PB: Rebutting Sycophancy – Act II

by SDM

Sunday’s Miami Herald contained another Soapbox letter attempting to defend the Three Amigos by casting aspersions on those who challenge them. Because this particular letter came from a man whose opinions deserve respect – a founding member of the incorporation movement – SDM feels the need to rebut his error-filled letter.

The Recall Palmetto Bay gang of three continues to spew flyers, robo-calls and emails via every avenue available. They are relying on gross exaggerations and misrepresentations to scare residents into believing the village is headed to financial Armageddon. Their motives are largely directed to getting their candidates, John Dubois and Jim Araiza, elected. But their claims do not withstand scrutiny.

[Funny thing this particular jibe. SDM recalls – no pun intended – that Dubois and Araiza were running long before Recall Palmetto Bay came into existence.]

They claim the village has up to $13 million in possible damages for lost revenue and civil rights litigation with no insurance coverage on Palmer Trinity’s lawsuit. The truth is the village is being represented by the Florida League of Cities and has $5 million in insurance coverage.

[How is the $13 million claim untrue? That's the face value of the claim. Perhaps Mr. Latshaw is clairvoyant and knows how the court will rule. As to the League of Cities insurance policy, the entire document is posted on Recall Palmetto Bay's website so anyone can read it at her leisure. SDM perused it for a bit this morning and it clearly doesn't cover damages from a civil rights claim like Palmer's.]

They claim the village has wasted almost $1 million in legal fees on frivolous litigation. The actual amount is about $600,000 and is spread over 6 years (0.5 percent of the village budget, or $4 per resident per year).

[This is incorrect. According to the village attorney’s letter to the State Attorney General, the litigation started in 2008, which SDM calculates to be four years ago. Thus the annualized cost of the Palmer litigation so far has been about $150,000 per year. SDM understands that the two new police officers Palmetto Bay added for this budget cycle cost about $150,000 per year. So, maybe the question Mr. Latshaw should ask is whether village residents would prefer two more cops or to pay for endless litigation expenses.]

The village has requested dismissal of the charges four times and each time Palmer has delayed a hearing and decision by amending their suit. A Miami-Dade circuit judge recently dismissed four of the 12 counts, and Palmer is trying to amend again.

[While SDM appreciates Mr. Latshaw's report to the public on the status of the litigation, SDM would really like to hear from a person in authority regarding whether Mr. Latshaw’s claims are correct. SDM Wonders: Why does a village with a full-time PR flack use Soapbox letters to communicate with residents?]

In the last court action, Palmer Trinity’s attorney fee claim of about $300,000 was denied. Yet the Recall gang thinks it frivolous for the village to defend itself in court. Perhaps they advocate writing the school a check for $13 million of our tax money, or maybe just a negotiated amount of $6 million.

[SDM has explained the attorney fee issue already in PB: Understanding Palmetto Bay's Win. It remains to be seen whether the village is off-the-hook for those fees. SDM can’t speak for the Recall Palmetto Bay, but from SDM’s perspective the litigation is frivolous even if it doesn't meet the strict legal test for being so. What the village should have done was to permit a reasonable number of students to attend Palmer when they had the chance. Instead, Mayor Stanczyk moved to limit the school to a ridiculous 900 new students on a 35-acre site and Vice Mayor Pariser seconded it. (Councilman Howard Tendrich voted against the disastrous motion.) The new NPO on p. 17 would permit Palmer around 2,345 students – 67 per acre – if SDM is reading that table correctly. So given all of that, yes the lawsuit is and was frivolous. And if were your money Mr. Latshaw, you would have settled the matter long ago.]

On the deficit spending scare, the truth is the village has an $8.6 million reserve fund. This is 40 percent more than what is regarded as a desirable municipal reserve, and the village has an exceptional AA bond rating. Coral Gables’ reserve is only $2.5 million.

[See PB: SDM’s first guest post – David Singer asks some good questions for a rebuttal of the $8.6 million figure. The real reserve is probably closer to $5.4 million. Assuming Mr. Latshaw is right on Coral Gables, why would Palmetto Bay want to be compared to that kind of disaster?]

With revenues from franchise fees and property taxes down, the village could have raised the property-tax rate to cover capital and operating expenses, or use some of the reserve money while property assessments rise back to more normal levels. Did you want your taxes raised while we have an overfunded reserve?

[This is the kind of straw man argument that irritates SDM. The village had another alternative Mr. Latshaw: it could have reduced its costs of operation. Why is that concept never part of the equation for government? Look, taking some money from the reserve to balance things out is okay by SDM, but draining the reserve by 20 – 30 percent in the middle of a recession was a terrible mistake.]

SDM Says: Back in the days before incorporation, Mr. Latshaw and SDM imagined a responsible village government. Today, only Mr. Latshaw’s imagination is that fertile.

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