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ELECTION 2015: COMMENTARY ON THE ELECTION AND POST-ELECTION ANALYSIS





Winners and Losers - 03/11/15

Decision Time - 03/06/15

Election Memo #11: "Signgate" Update - 03/06/15

Election Memo #10: The Coddington Endorsement - 02/27/15

Election Memo #9: The Jean Robb Factor - 02/22/15

Election Memo #8: Smoke and Mirrors - 02/19/15

Election Memo #7: A Question of Integrity - 02/14/15

Election Memo #6: Rules, Rules, Rules - 02/06/15

Election Memo #5: Stupid Is As Stupid Does? - 02/04/15

Election Memo #4: The Canal Issue - 01/31/15

Election Memo #3: Is the City Commission "Ceremonial"? - 01/23/15

Election Memo #2: Watch What You Say - 01/16/15

Election Memo #1: Stability and Chaos - 01/09/15



Winners and Losers - 03/11/15

Every election has winners and losers. Here's my list from the Mar. 10 city elections:

WINNERS:

Joe Miller. Miller will be the first Dist. 1 commissioner to serve more than one full term in office since Peggy Noland was reelected in 2001.

Ben Preston. Though defeated in his reelection bid, Preston gained the respect and admiration of citizens city-wide, a distinction not achieved by his predecessors. Preston, hopefully, won't disappear; he has a lot to contribute.

Burgess Hanson. Sorry, Madam Mayor: If anyone gets the heave-ho in the next two years, it's most likely you.

LOSERS:

Ron Coddington. Arrogance and casual disregard for the law are not a winning combination. Coddington can't even make a graceful concession. See his Facebook page.

Steve Krevoy. Maybe he'll go back to where he came from and he can practice his brand of dirty politics somewhere else.

John Grassi. And the band of loonies who want to bring the fire department back under the city.

Anthony Dispenziere. Turned his supposedly non-political Deerfield Dreams organization into a front group for Ron Coddington.

Jean Robb. Her self-serving attempt to drag her priest into local politics was a terrible blunder. What's she left with are three commissioners who would like to see her clear out her office, maybe now more than ever.

Dist. 2. Back to the twentieth century.



Decision Time - 03/06/15

In my 30 years as a resident and voter in Deerfield Beach, I can't recall an election quite like this one in Dist. 1. It's a grudge match, vicious, not many real issues.

At the center of it all is Mayor Jean Robb. Ron Coddington in Dist. 1 and Gloria Battle in Dist. 2 are her tools. If Robb gains control of the city commission, she not only can advance her agenda, but she can get even with everybody who's ever "done her wrong," not done her bidding, or failed to acknowledge that she's the person in charge. Or just people she hates — and there are plenty.

What will happen if Coddington and Battle are elected? This is what I think will happen. The first move will be to fire Hanson and the top city administrators. At the same time that Robb and her loonies attempt to reinstate the fire department to city control — to say the least, a complicated process — the city will be thrown into chaos. Back to the '80's. Is that what voters want?

The fire department issue, in my opinion, is bogus. Nobody cared about this issue until Coddington raised it up as the main plank of his campaign. In my opinion, Mr. Coddington, if elected, can form a committee to look into this issue, but bringing the fire department back under city control will not happen.

Mr. Coddington also proposes a long-term plan for Deerfield Beach stretching out over 30, 40, or 50 years. A good idea, maybe, provided the planners understand (1) that Deerfield is not an isolated town, but is part of a very large metropolitan area both to the south and the north, and (2) that outsourcing or ceding of municipal services, including public safety, to other cities, the county, or a regional authority to be created is the future. This is also now — the city contracts out a lot of work, not just the cops and fire services — and the charter provides for it.

It's only a matter of time before the powers propose a county-wide or even region-wide municipal reorganization, supplanting the 31 Broward cities. This is already happening in urban areas all over the country and in Florida (Jacksonville). Fifty years from now, Deerfield Beach as we now know it (the City of) may cease to exist.

The plan to "demerge" the fire department runs against this trend and is backward, not forward, thinking, in my view.

If there are as yet unspecified problems with the level of services the BSO provides, these are issues that can be resolved. Ending the arrangement with the sheriff is not a sensible or practical course of action.

With respect to the beach area, Mr. Coddington says he favors preserving the "village" feel of the barrier island neighborhood. This was part of the reason I supported him in 2011. But Mayor Robb wants to repeal the charter amendments that more or less protect the area east of the Intracoastal from overdevelopment. Coddington has not repudiated Mayor Robb's proposal to call an election on this issue.

Nor has Coddington said anything about ethics. Will he hold Mayor Robb accountable for her violations of the charter and state ethics laws?

This is important because at the bottom of this election, Mayor Robb hopes that Coddington and Battle, if elected and in her camp, will help protect her from the possible consequences of her own misconduct, as documented by the Inspector General report OIG 14-017. While neither candidate has addressed this issue, we know exactly where Miller and Preston stand, as we do the other commissioners. They are plainly disturbed by the allegations of misconduct, as any clear-thinking voter should also be. Where does Coddington stand? We just don't know, but this we do know: Jean Robb is Coddington's chief supporter. She must expect something in return.

It's pure speculation where the investigations will lead. Will Mayor Robb be charged with a crime? Will the governor suspend her from office if she's found guilty of ethics violations? Will the city commission consider forfeiture?

Joe Miller and Ben Preston aren't perfect. I don't agree with either 100 percent of the time. But both respect the rule of law and have worked diligently with other commissioners and the city manager to represent their districts and all the people of Deerfield Beach, to make right decisions for the residents. The city has made real progress over the last few years to achieve civil and ethical city government in Deerfield Beach. We still have some distance to go, but retreat is not the answer. Bring in Coddington and Battle, voters will pay the price because both have proved by their actions and words, they don't have much respect for the law when the rules inconvenience them. Pretty much the same as Mayor Jean Robb.

The Pelican newspaper had it right: "Joe Miller and Ben Preston . . . have shown the ability to work together to bring significant progress to Deerfield Beach. They each deserve another four years on the dais."

I'm not willing to cast my vote for people whose goal is to return to the old ways and turn this city upside down, mostly to bring revenge on people they don't like.

Mr. Miller is not very good at self-promotion. Coddington is an expert at this — in fact, he's an expert on just about everything. Just ask him.

Coddington's style, the Pelican notes is "combative and accusatory," and "he does not exhibit the ability to play well with others."

It's up to voters. Do they want someone on the commission who works well in a collegial setting and can move the city forward on a steady course? Or do they want someone who runs away from a problem if things don't go his way (see "Election Memo #8"), conducts a hate-filled campaign, never admits a mistake just to show a bit of humility, and is controlled by the mayor?

On Mar. 10, Miller gets my vote.



Election Memo #11: "Signgate" Update - 03/06/15

The sign incident at the St. Ambrose church ("Election Memo #7") now seems to have as many versions as there are books in the Bible. As I previously wrote, the placing of election signs on private property, without permission, and church property, to make matters worse, "was a stupid thing to do and a crass violation of the law." The Deerfield Beach Land Development Code, which regulates election or campaign signs, provides in the plainest English possible that signs cannot be placed on public property or rights-of-way or on private property without the permission of the owner or a person in legal control of the property.

From the start, it was inconceivable that the church had given Ron Coddington leave to place four election signs on its church campus. It is a tax-exempt organization that is specifically prohibited from doing so. In fact, the church has officially stated it did not authorize the signs.

Immediately after the signs disappeared, Coddington publicly accused a member of the Noland family of stealing the signs. This statement was false and potentially slanderous. The church itself removed the signs. That's version No. 1.

Then, on his Facebook page, Coddington posted a revised version, No. 2: Someone at the church (unidentified) asked the candidate to put his signs at the church. The campaign didn't do this on its own initiative, you see, but was asked. But it's totally false. The church denies that anyone at the church asked Coddington or gave him permission to erect the signs.

Now comes Version No. 3, from Steve Krevoy, Coddington's campaign manager. He says that someone whose identity is unknown to the campaign asked them to put the signs at the church. So, they put the signs there even though they had no idea of who this person was or her authority. Krevoy further states that he didn't know the campaign couldn't put signs at a church because he's Jewish and the church is Christian.

Sad to say, I believe him. I guess he doesn't know the law about putting election signs on private property either because he's Jewish. A novel defense to say the least.

What's Ron Coddington's excuse? Keep in mind, he bears the ultimate responsibility for his campaign.



Election Memo #10: The Coddington Endorsement - 02/27/15

Deerfield Beach is a city in need of direction. ~ Sun-Sentinel

So begins the paper's endorsement of Ron Coddington in his bid to unseat the incumbent commissioner, Joe Miller. "While signs of prosperity are everywhere," the editorial continues, "a war of wills dominates the City Commission. Voters can send a clear direction on March 10."

The editors have it almost right. Voters can send a message in the upcoming election — that they will not tolerate unlawful, unethical, and disruptive behavior by any member of the city commission. The direction the city needs is integrity in both senses.

If there is, as the editorial says, a "war of wills" right now, it's mostly about Mayor Jean Robb's conduct as mayor on and off the dais. Joe Miller is clearly concerned about the various charges of misconduct against the mayor, as are his fellow commissioners, but he's tempered his comments. Mr. Coddington, to my knowledge, hasn't said a word about it.

Miller may not be as slick talkin' as his opponent, but he doesn't go away mad from a problem because things don't go his way. Mr. Miller is a "people person," something Ron Coddington clearly is not. He understands (I'm not sure Mr. Coddington does) that people don't always agree but can still be on the same team.

When we elect those five people to the commission and entrust them with the expansive municipal power, we rightly expect them to work together to protect the interests of residents — not only of their districts, but of the whole city — and to "promote honorable, efficient and responsive government," as the charter provides. We rightly expect these "regular" citizens to work out their differences of opinion in an amicable manner without recrimination or demeaning verbal assaults.

Ron Coddington's idea of the direction we need is a quixotic, unconnected proposal to revive the city's fire department. This seems to be his key issue.

He says he has a plan. He hasn't told us what the plan is other than to appoint a committee. A committee is not a plan.

The plan, if it exists, or at least its purpose, seems to be unconnected to any deficiency in the fire and rescue services that BSO provides. Quality of services should be the primary concern of voters. The county fire department employs over 700 firefighters and paramedics, well-trained and equipped to handle almost any emergency. Yes, top-rated services cost us plenty. Coddington has yet to prove that a new city fire department could provide equal, or better, services without a lot of support from the county, at a substantially lower cost to taxpayers. I guess that's what his committee is supposed to figure out.

Moreover, if you read the propaganda, the focus is not about the quality of services, but the pension system for firemen established a long-time ago by the city before any of the present commissioners, including Miller, were in office. This has been a topic of discussion for many years and almost everyone agrees the pension system was poorly conceived. But it has yet to be explained how the creation of a new city fire department would solve the problem.

Then, there is the oft-repeated allegation that the BSO-fire merger was orchestrated behind the scenes by the evildoer, former Mayor Peggy Noland, whose family might benefit from the transfer of the fire department to the BSO. (Noland's husband and son are employed by the BSO fire department.) Well, prove it: Explain exactly how Mayor Noland did this — they can't. It doesn't even make sense.

This is nothing more than a hate campaign directed against the former mayor that in no way, shape, or form logically supports bringing the department back under the control of the city.

In short, Coddington's plan to bring back the city fire department is a scam that probably won't happen anyway, appealing to the basest instincts of some voters. Is this the direction the city needs?

*****

The low point of the Sun-Sentinel's endorsement of Ron Coddington was about Miller's vote on a proposal to hold a Food Truck Rally in the Cove Shopping Center. The city commission rejected the proposal.

The editors would have us vote for Coddington because of a long-forgotten vote on a non-issue that hardly anyone cared about even at the time? I categorically reject the idea that Dist. 1 voters are that dumb.



Election Memo #9: The Jean Robb Factor - 02/22/15

It's not clear how the Jean Robb Factor will factor into the Mar. 10 district elections with voters, but the outcome of the elections could make or end for all time Mayor Robb's agenda and even determine the fate of the mayor herself.

Mayor Robb finds herself in a predicament, facing possible suspension or removal from office, or even jail, for her alleged unlawful and unethical conduct. And she's in a hostile environment between her, the commission, and the city administration. Both situations, the result of her own actions.

In her campaign for mayor, Mayor Robb accused the commission of bad decisions on several issues, some corruptly made, including restructuring the city's bonds to shift the cost of the CRA to taxpayers outside the CRA (a clearly illegal act) and transferring the city fire department to the BSO in order to enhance the Noland family's pension entitlements. The first charge was completely untrue and the second charge, ludicrous. Such charges, even if only political rhetoric, were bound to create tension between her and the other commissioners from the very outset of her term.

The other commissioners seem to have no trouble working with the administration through the city manager, as required by the charter, but Mayor Robb wants to go off on her own tangent. I've heard from reliable sources who are in a position to know that she hardly ever talks to the top-level administrators. At an early meeting of the commission after she assumed her post, she declared that she is in charge of the city, which she clearly is not. Her apparent inability to comply with the city charter led to an investigation by the Broward Office of Inspector General, which issued a report finding probable cause to believe Mayor Robb had violated the city charter and/or state ethics laws on numerous occasions.

Additionally, the mayor has an agenda that hasn't gotten far with the current commission. She advocates November elections, effectively eliminating staggered terms. She wants to restore the fire department to city control. She tried to delay the Sullivan Park project out of existence. She wanted to use the Sullivan Park funds to buy the property at the A1A-Hillsboro intersection, she said to accommodate a beach entrance sign. Now there's talk of the CRA buying that property and turning it over to a private developer. Further, Mayor Robb wants to repeal the charter provisions, approved by voters in 2002, limiting development in the beach area east of the Intracoastal. On none of these proposals has she found support from the commission, which also acts as the board of directors for the CRA.

She is openly hostile to Burgess Hanson and the department managers. In her distant past, Robb had no qualms about firing city managers. Can you imagine the chaos that would follow if Mayor Robb gains control of the commission?

And she's made it abundantly clear she wants Miller and Preston off the board (not to mention Ganz of Dist. 4) so that she can advance her agenda. She's contributed to Gloria Battle's campaign to defeat Ben Preston. Coddington's campaign is run by Robb's political ally, Steve Krevoy, who was her campaign manager for mayor. Voters should ask these candidates their positions on the mayor's agenda. And they should also ask the candidates what if anything the commission should do about Mayor Robb's alleged misconduct if she's found guilty by the state ethics commission of any of the various allegations.

As it stands now, it is evident that all four commissioners would vote Mayor Robb out of office if forfeiture were a practical option. However, the commission has taken a more cautious approach and merely censured her based on the IG report. As I interpret the charter, it would take all four commissioners to vote forfeiture, so if a Robb supporter is elected to the commission in March, forfeiture would be a moot issue.

In my opinion, forfeiture on the basis of malfeasance-like conduct probably will not happen regardless of who sits on the commission. It could be tried, but there are a number of possibilities:

(1) If found guilty of unethical conduct by the state ethics commission, the governor could suspend Mayor Robb from office.

(2) If charged criminally, the governor could suspend her and remove her permanently if convicted.

(3) The commission could find her in forfeiture if she has "violate[d] any standard of conduct or code of ethics established by law for public officials."

(4) She could be recalled for malfeasance.

(5) She could resign or "retire for health reasons."

(6) Nothing.

I hope that whatever the outcome of the election, we can avoid the ugly mess of forfeiture. Because it has never been tried before in Deerfield, it could establish a bad precedent for the future. Of course, if the governor were to take independent action or if Mayor Robb were to be charged with a crime, the matter would be out of the city commission's hands. For that, there's already too-ample precedent.

Meanwhile, the city commission must try to keep its members in check and call out, if necessary, any member who's undermining the public trust by his or her actions. This should not be because of personal animus or of differences of opinion on policy issues. The commission has a responsibility to protect its own integrity and that of the city.

Clearly, however, who sits on the commission will make all the difference on how effectively the commission polices its own members.



Election Memo #8: Smoke and Mirrors - 02/14/15

The fire department issue, raised by Ron Coddington in his campaign for city commission, is the political equivalent of stage magic. Smoke and mirrors.

The stage magician tricks the mind — that's how he makes the elephant disappear. The rational mind knows the elephant didn't really vanish into thin air, but dammit, I saw it with my own eyes! Likewise, the politician seizes upon the gullibility and trust of voters and, in a sense, also tricks the mind. He creates a problem that doesn't exist, then offers a solution without the specifics, lest it be exposed as an illusion, not real magic.

I learned this from no-less than Richard Nixon when he delivered the C.J. Morrow Lecture on Political Strategy at my undergraduate school. Actually, this isn't true, but some readers might have believed my story — after all, Nixon was known as "Tricky Dick." It's a plausible story, and there was no reason not to believe it. Truthfully, though, there was no such thing as the C.J Morrow Lecture (Mr. Morrow was one of my law professors). The only truth in this is that I did attend a lecture by Nixon, on an entirely different topic, when I was in law school.

The point is that most of us believe what we read, unless we know otherwise, and politicians, especially those running for office, exploit this to get votes. How many times have you heard or read that the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that corporations are people? The Court has never said any such thing. Still, it's been written so many times that it has become a kind of de facto truth (if such is possible). People with a cause are perfectly willing to repeat this myth.

I read in the paper this morning that a key part of Gloria Battle's campaign, who's running against Ben Preston in Dist. 2, is for greater transparency in city government. Since when is Ms. Battle interested in open and honest government? As an interim commissioner, Battle voted against the city ethics code, and as a member of the ethics advisory committee, she missed most of the meetings. She's a strong supporter of Mayor Jean Robb, who is up to her neck right now in charges of unethical and unlawful conduct. And the mayor didn't seem to be too interested in transparency when she tried to hide city business in her personal emails (one of which I will shortly reveal).

Ms. Battle says she wants more economic development in her district. Everybody wants to see improvements in Dist. 2. What magic trick, do you suppose, she has up her sleeve to accomplish this?

Ever since she returned to office two years ago, Mayor Robb has railed against the BSO-fire merger. She wants to bring the fire department back under city control. A close political ally, John Grassi, maintains a Facebook page largely devoted to this subject. Local activists and public officials know Mr. Grassi well, as a person who's never said anything positive about city government since Hoover was in office. Coddington says he has a plan to restore the fire department to the city. No details, but he claims his plan would save the city a whopping $10 million.

For its part, the city administration says that much of the propaganda put out on this issue is misinformation. In fact, it contends, the transfer of the fire department to the BSO has been an important factor in its ability to bring the once nearly depleted city reserve fund to the 2016 target ahead of schedule.

Besides, the question is mostly academic, I believe. Even if Coddington's plan rivals the Pentagon's World War III plans, it's not going to happen. For starters, a seamless transition of the fire and rescue service back to the city would require the full cooperation of the BSO. The sheriff has made it plain as day, he's not about to cooperate in this plan.

What we are really talking about is not a "taking back," but the creation of a whole new department. While the city may own fire stations and some equipment, it doesn't own any firefighters. It would have to recruit and train a new crop of firemen and paramedics. If the goal is a top-notch department — should we want less? — it would have to offer salaries and benefit plans at least equal to the BSO's package. It may have to upgrade its facilities and buy new equipment. This could prove very costly to taxpayers that could far outweigh the benefits. And, dare I ask, what are the benefits?

Is the issue of who provides the services that important to voters? I don't know. Again, it comes down to the gullibility and trust of voters. If Coddington says there's a problem and Mayor Robb says there's a problem, there must be a problem. The bottom line is that voters should be skeptical. Is this really an issue at all?

*****

On another topic: As we all know, the inland canals are distressed. I've written quite a bit on this subject in fact. The "experts" have to find the solutions to the technical problems, but the city commission has to find the money. To this extent, it's a political issue. Mr. Coddington has positioned himself in this election as the "champion" of canal restoration, so the Kingfisher residents might find interesting an email he wrote to Mayor Robb when the canal issue was discussed by the city commission.

When I was a little kid around seven- or eight-years old, I had a terrible temper. If I didn't get my way, I'd throw a tantrum, go to my room, and raise a ruckus. My parent's strategy was to ignore me. Apparently it worked. In the ensuing 63 years, I've come to realize (1) that people don't always agree with me and (2) I don't always get my way. I usually find a way to work with people even if we have a difference of opinion.

Around May 2013, the commission discussed the Kingfisher canal issue in earnest and accepted a ten-point plan suggested by the unofficial leader of the Kingfisher neighborhood. Mr. Coddington, a marine engineer, also proposed a solution to the pollution problem in the canal. Whether it was a good idea or not I'm not qualified to say, but for whatever reason it was not adopted.

Here's what Mr. Coddington wrote to the mayor to her personal email dated May 16, 2013, at 2:08:57 p.m. I'm fairly certain it wasn't supposed to be for public consumption.

Jean,

These people are smarter than us, let them handle their own problem.

But they should not come back to us for help when Charlie [DaBrusco, the city engineer], Burgis [Burgess Hanson, the city manager] and Joe [Miller] give them the sorry but we couldn't come up with the money and their grand plans die at the table.

As for my help, they did not even include the recommendation for a floating debris barrier that would have trapped all the floating debris at the culverts and made cleanup possible. The only way they get any debris sitting at the end seawall is when the wind keeps it there. A cheap barrier would have made cleanup possible and reasonable.

At any rate, they DO NOT need any of our valuable time or help, and they will not get mine when Charlie ultimately screws this thing up like everything else he touches.

Ron

Is Ron Coddington eight-years old? More importantly, what is Coddington's commitment to solving the canal problems if he doesn't get his way? He plainly said that the canal residents won't get his help. Those are his words, not mine.



Election Memo #7: A Question of Integrity - 02/14/15

I once knew a man, a resident of Deerfield Beach, who used to pine: "Nobody understands me." The problem was that people who knew him understood him all too well. He was duplicitous and a hypocrite. He stole other people's ideas and claimed them as his own. He was not a man of great integrity. In fact, quite the opposite.

Sometimes, as they say, actions speak louder than words, and words also can speak volumes about a person. Certainly the case here.

Some people might not think the "signgate" episode at the St. Ambrose church really matters. It should. It was an act of pure stupidity and raises questions about the personal integrity of the candidate.

The Land Development Code of Deerfield Beach is clear where election signs may or may not be placed. They can't be placed upon public property or rights-of-way. They can't be placed on private property without the permission of the property owner or a person in legal control of the property.

The St. Ambrose property is owned by the Archdiocese of Miami. There is simply no way Mr. Coddington could have received permission to erect his campaign signs on the St. Ambrose church grounds because the Archdiocese is a tax-exempt organization specifically prohibited from allowing political signs on its properties. It was a stupid thing to do and a crass violation of the law. And it may have jeopardized the tax status of the church.

Then, immediately after the signs were removed, Mr. Coddington posted a comment on his Facebook page suggesting that a member of the Noland family stole the signs, when in fact he did not have a clue who took down the signs. It was a gratuitous statement, exploitative, completely unnecessary, and totally unfounded.

After the fact came out that the church removed the signs and was widely publicized, Mr. Coddington deleted his Facebook entry, without explanation. No retraction, nothing admitting he made a mistake. Not even some form of proof that he had permission to place those signs at the St. Ambrose church.

Now, anyone can make a mistake — even an honest person. Anyone can say something that is untrue, either as a deliberate lie or as a sincere, but mistaken, belief. This is where integrity comes into the play, especially when an untrue accusation is publicly made by a public official or candidate for public office and is potentially harmful to someone. In this case it was not only the Noland family who may have suffered injury, but also the people who read the post and may have believed it.

Mr. Coddington likes to accuse other people of not having the "balls" or courage to do the right thing. Where are his? He could, at the minimum, admit he made some mistakes in this affair.

Coddington says he wants to preserve the village atmosphere of the beach. In my view, this is a good position, but should we believe him?

His current ally, Jean Robb, was also, in her civilian days, an unspoken critic of city plans to overdevelop the beach. Now, she wants to repeal the charter provisions that limit development in that area. Mr. Coddington has not, in so many words, repudiated Mayor Robb's plan.

Nor does he seem to have any problem about placing a large, unsightly campaign sign on the beach front, defying all traditions.

Are we certain that he really wants to protect the beach area? Or is he just saying that? Can we trust his word?

Someone in one of the umpteen-thousand posts on one of the blogs, stated that Mr. Miller can't point to a single personal achievement. Let me name one: He has dutifully worked in a collaborative manner with the commission and the CRA board to do best things for the citizens of Deerfield Beach, in all the districts, within the cruel realities of city government and its limited resources. This is what citizens should expect of its city commissioner, not a yahoo who rides into town on a white stallion with quixotic plans to fix all the city's real or imagined problems.

I'm not certain we could expect that of a candidate who wrongfully accuses a person of a crime and won't own up to his mistake. In my view, the right conduct of a public official is not just about following a few simple, and sometimes more complicated, rules and filling out forms, but it's about personal integrity as well.



Election Memo #6: Rules, Rules, Rules - 02/06/15

From the day a person files for public office to the day he leaves office, that person's life will be governed by certain rules that don't apply to the rest of us. People who can't follow rules very well probably shouldn't be in the game.

The state Division of Elections' Candidate and Campaign Treasurer Handbook explains most all the laws and rules that pertain to election campaigns in Florida.

Some of the rules that apply to campaign signs and political advertisements may seem petty, but they are not optional. The state can levy fines for violating them. One rule is that campaign signs must include a disclaimer that discloses the name of the person or entity who paid for the sign and the office the candidate is running for. Words to the effect that the candidate approved the signs may be included, but are not required if the candidate paid for the signs himself. If someone else paid for the signs, the approval language must be included or state that the candidate did not approve the signs.

I've seen conflicting information about the number of signs Ron Coddington put on the St. Ambrose church property. I've seen two, three, and four. At least two signs were put on the property on the 12th Ave. side near the school.

Mr. Coddington's signs — at least the ones placed on the church grounds and presumably his others — included a disclaimer that Ron Coddington paid for the signs, but did not indicate that he's running for city commission.

Now you might sensibly ask, "What's the big deal?" because the sign itself says he's a candidate for city commission. The big deal is that it's required by law. It may be a dumb rule, but a rule is a rule, especially when there are potential consequences for violating it. Further, the elections division is adamant that "the disclaimer language . . . must be verbatim as quoted in" the state statute that requires the disclaimer and provides for the wording that is acceptable.

The Candidate Handbook states: "Variations are prohibited by law."

What Coddington's signs should say is "Paid by Ron Coddington for City Commission" or they could say "Political advertisement paid for and approved by Ron Coddington for City Commission." In either case, the disclaimer would be fully legal.

I agree that nobody will vote for Joe Miller and against Ron Coddington because he doesn't have the proper disclaimer on his political signs. Most people wouldn't know what a proper disclaimer is anyway. But there is a principle involved. Mr. Miller's signs and advertisements are compliant; Coddington wants his job. Shouldn't he be held to an even higher standard?

We already have one member of our commission who thinks she's above the law. We don't need another.

Returning, briefly, to the other part of the story: I can't help but think that someone at St. Ambrose gave Mr. Coddington permission to erect his signs on church property. I don't believe that even Ron Coddington (stated this way only because he seems to like this reference) has the balls to put large political signs on private property without permission. I had an irreverent thought that maybe Jean Robb told Coddington to go ahead with the signs and she'd fix it with the Father. It's probably not true, but I wouldn't put it past her.

I note that Coddington has said nothing on his Facebook page regarding the sign issue since it blew up on him. He deleted his post only yesterday (Jan. 5) that all but named former Mayor Noland's son as the thief. Of course, we now know the real story where the signs went. I think he owes the Nolands an apology.



Election Memo #5: Stupid Is As Stupid Does? - 02/04/15

Why in the world would Ron Coddington or his campaign manager or his people put campaign signs on the St. Ambrose church campus? Practically everybody knows that tax-exempt churches cannot be involved in politics at this level. And this guy wants to be the Dist. 1 city commissioner.

Then, of course, another question: Who let him do it? Church officials now deny they gave the Coddington people permission to place the signs on their property. It doesn't seem likely that the church's pastor, Fr. Dalton, would allow it given the possibly serious consequences. The church has also confirmed to Chaz Stevens (MAOS) that it was they, not the notorious sign-snatching gang, the Noland Family, who removed the signs, as Coddington recklessly suggested on his Facebook page, and I've also just heard that the church will make a public announcement next Sunday at mass that the church did not authorize the signs.

Fr. Dalton has been known to push the envelop when it comes to local politics, but not to this extent. Dalton is supposedly tight with Mayor Robb and Mr. Coddington is perceived by many to be Robb's boy in this election. So if anyone is looking for a conspiracy theory in the "Signgate" affair, there you have it. But given what we know, it doesn't look like this is a plausible explanation. It looks more like a case of trespass to me or maybe just a case of blatant stupidity on someone's part, for which the candidate, Mr. Coddington, bears the ultimate responsibility.

Both Mr. Coddington and Mr. Miller are reasonably intelligent men, with different skill-sets. Coddington has the diplomas and certificates, but Miller built a successful business from the ground up. Coddington's business went into bankruptcy. Mr. Miller has been involved for many years in civic organizations and assumed leadership positions in these organizations. Coddington has been around for many years as well, in-and-out of local politics, but apparently not long enough to know what candidates can and cannot do with campaign signs. One basic principle: Candidates can't put their signs on private property without the consent of the owner.

The city commission is not a brain trust; it's not the Supreme Court. If that were the intent of the charter, we would elect only lawyers, engineers, experts in public finance, and experts in urban planning to the board.

In fact, most people we elect to office are not experts in all things (or maybe anything relevant to the job) and are usually unprepared initially for the mind-boggling issues that confront them. What we should expect from our elected officials is men and women who listen and learn from the experts and who are able resolve their differences in a gentlemanly manner in the best interests of the city's residents. Both Miller and Ben Preston, who's also up for reelection in his district, have exhibited the skills to work in this collaborative environment. The present commission has a fairly good record of working together despite the sometimes disruptive behavior of Sylvia Poitier (earlier) and Mayor Robb (recently).

There's also a side issue, the fact that Coddington's signs did not use the proper disclosure language, namely, that he approved the signs and revealing the exact source of the funding for the signs. You might say, this is nit-picking, but: It's the law. If Mr. Coddington can't follow a simple, no-brainer rule, what's he going to do if and when confronted with more serious rules relating to public ethics, like conflicts of interest, solicitation of donations, gifts to himself, or the charter's non-interference clause?

It's not that Ron Coddington is wrong on all issues. His position on beach-area redevelopment, at least on its face, is quite correct. I take it to mean that he would not embrace Mayor Robb's stated position, that the building restrictions folded into the charter by a voter referendum should be repealed.

Mr. Coddington says he has a plan to retrieve the fire department from the BSO. It must be amazing because no one else seems to have a feasible plan to do this. It's also not clear the public wants the fire and rescue service back under direct city control.

However, Mr. Coddington's words and actions (some of which I've addressed) raise doubts that he's the right man for the job of city commissioner, which he doesn't think is a job at all.

I haven't always agreed with Mr. Miller either. In the past, he's said we should make Deerfield Beach a "destination beach." I'm baffled: it's almost like saying we should make the airport a place to land planes. Still, in balance, against Coddington's sometimes weird views about city government, I believe Miller is the better choice for voters.



Election Memo #4: The Canal Issue - 01/31/15

It was inevitable that the recurring problems of the Kingfisher, the Tern, and other inland canals would be an issue in the Dist. 1 election. Absent a long-term solution, it's likely that the grandchildren of the current complainants will face the same issues with the canals in the 2060's as grandma and grandpa faced in the 2010's.

This is why on this website I proposed a comprehensive study of the inland canal system with an eye toward long-term solutions. Mr. Coddington retorted with the snide comment that I'm not an expert and invited me, in effect, to keep my opinions to myself. Nevertheless, I stand by my proposal for whatever it's worth.

I readily acknowledge that I'm not a marine engineer and can offer no expert ideas how to solve the problems of pollution and silt build up that interferes with navigation. I'm a political scientist and lawyer. I did have extensive coursework in geology as an undergraduate; I know a little bit about back swamps and rock formations, but that's about the extent of my "expertise."

Still, I can read what the experts have to say. My research suggested that one possible factor in the current problems is the way the canals were designed by '40's and '50's standards. Maybe — maybe not — reconstruction is part of the long-term solution. That's for the real experts to decide. That's why I recommended a comprehensive study — to get to the meat of the problem.

Obviously, if reconstruction or similarly drastic actions are needed, it would come at great cost to Deerfield Beach taxpayers. At this point, it's no longer just an engineering problem. It's a political issue, how we come up with the money, and it's by no means certain that taxpayers in other parts of the city want to bear the cost. In any event, this is not a problem that even a marine engineer can easily solve.

I don't doubt for one moment Mr. Coddington's qualifications as a marine engineer. One person, a Coddington supporter, wrote: "I want a commissioner with a college Education and Marine background that cares for the entire District 1 area and will fight for improvements that need to be made," referring specifically to the canal problem.

The same logic could be used to argue that we ought to elect government-finance experts to the commission, because ultimately that's what the canal issue is about: How do we pay for it?

If anyone is interested, here's the link to my articles on the subject.



Election Memo #3: Is the City Commission "Ceremonial"? - 01/23/15

Ron Coddington may be right opposing "Long-term benefits, pensions, and health insurance for city commissioners," a subject recently debated by the city commission. But his logic is weak and his "facts," wrong.

Either Coddington comes from a different planet or he had tee many martoonis when he wrote to the local editor about compensation and benefits of city commissioners. He said the only reason commissioners work the long hours they claim is that the city administration is so deficient that people are forced to bring myriad service complaints to their elected officials instead of to the relevant city department. How could he possibly know this for certain? People call or write their representatives for any number of reasons and the officials themselves aren't complaining. It goes with the territory of being a representative.

Besides, he adds, the role of a city commissioner is ceremonial, deserving only minimal pay or benefits. "It is not a full-time job!" he exclaims. Clearly, Coddington's purpose is to attack Burgess Hanson and his top managers, but in so doing reveals another example of his convoluted ideas about city government.

Mr. Coddington, who is now running for commissioner himself, is a smart guy. He's well educated and, as he keeps reminding us, a certified professional engineer. Over the years, he has had some good ideas worthy of consideration — and some bad ones.

In fact, I endorsed him in 2011 on this website when he ran the first time. He got 365 votes, 26 percent of the votes cast.

I'm not endorsing him now for a number of reasons, but, in part, because of his odd ideas about city government, the evidence being his own writings and statements. See my previous article. His letter is another example.

In the letter to the editor of the Observer dated Oct. 9, 2014, he wrote: "In a properly-run city, political service [as a city commissioner] is ceremonial as stated in part in the city charter, not a regular functioning job description."

True, service as a commissioner is not a full-time job (!) in the usual sense of a city worker who punches a time clock. How much time a commissioner spends at it depends on circumstances and his or her own situation. Some have regular jobs and some own businesses that they have to juggle with their responsibilities as a public servant. I can envision a situation, however, where a commissioner could treat this as his regular job and rely on the pay and benefits he derives from it as his primary income. Nowhere it is written that a city commissioner has to be a pensioner or employed in an outside job. Not every person who serves on the city commission is a retired gentleman farmer who spends his spare time caring for his polo ponies and the rest as an elected city official.

Still, however you want to define it, service in elected office entails a lot of work. A commissioner is required to attend time consuming meetings. If he's the least-bit conscientious, he will spend more hours preparing for these meetings, plowing through reams of backup material and possibly doing his own fact-finding. Add to this the many hours a week he may confer with the city manager or city attorney or constituents to discuss city issues. Commissioners typically hold district meetings that require planning. The town hall meetings are valuable because they inform the public about what's happening at City Hall (a lot, I might add) and give residents a chance to air their concerns in a less formal environment than an official city meeting. They are, however, optional.

Mr. Coddington's view is preposterous and presumptuous. How much time does Ron Coddington intend to spend as a commissioner, if elected? Does he just plan to sit on the dais and look pretty, ignoring his constituents, unprepared for the many complicated challenges of local government?

It's the first part of his statement — his statement that the role of the city commission is ceremonial — that bothers me the most. What does he mean by "ceremonial"? Is he suggesting that the commission is only a ministerial body whose function is to rubber stamp whatever city administration exists at the time? That's not what the city charter provides. Of course, a commission could operate that way, but the charter doesn't even remotely suggest that its role is merely "ceremonial" in any ordinary sense of that word.

I believe that one of the reasons most people don't take an interest in local government is that they don't understand the vastness of the city's power over their lives. This is a bit simple, but the city can do almost anything it wants to "to protect the health, welfare and safety of its residents, and promote honorable, efficient and responsive government . . . ." [ City Charter, Preamble]. Charter § 1.01 provides:

The City of Deerfield Beach . . . shall have all governmental, corporate and proprietary powers to enable it to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions, render municipal services, and may exercise any power for municipal purposes except as otherwise provided by law.

The city manager has large responsibilities, but this sweeping power is not assigned to him. The power of municipal government is vested, primarily and penultimately, in the city commission as a body. Charter § 3.08 makes this clear:

All powers of the city shall be vested in the commission, except as otherwise provided for by law or this Charter, and the commission shall provide for the exercise thereof and for the performance of all duties and obligations imposed on the city by law. The city commission may establish by ordinance city departments, offices, agencies and boards and may prescribe their functions and duties subject to this Charter. [Italics added.]

Nothing — nothing — in the exercise of this power is ceremonial. If this is what Mr. Coddington means, he is dead wrong.

It goes without saying that I'd like my commissioner's view of major city issues to be the same as mine. But character is important too: I'd like him to be honest and fair and respectful of residents, to see the importance of his work, to put in the required time, and to know both the vastness and limitations of his power. He or she is not a figurehead.

Perhaps I misunderstood Mr. Coddington's meaning. Sorry 'bout that, but he wrote what he wrote. In my mind, these statements raise considerable doubt on his fitness for the office he seeks.

There's also more to consider about Ron Coddington. Check out this (purposely) misnamed website: Vote4Ron.com.




Election Memo #2: Watch What You Say - 01/16/15

Anybody who knows anything about the way city government operates under the law knows that emails sent to or by public officials regarding city business are public records. Well, not everybody. Apparently not Mayor Jean Robb or Ron Coddington, who's facing off against the Dist. 1 incumbent, Joe Miller, in the upcoming March election.

What this means is that the city has no practical choice in 99.9 percent of cases but to release such emails to the public if requested. This is true regardless of the requesters purpose (the city can't even ask) and if the emails may prove embarrassing to the sender.

All of us, you and I and Mr. Coddington included, have the right to send emails to our commissioners stating our opinions about city business. Here's where my choice figures in and the title of this article, "Watch What You Say." I, as an example, can choose to make it civil and respectable, or I can write, "Joe, you need to grow a pair of balls," and maybe throw in a couple of f-bombs to emphasize my point. But in the second case, it's still a public record, no matter how stupid it may make me look when my email shows up in the newspaper or on someone's blog.

This is essentially the case of Mr. Coddington. Before and while he was chairman of the Marine Advisor Board, he wrote emails to public officials using colorful language, similar to the above. Then a citizen got hold of those emails and published them for all to see.

Mr. Coddington was miffed. He made a little speech to the city commission saying that the release of these emails was unprofessional and implying that the emails should have been redacted. He stated that the city's procedures should be like the more elaborate procedures of federal agencies that he imagines exist under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). He should know better than that if he is a serious candidate for public office.

First, the obvious: FOIA, a federal statute, has nothing to do with city government. Procedures for release of public records in the custody of the city are governed entirely by state law. And the bent of the applicable law, as stated, is that the city has little choice but to release emails or letters written to or by city officials.

I don't know how much Mr. Coddington knows about FOIA (apparently, not a lot about the state Public Records Act). But I know a bit.

You see, not long out of law school, I was called to active duty and assigned as chief of administrative law at an Army base in Texas. On numerous occasions, I was asked to review requests for public records under FOIA.

My role was not to find ways around the law, but to ensure that FOIA was complied with in all respects. As far as I can remember, there was no procedure in place that would have protected someone in Mr. Coddington's position.

Needless to say, the City of Deerfield Beach is not the Army. The Army and other federal agencies have within their custody documents classified for national security reasons. The city has no comparable authority to secret their files. City government is an open book and everybody has the right to read it. It is quite clear in the Public Records Act itself that municipal and other governmental agencies of the state are not to overburden the processing of public records requests with procedure.

Incidentally, it was because of his inappropriate emails that the city commission removed Coddington from the Marine Advisory Board.

Mr. Coddington's weird idea that the city's process for releasing public records should be made more "professional" so that it can pick and choose what records are released to people requesting them is disturbing for a candidate for the city commission. But Mr. Coddington has some other strange ideas about city government also that I will discuss in future posts.



Election Memo #1: Stability and Chaos - 01/09/15

From the day she assumed office, Jean Robb has made it patently clear that she wants Miller (Dist. 1) and Preston (Dist. 2) off the city commission. Though she denies it, she almost certainly had a role in the aborted effort to recall and disgrace Bill Ganz, her most outspoken critic on the commission. The mayor would be happy to see the election of allies where she presently has none. The election of one would protect her from forfeiture or some other effort to remove her from office; the election of both would help her achieve her enlarged vision of the mayor as the person in charge of the city and possibly also to get rid of the current top managers with whom she basically refuses to work. As the commission now stands, Mayor Robb has no chance of firing the city manager.

Change is sometimes warranted, but it's up to the challengers in the upcoming election (Mar. 10, 2015) to persuade voters they are better qualified and can do a better job than the incumbents.

There's also a case to be made for stability as opposed to the chaos that could result if there were a drastic change in the composition of the city commission at this time. The present members have proved that it is possible for gentlemen and women to collaborate for the best interests of the city and work out their differences without hard feelings and recrimination. This, despite the tenuous position of Mayor Jean Robb, to which she continues to display defiant indifference.

In the past, I was not a supporter of Joe Miller. Let's call it policy differences. Four years ago, I thought that his present opponent, Ron Coddington, made a good case for himself.

Well, I've changed my mind. But I will explain my position more fully in future articles.



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