The Deetjen Computer Files
Documents found on the city manager's office computer when he was suspended.
Larry Deetjen: Pro or Politico? (11/09/04)
This article discusses a "strong mayor" alternative to the present council-manager system.
The People v. Larry Deetjen (02/24/02)
"We believe that Mr. Deetjen's defiance of the commission's directive is grounds for dismissal. We believe the citizens of Deerfield Beach have had enough and that the commission should fire Mr. Deetjen."
THE LARRY DEETJEN PAPERS
On April 19th, 2005, the city commission suspended City Manager Larry R. Deetjen for 45 days. The charge -- insubordination -- grew out of a confrontation between Deetjen and Vice Mayor Steve Gonot in which the city manager ordered Gonot out of his office and called for deputies to remove him. The commission voted 4-1 to suspend Mr. Deetjen (Mayor Al Capellini dissenting).
A week later the commission added another charge to the suspension which alleged that Deetjen had assisted the plaintiffs and attorney in a lawsuit against the city which sought to overturn recently adopted amendments to the city charter. The public trust, of course, required Deetjen and other city officials to defend the city's position in the suit. Documents found on Deetjen's office computer after he vacated his office included unauthorized communications with the opposing attorney and other evidence of questionable conduct unrelated to this matter. Deetjen's defense was that he had been directed by the commission in a then secret litigation meeting to assist the plaintiffs; examination of the minutes of the meeting, unsealed to clarify the suspension charges, revealed that this was not true.
After a hearing on May 17th, however, Deetjen was reinstated to his post (Militello, Gonot dissenting). But a year later, in June, 2006, Deetjen was again suspended, for period of six months (Capellini, Poitier dissenting), this time on the basis of an incident at the Palm Beach International Airport in which Deetjen was charged with making racist statements to a parking enforcement official.
In a separate action, the city commission declared that it would not extend Deetjen's contract past its May, 2007, expiration date, whether or not he was restored to his post after the suspension. Deetjen sued the city claiming that his suspension violated the city charter. The suit failed. In November, 2006, voters approved a charter amendment that would make it easier for the commission to fire a city manager in the future. In December, Deetjen resigned his post, receiving a lucrative settlement package from the city.
Larry R. Deetjen was appointed village manager of Oak Lawn, Illinois, in July, 2007.
This page contains a collection of articles and notes about former City Manager Larry Deetjen and his administration of the city from 2002 until his resignation.
The Same Old Larry? - 05/06/08
Could be. There's a story coming out of Oak Whatever, Illinois, where Larry R. Deetjen is now manager, that might be of interest to our local firefighters and all others who continue to observe the path of destruction that is LRD. There is still this nagging feeling that some have that Larry R. Deetjen plans to return someday to be the big fish in the slime pool that is Deerfield Beach politics. So just about any news Deetjen evokes some interest locally, even if we're down here and he's up there.
The story is that the village council up there laid off three firefighters at the urging of the manager, Mr. Deetjen. Doesn't seem like much of a story, except that local fire eaters think the action is retaliation, not legitimate budget cutting. Deetjen and Oak Lawn politicos say the cuts were necessary to trim the budget and shift priorities to beefing up the police department. In the same action, the village council voted to recruit three new cops.
The firefighters see it differently. So did an editorial in a local paper (Southtown Star 04/17/08):
"Given the bitter nature of the stalled contract talks between the village and firefighters, it's hard not to think there may be some retaliation involved here. Even if the village manager's per capita numbers are correct and the village does have more firefighters than other towns its size, laying off three people in one department rather than spreading cuts around seems mercenary and possibly vindictive.
"To put a local spin on an old adage, if it looks like retaliation, sounds like retaliation and feels like retaliation, does that make it retaliation?"
We can't sort out the facts here -- who's right and who's wrong -- but it does sound like vintage Larry. He plays politics; he can't help it, we suspect. He played politics here against those who did not go along with his programs. This included using police and code enforcement against his more conspicuous opponents. He may not have been the point man -- there were useful idiots for that -- but we have little doubt that Mr. Deetjen was lurking in the background in the recall effort against Steve Gonot. He could be lurking there too, perhaps with Mrs. Deetjen, who still resides here, as the proxy, in the continuing attacks on Gonot, as Gonot himself seeks to unseat Mayor Capellini.
After all, if Gonot should become mayor, Deetjen's chances of coming back as city manager are sunk.
The prospect of Deetjen returning to Deerfield Beach, hooking up with Al Capellini and his ex-fire chief Gary Lother in some sort of power play, is enough to wrench a lot of stomachs.
We don't think it's going to happen, but the idea of it alone is sufficiently nauseating to anyone of this community who has greater aspirations for the city than the kind of regime that Larry R. Deetjen represented.
Larry R. Deetjen: A Witch? - 08/20/07
Copies of last week's essay "A Deetjen Retrospective" were forwarded via e-mail to Oak Lawn, Illinois, officials, who recently hired Larry R. Deetjen as village manager, by a person friendly to, but not associated with, this web site. A copy was also sent to Mr. Deetjen.
The response was pointed, especially from one irate village trustee, Carol Quinlan:
"It is obvious by the nature of your e-mail [i.e., the e-mail of the person who forwarded the article] that you have your own agenda. I refuse to be a part of slaughtering someone's hard earned professional and personal reputation as you seem to be doing. We are very happy with our decision to hire Mr. Deetjen and look forward to working with him in the many years ahead."
The essay was not intended to influence Oak Lawn officials or anyone else regarding Deetjen's present or future employment. It was as it said -- a retrospective on Deetjen's years in Deerfield Beach -- suggesting reasons for his fall from power. The interest of this web site is Deerfield Beach, Florida, not Oak Lawn, Illinois. Deetjen is still a topic of discussion on this site, the necessary focal point of our continued study of public ethics.
We are happy that Ms. Quinlan and other Oak Lawn officials are happy with their decision to bring Mr. Deetjen on board. It appears from news reports that Oak Lawn was desperate to fill their top administrative position. Mr. Deetjen possesses all the credentials and attributes to be a fine manager for the town. We certainly hope it works out for them "in the many years ahead," and that Larry R. Deetjen never again darkens the city gates of Deerfield Beach.
It is also apparent, however, from news reports and statements by Oak Lawn officials, that many believe that Deetjen was a widely beloved city manager who was railroaded out of town with malicious intent by city commissioners. Another Oak Lawn official wrote, "While we have heard from Larry Deetjen about [these] so called 'issues' we have not heard from the accuser or anyone on the opposite side of the argument. All we heard was Larry's side...."
The local paper there paraphrased Deetjen, who "said he was the victim of a witch hunt triggered by turnover on the city commission, a view echoed by ally [Chamber director Janyce] Becker."
Nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Deetjen was, certainly at one time, a popular city manager who seemed to be doing a good job. This seemed especially so because the local editor here loved Deetjen and supported his extensive redevelopment agenda. The local paper here never investigated his questionable actions, but left this task to more specialized publications like the New Times and this web site. By the time of the first suspension, Mr. Deetjen's credibility among residents had eroded to some extent. By the time of the second suspension, when commissioners decided they would not extend Deetjen's contract, the community was sharply divided on whether Mr. Deetjen should be retained as city manager. It would be a gross over-statement to suggest that Deetjen was universally loved by the city: to many he was a joke, an embarrassment, a disgrace. Sorry to say it, but it's true.
During the first suspension, directed by the commission with a 4-1 vote, when Deetjen ordered an elected city official out of his office and called police to eject him, the commission afforded Deetjen a public hearing. After hearing hours of speeches by scores of Deetjen supporters and some opponents, the commission reinstated Deetjen by the narrowest possible margin. Then came a second suspension, resulting from a widely-reported and embarrassing incident at the Palm Beach airport, in which Deetjen was accused of using racial slurs against an airport parking official. The incident was investigated by the Palm Beach County Sheriff, and was collaborated in sworn statements by witnesses.
It was after the second suspension that city commissioners decided that Deetjen would not be offered an extended contract and the customary pay raise. Mr. Deetjen then resigned. Larry R. Deetjen was not fired by the City of Deerfield Beach.
All of these events were reported in the Sun-Sentinel and other regional papers and can easily be discovered in this day and age of computers and Google. But Larry R. Deetjen is always the victim by his own reckoning. He was provoked to kick Steve Gonot out of his office, instead of leading a civil discussion on a disagreement. He was slandered by false accusations by those airport employees at PBIA. He was the target of a witch hunt by certain city commissioners that resulted in his finally leaving his post as city manager.
Another point of "A Deetjen Retrospective" was that this is not the way it had to be. Oak Lawn people probably think the average Deerfield Beach resident has no branches on his family tree and drives a John Deere to work. But the fact is these hayseeds gave Larry R. Deetjen an 11 or so year chance to be an honest public official, and he blew it, all by himself. That's how we see it.
A Deetjen Retrospective - 08/13/07
"Beware the Ides of August." It's true, the soothsayer said "Ides of March" when he warned Caesar. But today, August 13th, is the Ides of August, and Caesar is quoted in this essay.
Larry R. Deetjen is gone. Oak Lawn, Illinois, seems a long way away. But the Deetjen legacy and a lot of questions remain here, in Deerfield Beach.
There are still the unresolved matters of Crystal Lake -- why Deetjen mislead county officials regarding the city's easement there -- the new public works building and the Mitigation Operations Center -- the so-called MOC. Officials and the press have just begun to probe into the new buildings, authorized by voters in two bond issue elections, but beset by delays, cost overruns, shoddy construction, too-lavish amenities at the MOC, sneaky budget ploys, and other problems. Whether the mess at these sites is the consequence of incompetence, or corruption, is yet to be determined. In any event, Larry R. Deetjen was in charge of these bungled projects from the inception.
There is also the question of the Deetjen loyalists still at City Hall. Will they stay or eventually be fired by the new manager? We don't know yet. There are even rumors (we will leave it up to readers to decide the veracity of them) that a coup d'état of sorts is being hatched: that the plan is to bring Deetjen back, when and if there is a power shift after the next city election. While this may seem far-fetched, so did the fraudulent recall effort against Deetjen's prime adversary on the city commission, launched by Deetjen supporters, most likely as a desperate attempt to keep Mr. Deetjen in office in Deerfield Beach. One of the principals of the recall scheme may be running already for the District 4 seat, when Gonot is term-limited out. There is reason to believe that Deetjen played more than a passive role in the recall movement.
It's too early to give thoughtful analysis of an election a year and a half off. All of the commission seats may be up for grabs. Gonot has announced for mayor. Capellini has not bowed out, yet. The rumor mill has Peggy Noland, former long-time District 1 commish, running. Only Steve Gonot, though, has made it official.
None of the above mentioned is universally loved by the citizens of Deerfield Beach and each has some baggage. But from the standpoint of a Deetjen redux, Gonot's election, if it were a contest of these three, would be the least advantageous. Gonot, given his predispositions, would also be the most likely to continue to press for answers as questions arise about actions taken during the Deetjen administration.
Given that this is local politics, it is not impossible to believe that there may be in the back of some quixotic minds the idea of reviving the "golden age" of Larry R. Deetjen. Still, it would be difficult to craft a political campaign around this weird idea, and even more difficult to state any compelling reason why the city would want to. The city has not fallen apart since Deetjen left; only the buildings that he built seem to be falling apart, if the reports are correct.
Mike Mahaney may not be as slick as his predecessor, and Deetjen can refer to him as Hillbilly Mike if he wants to, but Mahaney stepped into one hell of a mess, and is dealing with it, without grandstanding. It could be supposed that Hillbilly Mike could slam Deetjen big time. By this time he probably knows more about Deetjen and his left-over friends at City Hall than anyone. But he has refrained from public comment for the time being.
Deetjen is not, was not, moreover, the only person in the world capable of running this city. Attempts to revive long-past political eras generally fail. Politics is like a river where the top currents move faster than the deeper currents. Nonetheless, the slower moving water still flows forward. The idea that Larry R. Deetjen shall someday ride his steed across the Rubicon, followed by legions of supporters, to reclaim his position in Deerfield Beach, is fantasy. To quote Caesar: Alea iacta est.
The council-manager form is based upon the idea that city governments are essentially businesses, collecting waste, paving roads, fighting fires, protecting children, supplying water; in other words, providing for the welfare of their citizens. Thus we have a dashing city manager figure, thoughtful, resolute, "professional"; above the fray, above the corruption, above the windbag politicians; defending truth, justice and the American way while solving the problems of the city. Larry R. Deetjen was smart, smooth, articulate, secretive and deceptive.
On another part of this web site, we have a section called "Larry Deetjen's Secret Government." This is a series of articles about how Deetjen operated as city manager. There were two sides to Deetjen's administration. The public side: smooth, articulate, gracious, progressive. The dark side: secretive, unprincipled, unlawful, ultra vires, untruthful, repressive, political. The short story on Larry R. Deetjen is that he lost it: he became the mayor and the commission wrapped up into one person, except that he was not accountable to the people, and served, it seems, narrower interests. He slept with developers, with René Lépine, with Pete Boinis, with Capellini. He usurped the policy-makers. He did, or knew about, secret deals. He is accused of backing candidates in political campaigns and trying to influence the outcome of issue elections. He helped people suing the city. He appears to have assisted interests close to the mayor by writing county officials with misleading statements that were not factual.
In the latter case, Deetjen informed county officials that the city commission supported relinquishment of an easement at Crystal Lake, which was a prerequisite to the granting of a landfill permit to a company with which the mayor was associated. The wording implied that the commission had abandoned the easement, when in fact it had taken no formal action. Deetjen never said that the commission took formal action, but county officials may have interpreted it that way. The permit was granted. It was later revealed that it was an employee of the mayor's engineering firm (not the mayor) who asked Deetjen to write the letters.
It is not clear whether Lanzo, the permitee, knew about this business, but it is obvious that Deetjen knew for whom he was writing the letters. The question remains whether Deetjen deliberately mislead county officials. It would also be interesting to know what the quid pro quo was. Why would Deetjen stick his neck out like this for something in which he had no known personal interest? It would be difficult for Deetjen to argue that he was acting in the public interest (he liked to explain his actions by saying he was just doing his job) when the commission had not yet decided what the public interest was in this case.
The same question could be asked about the Pete Boinis matter. It was arguably Deetjen's excessive enthusiasm for Boinis' proposal for the pier restaurant that led to his first suspension, and eventually his forced resignation. It was on the issue of redevelopment, especially the Boinis proposal and the lawsuit that sought to nullify the charter amendments which limited redevelopment, where Deetjen definitely crossed the line between the professional and the political spheres. Having done that, and having done that not so skillfully, was what would ultimately take Larry R. Deetjen to the brink. So, why was he so obsessed with Boinis, when he could have as easily pulled back from the proposal when the depth of the opposition, even from the usually compliant city commission, became apparent?
There are in fact quite a few things that Deetjen did that still want explanation. For example, let's take the almost-contract that Mr. Deetjen negotiated with the investors who planned to build a commercial parking garage in the beach area. What he did is reach an agreement with the MOP investment group to enter into a public/private partnership for the garage. The public knew nothing about this and the commission, ostensibly, was in the dark. The commission had never decided it wanted to enter into such a deal or authorized negotiations. Why, then, in secret? Probably because those interested in this project knew that the community was sharply divided over a large parking structure on the beach. By keeping the deal secret for as long as possible, it was hoped that it could be rammed through before the opposition could mobilize. This was not a new strategy. The same tactics were used in the Lépine proposal and Ocean Park.
We can't prove it, but we suspect that Mayor Capellini, and possibly District 3 Commissioner Trinchitella, knew about the negotiations. The other three commissioners were unaware. When they found out, in a last minute maneuver, that's when the proverbial shit hit the fan. The deal was rejected. Deetjen took the heat alone; this may be the reason why Capellini and Trinchi arranged that sweet little contract extension and pay raise for Deetjen a few weeks later. This was Deetjen's "punishment" for his act of insubordination and usurpation.
Secret deals were nothing new to Larry R. Deetjen. For a period of at least five years, city employees made "emergency" repairs to the privately owned Century Village East's water and sewer pipe system. Nothing wrong about that, except CVE never paid for the repairs. Commissioner Trinchitella was also the boss of CVE. If any other customer failed to pay its bills to the city, you know what would happen. But no attempt, apparently, was made to collect on these invoices. No one, outside of CVE management and city government, in fact, even knew about it for a long time. It appears that CVE did not intend to pay, and the city did not intend to collect, for the repair work. What we know now points to a conspiracy to steal government services. It is evident that both Deetjen and Trinchitella were parties to the conspiracy. But in the absence of an official investigation, we may never know for certain.
Obviously, the evidence of a criminal conspiracy is circumstantial. When the unpaid bills came to light, Trinchi tried to weasel out of the bills, by claiming that CVE did not have to pay. But when the city later agreed to take over CVE's water and sewer pipelines, CVE agreed to pay the bills. For the record, the bills were paid, according to city officials. But we still suspect that earlier, CVE management, probably Trinchi, and city management, probably Deetjen, had agreed to "overlook" payment of the repair invoices. (The bills were paid in seven increments of $10,446.56 and one additional payment of $10,446.52 between May and December, 2005.)
Things like this, of course, city managers are not supposed to do. The city commission is the voice of the people and makes policy decisions. The city manager works within that policy. Larry R. Deetjen crossed the line on occasion and the commission, prior to 2005, mostly went along. It seems that by the 2001 commission term (the so-called "Dream Team"), Deetjen had built his power base and alliances to an extent that he could do pretty much anything he wanted. Deetjen was now, for all intents and purposes, the political head of Deerfield Beach.
Not that Deetjen always won. In 2002, citizen activists undertook a referendum initiative to contain development in the beach area. Redevelopment of the beach was Deetjen's cause célèbre. Acting through proxies, he, and probably the mayor, sued the city to try to stop the election. When they lost that round, and the referenda were passed by the voters, the plaintiffs continued the action to overturn the election.
How do we know this? We know this because when Deetjen was suspended the first time, documents were found on his office computer soliciting financial support for the plaintiffs, asking for additional plaintiffs to intervene in the case, and passing information to the plaintiff's counsel, including advice from the city's attorney.
We also know this because it was indirectly admitted. When the documents were made public, Capellini claimed that the commission had directed Deetjen to assist the plaintiffs in the suit at a so-called shade meeting (an on-the-record, but non-public, session of the commission to discuss certain matters related to litigation). Examination of those minutes, now unsealed, show that while the commission was supportive of the lawsuit, it never directed Deetjen to help the plaintiffs. In fact, to do so would have been an egregious betrayal of the public trust. In effect, Capellini lied. Deetjen did not lie, of course, but he would have benefited, or could have, if the real truth had not been exposed.
As we write this, an adoring article is transmitted to the editor of this web site via e-mail, which appeared in Sunday's Daily Southtown (08/12/07) Chicago area newspaper that covers Oak Lawn, about its new village manager, Larry R. Deetjen. Describing Deetjen as "a political and bureaucratic bulldog" -- whatever that means -- the writer states:
"During the last two years of his 12-year tenure as city manager of Deerfield Beach, Fla., Deetjen became a figure of intense controversy as a debate over the development of the city's beachfront blossomed into a nasty, intensely personal series of skirmishes.
"Among those opposed to new building, Deetjen was reviled as a wheeler-dealer too close to developers. In the business community, he was hailed as a visionary and skilled tactician.
"And although he was lambasted in newspaper editorials, his reputation among residents was so good that when he finally was pushed out the door by city commissioners -- a $315,000 payout in hand -- he was forced to agree in writing not to run for local office."
The article states that Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann concluded that "conversations with Deetjen and his admirers in Florida left no doubt the village manager was targeted by political enemies."
The article ends with this additional quote from Mayor Heilman: "Speaking to the community from which he came, they loved him. I think Oak Lawn's going to love him."
Well, Mr. Mayor, it might be more accurate to say that feelings about Larry R. Deetjen in this community, Deerfield Beach, were deeply divided, especially towards the end of his term. It would be over-reaching to say "they loved him." According to surveys, residents were generally satisfied with city services over the years that Deetjen was in charge. We don't recall that he was ever accused of incompetence. But citizens also unlovingly shot down Deetjen's vision for beach redevelopment in three referendum elections. Citizen activists, not "political enemies," stopped Deetjen's plan to expand the commercial area of the beach. It was Mr. Deetjen, not the activists, who decided who were the enemies. It was Mr. Deetjen who used the police to try to stop activists from distributing their petitions, violating their civil rights and rights under the First Amendment. And it was not that "Some commissioners accused Deetjen of aiding an attorney who had filed a lawsuit against the city," as stated in the above article, it is a fact supported by his own documents that he assisted the plaintiffs in that suit, violating the public trust.
Of course, Janyce Becker, Chamber head who is quoted in the article, loved Larry R. Deetjen. It was Becker who once publicly advised Mr. Deetjen to disregard public opinion and charge ahead with his plans for the beach. It was also Becker's loose talk to a Chamber member friendly to this web site that revealed that Deetjen was helping the plaintiffs in that lawsuit. This was reported here long before those documents were discovered on Deetjen's computer.
In October, 2002, we wrote: "We also have information from what we believe is a credible source, that the city manager has been going about urging members of the business community to support the lawsuit against the city." It was Becker's statement, transmitted to us by the Chamber member, that was the basis of this report.
Unfortunately, Deetjen continued to press his vision of extensive redevelopment despite strong public opposition, especially to proposals to commercialize city-owned properties at the beach, just as Ms. Becker advised. This brings us back to the question, why he was so determined. After voters killed Lépine's proposal, why did he not give up? A year-and-a-half later, there was Ocean Park, for the same property. The voters rejected it also. Did Deetjen not get it, that residents did not want the Main Beach Parking Lot developed? It was during the Ocean Park debate that Deetjen made his classic remark: after hearing Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary, who gave an informal concert at the beach one night) sing "This Land is My Land," he just knew somehow that the Main Beach Parking Lot had to be turned into a shopping center. Of course, he didn't say shopping center, because it was part of the big lie that Ocean Park was, well, a park (with, incidentally, about 20 stores and restaurants and a large parking structure). After Ocean Park came Capellini's friend's parking garage, which was likewise buried by voters.
Then came the pier restaurant and Pete Boinis' plan therefore. Some people think there was something more to the Boinis proposal, something big, something that a lot of people had an interest in. Again, Larry R. Deetjen was the chief booster. There was never a vote on Boinis, so that public support or opposition is not definitively known, but the opposition was loud enough to be heard by everyone, including Deetjen. In fairness to Mr. Deetjen, no proof has been offered (to our knowledge) that he had any direct financial interest in Boinis or any of the other schemes for city property at the beach. But it is a legitimate question whether he was supporting the proposals with more than the public interest in mind.
Deetjen could have backed off. He could have accepted the apparent fact that public support for extensive beach redevelopment was weak and unenthusiastic. He could have said, "I thought these were good ideas, but I guess they aren't" and moved on to other projects. He did not, and one thing lead to another; and the once all-powerful, seemingly invulnerable Larry R. Deetjen was no longer city manager.
Good Luck, Oak Lawn - 07/27/07
In Germany, we've been told, there is a saying: for every toilet, there is a toilet seat that fits. Or, we might put it another way. When two parties are desperate enough, they sometimes find each other.
This seems to be the case of Oak Lawn, Illinois, and Larry R. Deetjen, former city manager of Deerfield Beach and central character in our ongoing series of writings on public ethics. With respect to the discussion of city affairs in Deerfield, Deetjen is likely to play a starring role for some time to come.
As city officials (and maybe prosecutors) dig deeper into the mess that is the Public Works project and the Mitigation Operations Center, Deetjen's name will be spoke many, many times. There is still unresolved, so far as we know, the letters to county officials about Crystal Lake; and who knows what else will surface as they probe into Deetjen's regime in Deerfield Beach?
Oak Lawn has a population of 57,000. They've been looking for a village manager for two years. Larry R. Deetjen has probably established a new record in the number of applications he has submitted for city manager positions around the country since he left his post in Deerfield Beach. We've lost track. Now the Chicago suburb and Deetjen have found each other.
We wish we could like Larry R. Deetjen. He's got the credentials and the smarts to be a fine city manager. But we don't like him. He's dishonest and Deerfield Beach deserves better. Now the mayor of the village of Oak Lawn says that he can overlook all the bad press on Deetjen, because the suspensions and all the events leading up to his resignation were "political."
Hizzoner misses the point, we think. Sure it was political, and that's because Larry R. Deetjen immersed himself in the politics of Deerfield Beach. He got into a pissing contest with an elected city commissioner. He threw the commissioner out of his office. He apparently had the police chief tail the commissioner to dig up some dirt. He backed a candidate to oppose the commissioner in the city election. He probably was behind a recall effort against the commissioner. In politics, there are winners and losers. Deetjen was the loser.
Of course, Larry R. Deetjen would deny all this. I was just doing my job, he liked to say. He was just doing his job when he stirred up a law suit against the very city that he was responsible for managing.
We can't bring ourselves to wish Deetjen well in his new position, but we would like to wish Oak Lawn, Illinois, good luck.
They may need it.
"If I Did It, Here's How It Happened" - 12/10/06
Some of you may have read Larry Deetjen's resignation statement published in this week's edition of the local paper.
Of course, good things happened in Deerfield Beach while Deetjen was city manager. No one claims that the Deetjen era was a Dark Age for the city. But it wasn't exactly a Renaissance, either, especially in the ethics department.
That's because city government, under his command, served insiders, like developers, instead of the people who live here. It is wonderful that we are a "Blue Wave" beach, for example, but what good is a clean beach if guys like Pete Boinis own it?
It is a fact that there are many interests when it comes to the subject of the beach and the beach area. It is hard to find an exact position that represents the "consensus" about what citizens want for the beach. That was a problem for the CRA when it was in the so-called visioning stage, it was a problem when a "community vision" was faked by Deetjen's administration to accommodate his own and the mayor's, and it is a problem now that the area has already been transformed to an extent by redevelopment.
The thing we think most people want, if they don't stand to make a lot of money, is the relatively quiet, safe, accessible, and family-friendly beach that Deerfield Beach traditionally was before Larry Deetjen arrived on the scene. They aren't especially interested in its becoming a world-destination, or a playground for the rich. They especially are not interested in turning city-owned properties into commercial get-rich-quick schemes for the mayor and his pals.
Needless to say, Deetjen's statement doesn't mention a lot of other things that happened during his time in office and in which he was far more involved than some of the listed achievements. It is also interesting that Mr. Deetjen had to write his own letter of commendation. Why not Al Capellini or Janice Becker, singing his praises? Or Judy Wilson?
Mr. Deetjen is a finalist for the city manager's job in the Orlando suburb of Cassellberry. We hope he gets it: it's far away from Deerfield Beach.
Mooning Larry - 12/02/06
The next city commission meeting will be held under a new moon and will be the first in scores of moons without Larry Deetjen as city manager in one sense or the other. The official Deetjen era ended this week with his resignation, but the Deetjen legacy -- good, bad, and disgraceful -- will live on for a long time in Deerfield Beach.
It was a sorry end by almost any measure. If you happened to see the reader comments which followed Susannah Bryan's article about Deetjen's resignation deal on the Sun-Sentinel web site, you will see how disgusted most people were by the city's big-bucks capitulation to this s.o.b. Deetjen got away with extortion, if not murder. We wonder whether any city, anywhere, will now employ Mr. Deetjen in any important position. It will be interesting to follow the story from here and see what happens to Deetjen. Of course, we also wonder what else Deetjen got away with; there is that investigation, we hear, into the Lanzo lake fill permit caper and nobody out here knows where that might lead. Some of the reader comments on the Bryan article also alluded to some shady deals involving Mrs. Deetjen's real estate practice. We've heard some rumors too about how the Deetjen's private interests intersected with the Arbor Green project and the (then) M.O.P. parking garage deal on the beach. Rumors are just rumors, but we have little doubt there are real facts yet to be known publicly about the Deetjens, the M.O.P. deals, the Boinis affair, Al Capellini and some others associated with them. We think that at least one of the reasons why Deetjen fought so hard to keep his position is that once he was out of power altogether, it would be difficult to hide the truth about the secret deals that went on at City Hall that betrayed the public trust. There are many more questions that lay unanswered officially; and rumors and theories that offer answers in the way that rumors and theories usually do. Some people would still like to know how Deetjen got to Sylvia Poitier to secure her support, for example, and some of the theories about that are mighty interesting.
Most likely, the shady deals involved other people at City Hall sometimes. So the other thing we hear is that there will be an exodus from 2d Avenue of a number of upper-level officials. Even before Deetjen resigned, we saw the departure of Fire Chief Gary Lother. It must be priority for the city commission to find a new city manager quickly -- not recklessly, of course -- to take control. On the bright side of the new moon that will be shining down on City Hall a couple of Tuesday's hence, is that the city employs many competent people and will not sink into chaos and oblivion with or without Deetjen or his cronies. Yep, there could even be joy and a reason to hope in the old town as we begin a new year and a new era in Deerfield Beach city government.
Larry Deetjen: "Man of the Year" - 11/27/06
It's that time of year for the annual exercise when people look back and analyze what has happened in the past 12 months. In theory, we learn from history; so, in theory, there's some value in this.
Perhaps the most significant event this year in Deerfield Beach was the second suspension -- really, termination -- of City Manager Larry Deetjen and the effective end of a political era which had spanned more than a decade. Larry Deetjen was a reasonably competent city manager on a technical level, but his arrogance, the dumbness of some of his most ardent supporters in trying to pull off a recall to quiet his enemies, and his unprofessional conduct made it difficult for him to operate in a politically fluid environment where not everybody agreed or was willing to go along with him just because.
He thought he could, apparently, but he could not, keep his power and position with bully tactics, i.e., the threat of recall or exposure. Deetjen needed to move on to another place, or change his ways, after it became apparent that a new politics was on the horizon that was going to require a different kind of city government in which he was not comfortable. Of course, he did neither; he became more arrogant and defiant when confronted with the fact that the majority of the commission no longer wanted him as city manager. He blamed others for his behavior. Larry Deetjen, in his own mind, was never wrong. Maybe part of the reason for this intractability was that Mr. Deetjen was protecting someone, including himself, from wider inquiry. What might be found in the deeper recesses of City Hall, if anyone looked, is anyone's guess.
There is a fine line between arrogance and plain stupidity. Larry Deetjen is a smart man, but not the most politically astute. Everything he and his support group did to save him was wrong. The loud confrontation with a city commissioner was bad, unfortunate; but reparable and even forgivable. It was an affront to all the commissioners. Yet it could have been brushed off as just a bad moment, resolved and forgotten about with an apology. But Deetjen did not even try to reconcile himself with the commissioners. The lawsuits and threats of lawsuits exacerbated the bad feelings. The unruly and offensive behavior on the part of his supporters at commission meetings simply dug the hole deeper for Deetjen. The recall effort: Does anyone not think that Deetjen was tied to this? Then, finally came the extravagant and extortionate demands, as a condition to his packing up and leaving town.
We would like to see Deetjen charged in connection with the ongoing investigation of Al Capellini. We don't want to see him in jail. We want him put in a corner that will induce him to spill the beans before Capellini flees to Rio, or wherever. We reckon that Mr. Deetjen knows more about corruption inside City Hall than anybody and we suspect that it goes way beyond a misleading letter to county officials on which they relied to make a decision regarding the fill in of a section of Crystal Lake. Hell could break loose if Deetjen became a stoolie.
This might get him off the hook, which is fine with us, but would not likely make him a hero to the people of Deerfield Beach or repair his reputation. What has been done has been done by Mr. Deetjen; no one else. He pulled a Mel Gibson and embarrassed the city. He called the cops on an elected public official. He did a lot of other things that were plain wrong. He rarely took responsibility. It's too late for Larry Deetjen. The only honor we can bestow on him now is the declare him this web site's "Man of the Year." We are certain that this will not please him.
The Perfect Martini - 06/22/06
This essay contains words that some people may find offensive. That's okay, because it is about the local paper, Larry Deetjen and Al Capellini. It's sometimes hard to think about those things without using choice words in the thinking.
Now you may ask, What does a perfect martini have to do with the local paper, Deetjen or Capellini? Well, nothing. This is also the problem with this week's Judy Wilson article on Larry Deetjen's record of hiring minorities and women for key city government positions. We agree that Mr. Deetjen's record is commendable and are even willing to give credit to Deetjen for the fact that we today have an African-American woman as interim city manager. The problem is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with his actions and statements at PBIA. Mr. Deetjen said some inappropriate things to a parking official at the airport, who is black, which, regardless of intent, were interpreted as racist remarks. Then there was (it appears) an attempt to keep the story away from the public and Mr. Deetjen's critics. Then, when it did become public, it was widely reported. This was embarrassing to Deerfield Beach and compelled some response from the city commission, for whom Deetjen worked.
The editor of this web site once worked for a fellow who had a good record of hiring African-Americans for his business, gave them opportunities for employment and advancement, treated them well. Out of their sight and hearing, he referred to his black employees as Niggers. We are not saying this is Mr. Deetjen's case but the fact is that employers can comply with the law, even have excellent records when it comes to hiring blacks and still have personal views which are quite different. White people in the "Old South" -- that is, during the era of segregation and open discrimination -- were good about giving blacks jobs; if they hadn't been, very little would have gotten done. So there is no connection between Deetjen's hiring record as city manager and what he said or didn't say at PBIA.
The current editor and publisher of the local paper are friends of Larry Deetjen and have gone to lengths to defend him and rationalize his behavior. They seem to support the recall effort against Steve Gonot which is part of a strategy to keep Deetjen as city manager. Week before last, Mr. Eller, the publisher, pleaded for reconciliation in the city. Let bygones be bygones, he urged. In other words, let's go back to the status quo ante with Deetjen as city manager so that he and Al Capellini can continue to run this city in the interests of the insiders and, apparently, of themselves. Last week, Eller tried to convince us that when Deetjen said "You people never get ahead" to Ed Kirby, the black parking official at PBIA, he wasn't referring to African-Americans, he meant parking officials at PBIA. First, most of the newspaper reports were that Deetjen said "your people," which is a different phrase altogether. Second, regardless of what Deetjen meant, it was interpreted by all who heard it as a racial slur and in any event the remarks were not excusable.
It's funny how people on the losing side of an argument suddenly want to be friends, to let bygones be bygones. What's also funny is that when Al Capellini, Larry Deetjen, their developer buddies and the Establishment media (i.e., Mr. Eller's paper) were riding high in this town, there were no friends, save among fellow insiders. Citizen activists and outsiders who dissented, picked apart the schemes for developing public properties on the beach and took on developer interests at the polls were not friends. They were hometown terrorists, wackos, malcontents or worse. Now that the regional press is all over Capellini and Deetjen for their questionable deals, Deetjen is suspended because of his disgraceful behavior, political power in the city has shifted to provide a more balanced representation and city commissioners are not as inclined to put up with the lies, deals and blather that Capellini puts out, Eller says, "Can't we all just be friends?" It is -- it really is -- sickening stuff.
In places like South Florida, a lot of people are employed in the service economy, that is, their job is to help other people or deal with them in some way to provide a service. This group would include servers, bartenders, bank tellers, attendants, cashiers, salespeople, civil servants, and yes, cops and parking enforcement people at airports. They are people like Mr. Kirby at PBIA who probably works overtime to make his car payments, a concept which Mr. Deetjen does not understand. There is a word, profane but somehow irreplaceable, that servers, bartenders, bank tellers, cops and other service people use to describe troublemakers like Mr. Deetjen who give people like Mr. Kirby a hard time for doing their job: They are called assholes.
The truth is that the commission did not base the decision to suspend Deetjen on a determination that he was a Kloset Klanner or anything like that. Three of the commissioners want Deetjen out but the fact that a majority of the members want him out does not get him fired. So the commission suspended him based on his behavior at PBIA and other incidents. His contract, which they had no part in negotiating, requires Deetjen to receive his salary and benefits. It does not really matter whether Deetjen made racist comments or intended to or not; he was suspended because he acted like an asshole at PBIA and embarrassed the community of Deerfield Beach and the commission. And it should not have happened.
We say the perfect martini is made with gin and vermouth and is garnished with one of those olives stuffed with a pimento. Others say make it with vodka and cranberry juice. There are differences of opinions about such things and we can still be friends. But the question of Larry Deetjen has divided the community in a way that the only practical path is to lose Deetjen forever. Fire Deetjen and then we can talk about reconciliation. It will not happen as long as Larry Deetjen is around.
Message to the Commission: Fire Deetjen - 04/29/06
The recall effort against Steve Gonot is a fraud which could cause irreversible harm to the city. The story was made up by the leaders of the campaign to justify a recall election. It is a lie or, at best, pure conjecture. Both Gonot and Commissioner Popelsky, who is implicated as Gonot's co-conspirator, deny that they met privately to discuss an official matter. An investigation by the Broward County State Attorney's Office concluded that there was no evidence that a violation of the sunshine laws occurred, but went further to say that even if the commissioners did meet privately, no violation occurred because the mistake was cured by the subsequent action of the city commission at a regular and properly noticed public meeting.
The recallers offer no evidence. In fact, the petition itself states that no evidence of the meeting is known to the petitioners. The third person involved in the alleged plot, Andrew Brown, states that he approached Mr. Popelsky alone and requested his appointment to a city advisory board.
Yet, according to the Sun-Sentinel, the recall committee has collected 1,329 signatures, more than enough petitions to complete the first phase of the recall process. Probably, next week's local paper will have a smiling Chris Tauber photo handing over the petitions to a smiling city employee in the clerk's office.
Larry Deetjen apparently was not smiling at Commissioner Popelsky's district meeting last week, however. The local paper, which is very good at "missing" stories, reported, but soft-pedaled, the incident. The Deerfield Times printed a harsher version of the facts as did the Broward Times. Both Times accounts are consistent with information received from independent sources.
What happened was that Mr. Deetjen was not invited or was asked not to attend Popelsky's meeting at Century Village. He came anyway. He seized the microphone (according to the Broward Times story he took the microphone twice) and angrily denounced the commissioner for not inviting him to the meeting. While it is customary for the city manager to attend town meetings, Popelsky was within his rights to ask Deetjen not to attend. Deetjen had the right to go anyway, we suppose, but it is inappropriate for him to take over the meeting and attack the commissioner. Rude and arrogant behavior is something that got Deetjen into so much trouble in the first place.
If readers want a factual overview of the events leading up to the current recall campaign, we commend Bob Norman's recent story in the New Times, which also can be found on the web. Norman's take on the situation focuses on the Boinis pier proposal, how it evolved and alienated Gonot, who originally supported the idea, leading to his eventual opposition to Boinis and then Boinis' promoting Trinchitella protégé Anita Cruz against Gonot in the 2005 election. Norman also discusses Larry Deetjen's involvement in the Boinis proposal.
Larry Deetjen is the wrong reason for a recall. He also is the main reason for this recall campaign. Pete Boinis may or may not be in the background for his own interests (we don't know for certain), but the recallers are out to get Gonot -- Deetjen's nemesis -- to save Deetjen's job. About the only way to save Deetjen's job is to oust Steve Gonot. And that is not good. The next "logical" target could be Marty Popelsky. That is not good either.
Deetjen is the chief administrator of the city. His position is the most important civil service job in the city, but he is still an employee and that means there are limits. In principle, he answers to the city commission. He does not criticize them in public. In principle, the city manager is a professional, which as a term of art, means that he keeps his distance from "politics." He does not dispense patronage, arrange dates for the mayor, promote business deals that the commission has not approved, set up opposing candidates for incumbent commissioners, help plaintiffs suing the city in a politically inspired law suit, or assist recall of officials he does not like.
In principle, the city manager operates within policy, but does not make policy. He also is supposed to operate within the law and the law says that city managers do not get involved in city elections.
Of course, there are lines. The city manager is expected to plan an agenda and defend it. He is expected to serve the public interest. A tricky question is how far the manager can go to promote his agenda or persuade the public that his agenda is in their interest. What if Mr. Gonot is invited to a meeting with Pete Boinis's attorney to discuss his pier proposal and Larry Deetjen is there? This happened, according to Bob Norman. Or suppose a developer proposes to build a hotel on the city's beach front property and Mr. Deetjen goes about the city with the developer's plan and discusses it with local businessmen to gain support before the matter comes before the commission and the public? Or let's say Mr. Deetjen negotiates a contract with the builder of a parking garage to partner the city in the project before the city commission knows about the deal or has decided it wants to partner in a parking garage? Do these actions cross the line?
What if Deetjen misrepresents the city's position on the abandonment of an easement in order to win approval of a permit from county officials for a developer associated with the mayor? What if the city manager tosses a commissioner out of his office at City Hall or barges into a commissioner's town meeting uninvited and takes over the meeting?
However, Mr. Deetjen should be fired not just because he is near-sighted when it comes to the lines, but because the recall of Steve Gonot or any city commissioner to restore Larry Deetjen's power and position would cause irreparable damage to representative government in Deerfield Beach. If there were substantive charges against Gonot, it would be a different case. But to recall an elected official on the basis of unproven allegations to save a city employee's job sets a terrible precedent that the commission cannot allow to happen. If Gonot is pretend guilty of malfeasance, then so is Marty Popelsky. Commissioners in the future would have to defer to Larry Deetjen, not criticize Larry Deetjen, approve Larry Deetjen's agenda, and look away from his misconduct, lest they become targets of similar coercive recall efforts.
In short, the city commission should do what they should have done a year ago: fire Deetjen. This is not to save Gonot from recall, but to make the point that the future of this city cannot rest in the hands of a city manager who knows no bounds to his authority or conduct, who does not respect the citizens or his bosses, nor has any commitment to responsible city government.
Mr. Deetjen was a good city manager. Unfortunately, he has become the centerpiece of the political class which knows power, money and tax bases, but cares little of ethics or the quality of life of the residents of this city. It appears they will do anything to keep Deetjen here so that they can continue with their plan to remake Deerfield Beach for their own profit. The city commission needs to act now.
How to Evaluate the City Manager - 11/22/05
The city commission seems to be having difficulty in finding a way to evaluate the performance of City Manager Larry Deetjen. He has never received a formal, public evaluation by any of the commissions he has served with. Perhaps Deetjen's administration of the city has been so spectacular that there are no words to describe it and do justice to the golden age he has brought to Deerfield Beach.
It is ridiculous to say that the commissioners are not qualified to evaluate the manager's performance, or as one citizen awkwardly put it at the recent commission meeting, are not "professionals." In fact, the people who sit on the dais are the ones who have the authority and duty to employ the manager, set his compensation and decide how long to keep him, so they better darn well be able to rate how he does his job.
The bugaboo now is that the commissioners have not agreed on a "format" for the evaluation; that is to say, they have not decided en banc on a set of criteria for rating Deetjen's performance. This did not seem to bother Gonot who was prepared to have his say, format or no format. No surprise there. Mrs. Poitier, on the other hand, said she hasn't had time enough to work with Deetjen to evaluate him fairly. We are almost inclined to agree with Poitier. The newer commissioners should be given some time to try to work with the city manager, and when the evaluation does occur it should be in the context of a serious discussion of whether this commission wants to retain him in the longer term. That discussion might be better had next year rather than now when it would still be charged up, to some degree, by the suspension action.
Let us suggest some of the questions that might be relevant to Mr. Deetjen's "performance" as city manager. We don't think that standard employee performance issues such as how well he gets along with his subordinates are nearly as important as how well he upholds the public trust and has the confidence of the commissioners. Of course, regular readers know that we are not exactly fans of Larry Deetjen, so the proposed questions might be skewed in a certain way. So be it -- we still think they are legitimate.
Question 1: What has Larry Deetjen done for Deerfield Beach? The answer should be directed to not just the cosmetic things that the city has done on the beach front, for example, but to whether city government performs its basic functions well. This is, after all, why the city exists. Does it provide for the health, safety and welfare of the community? Is this a place where people want to live and can afford to live, and will it be so ten or twenty years from now given the direction Mr. Deetjen has pointed the city?
In the final analysis, if Larry Deetjen's vision is not the vision that the residents have for the city, then he should not be city manager.
Question 2: Is he ethical? This question should not be whether Deetjen complies with certain technical rules and legal requirements -- that is a question better left to the state ethics commission -- but whether he is ethical within the common sense of the community as to what is ethical behavior on the part of a public official. In other words, do some of his actions seem to be improper to a reasonable person with only a basic understanding of the facts that he might have read in the local paper or the Sun-Sentinel?
The parallel question is whether the city manager is committed to the principles of open government which serves the public interest over his own or other special interests.
If his performance were to relate only to "competence," Deetjen would probably earn high marks, although there are some questions about how well he has handled the city's money. We don't think he would do so well when it comes to ethics, civic values, and the public trust, provided that the commissioners really care. Mayor Capellini doesn't care because his and Deetjen's interests seem to intersect on certain issues.
Admittedly, public ethics is not a burning issue in this city; it never has been so far as we can tell. If it were, we would probably have a code of ethics (we do not) or some mechanism for adjudicating the behavior of public officials, if questions arise.
Still, we think this is an important question: How well does Larry Deetjen uphold the public trust?
Question 3: Is he honest? Let's state it other ways: Does he tell the truth? Does he keep his word? Is he "professional"?
One of the most disturbing features of the Deetjen administration, in our opinion, is that he has politicized the office of city manager, when it is not supposed to be political. Mr. Deetjen is supposed to be a professional manager; this is the basic idea of the manager-council form of city government.
This could be an item for the new Charter Review Board, that is, the delineation between "policy" functions and "administration." Does it need to be more clearly defined? Perhaps there should be a political executive, but this would a radical change, a hard sell, and probably won't happen anytime soon. Meanwhile, the city manager should know what his job is and is not, but Mr. Deetjen seems to do whatever he needs to do when it serves the interests he serves.
When it comes to beach issues -- let's say development of the Main Beach Parking Lot or the pier restaurant -- he seems to be committed to an agenda that has never found voter support. Why does he not give it up and respect the voters? It has the appearance that he is serving special interests and not the public interest in his intransigent pursuit of these goals.
One of the issues in Deetjen's suspension earlier this year was his funneling of information to opposing counsel in a lawsuit in which the city was involved as a party. Now the city attorney had advised the commission and Mr. Deetjen that the city had a duty to defend that suit. But Deetjen tried to help the plaintiffs and even solicited additional plaintiffs against the city. Of course, this was in secret so the public could not know what was going on. This was not honest. Not by our standards.
So these are a few areas that could be addressed in an evaluation of the city manager. They are not quite as mundane as the mayor and the city manager might wish them to be. It also presumes that the elected public officials of this city are interested in ethical, professional management. It is not always clear that they are, above and beyond other things they want.
The World According to Al - 07/30/05
One of the compensating factors in Deerfield Beach politics is that our leader is a renowned political theorist, in addition to being a physical education expert. The theories of Mayor "Algonquin" Capellini, P.E., range from the "theory of validity of elections based on whether or not I agree with the results" to his "theory of friendly lawsuits."
His newest insight is his theory of why we should want Larry Deetjen as city manager, which might be considered a derivative of the "we want most what we can't have" maxim, only in this case, "we want most what we can't keep," with an implied "we could keep him if we played our cards right" corollary. Here's an update for readers who have let their Gainesville newspaper subscriptions expire:
We shall assume that most readers already know that Larry Deetjen was abducted by pirates and taken to Gainesville against his will to interview for the post of city manager. On Thursday he was named a finalist and now finds himself a finalist along with three other candidates.
The original plan was that the Gainesville commission would make a final decision on Friday, but plans changed because some of the commissioners felt that not enough background had been done on the candidates. For example, it had been discovered that one of the candidates had attended a political rally for a sitting city official and this fact was not reported by the consultant who was hired to recruit a city manager. While city managers have the right as citizens to attend political rallies, such conduct is outside the standards expected of a city manager of the City of Gainesville. The newspaper did not name the candidate to which this information applied. (But we have a good idea, don't we?)
In any event, the commission decided they needed a bit more information about the four finalists and delayed their decision until next week.
Now back to Mayor Capellini. He is quoted in this morning's Sun-Sentinel, noting Deetjen's selection as a finalist in Gainesville, "That should make the residents of Deerfield feel proud of his ability and want to keep him."
No, it doesn't. Mr. Deetjen's expertise was never a big issue in the controversy that lead to his suspension. It was his behavior as city manager that was at issue, including his doing things like attend what amounted to a rally for the (sitting) Mayor Capellini, though it was a closed meeting by invitation only disguised as a town meeting for the pier restaurant proposal. If Gainesville authorities really want to look into the matter thoroughly, they may discover that Deetjen is suspected of interfering in the recent District 2 and 4 elections and involving himself in the 2002 referenda by making inappropriate remarks calculated to defeat the referenda. He then assisted the people who sued the city to overturn the election and tried even to recruit additional litigants. His administration published a news magazine at public expense which blasted citizens opposing plans for the pier restaurant scheme and he is also accused of directing police to stop citizens from distributing literature pertaining to that subject at the 4th of July celebrations.
Now we have to wonder whether all this is another ploy, like the maneuver carefully orchestrated with Capellini and the late Mr. Trinchitella a few years ago to get Deetjen back on the job with a raise and contract extension after he got into trouble for inappropriate actions. Of course, in this case, Deetjen does not have Trinchitella and a lazy, compliant commission to deal with, but at least two commissioners who are not easily going to be convinced to re-employ him. Then also we have to remember that Deetjen is being held in Gainesville against his will and has no interest in leaving Deerfield Beach so, therefore, has no bargaining chip.
Is Deerfield Beach a Criminal Enterprise? - 07/15/05
It is in light of the events in this city over the past few months and what has been learned since that we pose this question in this provocative way. In a sense, there are already answers, awaiting the proper question. There was suspicious conduct, abuse of power and connections, but to what end? Is it a "criminal enterprise" or something else?
One fact of political life in Deerfield Beach is that there is a class of people, not necessarily residents of the city, whose personal interests are served by public officials better than ordinary citizens. Whether it rises to the level of a criminal enterprise overall, or even includes illegal activity, is the question. Every city has its group of self-important insiders and special interests who benefit specially by their membership in the political class. Favoritism in some matters is hardly unique to Deerfield Beach and in fact is common in small cities, especially those involved in redevelopment. Look at the Hollywood example.
Why then do we pose the question? Because we still can't explain the enormous effort made to save Larry Deetjen's job by the business sector, especially by the Chamber élite, by Mayor Capellini, and, of course, by himself, that seemed out of proportion to its importance either to the city as a whole or to Mr. Deetjen. One could be drawn to the suspicion that there was something at stake that is more important than Mr. Deetjen per se. Is it because some people depend on a Deetjen-style administration to further their personal financial interests, or is it just a case of megalomania on Deetjen's part and by various sycophants?
Larry Deetjen is a competent administrator in some respects, but falls short in other areas. He does not adhere to the principles of open government and has politicized his office, tends to abuse his power and position, and is unprofessional. When Deetjen leaves, another qualified person will be found to take his place at the helm of city government and we can expect he or she will be better.
To put this another way, Larry Deetjen should not be considered indispensable from the standpoint of the ordinary resident. Yes, the city operates well most of the time and Deetjen, as the administrative head, gets credit for that in the public mind. But Mr. Deetjen did not collect your trash this morning or solve the crime that happened in your neighborhood last week. His role was marginal, at best, in most of the "good things" that are touted as the city's achievements. A lot of people, city employees and people unconnected with city government -- most of them unconnected with the political class -- are the real dynamic of Deerfield Beach. Therefore, the bottom line is that when Deetjen goes on to other pursuits, the city will not come crashing down.
Après Deetjen, le déluge? Hardly. So the intense campaign waged on his behalf naturally invites speculation as to why it is that important to a certain group to keep Mr. Deetjen in office.
It has to be more than sympathy for poor Larry. People are fired everyday from private businesses for less cause than the charges leveled against Mr Deetjen. Only the most privileged in the corporate realm get what Deetjen would have gotten by way of severance or the extensive consideration that he got by the commission. Some people wonder why did he not just deploy his golden parachute and land in another city. Or better still, if he wanted to keep his job, apologize and admit his mistakes. They question the legal expenses when he could have walked away with more than five times that amount and two years vacation if he had so desired. Somewhere between the one scenario and the other is the rest of the story.
Obviously, none of this proves that Deerfield Beach is a criminal enterprise. In using this term here, we are thinking of criminal enterprise in more or less the sense it is used in anti-racketeering laws: a group engaged in significant criminal activity. In the instant case, this could be repeated violation of Sunshine or public records laws, bribery, theft or misappropriation of city property, unlawful use of police power, unlawful involvement in political matters by civil servants, voting conflicts or failure to make a full financial disclosure.
The terms "organized crime" and "criminal enterprise" are similar and often used interchangeably, but are technically different. "Organized crime" is a group whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities. Such groups maintain their position through the use of actual or threatened violence, corrupt public officials, graft, or extortion.
Our question does not ask whether city government or its players have ties to organized crime, but only whether it is engaged behind the scenes in significant illegal activity or provides an unlawful advantage to certain people which justified the effort to keep the current city administration intact; or to take the question back to the March election, to secure the election of people to the city commission who would be compliant with the mayor and the city manager.
When Deetjen's computer files were invaded and the contents began to spill out to the public -- something which rankles Mr. Deetjen and Mayor Capellini to no end -- some of the details of Deetjen's administration were revealed. In some cases it was new information and in other cases it merely confirmed what many already suspected. It was learned, for example, that he used the police both to curry favor and to harass private citizens who were critical of his administration. We already knew that Mr. Deetjen likes secrecy -- why is the question -- but we were stumped as to the reason some documents were classified as "Confidential and Not for Public Discussion." What detail was it important to hide from the public when almost nothing can be hidden from the public lawfully?
The answer to the principal question, if it is ever to be found, will require some intense journalism and investigation by public corruption officials. We need to know more about the connections between public officials and certain private interests and how both sides benefit from these relationships. Then some answers may begin to emerge.
Deetjen's Demand Denied - 06/27/05
Larry Deetjen's demand that he be reimbursed for expenses he incurred for legal counsel and representation after he was suspended by the city commission should be denied, period. He was suspended for cause and no viable defense to the charges was presented by Deetjen or his lawyers. In voting to reinstate him (that is, to not fire him), the two "swing" commissioners could not have made it clearer that they did not condone the conduct that resulted in the commission's action. Larry Deetjen was not exonerated by the commission's vote to allow him to return to work.
Mr. Deetjen doesn't care that much about the 62 thousand bucks allegedly paid to his mouthpieces. If he doesn't pay the bill then the 62,000 people who showed up at the commission meetings to defend him and the business people who so desperately wanted the city manager to retain his post should ante up. They wanted Deetjen to stay, so let them pay. What Deetjen wants is vindication.
Deetjen's record in public administration is not stellar. He was fired from Grand Haven. He was suspended by Deerfield Beach and was just one vote away from being terminated. Not for being an incompetent boob, but for unethical and unprofessional conduct. This does not make a good resume.
If the commission were to agree to reimburse him -- if they did not have to as a matter of law or because they were bound by a contract -- it would be the same as saying that as a body it made a mistake to suspend him. Only thing is, the commission did not make a mistake and acted properly, within its authority.
The further problem with Deetjen's demand at this point is that it blows the possibility that his administration could be rehabilitated and that he could gain the confidence of the commissioners who wanted to fire him and those that voted to reinstate him with qualifications. The reinstatement settled one issue now, but it did not bind the commission to extending his contract when the time comes. Mr. Deetjen needed to do some hard work, but he seems more intent on an action that can only undermine his future with Deerfield Beach.
For example, the city manager could have worked with newly elected Commissioner Pam Militello to draft guidelines for how he and his staff deal with outside parties, chiefly those who want to partner with the city in some development venture, so that residents can be involved from the earliest possible date in things that affect the city in which they are interested. This has been a sticking point with politically active and interested citizens for some time who believe that too much public business is transacted in the shadows without public involvement. Moreover, such guidelines would be fully consistent with the goals for more active resident participation in the affairs of the city announced by Mayor Capellini at the opening of the 2001 term. Likewise, Deetjen could have helped Mrs. Militello in resolving some of the issues raised during the suspension regarding his contacts with opposing counsel in a lawsuit against the city. But so far as we know he offered nothing. It seems, instead, that he and his chief defender, Mayor Capellini, with the inexplicable assistance of Commissioner Poitier, worked diligently to defeat these modest proposals.
So it appears that not much has happened since Deetjen's reinstatement to repair, restore and reconstruct his administration of the city at the behavioral level. It's wonderful that we of Deerfield Beach have a knowledgeable, smart and efficacious city manager, but why can't we have one who is ethical and professional?
There were good reasons for suspending the city manager from his post and good reasons to terminate him. That was not the will of the commission, however. The dissenting commissioners and public must accept that. Disagreements happen in politics. It's not personal in most cases. The best scenario is to find common goals and work as a team for a better city.
It is too bad that Deetjen is pressing the commission on the matter of his legal expenses, but he is. Common sense and political logic, if there is such a thing, would have advised against it. So Tuesday next, the Deetjen drama will be replayed for a short time in the commission chambers. We think Mr. Deetjen's lawyers will not go away with $62,000 -- or even $62 -- of taxpayer money. If they do, the commission this time around will have made a mistake.
What's to Get? - 05/24/05
One of the surprising elements in the debate about the city manager's suspension was the number of people who did not see any problem with Mr. Deetjen working for the litigants in a lawsuit in which the city was a party. One might have thought this almost self-evident.
Judging from the letters to the local editors and e-mails to this web site, many people thought what Deetjen did was right. Even a few attorneys, mind you. Apparently the writer of this site comes from a different generation of the legal "profession" when we at least gave lip service to professional ethics before we chased off after the ambulance.
It is not only a violation of the rules, but the traditions of the legal profession, that lawyers do not deal directly with opposing parties to a lawsuit if the party is represented by counsel. Of course, this rule does not apply to Mr. Deetjen, who is not an attorney, but he bears responsibility for either encouraging or abetting what looks like professional misconduct. He should also be faulted for not promulgating, or not abiding by, rules that prescribe how city employees deal with opposing counsel in a lawsuit.
Procedures should be in place that all matters, including requests for public records, run through the city attorney if the requests bear on litigation. All communications should be copied to the city attorney with no excuses for convenient oversights. Of course, these regulations, as all administrative rules, should apply to the city manager as well as the underlings.
These are sensible rules no matter what the merits of the lawsuit. There are bound to be claims against the city that have merit. But unless the city has no case and defaults because it is in the public interest, taxpayers expect the city to present its side in court. Clearly a decision to do otherwise must be made on the advice of counsel, and we mean, of course, the city's counsel.
A defense offered by some of Deetjen's supporters is that "the five" who make up the Citizen Opponents group that initiated the action are right. The problem is that this is strictly opinion, now and when Mr. Deetjen was helping them, with which many others disagree.
There has been no decision by any court in this case, so that no one can state the merits of the case with authority. This is the purpose of the litigation and in the order of things, the plaintiffs present their case and the defendants, theirs. Then the courts decide. The plaintiffs have no right, regardless of the prospects of winning their case, to the city manager's help, either to provide them with information or to assist them financially. To ask for such help would be a breach of ethics.
Other defenses offered by Deetjen and his supporters claimed that the dealings with Mr. Hermelee were not "secret" and that they were directed by the city commission, so that the manager was just following orders. The "not secret" claim stems from the fact that the files were on Deetjen's hard drive and readily discoverable with only the necessity of either burglary or suspending him to gain access. It's a lame argument.
In fact, the word "secret" does not have to be used to describe what transpired. The public had nothing more than mere suspicion what the city manager was doing until after he was suspended and the files were discovered on his computer. The newly elected commissioners did not know. The city attorney, who is the chief legal adviser of the city under the charter, did not know.
Call it whatever you want, what the city manager was doing was not public knowledge until it was exposed.
It was a lie that the city manager was directed to deal with opposing counsel by the city commission. Even when it came to presenting the defense, the best argument that could be made, without committing perjury, was that the city manager "thought" he was doing the will of the city commission. In fairness to the city manager, it was not he who told the lie; it was the mayor, who said this several times. It was necessary to unseal the minutes of the strategy meetings to show that the commission made no such directive.
This is what really happened, most likely. Mayor Capellini stirred up this litigation with or without the knowledge of other members of the commission. His "friends" made up "the five," not a contingent of the business or development community as such, nor some high-purpose group concerned with property rights. Most of the plaintiffs in this suit would not know a "property right" from a "property wrong."
Capellini induced or instructed the city manager, again with or without the knowledge of other commissioners, to help the plaintiffs. Deetjen was to keep Mr. Hermelee informed and encourage other people to join the lawsuit as "intervenors" to help pay the costs of the litigation. In one of his communications, Deetjen even suggested the more plaintiffs, the merrier.
Meanwhile, the public, regardless of how they voted or what they thought of the plaintiff's lawsuit, believed that the city attorney was doing his professional best to defend the interests of the citizens that citizens have in any litigation against the city.
What the city manager did was dishonest, unprofessional, and violated the public trust. What is equally as disturbing is that so many people, including editors and attorneys, don't see a problem and are willing to excuse Mr. Deetjen without even censure or criticism. This is discouraging to those who believe that city government in Deerfield Beach could be grounded on civic values such as right conduct, professionalism and impartiality.
Much of the rancor and discord among us over "redevelopment" could have been avoided if there had been a sincere attempt by Deetjen and the former commission at public involvement, competent planning, independence from special interests and sensitivity to the useful traditions of the community. If ideas had been presented truthfully and openly debated, and if the commission had respected the will of voters, there would have been no charter amendments, no lawsuit, no treachery, no suspension of the manager.
The city manager has been reinstated. He is not likely to be suspended again or terminated before the end of his contract unless something comes to light that makes this the only alternative. Fear, politics, irrational belief in his indispensability, jealousy, greed and personal feelings were the keys to this decision. We can't find truth or integrity anywhere as factors.
It would have been better if Mr. Deetjen had a defense that is not based on a personal attack on one of the commissioners. The defense would have been stronger if it had refuted evidence of wrongdoing rather than just making questionable excuses.
A little contrition might have been good. Even we would have felt compassion if Mr. Deetjen had admitted mistakes and pledged to rectify them. For example, he might have agreed to "come clean" on some lingering questions regardless of the consequences to the people who were involved. Deetjen has overall been a good manager and his departure will be a loss to the community of Deerfield Beach. But eventually this will happen anyway.
It's trite, but we expect that in the end, it will come out in the wash.
Let the Healing Begin? - 05/19/05
The general tenor of today's newspaper articles on the Deetjen outcome is that the city manager, now that he is back in his post, wants to "work with" the commission. "I'm just excited," he is quoted as saying, "and I want to work with the new commission."
Obviously, he has no choice but to work with the new commission if he wants to serve as city manager. Both Popelsky and Poitier, even though they voted to reinstate Deetjen, were critical of some of his actions in their public statements. Despite what some Deetjen supporters are saying this morning, Deetjen's actions were at best forgiven, not excused.
If the suspension did anything, it proved that the elected officials of this city are in charge if they want to be. We surmise that Mr. Deetjen never thought the commission would do something like this, let alone actually fire him. What it comes down to is that the city manager serves at the pleasure of the commission and technically they don't even need a good reason to oust him.
It would be premature to declare this matter over for all time. It would be nice for the men and for the community if Mr. Deetjen and Vice Mayor Gonot could come to terms over their personal differences, but this was only a part of the story which goes back almost to the beginning of Deetjen's term as city manager. Maybe we should call in Benny Hinn.
We think that the real story in the next few weeks will not be whether Mr. Deetjen has been "reformed," but whether the commission itself can agree to standards of conduct for the future. Although the charter is fairly clear as to what the city manager's job is, even the mayor has said that there may be a need for the commission to write some guidelines. If such a process does occur it may also make clearer the expectations of Commissioners Popelsky and Poitier when they agreed to reinstate Mr. Deetjen.
It has been the position of this writer and this web site, since our numerous discussions of this subject began more than three years ago, that Deerfield Beach can do better with a different city manager. We have consistently acknowledged that Deetjen is well-qualified and has, in general, run the city competently. But he has politicized the office of city manager and this is not in the public interest. This is the basis of our position.
In the recent case, he was in error to assist the parties suing the city over the land-use charter provisions which were approved in an election in 2002. It has nothing to do with who is right or wrong in the lawsuit. This is a prime example of how Mr. Deetjen has made his office political and this is exactly what a city manager is not supposed to be.
If the administrative head of the city is going to be this, then why not have an elected chief executive who can be held accountable for his actions by the voters?
The idea has been set forth on this page before that a "strong mayor" system may be just what Deerfield Beach needs as one part of a reform package. This does not preclude professional management, but the manager or administrator would be an assistant to the chief executive, not the presiding official. It is not likely that a controversy such as we have had this past month could occur.
The Vote on Deetjen - 05/18/05
Popelsky moved for Larry Deetjen's reinstatement after hours of presentation by the city manager's attorneys and speeches by scores of residents both for and against. Poitier seconded. Militello and Gonot against. Popelsky, Poitier and Mayor Capellini for.
City Manager Larry Deetjen was reinstated at about 1:00 a.m. today.
Poitier and Popelsky based their votes on the idea that Deetjen could be rehabilitated and that a new and constructive balance can be achieved between the city manager and the city commission. This remains to be seen. Nothing said in Deetjen's own defense admitted error or spoke of contrition.
Deetjen's defense was for the most part an attack on Steve Gonot. He stated that it was the position of the commission on the charter amendments that justified his communications with the attorney and parties suing the city. No proof was offered of a specific directive by the commission.
The commission has made its decision and only time will tell if it was the proper one. This does not mean that the matter is over. Deetjen's presentation did not leave much room for reconciliation and there are only 18 months left on his contract.
Kill the Messenger - 05/12/05
"Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of a regular government." - Jeremy Bentham
The Florida Constitution adopted this philosophy in its "Sunshine" provisions which mandated open government at all levels and in all aspects of the state's operations. The system of laws adopted in Florida to ensure open government and public access to government records is considered among the best in the nation.
It was in this spirit that the legislature specifically enacted s. 286-011. This statute requires that nearly all meetings of city commissions be held in public after reasonable notice to the public. It requires that minutes be kept that become part of the public record. It forbids commissioners from discussing city business with each other in private. The Attorney General in numerous opinions has warned against evasive techniques to get around the requirements of this law, such as the exchange of memoranda or a roundtable mediated by the city manager.
Readers who have been following the Pompano story about the meeting with Sheriff Ken Jenne understand the principle that is involved here.
Section 286-011 does, however, allow for narrow exceptions to the rule. These are cases where the public interest served by a "secret" meeting outweighs the general principle of open government. The operative word here is "narrow." One of these exceptions is a meeting with the city attorney to discuss a lawsuit in which the city is a party.
Such a meeting would be analogous to a meeting between you and your counsel outside the hearing of opposing parties respecting matters which are rightfully confidential. However, if you were to discuss with your attorney a planned conspiracy to commit a crime, this would not be a privileged communication. In other words, not every communication between an attorney and his client is confidential and this is especially true if the client is a public agency such as a municipality.
There are, in fact, two important things to know about such "executive" sessions when a public agency is the client. The first is that the subject matter of the meeting is strictly limited to two subjects: "...to settlement negotiations or strategy sessions related to litigation expenditures." Second, the meeting is not off-the-record. Minutes are kept just as in a regular commission meeting but may be sealed until the litigation is concluded, at which time they must become a part of the public record. There does not appear to be any prohibition against making the minutes public before the litigation ends.
We conclude that a discussion in a litigation strategy session to direct the city manager to communicate with opposing counsel or find additional parties to the suit against the city would not be a permissible topic and, therefore, that the records of any meeting to this effect are not properly sealed. One cannot argue legitimately that such a discussion would be related to "settlement" because no settlement or compromise is possible in the Citizen Opponents case.
Further, the commission could direct that the minutes of the meetings with respect to the Citizen Opponents lawsuit be unsealed. This would prove or disprove the claim that Mr. Deetjen was directed by the commission to do these things. While it was made clear in the public meetings that the (former) commission was opposed to the litigation and wanted, in effect, the city attorney not to go all out to defend the lawsuit, no sweeping directives were given to the city manager, as claimed. We submit that such directives, if given, must have been given in the "executive" sessions.
Judging from their letters and statements, Mr. Deetjen's supporters believe that his actions are mitigated by the fact that they were not part of the original complaint and were discovered after his suspension. Not so. The fact is that many of us suspected from the beginning that Deetjen was inappropriately involved in the Citizen Opponents lawsuit and it was only the proof that was discovered after his suspension. It's tough for Deetjen that evidence of other matters was also discovered, for example that he on numerous occasions (about 80) asked police to "fix" traffic tickets. Whether these discoveries prove out in the end and form part of the basis of termination remains to be seen. We understand that Mr. Deetjen only may have been trying to be Mr. Nice Guy, but the problem is that "fixing" a traffic ticket is a crime. So is interfering with an arrest, which was reported before Deetjen's suspension.
It has also come to light that a city worker, an IT person, was asked to eradicate evidence on Mr. Deetjen's office computer that he surfed pornographic and gambling web sites. While we don't think this alone would be reason for termination (perhaps a raised eyebrow and criticism), it does not do Mr. Deetjen's case any favors.
Correspondence was found that Mr. Deetjen used code enforcement to harass critics of his administration. There were previous allegations that he asked police to block citizens handing out literature and petitions opposing the Boinis proposal at the last Fourth of July events at the beach.
The Observer editorial this week suggested that it was from the public statements that the commission opposed the referendum election that the city manager took his marching orders. This is nonsense. We speculate that at the "executive" session that preceded the public meeting, the commission tried to instruct the city attorney not to defend the lawsuit against the city. The city attorney advised the commission that they could not do this and compromise language was agreed to, announced at the public meeting, that the city attorney should inform the judge in the case that the commission opposed the charter amendments. The implication was that the city attorney should not vigorously defend the suit, but no instructions express or implied went out to the city manager to correspond with opposing counsel or churn up additional plaintiffs to underwrite the costs of their litigation.
"So far it all seems too trivial to have brought us to this juncture." This is the Observer's final statement on the matter.
Other Deetjen supporters have similarly tried to minimize the charges or shift the blame. A Deerfield Beach resident writes to the Sun-Sentinel to "thank" their reporter Susannah Bryan "for inadvertently pointing out the back-door approach the Deerfield Beach Commission has adopted to validate the suspension of one of our finest city managers in our history." What is the implication of the word "inadvertently?"
At the last commission meeting -- the one with the parade of Deetjen supporters -- Mayor Capellini launched an emotional attack on the Sun-Sentinel reporter for her stories on the city manager. It was a disgraceful and inappropriate performance by the city mayor. Why blame Ms. Bryan for reporting the allegations against Mr. Deetjen? That's her job. Kill the messenger?
Another writer to the Sun-Sentinel states that "Gonot's arsenal of accusations lacks any factual, objective evidence and at best is merely cheap shots at the city manager. His pathetic war chest contains personal attacks against Deetjen's wife, a get even strategy to settle an obviously childish vendetta, and a few old letters...." Note: no mention of the more serious charges.
A letter writer may be able to, but the commissioners in next week's hearings cannot look away from the grave allegations that have been leveled against Mr. Deetjen. One of the reasons that this meeting will be open is to insure that Deetjen receives a fair hearing and that it was not "an instrument of conspiracy."
Unfortunately for Mr. Deetjen, the decision may be made by necessity on a preponderance of evidence, as the full record of what happened behind closed doors is not yet known.
Al-Gate - 05/07/05
When Mayor Al Capellini asserts that Larry Deetjen was directed by the city commission to communicate with the attorney suing the city over the 2002 charter amendment election, either:
1. He is lying in order to cover up the city manager's actions, which would be insubordination or worse if he acted independently of (and against) the commission.
2. He has lit a bomb that could blow up in his own face. That's because it would be "inappropriate" and probably unlawful for the commission to decide secretly to take actions to undermine the city's legal defense in a suit in which the city is a party, while the public assumed that the city was faithfully, if not wholeheartedly, defending the city charter. Such a case would almost certainly violate the Sunshine Laws and certainly violated the public trust.
If the commission did act as the mayor states, then it must have been done secretly because no public meeting was held to direct the city manager's actions in this case.
It was no secret that the commission as a body opposed the amendments when they were proposed. This is okay because like any political issue there were pros and cons. It was no secret that the mayor was unhappy when the amendments were passed; he said so and even refused to allow the commission to acknowledge the election results. This was not right and ticked off a lot of citizens, but the commission acted to fulfill its legal obligations when the mayor and Mr. Trinchitella were conveniently absent.
There are few cases when a city commission can deliberate secretly. The city commission is allowed to meet in secret with the city attorney to discuss certain matters relative to litigation. But the focus of such a meeting must be limited to permissible topics. The commissioners may not discuss other matters, for example, initiating a second referendum to repeal the charter amendments. There is a hint that the commission may have done just that in public comments made by the mayor.
Nor, in our opinion, is the commission permitted to discuss in secret and keep secret directives to the city manager to communicate with opposing counsel and others to churn up litigation against the city, to assist the defense, and to seek additional parties to the suit against the city. Such a discussion would be well out of the permissible scope of one of these "executive sessions."
We don't think the mayor is telling the truth. But the problem is nobody except the manager, the mayor, the city attorney and the commissioners who attended the executive sessions knows the truth. The commissioners now sitting, who will be the ones to make the decision about Larry Deetjen, don't know the truth either, and this puts them in a bind.
Clearly, the minutes of those meetings should be made public before a decision is made on Mr. Deetjen. Then the commission can move on to do what is appropriate. If Mayor Capellini is lying to mislead the decision of the commission and cover up wrongdoing by Mr. Deetjen, he too must be held accountable by the other commission members.
Mayor Capellini must either retract his statements or move to unseal the minutes of those executive sessions. He should either put up or shut up because it is not fair to anyone -- Deetjen, the commissioners, or the public -- to not have the whole story on the table. Right now it appears that Deetjen acted on his own to sabotage the city's case in litigation. This is treachery, not just insubordination.
Integrity - 05/06/05
Thirty-seven citizens appeared before the city commission at Tuesday's meeting to speak on behalf of Larry Deetjen. Mayor Al Capellini made an impassioned plea for Deetjen's reinstatement. Capellini twice moved for reinstatement; hearing no second, the motions failed.
Supporters extolled his virtues and presented a litany of good things that have happened in Deerfield Beach since Deetjen took office 11 years ago. It is true, a lot of good things have happened as a result of the work of many people.
There are also "bad things" to talk about. Pro- and anti-Deetjenoids could argue until the end of his natural term about mistakes and stupid decisions and who gets credit and blame for what.
Mr. Deetjen's suspension was not a competence issue anyway, strictly speaking. There are no charges that in general the city does not operate effectively. As the administrative head of the city, Deetjen certainly deserves some of the credit for this. Let us not forget, however, that the city employs 500 or so people who also have something to do with how well the city works.
The one word that did not come up too often in the presentation was: Integrity.
But then again, civic values like "integrity" have not meant much in this community in recent years, at least not among business and City Hall insiders.
This is why some people can defend Mr. Deetjen's actions with respect to the Citizen Opponents lawsuit, without flinching. The evidence that he churned up litigation against the city and assisted opposing counsel can be excused by his supporters because the charter amendments approved by voters were not good for the business community. The local newspaper stated that even if Mr. Deetjen's actions were inappropriate, they would stand by their man because the lawsuit by the Citizen Opponents is a "friendly lawsuit."
The litigation is "friendly" because it serves interests aligned with Mr. Deetjen and his pro-development "friends." In a sense, the real defendants in this lawsuit are the citizens of Deerfield Beach because it is their vote in two referendum elections that the plaintiffs in the Citizen Opponents lawsuit -- and obviously Mr. Deetjen -- want to nullify.
Deetjen may be reinstated after his hearing on May 17th. Commissioner Poitier has indicated that she will not vote to terminate the city manager. Capellini, obviously, supports Deetjen. Our guess is that Popelsky will vote for reinstatement if Poitier does. It takes four votes to oust the city manager.
How will things go after that? The matter cannot simply be dropped and forgotten, in our opinion. It will be difficult to heal the rifts between certain commissioners and the city manager directly, but there are measures that could help clear the air. The people of Deerfield Beach deserve no less than the complete story.
The city commission should consider making public the minutes of strategy sessions pertaining to the Citizen Opponents lawsuit. The mayor insists that the city commission directed the city manager to work with Mr. Hermelee, the plaintiff's attorney. There are good reasons to doubt Mayor Capellini's claim, but no one is going to know, the new commissioners are not going to know for certain, until these records are unsealed.
The commission could censure Mr. Deetjen and work out clear directives on how and under what circumstances the city manager deals with litigants. The commission could ask Mr. Deetjen to resign; they could also establish procedures for the appointment of a new manager at the expiration of Mr. Deetjen's term in 2007. It should be stated that Mr. Deetjen can apply for reappointment but will not be extended automatically.
The commission should look at the charter to determine if clarification of the manager's responsibilities and authority is required. Some interpret the city manager's powers broadly, even to the extent that he could take over the course of the city's litigation and work against the city attorney in what he sees as the public interest. This is not our position: We believe that the city attorney is responsible for all litigation matters in which the city is involved; our view is that the prosecution and defense of civil actions are matters to be handled by legally qualified persons employed for that purpose, and that this is the clear intent of the charter.
"Turning the tables" is a tactic sometimes used to defend the indefensible. Thus some of Mr. Deetjen's supporters assault Gonot and the other commissioners who voted to suspend him. There are threats of recall and Mr. Popelsky claims to have received death threats.
It is too bad that the Deetjen matter came up the way it did because whatever the result, there will always be the suspicion that the whole business was a "personal vendetta." One of the things that concerns us is that the volatile nature of the debate and 45 days do not give commissioners time to examine the issues fully. If Mr. Deetjen is reinstated to his position, the harvesting of things against him will continue. Would the commission consider another suspension? The Deetjen matter could get very old we think.
Deetjen Did Deerfield? - 05/03/05
In the matter of Larry Deetjen, the focus has shifted to his letters to Bruce Hermelee, who is the attorney for the plaintiffs in the Citizen Opponents litigation. The letters now form part of the allegations against Deetjen in the termination proceedings although it was not the basis for suspension in the beginning. The issue surfaces now because of the letters found on Deetjen's computer after he vacated his office.
The city, the elections supervisor and the Original Save Our Beach, a citizen group, are the defendants. The lawsuit was filed initially to enjoin the referendum elections in 2002 in which voters were asked to consider two charter amendments relating to beach area land-use policies.
Citizen Opponents of Deerfield Beach Charter Amendments, Inc., consisting of five individuals who have close ties to Mayor Capellini, was ostensibly a campaign organization, but its main activity was to file litigation. When a lawsuit failed to stop the election, the action was continued to nullify the results. The charter amendments were approved by 75 percent of the voters (that is, of the voters who chose to cast ballots).
The Citizen Opponents lawsuit continues to this day and the next hearing is scheduled for August.
Around 15,000 files were found on Mr. Deetjen's computer after he was suspended, and some were communications to Mr. Hermelee, with some of them copied to Sam Tischler, one of the plaintiffs in the Citizen Opponents lawsuit. Readers may in fact have seen the case referred to as Tischler v. City of Deerfield Beach or Tischler v. Oliphant.
The plaintiffs in the Citizen Opponents, or Tischler, case are Samuel G. Tischler, Anthony L. Fierimonte, Robert Skuggen, Winnie Frazer, Karen Kiser and the Citizen Opponents group. Citizen Opponents was dissolved on September 19th, 1999.
Some of the letters are responses to public records requests, but others appear to be unsolicited. Mr. Deetjen says that Mr. Hermelee might be interested in the attached memos written by the city attorney, for example.
Another letter to the in-house counsel for JM Family Enterprises is an effort to have JM Family Enterprises join the lawsuit as a plaintiff or intervenor and reference is made in the same letter to a similar request by Mr. Deetjen to the Chamber of Commerce. In the letter, it appears that Mr. Deetjen is acting on behalf of Mr. Hermelee.
We were told by an informant at the time that Mr. Deetjen had solicited the support of the Chamber of Commerce for the plaintiffs. This information, which we were unable to confirm then, was apparently correct. The informant told us that the source of the information was Janyce Becker, who is the head of the Chamber, and we reported it on this web site.
It is unlikely that Deetjen was acting on behalf of or at the direction of the city commission. The city commission has the ultimate responsibility for the administration of the city under the charter and the city attorney works for the commission, not for the city manager. If the city manager was authorized to communicate directly with Hermelee and solicit parties to the action against the city, then the authority would have had to be delegated by the commission, or he might have been asked to by the city attorney. It is a question for further inquiry whether the commission could have lawfully done this or could have done this in executive session without notice and public input.
It is standard practice in governmental entities that all communications with respect to litigation go through the agency's attorney. The reason for this is to avoid compromise of the government's case by people who are not qualified to judge the importance or value of such communications to the other side. In this instance, all communications with the opposing attorney or plaintiffs should have been through the city attorney's office. Probably, this should have included all requests under the Public Records Act which pertained to the litigation.
Rule 4-4.2(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct applicable to lawyers in Florida provides:
"In representing a client, a lawyer shall not communicate about the subject of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the other lawyer. Notwithstanding the foregoing, an attorney may, without such prior consent, communicate with another's client in order to meet the requirements of any court rule, statute or contract requiring notice or service of process directly on an adverse party, in which event the communication shall be strictly restricted to that required by the court rule, statute or contract, and a copy shall be provided to the adverse party's attorney."
Note that the rule specifies that consent must be from the lawyer representing the opposing side, not from the party itself. Strictly speaking, this rule is not applicable to Mr. Deetjen, but it is certainly applicable to Mr. Hermelee.
Comments on the rule further state:
"This rule does not prohibit communication with a party, or an employee or agent of a party, concerning matters outside the representation. For example, the existence of a controversy between a government agency and a private party...does not prohibit a lawyer for either from communicating with non-lawyer representatives of the other regarding a separate matter. Also, parties to a matter may communicate directly with each other and a lawyer having independent justification for communicating with the other party is permitted to do so. Permitted communications include, for example, the right of a party to a controversy with a government agency to speak with government officials about the matter."
We doubt, therefore, that Mr. Deetjen acted within his legitimate authority in communicating directly with Mr. Hermelee (except possibly in response to public record requests) or when he tried to recruit additional plaintiffs. City Attorney Andy Maroudis, moreover, has stated that he was unaware of Deetjen's communications with the plaintiffs or Hermelee; he obviously did not direct them or consent to them; none of the unsolicited communications were copied to the city attorney.
It is irrelevant whether the memos provided to Mr. Hermelee were or were not actually useful to the plaintiffs. From his own statements Mr. Deetjen thought that they would be of interest to the plaintiffs and it is clear from his letters that his intent was to aid the plaintiffs. It is also clear that Mr. Deetjen intended to harm the other defendant's, the OSOB's, case. Other memos found on Mr. Deetjen's computer show his hostility towards the OSOB and his opposition to the referenda.
Communication with Hermelee started before the election and it looks as if he may have encouraged the lawsuit.
Moreover, Mr. Deetjen is not qualified to determine what value the memos would have been to the plaintiffs; therefore, any defense he or his supporters might offer that he did not know the information would be useful to the opposing side is without merit. Because Mr. Deetjen has no responsibility under the charter for the conduct of litigation except what might be delegated to him or directed by the commission, absent any evidence that he was so delegated or directed, it appears that he acted beyond his legal authority.
Is this reason for suspension or termination? Two city employees who provided some documents to former Mayor Jean Robb were suspended by City Manager Larry Deetjen. The records supplied to Mrs. Robb most likely would have been provided to her anyway under the Public Records Act if the request had been processed in the regular way. Is not Mr. Deetjen also bound by the rules and procedures of the city administration?
How It Will Come Down - 05/01/05
When the decision is made about Larry Deetjen, whether it be a month from now or a year from now, it will be a vote of confidence or no-confidence, as the case may be. Each of the commissioners will decide whether he or she wants to continue to work with Mr. Deetjen as city manager and then the commission as a whole will decide.
Mr. Deetjen is not on trial. He may or may not have committed wrongful acts. He may or may not have usurped the authority of the commission or overreached his bounds as city manager. There may or may not be hard, admissible evidence.
In part the decision will be "personal." Some Deetjen notes culled from files found on his computer reveal a long-standing feud with Mr. Gonot. Gonot also believes that Deetjen helped his opponent in the last commission election. Another commissioner may not like Mr. Deetjen very much because of his alleged attempt to prevent her from running for her commission post. Still another may have a grudge to bear because of the way he treated the OSOB citizens' group.
On the other hand, the decision may be kicked up a notch or two, but still be political. The commission could decide that Larry Deetjen's vision for the city does not match theirs. Old newspaper reports from Grand Haven, Michigan, state that this was one of the main reasons Mr. Deetjen was fired as city manager of that city years ago. A new commission was elected and simply did not like his plan for the city. There were also allegations that Mr. Deetjen mismanaged the finances of the city, but the decision appears to have been mostly political.
Deetjen, in the end, is an employee of the commission. If the commission does not want to work with Mr. Deetjen, regardless of why they have lost confidence in him, then he must go, now or later.
One of the complications in the matter is the contract which entitles Deetjen to severance pay. Three years ago Deetjen's contract was extended until 2007. At the time it was stated that this was to protect him from a new commission that might be less friendly in 2005. It was a political deal. Given that, we think that Mr. Deetjen and his supporters do not stand on solid ground by alleging that a termination by this commission now would be political, as if to imply that the commission's action would be wrong if it were mostly on the basis of a difference of opinion, rather than on the basis of evidence of wrongdoing.
Deetjen's administration has been highly political; now it gets the better of him. In politics, you win some, you lose some.
This web site is on record that Larry Deetjen should be terminated or at least not extended further as city manager. We want to see a different approach to redevelopment policy, especially as it pertains to the coastal area, and we want to see some other reforms in city government. We want the commission to consider some electoral reforms, including term limits.
Unfortunately, we believe that Deetjen's operating philosophy works against such reforms. He does not believe in open government and he does not want to be directed by the city commission. The former commission was lazy and compliant or in on the deal; the new commission is not. We feel that there may be no basis of reconciliation, regardless of what Deetjen may say or present in his defense.
Vox Populi - 04/30/05
We've been reading the letters to the editor about Larry Deetjen. This web site has also received some feedback from readers.
One of the recurring themes from Deetjen supporters is that his suspension is a personal vendetta of sorts incited by Vice Mayor Steve Gonot. No question that personal feelings are involved, but people who believe this is the crux of the matter haven't read beyond the headlines.
One letter writer, James Geoghegan, puts the situation well into perspective. Geoghegan states the reason for Deetjen's suspension is a "long history of abuse of his office and power." Examples cited include "improperly concealing negotiations of important matters affecting the city" and using sheriff's deputies to suppress dissent. Geoghegan asserts that Deetjen crossed the line between administrator and policy-maker.
But other letter writers were willing to gloss over the transgressions, because he has been a good city manager in their view. This theme was repeated in the Observer editorial this week. While conceding that "Deetjen may have had inappropriate correspondence" with opposing counsel in the Citizen Opponents lawsuit against the city, the editorial writer states that the "implications" of this won't change the paper's position. Ms. Wilson goes on to argue that "Larry Deetjen has been so beneficial...that it will take more than an appearance of misdoing for us to throw in with his detractors."
In fact, those "implications" could be more serious than Deetjen's apologists would like us to believe. In this instance, working for the other side in a lawsuit is brushed aside by some people because it is essentially over a political matter. Would the "implications" look different if Deetjen had fed helpful information to the opposing counsel in the Langlois case or other litigation that could cost Deerfield taxpayers millions in the end?
The thought also occurs to us that this is not a case of a mere "appearance of misdoing," as stated by the Observer. An appearance of impropriety, which is a legal term of art used in some public ethics laws, especially in the guidelines applicable to Federal employees, is created when a reasonable person thinks a public official's conduct may be improper based on relevant facts known to him. It's an "appearance" and not an "impropriety" because the hard evidence does not exist or is not in the possession of the person suspecting the impropriety.
Appearance of impropriety is an ethical issue because it undermines the public trust in government and because such appearances can often be predicted and avoided by public officials. The ethical breach occurs when a public official fails to take measures to "avoid an appearance of impropriety."
The Deetjen case is not a mere appearance anyway. Hard evidence of "misdoing" was found on the city manager's office computer. And it's "wrongdoing," because what he did was to compromise the city's defense of the lawsuit and usurp the authority of the city commission and city attorney who are charged with that defense. It is not relevant that some members of the business community, as noted by the Observer, support the litigants or even if the litigants have right on their side.
There may also have been a breach of professional ethics by the opposing attorney in this case; and if Deetjen knew or should have known that his corresponding directly with opposing counsel was a breach of professional ethics, then he should be held accountable on that basis as well.
Both Mayor Capellini and the editorialist have suggested that Mr. Deetjen may have been instructed to communicate with the opposing counsel in the strategy meetings. Of course, Capellini would know, Gonot would know, and so would City Attorney Maurodis know, because they all attended those meetings. Commission meetings concerning litigation are exempt from the Public Records Act until the particular litigation is concluded. Maurodis said he did not know about the Deetjen correspondence and this implies that there were no such instructions. In fact, directing the city manager to provide information to opposing counsel makes no sense. Unless, of course, the commission was itself secretly assisting the lawsuit against the city.
The new commissioners who were not present at the strategy sessions should ascertain whether they can examine the minutes of those meetings. They should be entitled to know what was directed and it would aid in their decision on Larry Deetjen's conduct in this regard.
Deetjen in Deep Kimchi - 04/27/05
In deep kimchi is an expression used by us veterans who served in Korea which means "in deep trouble." Kimchi is a pickled cabbage concoction which is a staple of Korean cuisine, but is noted for its pungent garlicky smell that's not familiar to Western noses and thus not too pleasant.
After last night's special city commission meeting, Mr. Deetjen is in deep kimchi. More evidence was adduced that the city manager aided litigants against the city in the Citizen Opponents case which seeks to overturn the 2002 charter amendments.
As we wrote yesterday, we are not at all surprised. Nor are we surprised by further revelations that Mr. Deetjen may have tried to recruit plaintiffs for the lawsuit. We won't say we told you so, but we told you so.
Mr. Deetjen has requested a hearing and will have the opportunity to refute the charges against him on May 17th. But what if the city commission were to vote to retain him?
It is clear that some of the commissioners, perhaps all of them save Mayor Capellini, have lost confidence in the city manager. It seems unlikely that he could be effective for the last 18 months of his term and common sense says it will be the last 18 months. It's understandable that there are people coming to his defense, but realistically Deetjen's time is over whether he goes now or serves out the balance of his contract.
The community will not benefit if the next year and half of city government is filled with bitter exchanges and recriminations. It could and probably will be this way if Deetjen stays.
It would be in the public interest for the city to be moving forward now, rather than the year after next, to find a city manager who may well be serving the community into the next decade. It isn't going to be Larry Deetjen in any event that seems possible.
It probably won't happen, but it would be nice if Janyce Becker and all the other apologists for Mr. Deetjen would urge him to step down and go peacefully. In some respects, Deetjen has been a good city manager but the argument that he is the "only person" who can do it well is sheer nonsense. When the time comes there will be scores of competent applicants and Deerfield Beach will have a chance to appoint someone who may respect the citizens a bit more than Mr. Deetjen.
Of course, we can also understand that some people will defend Mr. Deetjen to the end because of what might come to light as people sort through the records left behind when he leaves. We can think of at least one public official whose head may be next if sufficient evidence surfaces. If anyone reading this web site does not think that Mayor Capellini also did not assist the plaintiffs in that lawsuit, then they are looking past who the plaintiffs are. Yep, it could be an interesting next few weeks in 'ole Deerfield Beach.
No Surprise to Us - 04/26/05
It doesn't come to us as any surprise that Larry Deetjen communicated with opposing counsel in the Citizen Opponents suit against the city, as reported today in the Sun-Sentinel. The Citizen Opponents group consists of five "connected" individuals who are trying to overturn the 2002 charter amendments.
With whom are they connected? With the mayor and city manager, of course. And if those cameo ads run by you-know-who last year to win public support for his pier restaurant proposal are any indication, some of them appear to be connected with Pete Boinis also.
In October, 2002, before the referendum election, and then again after the election, we reported on possibly unlawful activities of the city manager with respect to this litigation. For one thing, we were troubled by remarks made by the city manager during the election which "closely parrot published statements by the attorney for a PAC organized to defeat the ballot questions, which has threatened to seek an injunction against the ballot questions and/or try to overturn the charter amendments, if passed."
We added: "We think the city commission should ask Mr. Deetjen if he has communicated with the PAC's attorney about possible litigation and require that the details of any such communication be made public."
After the election, we noted:
"We also have information from what we believe is a credible source, that the city manager has been going about urging members of the business community to support the lawsuit against the city.
"We say again that the commission should inquire into what, if any, communications have taken place between the city manager and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Any such communications, unless otherwise directed by the Court, should be a matter of public record. We urge that the commission look into the above allegations as well."
Obviously, the commission, which was clearly sympathetic to the plaintiffs, made no such inquiry publicly. Now it comes to light that Deetjen was indeed communicating with the attorney for the Citizen Opponents and passed memos on to him written by the city attorney.
The city commission is meeting tonight to discuss the new revelations.
Letter from Kristin Jacobs to City Commission - 09/06/03
The city manager of Deerfield Beach could not help himself, apparently, but to call the office of Kristin Jacobs, the Broward County commissioner who represents a large section of Deerfield Beach, after a power grid breakdown left much of the Northeast, including New York City, in the dark.
"He asserted FPL officials had lied to me about the merchant power plants formerly proposed by Enron and El Paso in Deerfield Beach. Mr. Deetjen further expressed his opinion the merchant power plants would have been a benefit to Broward County by adding to our electrical production."
The call prompted a letter from Commissioner Jacobs to the city commission. She did not think the call from Mr. Deetjen was appropriate:
"While I can appreciate Mr. Deetjen's ardor for the city which employs him, I do not believe Mr. Deetjen's strident support for construction of new merchant power plants in North Broward is a reflection of policy set by the Deerfield Beach City Commission, nor the sentiments of our shared constituents.... As Mr. Deetjen is not in a policy-making position, I feel his phone call was inappropriate." [Italics ours]
Mr. Deetjen does not know that he is not in a policy-making position, or does not act like he knows by the way he operates. He violates policy and law by secretly negotiating a contract for the city and he is rewarded with a raise. He pushes the envelope on the law which establishes the policy of open government and citizen access to public information. He plays politics with city elections which is a violation of policy and law. He aids and abets plaintiffs in litigation against the city seeking to overturn an election which set law and policy about future land use decisions he does not like.
Is it not time for the city commission to hammer out a set of guidelines to clarify what Mr. Deetjen's job is? Or would that just be another statement of policy he could routinely violate?
Mr. Deetjen's Secret Government - 08/29/03
Larry R. Deetjen wants voters to support his agenda, but not to know the facts.
Florida was a pioneer among states in legislation that was supposed to guarantee "open government" and give citizens unrestricted access to public information.
It was called government in the sunshine. The theory was that even in the complex governments of modern times ordinary people have a right to be involved in public decisions.
Government bodies that operate behind closed doors do not govern with the consent of the governed. They are not likely to govern fairly, to represent the people, or work within the proper limits of their authority.
On the other hand, government in the sunshine does not work without some tension. Notice means delay. Debate means delay. Dissent means delay. Elections mean delay. Administrative process means delay. Delay is denial, and denial is the opposite of action.
There is, therefore, the inclination of public officials to try to test the boundaries of the sunshine laws. Somewhere along the line, the spirit of the law is lost and sunshine becomes a game of what they can get away with.
It may seem at first an exaggeration to call Mr. Deetjen's city government a secret government. However, the recent political history of Deerfield Beach proves otherwise.
Clandestine meetings with developers and among public officials, possibly in violation of Sunshine Laws.
The manipulation or regulation of information about actual plans for the beach area.
Short notice of public meetings as an apparent effort to stifle debate.
Interference with elections, also a violation of law.
Improper conduct with respect to litigation in which the city is a party.
There is reason to believe that these practices are not confined to beach issues but carry over to other areas of city business, such as fiscal management and bond issues, where the city manager has another agenda. This is a matter of immediate concern as we approach a bond issue vote in November. Members of the public may have questions about the proposals that can only be answered by what is contained in city records. But do citizens have full access to these records?
Larry Deetjen, the city manager of Deerfield Beach, seems to have this strange idea that he can work out of the sunshine, control public information, and classify city documents to restrict public access.
Unfortunately, local ordinances contain few guidelines that relate to public ethics and the rights of citizens. But state laws and the state constitution do provide for open government and public access to public records. A breach of these laws can result in termination of an official or even criminal prosecution.
At the beginning of its current term of office, Mayor Capellini with the acquiescence of the other members, directed the city manager not to meet with developers without the knowledge of the commission.
Not long after the directive was issued, Deetjen secretly negotiated a contract, almost to the point of agreement, with the developer of a private parking garage that had not yet been approved by the commission. Supposedly no elected official was aware of the negotiations and the public did not know that the city was interested in this sort of arrangement. This contract would have leased part of the garage to the city, which would have operated it as a beach parking facility.
When public officials negotiate contracts or make deals that have not been authorized by the proper authority, this raises some sticky legal questions. In some jurisdictions, it's called, simply, "misappropriation," a word that many people equate with "stealing."
We don't have a "misappropriation" ordinance on point, but Mr. Deetjen's actions still seemed to violate the mayor's directive and usurped the authority of the commission.
The fact that the negotiations were conducted secretly may also have violated state law. The state attorney general has advised that even where a public agency has authorized a subordinate official to negotiate a deal, it must be done "in the sunshine." (AGO 74-294)
The commission did not discipline or even censure the city manager. Shortly after this incident, they gave him a raise and extended the term of his contract. Most of this deal was cut outside the commission chambers -- secretly -- in discussions with Commissioner Trinchitella and, some people believe, Mayor Capellini.
Next came the "confidential" memorandum circulated by the city manager to commissioners regarding the proposal to remove sand from our off-shore reserve and use it to restore beaches in other parts of the county. The city had opposed this plan, believing it could damage our beach, but Deetjen was now secretly urging commissioners to reverse their stance because this may have caused retribution by Broward County with respect to other projects. It is assumed that the city manager's reason for "classifying" this memorandum was to keep this allegation off-the-record, lest it might prove embarrassing to the city in future dealings with county officials.
The truth is that in most cases, Mr. Deetjen has no right to correspond secretly or confidentially with commission members, even if there are good reasons. On the other side of it, is that residents would not have known why the city had changed direction. Opposition to the sand removal had been solid up to that point. We can only speculate that once again the public would have been kept in the dark, assuming that the real motive for the action was suppressed for the same reasons. To put it another way, city officials would have had to lie to the residents of the city. This is exactly what Sunshine laws are supposed to prevent. Moreover, the manager has no lawful authority to classify public records, including his communications with commission members, as secret or confidential. Secret meetings with commissioners or other board members, even in the form of written notes, may violate the law. Thus, the "confidential" memorandum may have violated both the sunshine laws and the Public Records Act.
The Public Records Act defines very specifically those records which may be withheld from public inspection. There are not many exceptions that apply as a practical matter to city business. State law precludes local officials, including Mr. Deetjen, from restricting public access to city records. The state has exclusive jurisdiction over the classification of government documents. City officials may not even destroy or dispose of public records without the state's permission. Finally, no one who wishes to view a public record can be denied because of who he is, or his intended use of the information.
So now comes the most recent report that Mr. Deetjen has instructed city employees that they are not to release records to the public which are pertinent to the upcoming bond issue election without his approval. This came right after an explosive situation in which two city employees were called on the carpet by the manager and suspended for providing copies of city documents relating to the 1999 bond issues to a former city official who is now a private citizen and outspoken critic of the current administration.
[On August 14th, 2003] Two city employees, Doreen Urso and Tommy Hostetler, were suspended for three days for "insubordination" for making copies of city documents for former Mayor Jean Robb which had to do with expenditures of funds authorized by the 1999 bond issue. The information was requested by telephone and was delivered to Mrs. Robb at her residence. The law is clear that requests by telephone or letter for public information must be honored just as requests made in person. The law is also clear that public records cannot be withheld because the city manager does not like the requester or because of his belief that the information will be used in a manner not to his liking.
The documents were delivered to Mrs. Robb by Hostetler. He did this on his own time, during lunch break. While there is no requirement that requested information be hand delivered to the , it is not prohibited as such. We assume the city would deliver or mail requested documents if they were requested by letter or telephone. We wonder whether, had the recipient of this courtesy not been Jean Robb, but Jim Moran or Dr. Fierimonte of the Citizen Opponents, as much, or anything, would have been made of it.
We have been told that at the meeting with the employees in his office, Mr. Deetjen called Mrs. Robb a liar and said that the information will now get on the Internet. It was apparently after this meeting, that a directive was issued at departmental meetings to all city employees restricting the release of official documents to the public. (City manager or department head approval required.)
The way in which this situation was handled by Mr. Deetjen strongly implies that the manager is trying to manage information, and invites the question of what is contained in the city's records of revenues and expenditures under the 1999 bond issue that the city manager thinks the public does not have the absolute right to know.
But voters are being asked to approve another round of bond issues and they want some answers. Some residents are concerned that the proposed bond issue duplicates projects that were funded four years ago. Where did the money go that voters approved in 1999?
From our perspective far from City Hall, it appears that the city manager is walking a fine line with respect to the laws which are supposed to assure citizens government in the sunshine, but he does this without effective oversight from the commission. Every day that passes raises new concerns. We do not think that a public official who commits unlawful acts or tests the boundaries of the law acts in the public interest, even if he has good intentions.
There are questions that need to be addressed with respect to the bond issue election. Time for debate is limited and some voters, in light of what has happened, may not have confidence that the answers from Mr. Deetjen's government would be complete or truthful. This is the other side of when public officials try to evade the Sunshine and public records laws. It is not only unlawful, but undermines the public trust.
Confidential Memorandums - 03/03/03
This article is secret. Please delete before reading. The "confidential memorandum" referred to in the title contained off-the-record advice to the commission on the sand relocation proposal and was critical of county officials.
The State of Florida has enacted progressive legislation that is intended to make government at all levels open and accessible to its citizens. Broward County has recently adopted a Citizen's Bill of Rights which provides that people can get information from the county that they need, when they need it. It also guarantees that citizens have the right to adequate notice of pending matters that effect them and have the opportunity to be heard by the appropriate agencies.
Unfortunately, open and responsive government is not the strongest point to be made about the political administration of the City of Deerfield Beach. The city has no code of ethics. Some cities around the country have taken innovative steps to promote ethics in government. Deerfield Beach city officials seem far more interested in promoting beach redevelopment than in ethical principles. High rises; low values.
The city manager likes to work behind closed doors. This raises interesting legal and ethical issues. Is this just a matter of efficiency (the old trope is that people can't work in a fishbowl) or do "confidential" meetings and memos conceal something that he would rather the public not know about?
Larry Deetjen is the chief administrative officer of a municipal entity that is supposed to act in the public interest, openly and with consideration of the views of informed citizens. Is anything the city manager does lawfully "secret?" Deetjen is not Donald Rumsfeld and he has no comparable authority to decide that city business will be conducted "off-the-record."
There are certain records which are exempt from mandatory disclosure under the state Public Records Act, but not too many things. If we look at the Public Records Act as a kind of road map for open government, we might conclude that there are very few discussions of public policy matters in City Hall that can be secreted. This would include almost anything that city employees discuss with outside parties that would have to be decided as a matter of course at a public hearing.
Sometime before the February 19th, 2002, meeting of the city commission, Mr. Deetjen met secretly with the investment firm of Mogerman, O'Leary, and Patel (MOP) who wanted to build a parking garage at the intersection of A1A and N.E. 2d Street and lease a portion of it to the city. One thing that made these meetings so controversial is how far they proceeded in secret to reaching an agreement on the public/private venture aspect of the deal before the core project had been considered by the commission and supposedly before any commissioners were aware that discussions were taking place concerning a public partnership with MOP.
The city manager could meet with MOP to hear its proposal. But why were the discussions off-the-record and closely held until just before the MOP proposal was to be pitched to the commission? Deetjen has no authority to hold secret meetings with private parties just because there might be public opposition. In fact, it's just this sort of question that needs to be laid out in a timely manner for public discussion if "open government" has any meaning at all.
We believe, but cannot prove, that some commissioners knew more about the MOP proposal in advance than they care to admit while others were kept in the dark. This accounts for some of the blustering that occurred at the commission meeting when the proposal was finally made public. What we are saying is that it was much easier to say for public consumption that Deetjen made a boo-boo by holding a "secret" meeting, than to admit that some elected officials were in on these negotiations. Could their participation have violated the Sunshine Laws?
A related question concerns how far the city manager can go with a person outside government in discussing an official position without the advance knowledge or approval of the commission. In some jurisdictions, if an official in effect commits public funds not already allocated, this is "misappropriation." This might include negotiating a contract for a purpose not yet authorized. Our code does not contain any specific guidelines concerning this subject. Still, the fact is that discussions were held, virtually to the point of agreement, on something that had never been proposed, considered, or approved by the commission in the manner which is legally required. There was in place an informal directive to the city manager that he was not to meet with developers without advance notification to the commission.
Now comes an even more interesting question, which has both ethical and legal implications. This concerns communications by the city manager or staff with the commissioners, as opposed to private parties. It is assumed that the city manager and elected officials occasionally huddle about city business; and unless they involve more than one commissioner at a time, these meeting are essentially and properly confidential. In fact, this may not be the case.
Let's add to this another twist, and this is when the meeting between a commissioner and the city manager (or other staff member) is not about official business, but one in which the commissioner is acting as a private party, a lobbyist in effect for a private interest or his own interest, but with the aura of being an elected official, one of the "bosses." This could happen at an official meeting, when a commissioner casually asks for a special favor.
Deetjen's New Contract
Because the supposedly secret meetings with MOP violated an already established commission guideline about outside meetings with developers, the commission had grounds to terminate Deetjen or discipline him.
This site and others called for Deetjen's termination. This drew angry responses from the local newspaper and Commissioner Trinchitella, who said Deetjen would be fired over his dead body.
Shortly thereafter and under fire, Mr. Deetjen applied for the city manager's post in Daytona Beach, although there were public statements at first that he wasn't really much interested. Later, during his contract negotiations with Daytona, he withdrew.
According to the "official" story, Deetjen felt that he had to tell Mr. Trinchitella the good news right away. So he called Trinchi at his Century Village apartment. When there was no answer, Mr. Deetjen became alarmed and called the mayor. Could the elderly commissioner be ill, they wondered? The city manager and the mayor now rush to Trinchi's side. By the time the mayor arrives, Deetjen and Trinchitella had already negotiated a pay raise and contract extension for the city manager. There was supposedly no discussion of this between Trinchi and the mayor. If there had been, it would almost certainly have violated the state Sunshine Law.
Of course, it is very difficult to prove a violation of a law if the only people who know the truth don't tell it. Obviously, our elected officials, not to mention local media, are not overly concerned about the ethical conduct of the city manager or the related question of whether he acts within the proper bounds of his office. True, the commission did not have to terminate or discipline Deetjen, but they didn't have to raise his salary or extend his contract either. There was simply no obvious reason to do this. This implies that there were obscure reasons.
Century Village Favors
Let us suggest two possible reasons why the city manager was handed a new contract and not fired.
First, the city manager may not know who's stealing what from city parking meters, but he knows who was involved in the MOP negotiations and who knew what about that public/private proposal from MOP. He knows why a "developer" who has done precisely nothing but buy and sell property and talk a lot of talk has disproportionate influence at City Hall. He most likely knows about elected officials who could benefit from various beach redevelopment schemes.
We are not saying that Deetjen necessarily pulled a stick-up on Capellini and Trinchi to win his new contract. That would not have been necessary. They know what he knows. Perhaps they felt that it was better to stabilize Deetjen's position on the team, than risk a new manager, whose operating philosophy with respect to certain issues might be different.
Second, there is the business with Century Village, which happens to be headed up by Deetjen's main champion, Mr. Trinchitella. We have raised questions about this before, but the people who have the resources to investigate and find out the whole truth seem to have no interest in looking into misappropriation or backroom deals.
When the sewer and water system began to deteriorate in CVE, the city paid for their repair. There are disputed claims that Century Village reimbursed the city. [Note: It was later determined that CVE did not pay for these repairs.] More recently, when the Kraft Nursery property was razed for redevelopment, certain creatures that lived there decided to spend their retirement years at CVE. The city paid an exterminator to take care of the problem. Of course, the details of these events are fuzzy, no pun intended, because once again those who could fully investigate them are not inclined to do so.
In writing this web site, our primary interest is in beach redevelopment policy. The focus, however, is not on competing architectural visions, but on the politics of redevelopment on both sides of the issue. Redevelopment has not only changed what our beach area will look like in the future, but has also altered the public ethos in Deerfield Beach, where we live.
One might ask, what is it exactly that motivates public officials to promote beach area redevelopment policies which are anathema to the public, even to the point of refusing to acknowledge an overwhelming vote on the issue in a general election? On the other hand, why do people oppose development?
Self-interest is the pure and simple answer, on both sides. But to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, pure and simple is rarely pure and never simple.
There is nothing wrong with self-interest when it is rational, enlightened and honest. There is nothing stupid or unreasonable about someone wanting to protect his home against encroaching development that will alter and even destroy his lifestyle. There is nothing wrong in a freeholder wanting to maximize the value of his property to secure his future.
It is another matter when the self-interest of the people who hold public office overrides the public interest and is facilitated by deception and unlawful secrecy. So when a secret deal is carved out for the city to pay the extermination bill at Century Village, for example, does this not spare the commissioner who lives there the assessment that would be applied to residents of every other private community? Is the commissioner acting in an official capacity or using his official position in a private capacity?
And the quid pro quo? Trinchitella gets the veneration and undying loyalty of CVE residents and his seat on the city commission forever. Deetjen is secure in his position as city manager, no matter what, and can continue to push his redevelopment agenda.
Confidential Staff Briefings
It is common knowledge that the city manager and/or city staff members brief the commissioners on city business and specifically on items on the upcoming meeting agenda.
There are three principles which we submit clearly apply to communications between the staff and elected officials. 1.) Any document, memorandum, email, computer file, etc., including a handwritten note, pertaining to staff briefings is subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act. 2.) Staff briefings relating to public policy matters cannot be secret. 3.) Staff briefings cannot constitute a meeting. We will further explain this principle in due course.
Most of the readers of this web site are familiar with the "sand" issue. There is a difference of opinion on how this project could impact the coast and the coral reefs.
What this is about, in brief, is that Broward County wants to dredge up and relocate sand located in off-shore burrows to beach areas which are experiencing erosion. One of these burrows happens to be located off our coastline and provides most of the sand that continuously renourishes Deerfield Beach. Deerfield has not experienced extensive erosion because of a unique groin system installed here about 40 years ago.
City officials are concerned that the renourishment cycle will be disrupted if some of "our" sand is relocated to other beaches under the County's plan. Therefore, they have taken an official stance opposing the project.
Now it comes to light, a "confidential" memorandum written by Mr. Deetjen to the commissioners, suggesting that the city revise its position and drop its opposition to the project. This memo was obtained and reported by the Sun-Sentinel in their February 9th, 2003, edition.
What is interesting to us in the context of this discussion is that a position paper circulated to the commissioners was apparently tagged as "confidential." We wonder, of course, by what authority the city manager believes he can write a "confidential" memorandum pertaining to a public policy matter. We can understand why he wanted his comments about the county government to be kept quiet, but this doesn't mean he has the authority to advise the commissioners in private. We don't think he has any legal authority to classify documents, but this seems to be his mindset. We also wonder whether this technique of circulating "confidential" memos or holding off-record or low profile meetings with commissioners is a common practice.
This is not nit-picking or a mere technicality. Here's why. Because staff briefings, or whatever you wish to call them, can be practiced in such a way that the cumulative effect is an off-the-record meeting of the commission. Many people suspect anyway that the real business of the commission is done in back rooms and that the public meetings are just formalities. This explains the absence of debate or real public discussion on important issues, not to mention the indifference of commissioners to what is said in the public hearings.
The State Attorney General was asked to rule on a practice in which city commissioners circulated among themselves position papers on current issues. The Attorney General strongly advised against this practice, because the exchange of position papers and responses to position papers could have the effect of constituting a meeting of the commission. The Sunshine Law, of course, requires that commission meetings be held in public, with notice. State laws also require that citizens have the opportunity to address the commission on issues under consideration.
We submit that staff briefings or communications with the commissioners also could conflict with the Sunshine Law, if positions and opinions are transmitted back and forth through the intermediation of the city manager or staff, and we can't help but wonder if this is what is happening in practice. The way that the open meetings proceed does suggest that more than we know is happening in the background.
There are constructive measures that could be taken to insure that meetings with outside parties are conducted above board and as openly as is possible. The city should require that all lobbyists register with the city. The city manager and staff should be required to keep records of all meetings with outside parties and all written communications or material used in such meetings should be made part of a publicly accessible file.
Similar records should be maintained with respect to meetings or communications with elected officials. Any discussion -- oral or in writing -- with a commissioner which involves a personal or private favor should be made a matter of record.
Did Deetjen Cross the Line? - 10/27/02
Larry R. Deetjen may have violated state election laws.
State law prohibits municipal employees from using their official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with an election. They may not lawfully use their position to coerce or influence another person's vote, or to affect the result of an election. [F.S. 104.31(1)(a)].
Did City Manager Larry Deetjen cross the line by public remarks stating that he wanted the city to seek an injunction against the ballot questions regarding the city charter? Did he attempt to influence the outcome of the election by publicly laying out the case for a taxpayers' suit against the parking garage charter provision?
There is obviously a fine line to be drawn between legitimate public information and propaganda calculated to influence voters in a certain way. Mr. Deetjen's position is well known with respect to the ballot questions, so we can extrapolate from that, that he would like to see the proposed charter amendments defeated, without his publicly saying so.
But by saying that the city should try to enjoin the election because taxpayers' suits may seek to overturn the charter later on, is he trying to inform the public about a legitimate but hypothetical concern, or is he trying to influence electors to vote against the referendums because expensive litigation might occur if the amendments are passed? Presumably, if the amendments are passed and incorporated into the charter and someone sues the city, the city will be obligated to defend the charter, which is the clearest expression of the public will.
If the city were to fail to defend the charter, at the direction of, or conspiracy of, public officials, serious consequences would follow. Also, the city places itself in a precarious legal position if it were to sue or join in a lawsuit to enjoin the ballot questions, because such a suit could fail, and then the city would have to reverse its position, in a sense, to defend the charter to its fullest ability.
A lawsuit to overturn a charter amendment is always possible with respect to any referendum and is not a unique problem for these particular ballot questions. A hypothetical concern about future litigation may be a practical question for voters, but it is not a legitimate basis for a court injunction. Stating this concern publicly just a few days before the election seems like it could be calculated to raise the fear of voters that the city could face expensive litigation, that could be avoided if the ballot questions were defeated, which is presumably what Mr. Deetjen wants.
An Observer editorial urged voters to vote against the referendum because a "No" vote would help the city to avoid expensive litigation. The Observer suggested that such litigation would go on for a long period of time after the election. The editorial appeared after Deetjen's remarks were made public.
Also troubling is the fact that Deetjen's remarks closely parrot published statements by the attorney for a PAC organized to defeat the ballot questions, which has threatened to seek an injunction against the ballot questions and/or try to overturn the charter amendments, if passed. That would be the taxpayers' suit to which Mr. Deetjen refers and has so kindly outlined the basis of.
We think the city commission should ask Mr. Deetjen if he has communicated with the PAC's attorney about possible litigation and require that the details of any such communication be made public.
Violation of section 104.31 of the State Election Code is a first degree misdemeanor.
The People of Deerfield Beach versus Larry Deetjen - The Case for the People - 02/24/02
On March 20th, 2001, Mayor Capellini and the other commissioners now sitting were sworn into office. The following was recorded as part of the minutes of that inaugural meeting:
In closing, Mayor Capellini recommended that there be more open government by involving the public. He said that in the past, the commission has been more involved in performing other tasks to create this government, which has placed the public in the rear. Therefore, he requested the commission's support in correcting this matter by having the public informed of all negotiations prior to the administration and staff discussing with developers, by advising the city commission of such in an open forum.
The city manager violated this directive in negotiating an agreement with Mogerman, O'Leary & Patel (MOP), apparently without the knowledge of the mayor or the commission, to operate and partly finance a 393-space parking garage at the corner of N.E. 2d Street and A1A which MOP would develop along with a retail center.
Sneaky deals are not new with Mr. Deetjen. He was chief spokesman for the Lepine Group's plan to convert public property on the beach into a private development. After that plan was sunk by a public initiative that took away the commission's power to transfer valuable public property without voter approval, he became spokesman for another plan to build a shopping center on the Main Beach Parking Lot. In typical fashion, that idea surfaced with only minimum notice to the public and to the commission even though it had obviously been under development for months. The plan was touted as a park, which it obviously was not. We the people of Deerfield Beach once again rejected Mr. Deetjen's plans by defeating the Ocean "Park" Referendum.
It was in the wake of the Ocean Park fiasco and the clear message of the Ocean Park and commission elections that the public was fed up with such shenanigans that the mayor's directive was generated. The negotiations with the MOP group were in direct violation of that directive. We can only wonder what other deals have been brokered in back rooms without public knowledge by Mr. Deetjen and his staff.
We believe that Mr. Deetjen's defiance of the commission's directive is grounds for dismissal. We believe the citizens of Deerfield Beach have had enough and that the commission should fire Mr. Deetjen.
Historically, the relationship between the commission and the city manager of Deerfield Beach has been a rocky road. Under the city charter, legislative powers are vested in the commission. The city manager is the chief administrative officer, but he is responsible to the commission. Executive power, as distinguished from purely ministerial authority, is implied in the listing of the manager's duties, but the commission clearly has the oversight, the purse strings and the power to hire and fire.
Mr. Capellini's predecessor as mayor used the commission's oversight power and her own strong personality to micromanage the city manager. The current commission has taken a different approach, giving more space to the manager, but not without tension. This is consistent in theory with the city manager form of government, but there is a fine line between doing one's job and usurpation, and Mr. Deetjen may have crossed that line in the matter of the MOP parking garage. There is a distinct difference between reviewing proposed projects for compliance with city ordinances and land use rules; and promoting private development and cutting deals with private developers proposing to operate way outside these rules and way outside the oversight of the commission. This is the short version of the MOP story.
This commission tried to take back some of its power in the mayor's March 20th declaration.
We do not question the competence of Mr. Deetjen and his professional staff. But they do not respect public opinion or the representatives of the residents of this city. They do not welcome public debate about proposals like Ocean Park or the MOP project at N.E. 2d Street and A1A. People who question their plans are belittled, or worse.
This is why we think that if anything in Deerfield Beach needs to be redeveloped, it's the city administration, starting with City Manager Larry Deetjen.