Saturday, February 12, 2011

Our City Manager will not attend neighborhood association meetings.

City Manager Susan Stanton
A couple of weeks ago, I happened to attend a neighborhood association meeting.  It turned out that I was downtown and saw some familiar faces around Brogue's and they told me that the South of Sixth Avenue (SOSA) neighborhood was meeting in Brogue's Banshee Room.  (Ironies are everywhere in Lake Worth, aren't they?)  I was told that the City Manager was to attend the meeting and talk about the study commissioned to re-examine police services in the city.  I didn't have anything in particular going on that night, so I decided to stay and hear what the City Manager had to say.  I hadn't attended the previous City Commission meeting when the study was discussed and voted upon.

As the meeting began, there were about 4 or 5 people from the Sheriff's department there, a total of 4 or 5 people who lived in the neighborhood, Commissioner Maxwell, Jack Simons and Mark Parilla - Mark is the head of the Genesis Neighborhood Association which abuts the SOSA area.  Interesting that Commissioner Maxwell attended as the neighborhood was not in his district but is in District #4.  That district is represented, supposedly, by Commissioner Mulvehill.

The first part of the meeting consisted of a report by the Sheriff on crime in the area, operations currently going on and progress over the past two years in the control of crime.  There were some questions and answers.  After that presentation, all but one of the Sheriff's representatives left.

That was when Ms. Stanton began speaking about the city's need to live within its means and there are some things that the city just won't be able to afford in the future.  She said that the biggest cost the city faced was the cost for Sheriff department services - 56% of the general fund budget.  The study is meant to identify alternatives to the Sheriff department contract, including the possibility of re-starting the city's own police force, along with a varied array of other alternatives.  In her talk, she also mentioned, disjointedly, about how people will be surprised by the small amount of the Casino building that will be left as part of its reconstruction.  She also strangely predicted the oncoming end of her tenure with the city - saying that just now she has been here as long as most recent managers and that she might not be here much longer.

There were questions and answers.  I told her that the negativity she is getting from residents about getting rid of the Sheriff is that people have already experienced - the entire town has already experienced - drastic decreases in their property values.  Many people see the only thing preventing a further fall in property values in Lake Worth is the existence of the Sheriff.  They have no confidence in the city being able to run its own police department with more limited resources.  I said that I was tired of the city saying that they are the victim and have had no control over the drop of property values in the city when many of the actions/inactions of the Commission have exacerbated the problem.

There were other questions as well, then she left the meeting.  People stayed and talked a while and then I left.

The reason why I present this here is that this meeting is being cited by the City Manager as the reason she is not going to go to future neighborhood association meetings.  She felt "insulted" by what took place here, thinks that there were only 2 people from the neighborhood there and the other people - including me - that were there were "political operatives" or people that "express dissatisfaction in their blog."   There is an e-mail between Ms. Stanton and a resident to this effect.

I am now hearing from others that somehow I am being portrayed by Ms. Stanton as being the "ringleader" of the group and that she felt that I was insulting to her.  While I didn't agree with much of her position, I never felt that I was "insulting" to her and kept to the subject at hand.  

I am a city planner and have dealt with many a rowdy and riled-up crowd.  I am sure that during Ms. Stanton's long career of being a City Manager she has had to deal with an angry crowd of people.  While the people at this meeting were indeed concerned and upset at the prospect, it was not what I would consider a threatening environment.  I also don't see a problem with people who live anywhere in the city being able to attend any neighborhood association meeting - especially when the topic is one as important as the Sheriff's contract and the city administration's point of view.

So, instead of finding ways to open the valves of information to communicate to the public, the City Manager has managed to villainize a group of residents and is using it as an excuse to curtail further appearances before similar groups.  Thus, public input and dialog is stifled. 

Like I said, this meeting happened a couple of weeks ago and, up to this point, I hadn't felt compelled to talk about it here.  But since it is being used as described above and that I am being unfairly portrayed, I thought I would share my point of view of what happened.  Anyone else who attended the meeting is welcome to share their impressions by commenting below.

Required viewing for our City Commission...

New hotel, B&B planned for thriving Delray

Click title for link to PBP article. And our Gulf Stream Hotel is a victim of local politics.  Need we say more?

Indeed, while other parts of Palm Beach County have struggled to withstand the economy's lingering malaise, Delray Beach seems fairly immune. On any night, restaurants are busy and couples, families and retirees stroll the main drag of Atlantic Avenue.

Lake Worth Considers Canceling Contract With PBSO - West Palm Beach News Story - WPBF West Palm Beach

Click title for link to Channel 25 report on Lake Worth's contract with the Sheriff's office. The city's budget director, Ed Fry says, "It's all about the cost." No it's not, it's all about increased public safety and, as the Mayor said Wednesday night, less "crime infested streets."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

One of the continuing myths of this regime...

Is that economic prosperity in Lake Worth relies solely on corporations landing in the Park of Commerce and with a rejuvenated Casino building.  The Mayor told us last night that "We are well on our way with the Park of Commerce."  I will grant that progress is being made, but as described here on these pages, any corporation landing in the Park of Commerce will be at least 5 years out - if it is meant to be successful.  Sure, it can be quicker if you allow smaller users of land to chop up the "park" - but then you wouldn't get the ultimate economic benefit of the availability of larger tracts of land this far east in Palm Beach County - near established transportation corridors with mass transit options.  Infrastructure improvements to the tune of $7 million are needed which involve storm drainage and roads.  Those will not be built tomorrow.  There are other impacts outside of the "park" that will involve other neighboring jurisdictions - perhaps the same ones that are suing us over our sewage billing practices.

The Casino building is about a 35,000 square foot building and it looks like the same tenants will be given preference due to promises made as part of campaigns.  What measurable economic impact this will have is questionable when looking at a citywide or county wide basis.  It's not like we are getting a beach - we are getting a new parking lot(s) and a new building (as it turns out.)  How much economic spin-off after the first two or three years is in question.

The downtown's now CRITICAL parking problem is un-addressed - as is any other area of the city including South Federal Hwy, Dixie Hwy and the area between the tracks and the traffic circle along Lake/Lucerne Avenues that is in dire need of redevelopment.  I guess not having reliance on the construction industry, another mention by the Mayor last night, means a de-facto construction moratorium?  Until then, we will celebrate the opening of a new sports bar in an existing retail building west of I-95 along 10th Avenue North as evidence of economic development.

Reflections on the State of the City Address - 2011

Let me say that I think State of the City, County, State and Union addresses are good things.  Traditionally, in a municipal setting, the job for delivering this sort of speech goes to the titular head of the local government.  So, last night our ceremonial head of our local government gave this sort of speech at one of our great local institutions - the Lake Worth Playhouse.  I was unable to make the live address due to a work-related schedule conflict.  It is my understanding that the crowd numbered somewhere in the 20s, although it sounds a little more robust on the recording done by LWNAPC.

Mayor Varela renewed this practice last year after a two plus year hiatus at the hand of previous Mayor Clemens.  I think that our residents deserve this sort of report and were cheated during the two years there wasn't one.  The problem is that when our Mayor indicates he wishes to make such a speech, he is not afforded prime time, wall-to-wall coverage on the major networks.  Hardly!  This brings up a long simmering issue:  When is the city going to make arrangements to have events such as this, City Commission meetings, CRA and various advisory board meetings - carried on Comcast - at least?  More needs to be done within the city public relations-wise to keep a steady stream of information coming out of city hall.  (Said for the thousandth time)  Any break in the wall of Fortress Lake Worth is appreciated and long over due - something not really dealt with in this state of the city address.

If you were hoping for some earth-shattering news from our Mayor, you would be disappointed.  It was mostly a laundry list of the accomplishments of the past year, set in front of the city's glaringly poor fiscal condition.  He did point out that a study by the US Conference of Mayors, their annual convention attended by Mayor Varela a few weeks ago, indicated that our region will experience one of the "most rapid economic growths within the next 4 years."  He seemed to indicate that if the city keeps performing at a "higher level," this will be possible here.  Hmmmm.

To his credit, he doled out a lot of props to PBSO for the marked reduction in crime experienced on our streets.  He said that in order to rid the image of "crime infested streets," we need the same effort applied over a period of eight (8) years.  Do not expect him to be a proponent of doing anything different with PBSO and police services, other than seeking budget concessions of some sort.  This is my prayer.

Regarding utilities, I flinch when numbers are casually thrown about without knowing what the assumptions behind them are.  Such is the case when the Mayor talked about the 800 conservation audits "resulting in an estimated savings of 2M gallons of water usage and 500,000 kilowatt hours of electric usage."  Please.  Over what period of time?  If it's over a year, that amounts to 208 gallons a month per household - a tenth of my recent historical water use.  For electric, this amounts to 52 kilowatts per customer per month.  In November, I used 680 kilowatts of electricity and that was a low bill.  There was no discussion of the benefit to us citywide, other than the claim of less water and electricity used.  Are they looking at differences in utility bills?  That would be a good idea, but probably would yield little useful information since the stories are widespread about the extreme variation experienced amongst neighbor's bills with similar houses and number of occupants.  There was no mention of a forensic audit on the utility - something that Mayor Varela paid lip-service to during his campaign.

Apparently, the new mantra in utilities is "we have the power to..." which the Mayor related to a "can-do attitude" allowing them to "finish with their own team-oriented goals."  Really?  I won't do it here, but I bet you can finish the phrase "we have the power to..." a  number of different ways based upon your own personal experiences.

One piece of a good newsworthy item, was the Mayor's plan to "reduce our general fund dependence  on the franchise fee that [the city] charges the electric utility.  This is the single quickest and most dramatic way to decrease our utility rates."  In the face of other budget issues, noted throughout, one wonders how this will be possible.

Lots of talk on recreation and related programs but no mention of the demolition of the Suffleboard Court building and creating a new park in its place, by a railroad track and two major roads.  Perhaps more study is needed?  How about a conscious public decision made by the City Commission in a public meeting?

Under Community Development Accomplishments, he shows his lack of understanding of planning and zoning by stating "They have spent the lion's share of their time...shepherding the process of developing land designation regulations for the comprehensive plan."  Whoa!  Let's translate:  They have spent most of their time working on something that cost the city over one million dollars and should have been done four years ago.  This something was the re-writing of our Zoning Code, also known as Land Development Regulations.  (Which I understand is being reviewed by the Planning Board, but at a haltingly slow process where most of the conversation is about the inability to have a strikethrough and underline copy. My hand to God...)  No mention of the city's comprehensive plan being contested and may not be deemed "in compliance."  Hmmmm.

Much time was devoted to discussion of the beach project in various places throughout the speech.  No surprise here.  This assertion leaped off the page: the Commission "adopted a business model that would make the entire beach financially self-sustaining..."  Really?  Is this the plan that needs to be revised now that we are increasing the amount of public space that would not contribute to the revenue stream?  Is this the plan that will cater to existing tenants to stay in the rehabilitated building at less than market rents?  By tenants that amply contribute to the majority of current city commission?  Is this the plan that will take $6 million out of the city's cash portfolio, the same city that faces a $4.5 million projected shortfall in next year's budget?  Is this the same plan that didn't look at the possibility of demolition of the existing building, building a new building west of the Coastal Construction Control Line?  Is this the plan that instead of preserving our 1922 Casino building destroys 80 percent of it?  I guess it is, we just call it different things.

I am not sure about the validity of this statement: "We cut the cost of your government by 6% and did not raise your taxes."  The city raised its millage rate to near the legal limit and many properties dipped below the value threshold and now qualify for the minimum tax of $333 per year.  There are many property owners that have to make up the difference Mayor - especially given our spectacular record losses of property value compared to other Palm Beach County municipalities.

In talking about what is at stake, he says that "this process will require your constant input and more importantly tolerance and confidence."  Is anyone convinced that people on the dais and in the administration are wanting "our constant input?"  I have the opposite impression.  That is, unless it is what they want to hear.  So much for the integrity of the process - quickly losing tolerance and confidence in the process, I am.

That's about the bulk of the speech.  I will address the Mayor's plea for a "more civil city" in a separate post.

New DCA Secretary outlines ideas for growth management | The Florida Tribune

The handwriting is on the wall - more local power in changing Comprehensive Plans, less state oversight. Click title for the latest.

Advisory of Scam Targeting Potential Jurors

Please see the advisory below from The Clerk of the Court, Sharon Bock. 

Beware of Scam Targeting Potential Jurors

Callers Attempt to Solicit Personal Information in Possible ID Theft Scheme
I urge Palm Beach County residents to beware of scammers attempting to solicit personal information from potential jurors. In the scam, a caller falsely identifies herself as a clerk employee and says the individual has missed jury duty. The caller asks for personal information, such as a Social Security number, to verify if the individual is eligible for a non-existent new jury program.
It is critical that our citizens understand:
  • You will never receive an unsolicited call from the Clerk’s Jury Office about jury duty.
  • Our staff will never ask for a juror’s Social Security number.
As your Clerk, it is my duty to not only protect public funds and records, but to also protect unsuspecting citizens from unscrupulous individuals. Please read my news alert and avoid becoming the next victim.
Sharon R. Bock, Esq.
Clerk & Comptroller, Palm Beach County

Click here for link to Mayor Varela's State of the City Address 2011

Click here for PBP article.  More commentary later.  Thank you Lake Worth Neighborhood Association Presidents Council for the recording.  Click here for full text of speech.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

10 Best Cities for Public Transportation - US News and World Report

Click title for link to USA Today article. The South Florida region is a long way from the top 10 I am sure.

Apparently Lake Worth is not alone when it comes to not following charter/code provisions... the need for an internal auditor and how boards are appointed.  Click here for an article on the Town of South Palm Beach and their board appointment process.  There was a citizen proposal to create a similar board appointment review board in Lake Worth about a month or so ago.  This in response to the cavalier way the Commission goes about appointing people to advisory boards, as well as the creation of new boards.  The proposal, so far, landed on deaf ears.  Such a board would seem to have more merit for Lake Worth than a town the size of South Palm Beach and the small number of advisory boards they have.

Don't forget - the Mayor's 2011 State of the City Address is tonight (2/9), Lake Worth Playhouse @ 7 p.m.

Taste of Lake Worth - the night before the Street Painting Festival

Cambridge official’s salary is easily tops in state - The Boston Globe

The unique world of Cambridge, Mass. - check out story on their City Manager's salary and retirement package. He has been there for 30 years, the city enjoys a AAA bond rating and maintains a low tax rate. He says he's worth it and all but one council member agrees. Click title for link.

Monday, February 7, 2011

David Plouffe doing his job...

Click title for link to the White House website - a new area referred to as "Advise the Advisor."  See video below.  Could there be a local variation of this?  The answer is "yes", but does anyone in power really want to hear ideas or is it another opportunity to stuff the ballot box, as it were.

I don't know if you saw this during the Super Bowl last night...

I was born in Michigan.  My parents, while not directly employed by the automobile industry, benefited by the once rich tax base that allowed Michigan to create a great public school system and invest in its state universities.  Automobiles and post WWII growth made that tax base possible and helped to create better lives through investment in public infrastructure.  You see some of the remaining greatness that still exists in Detroit today: the Spirit of Detroit Statue, prize fighter Joe Louis' fist, the restored Fox Theater, the Diego Rivera mural.  All have cameo appearances in the ad.

The first real economic hit happened with the oil embargo of 1973.  Then flight to cheaper domestic labor markets and then to cheaper foreign manufacturing locations.  I have brought wrenching images of the ruins of Detroit to this blog.  I have said, as an urban planner, that what built Detroit, the automobile, really helped lay the foundation for its destruction.  The consequent building of limited access high speed freeways through many intact, and racially segregated areas, promoted the flight of wealth from the city to the suburbs.  No one seemed to care that Detroit lost almost half its population from its peak in 1950 - except the people that still lived there.  The ones that had no choice but to stay.

So, after this ad aired yesterday, pride has discovered a resurgence in the Motor City and the "Imported from Detroit" tagline should send a tinge of guilt to those who buy imported vehicles.  To digress, Detroit has done its part to alienate those looking for personal transportation.  The fact that this is a Chrysler ad is poignant since it was the first automaker to receive loan guarantees from the federal government.  It had to dig into the public trough again, along with General Motors, during the recent economic turn-down.

I bring this here because what this is about is pride - perhaps another word for patriotism - that one feels for your community.  It is frustrating for me when I hear people being called negative in Lake Worth if they point out what is wrong and suggest what is right - or a suggestion to fix the problem.  A community must be aware and continually self-improve in order to meet the needs of its residents - or economic and social despair will result.  That's why I get so disturbed when people we elect in this city think that lower property values are universally a good thing.  Detroit lost half its population in sixty years - Lake Worth has lost half its valuation.  The thing is - Lake Worth suffered this loss in a span of three years.  Other communities similarly situated held on to their value.

Remember, it's much easier to race to the bottom than race to the top.  You don't have any competition, other than those people that want a different reality that may better preserve their community and their life's investment.

Anyone want to take a bus tour of Detroit's ruins?  I'll pay for passage for a few local individuals.

Calling all Artists

The Lake Worth CRA would like to invite all local artists to participate in a brainstorming workshop

February 19th 9:00am
Lake Worth Golf course
One 7th Avenue North 

The purpose of the Artists Workshop is to define an overall vision for the Cultural Renaissance Program through public dialogue that engages the purveyors, practitioners, and patrons of the arts community in Lake Worth. The key elements to be addressed will include: Arts in Lake Worth, the Arts District & the creation of the 1000 Lake Project.

For more information please contact the
CRA office at 493-2550 or visit

Census 2010 News | Media Advisory — Census Bureau Launches Interactive Map Showing Local 2010 Census Data

Click title for link.  The widget is too large for embedding here, but it is a useful tool.  No word yet on when the Florida count data is expected.

2010 Haiti Mitzvah Mission II by WebMark, Inc.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

West Palm Beach power politics: FBI investigated Molly Douglas’ pursuit of her business interests in city role

I hope that our City Commission and administration know that their actions are being watched. Click title for link to a PBP article on the latest ethics issue in West Palm Beach.

Interesting Perspective from 1960s Miami - a three part series on economic development and planning...

Optimism rules - but many of the same problems still exist 50 years later.  You can also see the historic role Chambers of Commerce have played in the development of Florida communities, for better or worse.  Some of the speakers sounds like they're half in the bag.  A peak back to the "Mad Men" era...

Click here for more archival videos of the greater Miami area.

Home movies of Miami Neighborhood - circa 1955

Campy Florida Tourism Movie from the 1940s