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Is It Apathy... Or What? - 06/03/09

The front page story in the local paper this last week is called "Construction disrupts Cove." The title is misleading because it implies something is happening in the Cove Shopping Center, where there are planned renovations, or in the adjacent Cove neighborhood.

To get the story straight, don't stop at the headline.

What's disrupting traffic along Hillsboro Boulevard from A1A to Federal Highway is the streetscape project. This is blamed by some, apparently by some of the same people who oppose the Cove renovation plans, for a downturn in business in the Cove Shopping Center. The fact that it has rained practically without stopping for the last month, the recession, and the fact that business is down everywhere at the moment have nothing to do with that.

I travel that route almost every day. It's not that bad, but it gives people something to bitch about. And that's what some people are doing.

What the article in the local paper is about, in fact, is a meeting held at the Chamber week before last. The paper said that around 100 people were at this meeting. The project was approved years ago.

What I would like to know is where these people were when the Hillsboro Boulevard Improvement, as it is now officially known, was on the table. I wrote about it when the idea was being considered -- I questioned the cost -- but it was a "beautification project." Nobody is against a project when these two words appear together in the description until, of course, the project starts and people find themselves inconvenienced. I don't recall significant opposition to the streetscape project.

This was during the "Dream Team" era when any project or idea that had the imprimatur of LRD was happily approved. I am guessing that the Hillsboro streetscape was his brainchild.

That was a long time ago, but it takes a while to design and put together projects like this. It required coordination with the various utility, wire, and cable companies. And the project has encountered numerous unforeseen problems since construction began. So right now, we're in the thick of it.

Hillsboro Boulevard Improvement

Apathy and ignorance are practicably interchangeable terms. I would almost bet that one or more of the following statements apply to most of the people who attended this meeting:

1. Knew nothing about the Hillsboro Boulevard Improvement before construction started.

2. Never attended a commission meeting or workshop about the project. There was one held on June 19th, 2006. There was a kick-off meeting just a year ago in June, 2008. The display items for that meeting can still be viewed on the city website.

3. Never attended a commission meeting or workshop on any subject.

4. Did not vote in the most recent city election.

5. Has never voted in a city election.

6. Could not tell you the name of the city manager if their life depended on it.

What, pray tell, was to be accomplished by this meeting? There is no way to stop the project at this point as a practical matter. City staffer Charlie DaBrusco may have put to rest of the some worst rumors, so that's something.

So now let me give you my cynical take on this: No one can stop the streetscape project, but it's not too late to stop the Cove Shopping Center renovations which are still on the drawing board. You can do it by stirring up the emotions of a segment of the public who feels their lives are being disrupted by unrelated construction in that area.

Put the elements together.

First, the local paper puts out an article "Construction disrupts Cove." Sounds like the article is about construction in the Cove, right? But it's not about that at all.

Next, consider one of the main players in the article, Steve Kay, a merchant in the Cove and griper-in-chief against the Cove project, who was also highlighted in an earlier article about the project (opposing it, of course).

Remember who the publisher of the paper is.

Then, consider who the city commissioner is. (See following article if you don't get the connection.)

Finally, consider that the commissioner is trying to delay (kill) the Cove project. His principal argument is that the project construction will disrupt the Cove.

This is what his friendly local paper wrote that he said at the meeting about the streetscape:

We are in the middle of a construction project and this has caused adversity to the residents and businesses of The Cove Shopping Center. We are looking for ways to minimize this disruption.

"Disruption" is the key word. The streetscape is disrupting the businesses in the Cove now; the renovations will disrupt them more in the future. One way to alleviate all this disruption would be to postpone the Cove renovations.

Is this a plausible analysis?

The main problem with a public that is not engaged, in my opinion, is not the vote count. The problem is how public apathy and ignorance can be exploited by the political class.

Here's one way: Call a meeting of a select group of people who are annoyed by road construction going on in their neighborhood. Make sure the local "press" is there to give the meeting the proper spin. Turn it into a bitch session where emotions and blood pressure run high. Whip up public opposition to further "disruptions" in the area where they live (such as the renovation of the Cove Shopping Center).

It's political smoke and mirrors: the people who attend the meeting don't have a clue how they are being used or how their brains are being tricked.

I'm not much into conspiracy theories, but I agree with the late Rich Lorraine that there are no coincidences in politics. The way all these elements come together is no coincidence. There are people who want to change course on the Cove project, and they have some powerful allies in the political sector who seem willing to accommodate them.

The Unholy Alliances of "Dangerous Joe" - 05/30/09

Joe Miller, the city commissioner from District 1 since March, remains something of a mystery. Whatever it is he stands for, it looks like he's more interested in enriching some special people he knows than in wisely spending the city's money. Granted, he ran and won his post decisively, but not on the basis of an open platform.

I'd like to interview some of the people who voted for Miller. Maybe they can explain what he's all about.

During the campaign, Miller answered to the friendly press (that is, the local paper owned by J. David Eller), tauting his business experience and talking generalities -- and privately talking about prayer and falsely accusing his opponent of spearheading a movement against it. In the process, he managed to give precious little insight what his real positions are regarding beach area development or a host of other issues. On the issue of public ethics, he mainly complained about the length and complexity of ethics laws that apply to public officials while claiming to support ethics reform. He refused to answer questions from potentially critical questioners during the campaign, such as, for example, this website.

Of course, if a candidate presents a clear platform, he might feel morally bound by it. Someone like me might come along and point out the inconsistencies of position and action. In that case, it's not as easy to jump churches, so to speak, to gain political advantage or to serve your actual masters.

Yet parts of his real agenda have become clearer since he assumed office, subject to some interpretation. Let's take a look at a couple of items.

Item #1: the Cove Shopping Center renovation. In the last term a plan was developed, with unprecedented public involvement, to revitalize the declining shopping district. It was a modest plan by almost any measure. No bulldozers, no big money, no bond issues required to carry out the initial phase of the project. But this plan did not sell well to everybody. Especially to some folks who have other plans for the Cove.

Right away Miller stated he had some concerns about the Cove project. The plan called for a parking garage, maybe, sometime down the road because a lot of people who participated in the planning thought more parking is needed. But Joe Miller seemed to want to flip the immediate focus from the basic renovations, which could start now, to a parking garage which might take years to develop.

It just so happens that the person who would most benefit from a publicly financed garage in the Cove is one of his biggest supporters. Miller flew off to D.C. to lobby Congress for funds to pursue the garage project. In fact, the commission/CRA had not approved a parking garage, except in concept, nor decided how to finance such a project. There's debate whether a parking garage is really needed, or that it could be operated profitably. Maybe it's legal for a city official to go on a junket on the public's tab to lobby for a project that doesn't exist and that would benefit private interests. Let's assume that, to move the discussion along. But it certainly doesn't look too good.

Mr. Miller never participated in the meetings or charette that gave birth to the Cove master plan. So it begs the question of what his real motives are at this late date. Why is one of the Cove merchants going about telling people that Miller is going to delay the project for two or three years? It doesn't appear than Miller has informed the rest of the guys at City Hall of his plan.

Miller argues that the construction will disrupt business in the Cove. There is no question but that the renovation project will disrupt business for a time. But the Cove merchants themselves carved out the plan fully aware of the inconveniences as well as the hoped for rewards.

It defies logic to delay the project any more than necessary unless, of course, it serves other interests. The same interests that have resisted discussion of any improvement to the center for a number of years, perhaps? It could be the "other plans" some people have for the center that would be disrupted by going ahead with the renovations.

Item#2: the Boinis property. At the April 21st commission meeting, Miller declared that the city can settle this matter in 30 days by using the city's contingency fund money to round out the $310,000 grant the city already had for the purchase. Interestingly, this "revolutionary" concept came just after Miller met personally with Pete Boinis.

I think we should have some problems with this meeting. Of course, I can't convene a Grand Jury to find out all the facts. I'd like to know who went to whom first: Boinis or Miller. In other words, who suggested a meeting? Was there an intermediary involved? Was the meeting one-on-one or were other people present? Were notes or minutes kept of the meeting? Is it not the usual practice for city staff to discuss or negotiate land deals (and properly so)? Was a deal made?

It would seem so. Why was the specific proposal to pay Boinis $200,000 from the contingency fund? Why not, say, $100,000? You know, bargaining. It could be inferred that an agreement of sorts had already been made when Mr. Miller proposed his idea to the commission.

The prior commission felt that it would be unwise to use the contingency fund. The Boinis claim to the narrow slice of dry sand south of the pier was annoying, but not worth dipping into the emergency money for. It was believed that if the city held out long enough, Boinis would come around to accepting what he could get, that is, the $310,000 in grant money that was there, ready and waiting for him to exchange for the essentially worthless piece of property.

Is Mr. Miller a city commissioner, a lobbyist, or a negotiator? This is reminiscent of LRD's secret deal-making with Mike O'Leary, on his own, without the approval or direction of the commission. Of course, the city commission in its subsequent actions has effectively ratified the deal, but that doesn't make it a good -- or legal -- practice.

When I submitted a set of questions to candidate Miller regarding, among other things, what he wanted to do in the beach area, he refused to answer. Whenever someone runs for office in Deerfield Beach and waffles on questions about the beach district, it raises concerns with those who fear overdevelopment. Miller was quoted during the campaign as saying he wanted a destination beach. That sounds like code for more commercialization.

Based on the first few weeks in office and his apparent alliance with one of the most notorious of developers, we can only assume that his core position is pro-development, pro-commercialization when it comes to the beach.

When OSOB head Marge Hilton and former commissioner Pam Militello had a meeting with him to clarify some of his positions, he had at his side a lawyer, or specifically, David Eller's son-in-law and corporate attorney. Many people believe that Miller is, in effect, Eller's front man on certain issues.

Miller also seems particularly uncomfortable with the city's new ethics code and the proposed regulations to register lobbyists. You can sense the tension in his voice when he talks about the code of ethics or the lobbyist bill. During the campaign and during his early days in office he repeated his complaints about the length and complexity of the ethics rules. He had the city attorney explain in detail the proposed lobbyist regulations on the first reading. A bit unusual.

Will he try to derail the lobbyist regulations? I wonder what Eller, er, Miller has against regulating paid lobbyists. The matter comes up next week. I may be wrong, but I have a feeling there will be an effort to kill the proposed rules. The ethics code, also passed during the last term, could be the next target.

I had dinner with somebody a couple of weeks ago who opined that Commissioner Joe Miller was "dangerous." Thus: "Dangerous Joe."

Enigmatic is how I see Joe Miller, but the characterization is not quite as colorful. Whoever heard of an elected official needing an attorney in attendance while he talks to constituents? Or a candidate who refuses to answer questions about his platform? It sounds like someone who has something to hide, or someone who is directed by others, or both.

If it is the case as I've outlined it, Joe Miller is not the first to serve on the commission for special or his own interests. But he might be a little less susceptible to monikers like "Dangerous Joe" if he were more open and a little less about secret deals.

Mr. Miller has made his unholy alliances. With Mike O'Leary, David Eller, and possibly others. It seems he serves them well.

Long Tall Sally - 04/08/09

Commissioner Joe Miller is obsessed with the length of the various statutes which comprise the ethics laws of the State of Florida and Deerfield Beach.

Several times during the campaign and again last night at the commission meeting, Mr. Miller made reference to the length of the state code of ethics and to the newly enacted city ethics code.

According to him, he tried to print out the state code of ethics, and it came out to over 60 pages of printed material. I'm not sure what he tried to print, but I suspect all of chapter 112 of the Florida Statutes, or the entire part III of chapter 112, which contains the ethics provisions.

The code of ethics itself (Fla. Stat. § 112.313) can be printed out in only seven pages. If you include sections 3135 and 3143, which deal with conflicts of interest, you print out 11 pages. If you include the disclosure section (Fla. Stat. § 112.3144), most of which is inapplicable to the city commissioners, it comes to a total of 15 pages.

Meanwhile, the city ethics code contains 4,938 words, including captions. Apparently it's a long tall babe from Mr. Miller's perspective.

Just for comparison, this web page has around 6,000 words.

Mr. Maurodis, the city attorney, is slated to give a 15-minute briefing to the commission on the city ethics code at, I believe, the next commission meeting. Now, if he can do it in 15 minutes, how hard could it possibly be?

We don't want that long tall babe called the ethics code to be too much trouble for the commissioner.

Joe Miller: "Is He Really an Eller Tool?" - 03/14/09

Bob Norman on his blog The Daily Pulp (03/10/09) asks this question. Here's the full text of Norman's post-election analysis of Deerfield Beach:

Deerfield Beach: The corrupt Al Capellini is officially done politically, but my work won't be done until he's in prison. Conventional wisdom was saying Peggy Noland had it in the bag, and she did. I believe Bill Ganz is a positive addition to the commission. Don't like the Militello loss; she seems truly conscientious. Don't know about Miller. Is he really an Eller tool?

Is he? That's how I see it. It will become more or less evident as Miller's term in office unfolds. We shall see how he votes on some issues.

Miller lives in the Eller family enclave on S.E. 18th Avenue. Coincidence? He was backed by Eller's local rag. At the candidate forums he was seen "consulting" with J. David during the breaks and after the meetings. Eller likes to operate through proxies, like, for example, his lawyer-stooge William Bucknam and Bucky's phony "Save Our Beach Committee." There's some evidence that Miller isn't that bright when it comes to public affairs and needs some prompting.

Is this something to be concerned about? It is if you don't like J. David Eller. Eller's rag supported Capellini -- even presented Bucky briefs trying to prove Big Al's innocence. There's little question that this influenced some voters. Eller's rag supported Larry R. Deetjen right down to the end. It supported, in general, extravagant redevelopment of the beach.

Eller doesn't much like the OSOB for its role in defeating his cherished Ocean Park project, or Pam Militello, whose political career started as a key member of the OSOB. He may not have been too happy with Militello's charter amendment that made it a little more difficult to convert golf courses. It's said that Eller has interests in one of the courses that's prime for development.

Eller really got a burr under his saddle over the prayer issue. Militello was condemned for her proposal to replace the invocation with a moment of silence. Protecting the invocation was a stealth theme of Miller's campaign. Undoubtedly the prayer was a sleeper issue that contributed to Militello's loss in this election.

Whenever Eller himself is in the news, it's generally in connection with some scandal. As best we can determine some of the investigations are still open. These are federal cases. There are blogs out of New Orleans about Eller: alleging shoddy work by his company on those pumps and further alleging that MWI got this job through political influence.

Commissioner-elect Miller has some distance to go to prove that he can distance himself from David Eller.

One area we might want to watch is fire department issues. The firefighters endorsed Miller. He must have told them something they wanted to hear.

Two years ago Bucknam's "Save Our Beach Committee" lead the fight against a proposed city-county fire services merger. Eller wrote that the merger proposal was "one of the largest assaults ever attempted to take over a city in local modern history." Firefighters strongly supported consolidation of the fire departments.

If Miller really is an Eller tool, which I think he is, it will be telling how he votes this issue if the merger proposal resurfaces.

Miller Violates Campaign Laws - 01/30/09

If Mr. Miller cannot comply with what is probably the most basic requirement for candidates under Florida law, how can he be expected to tackle the many complex issues of city government as a city commissioner? If he can flaunt simple campaign rules now, why not ethics or voting conflicts laws later?

This is what the law (s. 106.143, Florida Statutes) states:

Any political advertisement that is paid for by a candidate and that is published, displayed, or circulated prior to, or on the day of, any election must prominently state: "Political advertisement paid for and approved by (name of candidate) , (party affiliation) , for (office sought)."

There's not a lot of wiggle room on this requirement. The statute further provides:

Any other political advertisement published, displayed, or circulated prior to, or on the day of, any election must prominently:

1. Be marked "paid political advertisement" or with the abbreviation "pd. pol. adv."

2. State the name and address of the persons sponsoring the advertisement.

3.a.(I) State whether the advertisement and the cost of production is paid for or provided in kind by or at the expense of the entity publishing, displaying, broadcasting, or circulating the political advertisement; or

(II) State who provided or paid for the advertisement and cost of production, if different from the source of sponsorship.

As of the date of this publication neither Miller's campaign web site nor the advertising link to his campaign site on the J. P. Miller business web site contained the required disclaimer.

You might ask, Isn't this disclaimer thing just a Mickey Mouse law anyway? If this were an academic discussion, one might argue that violation of the disclaimer requirement of State law is the moral equivalent of turning right on a red light when maybe one should not have. But this is not an academic discussion. This is a legal requirement that applies to all candidates, including Joe Miller, who wants to be District 1 commissioner. And he should be held accountable for it, just as would any other candidate.

Whether someone files an official complaint isn't our issue. For us, this is ultimately a question for voters, whether Miller is really qualified to be a city commissioner. Haven't citizens had enough of ethically challenged politicians who dance around the laws and violate the public trust?

Questions Bug Joe Miller - 01/01/09

A few weeks ago we asked Joe Miller, who wants to be city commissioner in District 1, some questions. But Miller, an exterminator in his business life, apparently doesn't want to answer questions about what he proposes to do if he is elected.

Mr. Miller is getting advice from none other than ex-mayor Jean Robb.

Miller didn't answer our questions, which concerned issues that may come before the commission in the next two to six years. He was advised by Mrs. Robb not to. In his initial response to our inquiries, he seemed, well, a little bugged. The details:

This web site plans to cover the upcoming election with or without input from candidates. We know Pam Militello's views on most of the issues, but don't know much about Joe Miller. We wanted to give the candidate the chance to explain in his own words what he believes in. This was better than us trying to guess Miller's views or to extrapolate his views from third-party sources like the local paper.

This web site may not be for Joe Miller, but still would like to state his ideas for this city accurately. In statements ascribed to him, Miller has said he wants a destination beach and supports positive development. What does he mean? Either he explains, or we interpret.

The writer of this web site is first a resident and citizen of Deerfield Beach who votes in District 1. He writes a web site that is read by many people who also vote in District 1. Given that audience, we thought: Why wouldn't candidate Miller want to tell us his positions, such as on beach redevelopment, which may interest residents of District 1?

Miller has never told us directly he would not answer our questions, but his adviser Mrs. Robb made it pretty clear he would not. And, in fact, he has not, without giving us any explanation of his own.

The questions were fair, in our estimation, and relevant. We contacted Mr. Miller through his business web site and he gave us an e-mail address where we could send our questions. We took this as a promise to answer.

These are the questions sent by e-mail to Mr. Miller on November 16th:

1. What is your vision for the beach and beach area as we look ahead to the next decade?

2. Did you support the Ocean Park Referendum?

3. Would you favor/oppose requiring elected city officials and key city employees to make disclosure statements along the lines of "Form 6" disclosures (that is, more detailed disclosure) which are applicable to some state (but not local) officials?

4. Are there any circumstances under which you would favorably consider as city commissioner the rehiring of Larry R. Deetjen in any capacity with the city?

5. What is your thinking concerning the conversion of golf courses into residential or commercial properties? (We asked him to "address specifically Tam O'Shanter, Crystal Lake and the Deerfield Beach Country Club.")

6. Do you favor/oppose applying the water rates applicable to other communities similar to CVE to CVE?

7. What programs/services do you think could be cut or reduced in the city budget?

The writer of this web site is the author of these questions. No one else was consulted.

On the 25th we received the following e-mail from Mr. Miller:

"Jeffrey, I got your list of questions thank you. I would like to know who you are and who you represent, maybe we can meet in person. Happy Thanks Giving Joe Miller"

We replied on November 28th. On December 4th we received this e-mail from Jean Robb:

"As an adviser to the Miller campaign, I have told him not to respond to your questionaire [sic]. First of all it is addressed to District 1 candidates, and as far as I know, Militello has not yet filed. [The same set of questions was also sent to Mrs. Militello.] Second your rather glowing endorsement of her re-election on your web site obviously proves that you could not possibly be fair and balanced in your evaluation."

This is where the matter stands as of now. We are left to guess Miller's exact views on beach redevelopment and ethics, Larry Deetjen, the future of the city's golf courses, and the other issues addressed in our questions.

It is obviously up to Mr. Miller whether he plans to discuss his views with citizens. Or will Robb be his spokesman? Miller's willingness or reluctance to discuss openly his positions on issues of interest to voters -- for us now -- overrides his possible answers to the questions that we asked. If he were elected to office, would he also stay clear of constituents and refuse to answer questions? This is what he is doing now, and it's a poor strategy.

In a previous era -- the 10 or 12 years prior to 2005, before Mr. Trinchitella died, before Mrs. Clarke-Reed retired from the commission, before Peggy Noland was defeated in her re-election bid -- city government was prone to operate in the dark, particularly with regard to its aggressive beach redevelopment plans. The political agenda was controlled by a cadré of public officials that was above the rule of open government and ordinary civic values, and was not adverse to suppressing or discouraging debate on such issues as the Ocean Park Referendum. The core group was the city manager, Larry R. Deetjen; Al Capellini; and Trinchi. The other commissioners, including Peggy Noland, went along for the most part, which gave projects like Ocean Park the aura of consensus.

But Noland would not face her constituents and voters directly in the town meeting format, and answer questions about her position on beach redevelopment and other city issues. During her 12 year stint as commissioner, she held one meeting open to the general public.

Pam Militello reformed the way government operated in District 1: she held numerous public meetings with anyone who wished to attend; she answered questions and heard her constituents. She held town meetings on the Cove Shopping Center, with the intent of giving citizens greater participation in a plan to improve that area, which had been mostly ignored before 2005.

It is interesting that during his presentation to the Deerfield Beach Single Family Homeowners' Association, chaired by Rich Lorraine, Mr. Miller spoke to the issue of the Cove Shopping Center as if he did not know that there is already a plan in place -- due to the efforts of Pam Militello. Where was he during this process?

It comes back to the question of whether Joe Miller, if he were elected, would be visible and accessible to residents; or will he hide from the public and rely on the advice of a select group of people like Jean Robb, regressing to the shadowy era of Peggy Noland. As we told Mrs. Robb, in a response to her e-mail, we think "Mr. Miller is a decent individual," but we have an uneasy feeling also that he is being manipulated by certain people with their own agendas. That's why we would still like to know his views in his own words. And, of course, we'd like to see him keep his promises.

Joe Miller is not well advised to refuse questions from voters. There is no reason why Miller can't be friendly with every voter and potential constituent, whether or not they are perceived as being friendly to his election. In this particular case, he had the opportunity to be his own man for the readers of this web site. Why not take it?

The answer seems to be that Miller is not his own man.