Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pics from Groundbreaking at the Beach

County Commissioner (Dist #3) - Shelley Vana
Pictures courtesy of James Stafford Photography

Friday, May 6, 2011

"...all he left us was a loan..."

Reflections on Rene Varela...

I was never a real fan and considered the runoff election that put him in office a choice between the lesser of two evils.  Having just moved to town a few years ago, I never was certain of Rene's loyalty to Lake Worth and this skepticism turned out to be well-founded .  I am always suspicious of people that arrive in a new situation and think they have it all figured out.  Rene liked to leave you with the belief that if only he had been here earlier, our problems wouldn't be as bad and some wouldn't exist at all.  Somehow he alone had the keys to unlock the mysteries of Lake Worth.  He projected a "I know more than you" mentality that I am sure springs from his veterinarian training and degree.  Many doctors and engineers seem to suffer this "God Complex."  Actually, I am sure they don't personally suffer, but the people that have to deal with them surely do.

While he talked a good game initially, I found him uncomfortable with the role of being a public official.  He seemed more comfortable around his "dais-mates" and relied on their opinions more than the great majority of the people he represented.  We saw public comment more and more restricted during Rene's tenure as Mayor.  He was consistently "out played" by Commissioner Jennings when she was on the dais.  In fact, in the few months before she left the dais, Jennings essentially ran much of the meeting and at times seemed to be the de facto Mayor anyway.  He also did a lot to make Commissioner Maxwell's positions marginalized and painted him as somehow "not with the program" when that couldn't have been farther from the truth.  He never grabbed hold of the importance of social media and saw bloggers as the enemy.  He talked about the importance of transparency but the city's actions were  more opaque than transparent.

Even with all that as a background, I still thought that he would finish his term.  Many people thought that he was going to resign early and many thought that he would wait until after May 15th - leaving the Commission in a position to appoint someone of their choosing.  I guess I projected my values of the importance of public service and commitment and thinking that other people in such a position would share the same feeling.  Tuesday I was proven wrong - as others were - and really was shocked that someone would leave that position in what I believe was a cowardly way.

Rene thinks he did us a favor by allowing us the ability to choose his successor through an election.  I can understand that, but there is an alternative viewpoint that is worth looking at.  There are a lot of negatives about the special election including the cost, the unusual group of people that would come out for a June or July election, the difficulty of raising money for two or three or four elections almost back-to-back, etc.  Imagine a scenario where the winning Mayor in the special election does so by only a few percentage points.  Don't you think that would be a major motivating factor for the losing candidate/side in a November election when the turn out would be larger and more predictable?  How effective is this "interim' Mayor going to be in the four months he or she is in office?  I don't think this temporary position carries much of the cachet of incumbency.  This new Mayor will land smack dab in the middle of budget season too.

Now imagine that Rene waited until next week to resign.  The "Best Commission Ever" would be in a position to put who they wanted in the center seat.  I can't think of a better rallying cry for over-reaching their authority - over-playing their hand - and the majority is then swamped in the regular November election.  A person appointed to the Mayoral position would always suffer from an asterisk behind their name - they had not been elected.  I thought it seemed as though some Commissioners were protesting a little too much about the prospect of a special election on Tuesday night.  I started smelling a rat.

And, true to his character, Rene consulted with no one - as far as I know - about the implications of either alternative.

Regardless, we are headed for a special election and I don't necessarily think Rene did us much of a favor in making sure that was so.  It also broadcast to the world that Lake Worth is politically unstable - news to no one, I know, but this early departure did a lot to reinforce that perception.

Lake Worth to meet Monday to set date for special mayoral election

Rise and shine early Monday morning to catch the action - the election could be June 28th. Click title for link to article.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fresh from the Joint City Commission, CRA meeting...

The term of "L-Dub" for the Cultural Renaissance Program will be reconsidered by the CRA.

Joint CRA/City Commission Work Session - Tonight - 5/5 - 6 p.m. - Compass Center

Click title for link to back-up and draft of Cultural Renaissance Program - what the City Commission wanted to see during the last takeover attempt on March 1st.  The report is worth the read.

Former Lake Worth mayor defends timing of departure; special election could draw crowd

The PBP summarizes the situation and reviews possible candidates. Click title for link.

From FaceBook: Be on the lookout for falling pianos!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Discovery of $300,000 in unpaid bills leads to audit of Lake Worth Utilities' accounts

This is what was going on late last night at the Commission, as reported. Click title for link to PBP article.

"This task is much like a marathon, but as any elite runner knows, you must run all the way through the finish line. I do not intend to, nor can we afford to, coast into my finish line." Mayor Rene Varela, State of the City Address, February 9, 2011

Click title for link to entire text.

In light of yesterday...

I went to sleep with the sound of our electeds dancing in my head...

The meeting finally got over at 1:30 a.m.  I am not sure how many were still in the audience at that late of an hour, but they tackled some interesting issues in the "wee hours" last night.  There were also some revelations.

One of them concerned the forensic audit of commercial utility accounts.  You can read the back-up by clicking here.  Apparently, in just their initial internal checking, they determined that $300,000 that should have been paid by some commercial customers hasn't been.  This means that some people, by whatever means, have found a way to cheat the system and get around the city's high commercial electric rates.  If you have this as a widespread condition, then you have to continually raise rates to make up for the shortfall.  The people that don't cheat get the highest bills and those that do seem to have no problem doing what they do with a clear conscience.  Well, this forensic audit of commercial accounts is a start in the right direction.  When we do the same thing to the entire utility department, that will be a good thing.

Also utility related, the City is contracting with a firm which will takeover utilities customer service for a three month period and institute "best practices."  I guess that is all that this firm does is run utilities customer service departments.  Then there might be the same or another firm that takes over the operation for another nine months.  It was SAD to hear Utilities Director Mattey describe the sorry state-of-affairs within the department.  She said that attrition is so bad that they are in a position where there is no management now.  They have raised the bar higher which means people have been let go for non-performance or left due to early retirement.  It really seems to be the case that nobody is left to answer the phones - imagine that.  She said to forget about training, they are now at a level where it is a challenge just to get people to come to work.  To me, it sounded like she was talking about the behavior of a kindergarten class and not a utility customer service department.

Then there was a presentation by the Morganti Group about adding the entire 19 acre renovation project to the beach in addition to their construction manager at risk assignment related to the Casino building.  This was approved, with some concern about an insurance matter, which at the hour this was  discussed I had a little difficulty following.  If anyone can shed some light on the situation, please do.  Interestingly, last Thursday, those of us on FaceBook who "liked" the Morganti page, got a preview of this.  I should have gotten a "screen grab" of the post but this is what was on their page last week - it is gone today.  "The whole beachfront project is ours! This is awesome for the Casino project coordination, better value for the city and great for all our Lake Worth people to be a part of!"  Seems to be they were counting the chickens before they were allowed.  I bet they were given all assurances by the City Administration that this was a "done deal."

Then, Commissioner Maxwell commented on his day at the County Commission meeting concerning the Inspector General.  The County Commission passed the item without the changes requested by the League of Cities, which would have weakened the program.  In fact, the whole thing will go into effect on second reading (two weeks from now) and not in October.  The Inspector General will be able to go back as far as they need to - there is no date before which they cannot look into things.  Hmmm.  Most revealing, in terms of how the County Commission sees Lake Worth, is the number of times Lake Worth was mentioned in the context of not being able to be counted on to carry out and abide by agreements.  The city's non-payment of the fire services contract was specifically mentioned and they wondered whether they can trust Lake Worth to live up to its obligation and pay the $17,000 and change cost for the Inspector General.  This met with immediate rebuttal from Commissioner Mulvehill and City Manager Stanton, saying that they have had good relations with the Inspector General so far - but they purposefully missed the larger point.  The point is word on the street is that Lake Worth cannot be trusted.  Commissioner Aaronson suggested that if it becomes a problem, the County can take the money from the $5 million it has given for the beach project.  Commissioner Maxwell understood the importance of the matter, but it was lost on the rest of the City Commission and Administration.

And we learned the the Administrative Hearing Office has ruled that the City's Comprehensive Plan has been found "in compliance."

After that their voices faded off into the distance and I was able to dream about pleasant things and happy places.  Feel free to add anything I may have missed under comments.

Channel 5 has it all wrong this morning...

They keep repeating that the Mayor wasn't in office for more than six months.  They say that if he had been in longer than six months there wouldn't be a need for an election.  This was on during every half hour of the newscast this morning.  Sheesh...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

FYI - they are still at it and it's 11:52 p.m.

Lake Worth beach landmark John G's moving to Manalapan

Old news. Click for PBP article.

Lake Worth mayor resigns

Click title for link to PBP article.

What the City Charter says about Mayor or Commissioner Vacancies...

Click here for live link to City Commission meeting (5/03)

A small lizard is to blame for the outage this morning more than the bus incident.

Vice-Mayor Mulvehill is running the meeting.

The Commission is not accepting the Police Pension agreement from the IBEW.  Commissioner Golden made a motion to declare an impasse.  Maxwell seconded it for discussion.  Motion passes 4-0.

Resignation of Mayor being discussed now.  The City Attorney is speaking - resignation is as of 4 o'clock today.  The vacancy is to be declared by the Commission tonight.  Special election to be declared within 6 months.  Golden wants him to wait six days, doesn't like the short notice.  Clerk needs to contact Supervisor of Elections office regarding the last day to register for the election.  I guess she would rather appoint than elect.  McVoy says that the Mayor made a very strong commitment to serve out his term.  He believes that he was sincere but he made a commitment.  So he finds it very odd that he announces his resignation prior to the deadline that would require a special election.  He also wants to appoint a successor.  Maxwell - says that it would be difficult to understand what his motives are.  He says that the Charter is clear and he makes a motion for a special in no less than 60 days.  Motion dies for lack of a second.  McVoy makes a motion to not accept the resignation and delay the resignation forever how long it takes to prevent a special election.  City Attorney Humphreys says that that it is done - can't be undone and it is "problematic."  Golden says that she doesn't know that if it's possible to have a special election - it's the July 4th weekend.  She says that we need to put some sort of realistic date and what the date would be.  It would depend on a date from the Supervisor of Elections.

Maxwell - it would be July 2nd.  He says that the Charter is what the Charter is.  He'd like to know why, but he is responsible to what the City Charter says.  The City Clerk says she will contact the Supervisor of Elections tomorrow morning.  The City Attorney says that the Commission should declare a vacancy in the Mayor's seat and direct the City Clerk to investigate the logistics with the Supervisor of Elections related to the timing of the special election.   Maxwell made the motion and Golden seconded it.  The cost of the election would be between $20,000 and $25,000 for a special election.  Mulvehill is disappointed and says that he could have waited and not have cost the city the money.

Public comment is pretty caustic.  It seems that there are those that didn't want a special election and wanted to appoint a Mayor by the Commission.  I think some people are protesting too much.  Many are blaming Varela for being political.  Mulvehill is concerned about the about of money spent for four months - she says they are being fiscally responsible.  This is the light of the library discussion that came before.  Since there are still five on the Commission - the Mayor's seat not being vacant - they are taking a recess since someone "left the room" - they still have a quorum, but the mathematics may be problematic if someone isn't there for a vote.  Break.

Golden made a motion and McVoy seconded to waive the rules re Rule 7 - to reconsider the money set aside to do the work to make 2nd Ave. N. two way.  The City Manager says she couldn't get it on the agenda - people do not recall the discussion about this.  Someone from Lake Worth Towers says that its good to have a two way street - talks about the short term memory problem.  People are coming from all directions.  This is under public comment.  Betty Resche presents a petition with 85 signatures saying that it should be two ways - she thinks the rules are rules and the City Commission is creating history.  The resolution is still good saying it is a two way street.  They are citing the fact that the motion should have been reconsidered at the next meeting - none did.

After much discussion, Golden says they have already ruled on rule 7 since they've discussed it.  Maxwell called the motion - Clerk is repeating it.  City Attorney says there is no more discussion - they need an immediate decision.  City Attorney is double-checking Roberts Rules.  The call of the question, must be seconded to cease discussion.  There is no second.  Motion dies for lack of second. Golden says they have already have the discussion on the rule and on the two-way issue.  Golden makes a motion to waive rule 7 - already has been made and seconded.  And then she calls for a vote...she calls the question.  This is getting ridiculous.  McVoy seconded it.  All ayes - now they vote to waive the rule.  Motion carries 3-1 - they waived the rules.

Maxwell makes a motion to receive and file item 11-D.  McVoy says that we've talked enough and he moves that the two-way be made.  Golden is blabbering.  She is for a two-way street after a lot of gibberish.

Open Letter to the Residents of Lake Worth from Former Mayor Rene Varela

Mayor Varela resigned this afternoon - effective immediately!

So, not only are we essentially demolishing our Casino building, we are losing our STAR tenant...

Another thing you may hear first here...

John G's signed a lease today to relocate to Manalapan's Plaza del Mar - across from the Ritz Carlton.  I have it on good authority that they do not plan to come back to the Casino building once the project is finished.  I am sure this will come as a shock to certain members of the City Commission.

Never mind that relocation wouldn't have been necessary with a different location for the new building, demolishing the existing building after any existing tenants moved to the new building.  Oh well...

Have I mentioned that we are essentially demolishing the building?

Copy of the Governor's Executive Order re Cara Jennings' Ethics Reprimand:

This is something I guarantee that you will see no where else.  It also will not likely be used in Cara Jennings' campaign materials should she choose to run for office again.

Messages from a simple and humble 5/3 City Commission meeting

Regular City Commission Meeting - Tonight - 5/3 - 6 p.m.

Pass last anti-corruption piece

Click title for link to the PBP opinion piece on the ethics code being discussed today by the Palm Beach County Commission. It should be approved without the delay of implementing it in October - which is the beginning of the fiscal year for municipalities. We will see what happens.

And if you want any further evidence that print media is going the way of the dinosaur, look at today's front page headline in the PBP - "We Got Him!"  News broke on the Bin Laden story Sunday night.  It is now Tuesday morning and if you didn't know what happened by now, you are officially living under a rock.

No Power in the Northern Part of the City this Morning.

I am posting this from my smart phone. It's around 8 a.m. and the electricity has been out about an hour now. This allowed me some additional time to contemplate things this morning.  These rumminations led me to think about social media outlets and how they could help in situations such as these. Imagine that the city of Lake Worth had a FaceBook page or a Twitter account.  It could announce outages, areas affected and likely restoration times. We would learn whether it was a palm frond or a small animal sooner.

I know, you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one...

Monday, May 2, 2011

During my bike ride today...

I passed by no fewer than five properties that had lawn sprinklers on during the midday hour - which, even if we weren't under the most strict water conservation regulations, would be bad practice due to evaporation anyway.  To the person who posted under the "Chickens are Back" thread today, if we can't enforce water restrictions designed and implemented to ensure our long-term water supply, then how can we regulate "upright citizens" with reasonable regulations making sure their chickens are safe, clean and do not bother others nearby?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

London's Cycle Hire Program

Transport for London and London's Mayor have put together this Bicycle Hire program.  The Mayor initiated the idea to encourage fitness and also provide a green transit alternative through London.  London will also be hosting large crowds for the 2012 Olympics where these might come in handy.  There are kiosks located throughout the city - about 300 to 400 meters apart (roughly 2/10 mile) - they are all self-service as demonstrated by the video.  Click title for more information.

Maybe Lake Worth would not be large enough for the economies of scale for such a program, but a county-wide program could be possible.  This is worth exploring.  There have been other attempts, Key West and Portland, Oregon come to mind, where a borrow-a-cycle program - based upon the goodwill of the public - have been tried.  A fleet of bikes - many times coming from confiscated or unclaimed bikes collected by law enforcement - are turned over for this sort of program.  The bikes are painted distinctive colors so they are quickly identifiable as being part of the program.  These are left around town wherever they happened to have been used last and available for another person to use it for the next trip.  However, I understand that bikes seem to disappear and need to be replaced often.  There are also liability and maintenance issues with this sort of free program.

Both programs might cut into revenue from existing bike shops - but for the standardized "hire" program, local bike shops could have the opportunity to bid for service contracts.

Candidate for Lake Worth Theme Song

An Announcement from the College Park Neighborhood Association.