My Vote: Ron Coddington - 03/06/11
Joseph P. Miller is a nice guy. Bugs might hate him, but it's hard for people not to like Joe Miller, a local businessman who owns J. P. Miller & Sons exterminators and is presently District 1's most important politician.
Joe Miller's a family man with a beautiful wife and children. He's a man of faith and is active in both church and civic organizations.
I like Joe. I've had many conversations with him and he's always respectful. Why not reelect him for a full four-year term as city commissioner from District 1?
Miller has the incumbent advantage, as well as the burdens of incumbency. Many voters will pull the lever with Joe's name on it, figuratively speaking, because they know who he is and don't know so well Ronald J. "Ron" Coddington or Cody Loomis.
If you are comfortable with the status quo, Joe's your man. It's a lot better status quo than we had with our former commissioner, Peggy Noland. But...
Like incumbents are wont to do, Joe Miller takes credit for the good things that have happened around his district the past two years, as, for example, the new pier entrance buildings and the parking lot improvements in the Cove Shopping Center.
Then there are the facts. The pier project hasn't been built yet and was a collective decision of the board of five commissioners. More credit for that project lays with the citizens who watched it like suspicious hawks from start-to-finish, from the days that bids were opened and analyzed by city staff until the contract was awarded by the full commission.
As for the Cove, Mr. Miller in fact did his damnedest to derail this citizen-generated project, because special interests with which he was aligned wanted the renovation scrapped. He came around, eventually, but there's a good chance it would be complete by now, but for his dilatory actions. The project is slated for completion later this year. Of course, he's for it now, because almost everybody likes what they see as the improvements progress -- even some of the people who initially opposed it.
If Joe Miller was a novice two years ago, he's growing into the consummate politician now.
Both the Sun-Sentinel and the Pelican endorsed Miller for reelection. The latter stated,
Obviously, neither of the men hoping to take his place on the dais after Mar. 8, Ron Coddington and Cody Loomis, has Joe Miller's experience on the commission. But Miller also had no experience on the commission or in city government when he was first elected just two years ago. He himself sent packing the more experienced incumbent. There is always a "learning curve" when a person assumes public office. None of the present members has a Ph.D. in city governance.
It's not the "curve" that matters, but how fast a person learns that really counts. I'm certain that both Coddington and Loomis would learn real fast the reality of politics in Deerfield Beach.
Moreover, much of the experience and background that Miller, age 61, has equally applies to Coddington, 58. Coddington has served on a city board and has owned businesses. He's experienced both the up- and downsides of running a business in this environment. He's managed contracts with state and federal agencies and with private contractors. One focus, he pledges will be his if he is elected, is on city contracts, which will need more intense scrutiny if the city starts to privatize services.
Mr. Coddington has academic credentials no other current member of the commission, including Joe Miller, has. He has a bachelor of science degree from FAU and graduate work. Miller has an A. A. in business. Cody Loomis has an A. A. in business management and is completing his bachelor's degree in Secondary Education from FAU.
Loomis' youth is a factor, not because of his age, but because of his lack of experience in civic affairs. According to Democratic Party records, he's only voted once. He needs a better track record to be a credible candidate for public office.
Joe Miller has received contributions from developers, realtors, and lobbyists. This is not so significant now because the construction industry is in a slump. But that's going to change. Loomis has connections to the Noland family. This raises legitimate concerns about how the interaction between a Commissioner Loomis and Mayor Noland, via Noland's son, might collide with open government principles, either in actuality or in appearance. Note: Miller's paid campaign consultant is Janyce Becker. As the former head of the Chamber of Commerce, Becker was one of the principal boosters of beach redevelopment during the LRD era. Make of this what you will.
Ron Coddington has reported no campaign contributions from developers or lobbyists. He's an environmentalist. His occupational specialty is environmental restoration. He wants to protect the beach from over-development. He has doable ideas for Pioneer and Sullivan parks in his district to take advantage of the waterfront locations and become marine-oriented, rather than commercialized. None of these ideas would be pleasing to the ears of the pro-development crowd.
Granted, Coddington sometimes comes across as arrogant and abrasive. He's confident that he's right on the issues. Joe Miller is the schmoozer type, telling people what he thinks they want to hear. Still, Coddington is willing to stick his neck out and come to the aid of a neighbor. See, article immediately below.
Remember the Dream Team? I think Ron Coddington, Bill Ganz, Ben Preston and city staff could be the core element of a Smart Team to deal with the difficult budget issues the city now faces. But only if Coddington and Preston are elected. Admittedly, it's a long shot, against the two incumbents.
District 1 voters have three good men to choose from. This has not always been the case. Nobody is perfect -- not Miller, not Loomis, not Coddington. It's not a matter in my mind of the least of three evils.
It's a matter, for me, of who can best serve Deerfield Beach, both the place and the government, for the next four years. One of these candidates is more right for the district now. Coddington's position on the future of the beach area is important to me personally because that's where I live. The fiscal crisis in the city should be important to every citizen, and Coddington would bring brain power to the commission to deal with it.
Conclusion: I plan to cast my vote on Mar. 8 for Ron Coddington.
Election Memo #7: Sleaze - 03/05/11
The campaign for the District 1 seat was relatively free of sleaze, aside from the tampering with campaign signs that has become a tradition in Deerfield Beach elections. This was until Chaz Stevens got into the act, reviving his tabloid-style blog after a short absence. His target: Ron Coddington.
A month or two ago, Stevens shut down his blog -- for the umpteenth time -- saying this time he was serious. This was it for him. His work saving Deerfield and the rest of the world from public corruption was done. Of course, he was serious when he proclaimed he was running for mayor and didn't in 2009, and when he said he would seek the District 1 commission seat in this year's election, then disappeared from the scene for a while, closing the blog.
Now Stevens is (or was) back with a vengeance, mostly slamming Coddington, who, along with Cody Loomis (whom he endorsed), wants to unseat Joe Miller. He began by revealing past tax liens that had been filed against Coddington, but failed to mention that the liens were business-related and had been settled years ago. All this was intended to show that the candidate was not a very good business man and not a good manager with money, presumably a quality we would want in a city commissioner.
Then came the bizarre events of last weekend, when Coddington's neighbor was stabbed by an intruder, and police and a film crew from the "Police Women of Broward County" TV reality show descended on the neighborhood. Stevens said he was alerted to the story by Joe Miller and wrote a damning report on it.
According to a Sun-Sentinel account, a female deputy tried to interview the stabbing victim's wife on camera, who did not want to be filmed by the show, and Coddington and some other neighbors tried to shield her from the film crew. Instead of the drunken, drugged-up wild man obstructing a police investigation depicted on Stevens' blog, the newspaper version of the story by reporter Larry Barszewski showed Coddington as a concerned citizen and good neighbor who joined with other people to protect a distraught women, whose husband had just been stabbed, from "the unwelcome attention of the television program...."
After his own account of the incident, Stevens tried to implicate Coddington as a drug-user. On a Mar. 2 post, the blogger wrote,
I have not seen any credible evidence that Mr. Coddington uses marijuana or any other illegal drug, nor seen any reference to it other than on Stevens' blog.
It's hard to know what damage has been done to Coddington's campaign by Stevens' reports. Stevens claims his blog has been viewed by almost 2 million people, but a better estimate is closer to two viewers. I am mostly concerned about Joe Miller's role, if any, in feeding information to Stevens to bring adverse attention to his opponent. I would like to think that Stevens lied about this.
But according to former Commissioner Pam Militello, commissioners are routinely informed about police incidents in their districts, so it is possible Miller knew of the events on Saturday before they were published in the paper. I e-mailed Mr. Miller about this, but have not received a response as of now.
Conclusion: The attempt to discredit Ron Coddington with half-baked stories and innuendo was pure sleaze. Thankfully, the regular newspaper did a better job of reporting and has possibly repaired any damage to Coddington's campaign. The attention may have even helped Coddington, who has not gotten a lot of coverage in the media. Who knows?
Election Memo #6: The Debates
No doubt in my mind, the first candidate forum held at the Women's Club produced a winner ("Ben Preston" - 02/19/11). The second "debate" at the Christian Fellowship Center gave some of us a first look at the District 1 candidates. Unfortunately, the event was not well attended. The local paper, which sponsored the forum, said a lot of people watched on TV.
Thursday, another forum for District 1 candidates was held at the Women's Club. While I'm not sure there was a clear winner, it was informative up to a point. I'd like to see a real debate format for these forums and I'd like to see more extensive public interviews of the candidates. At this event, Ron Coddington talked about city contracts -- how they are handled, not well in some cases, he suggests -- but when I sat down and talked with him earlier with a smaller group of people, he had a lot more to say about the city and what he envisions. This format does not give candidates much of a chance to elaborate on their ideas.
Cody Loomis -- suspect in some minds because of his relative youth and his relationship with the Noland family -- might have been the winner if he had not chosen to support a utilities tax. He is certainly right that people may have to pay more taxes in the future, but he is certainly wrong that renters (people who don't own) do not pay taxes. This argument sounded like it was straight out of the Noland playbook. A few years ago, voters soundly rejected a utilities tax. It was discussed by the commission this past year, then dropped.
But Loomis did come across like an adult, not a kid, as some might have thought. In that regard, he did his case some good, possibly. Coddington: I'm not sure. He tends to come across as somewhat pedantic. Of course, he is smart and well-educated, and that's how he is. I wish all voters could talk to him one-on-one, because he has some good thoughts.
My main criticism of Mr. Coddington as a candidate was at the Christian Fellowship forum where he declared he would only serve one term. I'm not sure voters are concerned about tenure and his addition that we can take him or leave him sounded arrogant. I don't think he scored points with this, and it was notably absent at the Women's Club event.
Coddington zinged Joe Miller on the endorsement that Miller got from the Sun-Sentinel. He said let's wait for the Observer's endorsement. Miller was strongly endorsed by the local paper two years ago and Miller and publisher David Eller are supposed to be tight. I don't know whom Eller will support this year, but the implication was that it would be Coddington. That would be a blow to Miller's campaign, but it might not be a negative with voters necessarily.
Conclusion: A real debate and a chance for candidates to explain their ideas -- I might add, better questions -- would be good for the campaign. Right now I'd score it Preston 1, the rest 0.
Election Memo #4: How Old is Too Young? - 02/23/11
The question of age rarely comes up in city elections because most of the candidates for local office are older than dirt to begin with. But what if a candidate is just 24?
A person can serve in the U.S House of Representatives when he is only 25 years old. The president must be at least 35. Someone can run for city commission or mayor if he or she resides in the city or district for six months and is a registered voter. So conceivably, a high-schooler could be an elected official of Deerfield Beach.
What was I doing in my mid-twenties and early thirties? Let's see: I finished my undergraduate work when I was 20. I was commissioned at age 22. I graduated from law school at 23 and was admitted to the bar on my 24th birthday.
As a 25 year old lieutenant, I commanded the headquarters company of an Army training outfit. I had around 400 people under my command. They called me "the old man." I was chief prosecutor for the 8th Army rear area in Korea when I was 26. I was deputy staff judge advocate of a major Army installation at 30 and legal counsel for reserve forces mobilization in the event of a war with the Soviet Union before my 34th.
None of these jobs was city commissioner or mayor of a city, of course. Nonetheless, they were important positions. A twenty or thirty-something can take on significant responsibility in the public or private sector. I did.
The Sun-Sentinel, endorsing Joe Miller for reelection, noted that neither of his opponents -- Ron Coddington or Cody Loomis -- had Miller's background or experience, but you know what? Very few people come into office with experience in city government or degrees in urban politics. Miller didn't know diddly when he took office two years ago.
Last night I attended a special city commission meeting on the subject of the neighborhood stabilization program. Despite my academic background in government and law, I didn't have a clue what they were talking about. I bet the commissioners, with the possible exception of Ms. Poitier, didn't know much of anything either before they read the background information. There's always a learning curve in public office.
Granted, experience is a plus. Incumbents generally have the edge in that regard. For me, the candidate's intelligence, character, and what he or she wants to do for the city are more important.
I wouldn't count anybody out in the election at this point, but Mr. Loomis, age 24, doesn't stand a good chance of defeating Joe Miller for the District 1 commission seat. It's possible he'll take enough votes away from Coddington to insure Miller's reelection. However, I like the fact that Loomis is in the race. This town is run by old people and it's good to see a younger person involved. And he's not a flake either: he's well-spoken and has some right ideas.
Conclusion: Mr. Loomis' campaign slogan is "The Future is Here." Well, maybe not quite yet. But four years from now, when he's 28 and has lots of civic involvement under his belt, maybe age won't be a factor in Loomis' next campaign.
Election Memo #3: Beach Parking - 02/21/11
Many of us thought, or hoped, that the issue of building a parking garage or some other construction on the main beach parking lot had been laid to rest for at least a generation.
The issue has been revived because the CRA is now out trying to find ways to spend its money. One way to do this is to expand parking at the beach and this would logically include a parking garage, for which there appears to be little public support because of the impact such construction would have on the beach front and the surrounding area.
A parking garage is included in the CRA plan and in the draft capital improvement plan for the CRA.
I've addressed this issue before because I believe it is financially irresponsible for one part of the city government (the CRA) to be looking for ways to spend money, which could include extravagant projects and things most people don't want, when the city government proper is hurting so badly for money to provide basic services. It is well to keep in mind that CRA money is not a free gift from the gods, but is tax money levied on people who live or own property on the beach and elsewhere in the CRA district.
There is no question: Beach parking ought to be someplace on the burner in the District 1 election.
District 1 residents, particularly those who live near the coast, should be concerned by the renewed interest in this idea. If it's true that we need more beach parking, as often stated as if it does not require proof, then it follows that more people will come to the beach once it's provided in the form of more parking lots or a parking garage. This means traffic congestion and more people at the beach. It's an issue that affects public safety, lifestyles, and the comfort of local residents. In fact, it is an issue that is sometimes presented as if the locals don't really matter in the discussion.
Both Joe Miller and Ron Coddington have stated publicly they oppose a parking structure on the main beach parking lot. Yet there are still City Hall insiders who want a garage built. The current push for it seems to be led by the CRA's paid consultant on property acquisition whom Mr. Miller was instrumental in hiring.
When Al Capellini was mayor pushing the parking garage idea, the reason was clear, or became clear. Capellini's friends could scarf up the millions that would go into the design and construction of the project. City officials at the time never had any real evidence that the beach needed or would benefit from additional parking, let alone a parking garage in such a conspicuous location.
If you think it was mere coincidence that the contract for the garage design went to Big Al's business partners, I've got a bridge over the Waterway I'd like to sell you. The former mayor is out of the picture now, but it's still a question if it's the same show today, with different actors.
It seems to me that if a credible case is to be made that more parking is needed at the beach, someone could tell us how much parking is needed. Do we need a thousand spaces? 10,000? All the politicians and proponents say is we need more. How does one determine need without knowing what the need is? Nobody offers a real answer.
Several years ago a group of residents conducted an unofficial parking study but with interesting results. The bottom line: already available parking is used less than 25 percent of the time over the period of a year during peak beach hours. Where do we find the need for more parking in that statistic?
Conclusion: There's no real proof that a parking garage or more spaces anywhere on the beach are needed for parking. Voters should pin down the candidates for the District 1 seat on how they stand on this issue.
Ben Preston - 02/19/11
Candidate forums rarely produce clear winners and losers except in the minds of supporters and opponents. Not the case at the Women's Club debate on Feb. 14 with the District 2 city commission candidates. Ben Preston was the hands-down winner.
Three candidates are running against the incumbent, Sylvia Poitier. They are Preston, former interim city commissioner Gloria Battle, and Annette Woods. Poitier did not attend. She was out-of-town, according to the official explanation.
Preston proved himself intelligent, articulate, and thoughtful in his positions. He says city government should be honest and pledged support for ethics reform.
The big loser was Poitier, the no-show. Sylvia Poitier does not deserve another term in office if she is not prepared to defend her actions and votes over the last six years.
Perhaps Ms. Poitier thinks she is so solid with "her people" she doesn't have to justify her positions and votes. Ergo, she doesn't need to confront her challengers in front of voters. (She will have another chance this week.)
It is encouraging to see people challenging Poitier for the District 2 commission seat. In 2009, she was unopposed for reelection despite all the gripes about her in her district. Everybody knows that it will be an uphill battle to oust her after all these years. A major problem: Voters may not show up at the polls on Mar. 8.
Sylvia Poitier, 75, has had a remarkable career as a city commissioner, mayor, and county commissioner. She's been in and out of office for nearly 40 years. She's twice served as mayor of Deerfield Beach (but was never elected to that office) and five terms as a city commissioner, including her most recent two-year term. Poitier was a Broward County commissioner from 1986 to 1998. Anyone with these credentials is bound to be formidable in an election.
But Poitier's history as a public official is not without controversy. She has been accused of numerous ethical violations. The most recent charges allege conflicts-of-interest in the disbursement of federal housing money. There are further allegations that Poitier is connected to missing funds from the Mango and Brazilian street festivals held in her district. To date, she has not been found guilty of ethical violations or charged with any crime.
Blogger Chaz Stevens' stated in a widely-distributed letter that Poitier was "[f]ound guilty of violating Federal Conflict of Interest laws, costing the city $40,000 or so." This statement requires elaboration.
A federal audit by HUD of city practices in dispersing housing assistance funds from the federal government found that city employees failed to disclose possible conflicts-of-interest, in that funds were awarded to community organizations with which Ms. Poitier has connections through her daughter and a cousin of her ex-husband. Consequently, the federal agency stated it did not have confidence that the funds were awarded without favoritism. HUD wants the federal funds back.
Had city officials (not Ms. Poitier) properly disclosed the possible conflicts-of-interest to the agency, HUD could have "excused" the potential conflicts if it found that the award was still in the best public interest.
Keep in mind that HUD is a federal agency whose mission is to give out money for housing assistance. HUD has no authority to find a local official guilty of unethical conduct under state or local law. The competent ethics agencies have yet to find that Poitier voted on any matter in which she, or a close relative or associate, gained any special personal financial benefits, the legal standard applied under state law. Of course, the city is unhappy with the HUD findings, because it will have to pay back a lot of money from its general funds at a time when it is financially distressed. Opinion is divided whether Poitier shares the blame for the city's errors.
There are other legitimate concerns about Ms. Poitier's conduct as a public official. One is the Mar. 19, 2009, vote to transfer funds received from HUD from one community housing organization to another in which her brother, Lionel Ferguson, was a major creditor.
Poitier did not disclose this fact or abstain in the vote, which was on her motion; however, as with other accusations against her, there are no formal findings or determinations that she violated voting conflicts laws. The feds did not consider this vote, incidentally, in their audit because the matter failed to carry and no HUD funds were dispersed. Moreover, it is only speculation, in the absence of such findings, that Poitier's brother would have gained financially.
Another matter of concern is an allegation that Poitier extorted money from organizations seeking federal housing assistance. Again, this remains to be proved.
Meantime, rumors abound that Poitier is soon to be arrested and charged with various crimes by federal and state agencies. Rumors are rumors. It is well to keep in mind that the "street" is unlikely to know the scope of the official investigations, the likelihood of charges, or the timing of an arrest, if any is to occur.
Still, it is not enough for a public official to avoid prosecution. A critical element of public ethics is that public officials work to avoid the appearance of impropriety in their votes and actions, even if they are on the up-and-up. This is work which must be actively and consciously pursued. In Ms. Poitier's case, she has treated public ethics with contempt.
Therefore, if voters have lost confidence in her, even if the allegations are unproven, they are perfectly right to consider another candidate in which they have greater trust. If Sylvia Poitier is formally charged and removed from office, the matter takes care of itself.
Last year, the city commission discussed removing Poitier from the commission mostly because of the HUD findings. (The city charter may or may not permit this.) Commissioners were advised privately by outside counsel retained by the city after which they decided not to pursue the matter.
After Mayor Al Capellini's arrest by state authorities and removal from office in Dec. 2008 for receiving kickbacks, Poitier assumed the office of mayor and Gloria Battle was appointed interim city commissioner to fill her seat until the next city election. Gloria Battle is now running against Poitier along with Preston and Annette Woods. During this short tenure, an ethics code was drafted and presented to the commission. Both the interim mayor Poitier and interim commissioner Battle voted against the ethics proposal.
Poitier has repeatedly stated she opposes ethics laws at the city level. Poitier voted to weaken the law earlier this year by allowing city officials to take gifts from contractors. Challenger Battle made it clear at the candidate forum that she still opposes local ethics laws.
Further, after her short term as city commissioner, Ms. Battle served on a city committee set up to review the recently enacted ethics code which she voted against. Battle was absent from many of the meetings and contributed little or nothing to the committee's work, except for her vote to repeal the code's strict gift standards.
Neither Poitier nor Gloria Battle seems to want high standards of conduct for public officials. Why is that? Battle, incidentally, is also under investigation for a vote she cast as an interim commissioner which involved a possible conflict-of-interest she had at the time.
Mr. Preston, asked about ethics at the candidate forum, supports local ethics laws and does not believe that local officials should accept gifts from city vendors and other persons having business with the commission.
There is still work to be done with respect to public ethics. If Mr. Preston were to be elected in District 2 and depending on who takes District 1, there is a chance that this work will advance. If either Poitier or Battle is elected, there will likely be no further consideration of public ethics (of an ethics code for city workers, for example). Repeal of the existing code is not beyond the realm of possibility if the votes are there.
Add to this Sylvia Poitier's disruptive behavior at the city commission meetings, including her habit of talking incessantly without substantive contribution, and you have a good case against her reelection. District 2 should have a commissioner who is not only beloved within his or her own community, but is respected throughout the city. Remember that a city commissioner represents not only a district, but all residents of Deerfield Beach. Poitier, for the most part, does not have the broader respect.
I think Mr. Preston would have that respect. He is a retired firefighter for the city and a local business owner. He has a master's degree from FIU. He's lived in Deerfield Beach for 30 years and is a family man with four kids.
Ben Preston is just what District 2 and the larger Deerfield Beach community need.
Conclusion: Ben Preston is the voters' best choice to serve as city commissioner from District 2.
Election Memo #2: Who "Owns" Deerfield Beach? - 02/10/11
Back in the Capellini era, whenever someone said that Deerfield Beach belongs to city residents, Big Al would pull out a big old chart showing the patchwork of privately owned land in the beach area. No one disputes what the chart showed: Some sections of the dry sand are still in private hands and most of the adjacent property is privately owned. Al never got the point.
Do any of the candidates for city commission get the point? I'd like to know what the candidates think about this issue. Should public policy with respect to the beach serve the residents of Deerfield Beach or the people who drive in from Coconut Creek and Boca? Who rules this town -- citizens, or developers and other special interests who would like to transform the beach into something radically different from what attracted many of our residents to come here in the first place?
Redevelopment can't be stopped completely, but it's not written into the law that it must be fostered either. In fact, what the law mandates in Florida is sensible planning by cities for future development to insure that the interests of residents are protected. That was what the Amendment 4 debate was all about.
Someone sent me a link to an interesting paper written by a land-use consultant out of Oregon which found that development and redevelopment often do not produce the wonderful results that are projected by those who push for it in communities like Deerfield Beach. The author of the paper is Eben Fodor, the principal of Fodor & Associates, of Eugene, Oregon.
"Most cities in the U.S.," the report states, "have operated on the assumption that growth is inherently beneficial and that more and faster growth will benefit local residents economically. Local growth is often cited as the cure for urban ailments, especially the need for local jobs. But does the empirical evidence show that growth is actually providing these benefits?"
This is what Mr. Fodor concluded: "The 'conventional wisdom' that growth generates economic and employment benefits was not supported by the data. The study found that those metro areas that have fared the best had the lowest growth rates. Even metro areas with stable or declining populations tended to fare better than fast-growing areas in terms of basic measures of economic well-being." Fodor suggests other strategies for economic growth and prosperity.
If I were in charge of the World, I would ban certain words and phrases from the political language of Deerfield Beach. These would include--
I'd also like to see the CRA disbanded before it sunsets in 2029 if it gets to the point where it has so much borrowing power it can use on a whim that it has to go out and find ways to spend the money. This does not hack it, in my sense, when city government, which provides essential services, faces a financial crisis, cuts services, lays off employees (some of whom maintain the beach), explores privatization to save money, and now proposes to cut the pay of city workers. When the inevitable result, in time, will be higher taxes for residents just to stay afloat.
I can't for the life of me understand how making Deerfield Beach any more of a destination than it already is will benefit ordinary residents. Or gentrification. Stakeholder has recently become an important concept in local politics. This word implies that there is a special class of persons -- stakeholders -- whose interests are more important than us ordinary slobs who pay for all the wonderful city services, public safety, amenities, and maintenance that makes our beach so attractive to people outside the city.
Did you know -- you probably remember if you were around 25 years ago -- that Deerfield Beach used to promote itself as a quiet, family-friendly beach?
Conclusion: We can't change the fact that our city attracts people from out-of-town and developers. But it would be nice if one, or two, of the city commissioners worked for the citizens of Deerfield Beach, and not for outside interests.
Election Memo: Fire Services and Ethics - 02/09/11
One of the questions that should be asked of city commission candidates at the upcoming debates is their position on a "merger" of the Deerfield Beach fire department with the Broward County fire department, operating under the direction of the BSO. It appears that the issue of outsourcing city fire services to the BSO may once again come to the forefront. A proposal along these lines was laid on the table in 2006 and laid to rest -- at least temporarily -- by a 2007 referendum.
In 2006, then Sheriff Ken Jenne made a proposal which was widely supported by fire service rank-and-file. However, the city could not proceed with the matter until it had permissive authority to lease the existing fire stations and facilities to the county. Charter § 7.09(2) provides in part that "lease of all or a portion of city-owned real property ... must be approved by a majority of the qualified electors of the city voting at a regular city, general or special election if the fair market value of the real property is in excess of $750,000.00."
The core issue of the election on Mar. 13, 2007, was not, however, whether the city should lease out or otherwise transfer city property, but whether it should disband the city fire department and go with the BSO as it had with police. Voters, in effect, rejected the "merger" proposal, 2,702 to 1,618 (62.55 percent to 37.45 percent).
Regardless of your position on this contentious issue, it would be good to know what the respective candidates think about it at this point, as it does look like it could be a subject for the commission within the next four years.
As regular readers of this site know, I am interested in public ethics, and long advocated an ethics program for the city. We got a start with the passage of an ethics code in 2009, but then saw a key provision of the code eviscerated a year later by the city commission which is now sitting. Further, there has been no effort, so far as I know, to write an ethics manual for city employees (the ethics code only applies to elected officials and the city manager).
Public interest, moreover, is not as focused on this issue as it is on many other city issues. I agree that ethics codes and laws are not the final solution to the wide-spread corruption we have in Broward County at the various levels. Obviously, the key to ethical government is honest officials: an honest mayor, commissioner, or city manager or employee doesn't need a law to tell him that taking a gift or favor from a city contractor is unethical and gives the impression that the city is not dealing with its citizens fairly and impartially. Even a not-so-honest official should understand the fine line between "gifts" and bribes or kickbacks.
Unfortunately, we do not have honest city officials and this is what my question might be in the debates, directed first to Mr. Miller. It might go something like this:
The same question could and should be directed to Commissioner Poitier and candidate Battle. Poitier and Battle (an interim commissioner at the time) voted against the original ethics code.
Conclusion: Voters should know the candidates' position on a possible "merger" of our fire department with the county's, and they should know what the respective candidates think about public ethics.
D-2 might have had three district meetings for the community in six years. I will never understand the mentality of some in our community. We seem to have aligned ourselves with the wrong politicians all the time. What I see is a bunch of misinformed citizens/political supporters who won't hold the incumbent commissioner or any African-American politician, accountable for anything. I see more excuses being made for their poor performances, which to me is inexcusable. These same people will run a pastor out of a church, but will let an ineffective, corrupt politician remain in office. Talk about hypocrisy!
This group "just don't get it." They will continue to assist in running our community in the ground. I will continue to voice my opinion about the political situation in D-2 -- the situation seems to worsen by the day. This community seems to be oblivious to the current emergency situation in D-2. We have a high crime rate, foreclosures, layoffs, no baseball field, taxation without true representation, blight, unemployment, etc.
The majority of residents seem to be satisfied with the incumbent Commissioner Poitier's Doctrine. She will probably win only because of name recognition, not because she is the best candidate. (She is the most experienced.) I'm hearing residents say they don't know any of the other candidates, but the same residents won't attend any forum. Residents need to hear the views of each of the candidates, and make a conscience decision on Mar. 8, 2011.
One thing is very clear. We can't continue down the same path as we have for the last six years. We need district meetings every four months, we need true representation and not showmanship. We need a new direction for D-2.
The residents of D-2 can't continue to sit on their asses and let our current or any future commissioner, not be held to the highest ethical and job performance accountability. This must be demanded by voters. The political strategist on Poitier's team obviously seems to think this community is full of damn fools. I truly believe the incumbent commissioner and her political handlers believe this community has blinders on.
Poitier and her political strategist are taking a calculated risk: they think they can hide and not debate the issues and run a mailer campaign, hoping to win on name recognition only. There are many questions/answers the public needs to know about the incumbent Commissioner Poitier, and the other candidates. Avoiding the tough questions in a public forum is taking the easy way out. They don't care. They know voter apathy is like a plague in the Black Community, and that's what our incumbent commissioner and her team of followers are banking on.
The other candidates want to run clean campaigns, and that's fine. I also believe they better take the gloves off and tell the D-2 residents the truth about the last six years and its downward spiral under the current leadership. I do know that facts are facts. The truth shall be known, and the truth will set you free!
District 2 Debate Plans Snagged - 01/22/11
The organizers of the Women's Club forum for District 2 set for Feb. 11 have a problem. The problem is Sylvia Poitier. Her three opponents have all agreed to Feb. 11, but Poitier says she'll be out of town on that date. The organizers are considering moving the forum to another date, but should they?
There is a word for Poitier's excuse: Bullshit.
No serious candidate for public office -- especially an incumbent facing stiff opposition -- would go out of town during the height of the campaign unless it were an emergency.
It appears instead that Poitier would prefer not to face her opponents or questions from the public about her official conduct as Deerfield Beach commissioner. I submit, if she does not want to answer questions posed by her constituents in a public forum, she should quit the race.
Debate organizers have done everything possible to find a date for the event which is convenient to all the candidates, short of rearranging the moon and stars. Poitier can change her plans, or give the whole stage to her opponents, the same as for everybody else. It's up to her.
Of course, it would be in the public's interest if all four candidates participated. But if it can't happen, it can't happen. Candidates are free to skip the debates, and voters can draw their own conclusions.
Conclusion: Set the date for Feb. 11. If Sylvia Poitier can't make it, so be it.
District Elections Shaping Up - 01/11/11
Some surprises are good. Both my fellow citizen journalist from District 2, Wayne Adams, and I were convinced that Sylvia Poitier would likely win her district by default. Until a few days ago, there appeared to be no viable opponents on the horizon. See, my two previous articles.
As it turns out, because politics is often unpredictable, three persons stepped up to the plate in District 2 to oppose Poitier. One of them, Gloria Battle, briefly represented the district as an interim commissioner in 2009. She also sat on the committee chartered by the commission to review the city's ethics code. During her tenure as interim commissioner, she voted against the code. In my view, Battle is not a prime example of the competence and sort of integrity this district desperately needs. But, of course, it's up to voters to decide whether they want to stick with the same old group of ethically-challenged grandma-types of which Battle is a prime example, which seems to have defined District 2 politics for a number of years, or bring in a fresh face who might elevate politics in the district a notch or two.
Ben Preston and Annette Woods are the other two candidates. I will defer to Wayne to tell you who they are and what they stand for on his blog, The Black Perspective.
Meanwhile, the District 1 incumbent, Joe Miller, also will have a fight on his hands as he tries to retain his seat for a full four-year term this time. Ron Coddington and Cody Loomis are the challengers.
Cody Loomis is the athletic director at Zion Lutheran, and is reportedly a close friend of the mayor's son, Thomas, who works for fire and rescue. He is a lifelong resident of Deerfield Beach. According to his Facebook page, his interests are fiscal responsibility and a revamped parks and recreation program for the city.
Ronald J. Coddington is a professional engineer whose firm addresses environmental restoration. One of his interests is the environment. He believes the parks in Deerfield Beach could exploit the waterfront sites of some of them, and he also voices a strong interest in protecting the beach area from overdevelopment. Further development of the beach and future improvements to Pioneer and Sullivan Parks are upcoming discussions, so the views of candidates on these issues are important. He is degreed; none of the current commissioners has a college degree.
I've met with Coddington. In my meeting, I found him to be intelligent, knowledgeable, and articulate. He's got a lot to say and doesn't pussy-foot around the issues much. My impression is that he's a serious candidate, that is, if anyone listens.
Miller and Poitier have their records to run on for good or ill. Incumbents usually have an edge. At least one debate is being organized for District 1.
Of course, there is still the question I posed in my previous article. Will voters show up at the polls given the fact that 2011 is an off-off year election? What interests voters?
Whatever the answer to the second question, it is a fact that over the years, as the population of the city has grown, voting in city elections has declined. For example, in District 1, a thousand fewer voters showed at the polls in the most recent city election (2009) than in 1993, the year that Noland was first elected to the commission. All of the interim elections ('97, '01, and '05) had higher turnouts than 2009. Only the 2005 election, however, came close to 1993 for votes cast.
In contrast, voter interest in District 1 in 2009 was lower than in any of the four prior elections. Still, in the Ocean Park Referendum vote, which corresponded with the presidential election of 2000, more than 5,000 District 1 voters voted for or against the proposition. Only 3,256 voters voted in the district elections of 1993; and only 2,587 in 1997.
These figures (obviously selected) are subject to interpretation. The high voter turnout for Ocean Park was no doubt partly because of the election. But it also suggests that voters will get off their keisters and vote if you give them something they are interested in. It could be inferred from these results that voters are more interested in who runs Washington D.C. than who runs City Hall. And they seem to be more interested in what happens at City Hall than who makes it happen. (Except on the day they receive their ad valorem tax bill.)
There is, or seems to be, voter disconnect. Let's take for example Ocean Park again. Voters in droves voted the referendum down, then less than half of them came back only weeks later in March and reelected Peggy Noland, who was one of the chief promoters of the beach retail complex. Noland even declared after her election (her third to the District 1 seat) that her vision for the beach (a shopping center in the middle of the beach area, apparently) was vindicated. This seemed disingenuous in light of the vote only weeks before. But it does show this "disconnect" between issues and candidates, and the different interests voters have in these elections.
Another question then occurs to me, whether a candidate for a city office could possibly excite the voters as much as a controversial issue, such as Ocean Park. The upcoming election of 2011 could be an interesting test because voters will have nothing to vote on except for a single city commissioner.
Conclusion: The challengers could give the incumbents a run for their money in the 2011 election, but voters who stay home may decide who wins.