monetary exposure?
  2. How much has been paid to outside legal firms for their services on behalf of the city since 2000?
  3. How many city employees (general employees, utility, fire and police) terminated in the last five years received settlement payments and in what amounts?

    This is what we were able to determine:

  1. We were shown the files of eight different cases; one regarding Sunshine Law, three regarding code enforcement, one regarding eminent domain, one regarding asbestos, one regarding a vendor dispute over uniform rentals and one regarding the Sunset Drive property. There is also an ethics violation charge but it was unclear if that is open or closed. Total – 8

    Monetary exposure is impossible to figure pending the outcome or resolution of the different cases.

  1. Information regarding outside legal firms is incomplete at this time. We were only able to get data on those firms we were aware of. As more firms came to light from reviewing the pending files, we requested information about them also. We did not see cases that have already been resolved and unless I ask specifically for the info by the name of the firm, there is no way to get the information.
  2. This last request regarding employee termination settlements may take some time. We were told that the city does not have a list of employees termination settlement cases and the only way to get the information is to go through the employee file. The files are not arranged by year, only by employee last name. If we knew the names of the employees we wanted to know about, that information (those files) could be made available. If we knew the names, we would also know how many there were, so that wasn’t much help.

    The only way to get the information is to go through all the employee files (past and present) There could be thousands. To make those files available, the staff has to redact all the personal information in those files, social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers etc. That represents a huge undertaking by staff and one that I’m not sure I’m willing to inflict on them. I will contact Mr. Boyer on Monday and ask if there is any other way to get the information.

    I arrived on time at 10am as arranged by the city Atty office. Wes arrived shortly after. We worked on the files until we had reviewed everything they gave us. We must have looked at thousands and thousands of documents. The information officer, Queenester Nieves and Joni (Sorry, I don’t recall her last name) from the City Atty. office were nothing but helpful and professional. They followed their protocol precisely. They carried files a foot thick at a time from the City Atty. office on the first floor to the City Clerk’s office, downstairs in the back for us to review and then carried them back when we were finished. They must have made ten trips or more. We were not allowed to help them even though we offered. We worked until 3:30pm. All this to find out there are 8 pending cases.

    Summary: That’s the timeline and outcome of the events. But what does it mean? I won’t comment on whether any of the lawsuits are frivolous, unnecessary or valid. I have an opinion about some of them, but I’ve learned that legal matters are based as much on procedure as they are on content; perhaps more so, and I am not qualified to evaluate the legal process. I will comment that in my opinion, it shouldn’t have to take this long, or be this burdensome on the support staff or the public to get a simple answer to a simple question. How many lawsuits are currently pending against the city (not including foreclosures)? If Wes and I were shown all the files related to this question and the answer is eight, not eighty, why is our City Attorney unable or unwilling to simple recite which cases they are? Half of these cases are being handled by Mr. Karns and the other half are being defended by outside counsel. I would have expected an answer something like this:

    Dear Ms. Lindsey, Thank you for your interest and your inquiry. The City Atty office is currently defending four active cases and I believe there are several others being handled by outside firms. I will get back to you by _______ with the exact number. If you require more in depth information, please contact my office to arrange an appointment. As for your other inquires, we do not have that information readily available and it will take considerable time for staff to prepare the files in accordance with the Public Records Act to redact personal personnel information. Please call my office to discuss this matter further so that we can accommodate your request in a timely manner. If I may suggest an option, contact one of your Commissioners who receive monthly updates from this office on the status of all activities in the City Atty. office as was suggested when my contract was renewed last Spring.

    That would have been a responsive, accountable and polite answer to a reasonable question posed by the public. Such a reply would demonstrate respect and professionalism. The Attorney General has written numerous opinions on the Sunshine Law and the Public Records Act. Overwhelmingly, he has supported compliance by public agencies not only to the letter of the law, but also to the spirit of the law. I look forward to a new spirit of accountability to and cooperation with the public under the direction of the City Atty.

    Mary Lindsey

    September 15, 2006

    “Political advertisement paid for and approved by Mary Lindsey for Mayor”

    Thanks Mary. I volunteered to help since I am no stranger to pouring over and poking through municipal files – it’s part of what I do for a living. The thing that struck me is that the information that we were looking for was very basic. I kept thinking, as we watched the hard working staff people from the Clerk’s office retrieve files, wouldn’t it make sense to have a simple spreadsheet available that would identify the current status of lawsuits against the City? Just a brief summary of the matter and who the City selected to represent them is the most basic information and something that the citizens should have ready access to. If that was kept current, it wouldn’t take precious time away from other staff tasks. By the City not having the information readily available and making it cumbersome, it comes across as if the City has something it is trying to hide.

    What we found is that the City has nothing to hide (especially in light of the open records laws). The eight current lawsuits are really reflective of a moderate amount of lawsuits – part of doing business as a municipality. But the perception generated through the difficulty retrieving the information leads the public to believe and think the worst – that we have hundreds of lawsuits, or more.

    Can we please come to a time when we anticipate the public’s need for information and prepare it in a digestible form? That would be the difference between an inwardly looking bureaucracy (the bunker mentality that currently exists) or one that is outward looking (one that understands the needs of its citizens for timely and accurate information). It also begs for, at a minimum, a twice a year report about all the current legal actions against the City at a City Commission meeting.

    Is that too much to ask for? It is something that I would demand as a Commissioner. This is all part of the need for transparency in all City of Lake Worth matters. It’s the only way we can begin to build trust in our City government.

    Wes Blackman

    September 15, 2006

“Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner, District 3”

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Johnny and June Carter Cash

After about three lessons the voice teacher said, "Don't take voice lessons. Do it your way."
Johnny Cash

How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man.
Johnny Cash

I grew up in the '40s and I heard all these great speeches, like Winston Churchill. His most famous, or infamous commencement exercise speech was one that consisted of seven words. He stood before this graduating class and said: "Never, never, never, never give up."
Johnny Cash

If you can hold your listener, hold their attention, and you're sure you know what you're doing, and know that you're communicating - You know, performance is communicating. You've got to communicate. You've got a song you're singing from your gut, you want that audience to feel it in their gut.
Johnny Cash

The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars.
Johnny Cash

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.
Johnny Cash

After you've listened to it, you'll feel like you know us a little bit better.
June Carter Cash

He's just like my father that way-my father just adored my mother and let her do whatever she wanted. John's like that. He's a very rare man, a very good man, and I've had a good life with him. I'm proud to be walking in the wake of Johnny's fame.
June Carter Cash

I was never looking back in regret. I never thought, Oh, why didn't I become an actress? or Why did I just go paddling along after John? I've always walked along right by his side, and he's always supported everything I do.
June Carter Cash

We always had Packards, until the war, when they stopped making them; then we had a Cadillac.
June Carter Cash

We never actually slept in the Packard, but we'd stay at these places called tourist homes. Then they got these wonderful things called motels.
June Carter Cash

Monday, September 11, 2006

Check Out Last Night's Interview...

With Jim Stafford on the Live Show (click here for the direct link). As always, there were some great questions asked by the posters on (including all the "guests'). I just want to thank Jim for his time and efforts in providing a worthwhile service to citizens interested in the goings-on of our City of Lake Worth.

Check out the interview - if you have any follow-up questions, feel free to post them here!

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"

Signs of Change

Hi everybody! Welcome to this new (sort of) website/blog. As many of you know, I announced my candidacy last Tuesday, September 5th for the District #3 Commission seat. This is early, according to tradition, and there is much work to be done in the meantime - without the distractions of people actively running for office. But, here we are and here we go! Let us hope that March brings the City vigorous new leadership that can move the City forward in a positive and enlightened way.

I plan on having a separate campaign website/blog. That will come eventually and you will be the first to know when it becomes active. For now, I will continue with this site as there has been a tremendous demand for it as I go around our City. I had shut it down for a while in order to put the: "Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3" - liberally sprinkled throughout the site. I might add that up until the very last minute (ask those friends that were around me at the time) I wasn't sure if and what I was going to run for and when. That's all figured out now and I look forward to your support in March as we go forward through the campaign season.

I started this blog in order to get my observations and experiences out there so that others would have a way to find what is going on with the Board on which I serve and other City issues. One of the great challenges that we face in the City of Lake Worth is quality communication with accurate depictions of reality - read "facts". For some reason, we seem to have trouble sticking to the facts and therefore end up dealing with a reality that doesn't exist. Reality is where it is at if we want to progress as a community - together. One of the main thrusts of my campaign will be the establishment of new ways of facilitating communication amongst all of us in the City of Lake Worth. Your ideas on how to make this happen are greatly appreciated.

So, enjoy reviewing this site from time to time and I will keep throwing out ideas and observations. I hope through this you are able to get to know me better, what I am about and how I will serve the City of Lake Worth as Commissioner - District #3.

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"