Sunday, July 12, 2009

Over the next several days...

I will be doing a series of posts which demonstrate the politics behind the coming takeover of the Lake Worth CRA by the City Commission. These will show that putting political considerations before the very real needs of our community helps keep the blight and slum the CRA is designed to combat in full force and flower in the city of Lake Worth.

For example, on July 14th (this coming Tuesday) the CRA will have its regular business meeting of the month. The meeting's agenda has an item concerning application for a grant for $25 million of Federal money to stabilize one of the city's most blighted areas. The impetus for this application did not come from the City Commission; it came from the sitting CRA board and its staff. Had it been up to the City Commission, that money would have been left for another community somewhere else in the United States to improve its condition - and Lake Worth would be where it usually ends up - not even on the train.

The takeover discussion will take place at a special City Commission meeting on July 20th. This comes after a June meeting called to interview candidates for the six (6) expiring terms on the board. More than 30 potential applicants, Lake Worth citizens that wanted to serve the city in a volunteer capacity in order to make it a better place to live, were turned around at the door. The disappointment these citizens felt was due to the total bungling of the length and starting times of terms of those serving on the board - the state statute calls for staggered terms. A series of circumstances led to the elimination of staggered terms. The late "investigation" of how that happened and the jockeying for political position by the "Dais Five" led to the concerned and motivated citizens being turned away. A late "apology" letter, sent by the City Clerk and not by the Dais Five, ended up being a meek consolation prize that alerted everyone that the very future of the CRA hangs in the balance.

Implied message from the Dais Five: "Thanks for your interest, but it turns out that we think we know better how to do things than you do anyway, so we won't be requiring your input."

Detractors of the CRA and its actions over the years talk about how the CRA is a free-wheeling, free-spending entity that takes care of "its own" and wastes money on lavish projects. They point to $14 million total being spent for the improvements to 6th Avenue South and 10th Avenue North as a prime example. If anyone has noticed, these are the prime "gateways" to our community from the primary north/south Interstate highway that transports people, goods and services to and from South Florida to everywhere else in the nation. The thought behind it was not to make just a "pretty street". What it's designed to do is to redevelop both corridors with more intense residential and commercial development (investment that would be going further west or to other cities), provide a noise buffer from a busy street into the interior neighborhoods, increase the tax base in the area so additional monies could be spent addressing sources of blight and create the kind of density that is supportive of sustainable redevelopment and mass transit.

You don't hear the detractors talk about how this represents a significant investment in our community's future. What you do hear is how the residents in and around the area of the improvements weren't consulted during this laying of redevelopment infrastructure, when in fact they were.

Also on the CRA agenda for July 14th is a Community Aid Grant for the Lake Worth Resource Center/The Mentoring Center. This is the entity that has taken over the City's shuffleboard court building and is allowed to occupy this former city recreational building at nominal rent. It also relied on city money being expended to fix up the building so that it would be habitable, in the process of the City Commission ignoring zoning laws. But, in order to be in "good standing" with the majority of the Dais Five, you have to support this function in this building and in this location - or you are considered a "racist." You are not allowed to have any other opinion other than the prevailing "majority' - tyranny anyone?

Commissioner Jennings: Where is your call for the rights of the minority opinion to be heard?

Also consider this a foreshadowing of how future CRA dollars will be spent - not on projects that bring new investment into the city but on ways to satisfy special interest groups near and dear to the majority of the Dais Five. The request's timing for our "last" CRA meeting might be considered somewhat of a litmus test for the Dais Five to see who supports their pet causes - the Commission can add two seats when it sits as a CRA, if it wishes.

This year, we had two specific joint meetings between the CRA and the City Commission to establish priorities and goals common between the two groups. That being done, not once during those meetings was the possibility of City Commission takeover discussed. Another cowardly example of hypocrisy displayed by the Dais Five.

So, watch out for more detail on what is really going on here and be ready to decide the sort of Lake Worth you want to live in when the November election comes around.