South Dade Matters

Looking at the World South of Miami: Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Pinecrest, South Miami and Miami-Dade County.

Tag: John DuBois

PB: Pot, Meet Kettle

If SDM had a dollar for every time Gary Pastorella complained about being sued by Vice Mayor Dubois or about Palmer Trinity suing Palmetto Bay, well, let’s say that SDM wouldn’t have time to blog. We’d be too busy indulging in fruity cocktails on various sandy beaches.

Now, we don’t begrudge anyone from hiring lawyers and chasing the government. Many times, government oversteps its bounds and every citizen has a duty to challenge public officials when they allow state power to be abused.

But ask yourself whether Mr. Pastorella’s stated reason for filing this suit meets this test:

“Clearly it doesn’t belong in a residential neighborhood. That’s our argument,” said Gary Pastorella, who lives immediately east of the vacant 1.17-acre parcel the Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue Department hopes to buy at the southeastern corner of Southwest 142nd Terrace and Old Cutler Road.

Fire stations don’t belong in residential neighborhoods. Think about that contention, especially given the context of the particular challenge facing Palmetto Bay and Pinecrest.

The problem for those whose lives are at risk is that THERE IS NO COMMERCIAL LAND IN THIS AREA. Why is this fact so so difficult to understand?

Granted, the Pastorellas and their nearby neighbors aren’t the first families to fight locating a life-saving service  in this area. Coral Gables residents successfully torpedoed an earlier attempt to locate the fire station on the enormous USDA property at Old Cutler and SW 136th Street.

SDM understands that a fire station could create some noise on occasion and might not be constructed and maintained properly (hell, it’s the county, for crying out loud). On the other hand, is there any alternative to locating a county fire station somewhere in this residential area that will serve the residential customers that need the service?

The short answer is: no. The county couldn’t figure out how to use its own property near the transfer station at the entrance to Deering Bay. (Frankly, SDM thinks this is a great spot, but for some bureaucratic reason it is not available.)

The county fire department worked for several years to identify locations and only recently found property that it could afford and that were located in the right geographic boundaries. The bottom line is that a station would be located in a residential area and the issue now is down to which one.

The Pastorellas and others have every right to fight the fire department and the village if they wish. But please spare us the holier-than-thou attitude when you stand before the Council next time.

SDM Says: Palmetto Bay recently changed village attorneys, hiring a litigation pro in Dexter Lehtinen. Mr. Lehtinen is a former U.S. Attorney and most recently represented a litigious native American tribe. This case looks like a good initial test of whether the Lehtinen choice was a good one.

 

PB: Today, We May Heal

When SDM started this blog in July, 2011, the issue that drove us to write was the travesty that was (and is) the way Palmetto Bay treated Palmer Trinity.

What we’ve learned in the past 3+ years is that the Palmer fiasco was a symptom of a more insidious disease: Stanczykitis.

Never heard of it?

According to SDM’s medi-pol dictionary, Stanczykitis (sometimes confused with its close cousin, Pastorella Syndrome, which is more of a psychosis) is defined as follows:

A fatal disease where paranoia and malaprops drive disgruntled retirees and near-retirees into political madness; indicators include weird ordinances seeking to muzzle Sparky, wild about-faces on issues critical to the health and welfare of the Village People, and a general malaise and government drift.

The cure for Stancykitis is a purge, generally performed by voters but occasionally by political serendipity.

When we first ventured on this quest to rid village politics of this debilitating disease, we felt like the only path to sanity was by replacing the elected officials we kindly referred to as the Three Amigos.

In 2012, SDM urged voters to oust former Vice Mayor Brian Pariser by voting in John Dubois…one amigo down, which left Councilwoman Joan Lindsay and Mme. Mayor.

In a bit of a surprise in 2012, we supported re-election of Howard Tendrich and were saddened when he lost.

We were pleasantly surprised – and those suffering from Pastorella Syndrome much dismayed – that Tendrich’s successor, Tim “Marathon Man” Schaffer, turned out to be an independent and reasonable voice. Thus, serendipity gave an unexpected win to the good guys.

Today, we have the chance to clean out the wound in the mayor’s office by voting in Eugene Flinn. We also have a bonus opportunity to give the current majority a strong and diverse membership by electing Larissa Siegel Lara.

We certainly hope those of you who care about and pay attention to Palmetto Bay’s drifting government will help us cure Stanczykitis once and for all. Pastorella Syndrome is not so easily eradicated…so SDM will remain vigilant.

PB: How to Plan a Park

Palmetto Bay needs to rebuild, restore or replace the main building at Coral Reef Park according to village staff testimony during the recently concluded budget hearings.

Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, outgoing Councilwoman Joan Lindsay and Councilman Tim “Marathon Man” Schaffer all voted to retain a $10 million “place marker” in the capital section of the budget ostensibly for this purpose.

Vice Mayor John Dubois and Councilman Patrick Fiore (a candidate for Mayor) voted against keeping the $10 million line item because: (a) there is zero chance the village will spend the money during the budget year, because (b) nobody knows what this building would look like or what its programming would be.

cart-before-horse-2

As Dubois and Fiore rightly point out, the administration’s proposal puts the cart before the horse.

Now, there is a better way. Did you see yesterday’s Miami Herald story on the new park proposed for Wynwood? A private individual funded an international architectural competition to come up with a design that would transform his parking lot into an iconic public space. The result is pretty darn cool:

Wynwood Greenhouse Credit Azeez Bakare

The lesson here is that the private individual laid out some general parameters and then asked some clever people to deliver a design that would capture the imagination.

The Village of Palmetto Bay could try something similar. First step is to imagine what the village wants – within reason. For example, we don’t need to build something that competes with private owners (think: gyms, wedding venues, gun ranges :) ). We probably could use a public gathering space for indoor and partially indoor events. As a village we shouldn’t be too quick to jump on any one concept or, likewise, too quick to dismiss realistic options.

SDM Says: Once the Village People decide what we want and have a basic understanding of what we can afford, why not try our own competition and see what the world suggests? Maybe there’s an opportunity for a public-private partnership, too. The point is, while the horse’s ass must be in front of us that doesn’t mean we must be led by one. :)

PB: Budget Review I – Mailing It In

Why Some of Us Don’t Trust Village Manager Ron Williams

As SDM noted in several earlier blog posts, we have some experience in deciphering government budgets…not as much as some people, but definitely more than the average Joe.

So we can sympathize with Vice Mayor John Dubois. Starting at about minute 25:00 and going through Councilman Schaffer’s analysis ending around minute 43:00, anyone can see why regular people are frustrated and don’t trust the numbers coming from the village manager and his administration.

The first topic was the $10 million place holder for a “Design Build Community Building.” Vice Mayor Dubois asked a simple question: why does the budget say that this project is proposed for the 2014-15 fiscal year (i.e., next year) when everyone from the village manager to the groundskeeper at Coral Reef Park knows it won’t happen?

The answer was straight out of Wonderland: That’s not what the budget says, Mr. Dubois. Oh really? Mr. Dubois pointed to a page in the Capital Improvements Element (a budget document) that stated specifically that the community building is proposed for 2014-15. SDM also found the same statement on page 2 of the Capital Improvement Plan. (“The capital projects proposed (including roll over projects) by Parks and Recreation for Fiscal Year 2014-15 are…” and the community building is listed among a list of projects.)

SDM’s Message to Mr. Dubois: We realize that sometimes you feel like the ranting funny uncle when you challenge the village manager. In your mind, you may be shouting “doesn’t everyone else see this nonsense for what it is? Hello?” We hear you brother…keep it up…you’re fighting the good fight.

The fact is that fixing the building at Coral Reef Park is probably a good idea. But doing the project in the order it is currently contemplated is obviously bass-ackwards, if you know what we mean. You budget the money AFTER you know how much you need to spend to achieve the objectives. Simple…except for bureaucrats. They want the money identified in the budget even though the money doesn’t exist yet. Makes perfect sense if you sit in a government building long enough.

The second topic that rankled the Vice Mayor involved the police budget. As we reported here a month or so ago, the police budget went up this year because of the county union. We were told that we would be taking an $800,000 hit, so Mr. Dubois noticed that the police budget only went up by $200,000 from last year. What happened to the other $600,000?

SDM Translation of the administration’s answer: We have no darn clue. We listened to the discussion twice (the limit placed upon this activity by our psychiatrist) and we still don’t understand what the answer means. Even with Mr. Schaffer’s analysis, we are still lost on the subject.

Aside to the Marathon Man: you can love the hell out of the MDPD Mr. Schaffer, but please don’t accept their budget numbers as gospel. They fatten their bottom line just like everyone else.

So why do some residents lack trust in Mr. Williams? Pretty much every staffer available attempted to answer Mr. Dubois’s inquiries EXCEPT FOR the village manager.

SDM Wonders: Does Mr. Williams know what’s in his budget? Did he read the words on the pages? Why must Mr. Chin sit there and try to explain that crap about the police budget without any assistance from the top administrator? And why is the Planning Director attempting to cover for the Parks Director by alleging that Mr. Dubois suddenly lost the ability to read black and white text?

In a village the size of Palmetto Bay, the village manager MUST know it all – from the lowliest employee on the totem pole to the underlying arguments for increasing the bond rating. When Mr. Williams sits there, mailing in his budget, even casual observers recognize a short-timer. Maybe the word is out and all those department heads were auditioning? If so, count SDM as unimpressed.

PB: Early Budget Meeting Report

You want $20 Million for What?!?!

The council’s only real budget debate centered around an obscure section of the capital plan where the administration proposes future capital projects. Think of this as a kind of “wish list” for politicians trying to sway voters.

Vice Mayor John Dubois took issue with the arbitrary insertion of a $20 million line item for a new multi-purpose complex at Coral Reef Park. To give you an idea of the scale of such a project, note that the entire village hall complex cost a mere $12 million.

So what exactly are they planning for a park that already struggles to offer parking? According to Mayor Stanczyk, she needs a meeting room that can accommodate 65 people. Mr. Dubois suggested using the council chambers (capacity 90+), which costs nothing. SDM was able to find a rendering of Mrs. Stanczyk’s ideal building:

Taj

The fast spending Mayor Stanczyk was unswayed and clung to what amounts to her umpteenth grandiose but unplanned concept. Remember the parking garage/entertainment complex next to village hall? Or, her massive plans for Thalatta Estate? This mayor has never seen a spending project that doesn’t deserve a good fat dose of your tax dollars.

In the end, the council overrode Mayor Spendthrift and halved the project’s budget. Perhaps the next council will look more critically at foolish and wasteful self-aggrandizing monuments.

Time for a Police Review?

SDM can’t say that Mayor Stanczyk is not creative with the uses for your money. In a year where the village is “flush” according to FOSDMs, Mme. Mayor still thinks we have more to give. Last night, she proclaimed that the village needed a separate millage for the police department. Yes, you heard that right.

Why do we need such a thing? Well, she went on to say that during her time in office, police costs had risen from around $4.5 million per year to the current year projection of $7 million. She seemed to think the way to solve this challenge was to add more taxes. Remember, the $7 million figure could jump because the county hasn’t completed its negotiations with the PBA.

SDM checked our neighbor to the north and found that Pinecrest fields a force of 77 (including 32 full time officers) for a cost of $7.9 million. Palmetto Bay’s policing unit is comprised of 46 souls, 35 of which are full time officers.

SDM Says: The next council should establish a task force to see if Palmetto Bay is getting its money’s worth when it comes to police services. It looks to us like we’re getting about half the force we’re due for what we pay. And, please, dump the half-baked separate millage idea.

One more Stanczyk Tax Bites the Dust

SDM failed to notice an ordinance the Mayor put on the agenda for first reading that would have established a new tax in Palmetto Bay. She called it a “Solid Wast Franchise Fee,” which is a tax on your garbage and is especially aimed at commercial properties.

The rest of the council gave the proposal a moment of silence and it failed for lack of a motion.

SDM Says: The Mayor and her Manager wield their authority like a tax and spend wrecking ball. More employees, more unfunded projects, more taxes and more bad ideas…it is really time for a change.

Joan’s Gone

Apparently the rumors are flying about Councilwoman Joan Lindsay’s status given that her Palmetto Bay home is for sale. You can check out the listing here. It looks like a great place and given the nearly $1.5 million price tag, SDM has to wonder whether the Palmer situation really hurt her property values.

JL

SDM Says: The home looks great. Hope it sells fast and for a great price.

PB: Guest Post by David Singer (With SDM Comments)

The good guys actually achieved a well-deserved win during Monday’s [June 23, 2014] special council meeting when Councilmen Patrick Fiore, Tim Schaffer and John Dubois, voted down what could have been a disaster for Village residents, Churches, Private Schools and Daycares within Palmetto Bay.

It was a grueling experience watching the Monday’s council meeting, but with the exception of Mayor Stanczyk the remaining Council members attempted to reach a compromise on the Charter Amendment. This amendment would have eliminated all outdoor lighting for non-governmental, non-residential or non-commercially zoned properties.

[SDM Comment: We disagree with Mr. Singer’s characterization. The proposed charter amendment would have prohibited outdoor lighting of recreational areas (except underwater swimming pool lights) owned by religious institutions, child care facilities, private schools,  and other non-governmental public assemblies located in residentially zoning districts.  We agree that the idea is crazy and will cover lots more lighting than we were told.]

During the meeting the Village Zoning Director confirmed my suspicions that if the amendment had passed it would prohibit all lighting; basketball, tennis, ground, pathway, landscaping, etc. The amendment would supersede any prior Village Ordinance.

[SDM Comment: Mr. Singer is hitting on why this measure and the code provision are so misguided. We’ve asked before: Does this mean a private school’s pool could not have outdoor lights for the pool deck, stairways and pathways leading to it? Is everyone supposed to bring a flashlight? Why allow the underwater lighting in the first place if it cannot be used in any practical sense?]

Unfortunately, as we heard from Mayor Stanczyk the battle is far from over. After the vote was finalized she could be heard saying “We’ll Walk”. I would assume by her comment that she will lead various sullen individuals in an initiative to collect enough signatures to place the Charter Amendment on November’s ballot. Not exactly the Mayor’s responsibility to undermine the governmental process she’s been sworn to uphold, but then again she’s hasn’t shown herself to be very ethical while in office.

[SDM Comment: If you walk away, walk away, walk away, walk away… [SDM won’t] follow.]

Maybe if the Mayor spent the time researching various municipalities within Miami-Dade County she would have found there are 19 cities, 6 towns and 9 villages for a total of 34 separate municipalities. These municipalities, along with Unincorporated Miami-Dade, represent 2.6 million residents.

[SDM Comment: What? Me? Do research? I’ll tell you what you can do with your stinking research!]

None of the municipalities, including Unincorporated Miami-Dade County have their lighting code defined or guided by a City Charter. It’s just not standard or appropriate.

Could there be something that all the other Municipalities in Miami Dade County know that our Council doesn’t? Could what the Mayor is trying to pass be unconstitutional? Could it lead to more lawsuits for the Village of Palmetto Bay? Could the residents be footing the bill for more legal fees? Isn’t eight years of litigation enough?

What is really driving this venture into unknown and potentially very expensive territory?

Well for one thing, there is the location of Councilwoman Joan Lindsay’s home. Her house is approximately 100 feet away from the Palmer Trinity property line. Joan Lindsay was an original director, president and vice-president of the Concerned Citizens of Old Cutler, Inc. (CCOCI) for years. She has a serious conflict of interest and ethically shouldn’t even be voting on any issues related to Palmer Trinity.

[SDM Comment: This here would be an appearance of a conflict of interest, though not legally a conflict. Just FYI.]

There is also the fact that The Village of Palmetto Bay has spent over a million dollars in legal fees fighting Joan Lindsay’s and the CCOCI’s war against Palmer Trinity, which they would love to continue. Mayor Stanczyk, Joan Lindsay and the CCOCI all know that the Charter change will bring more litigation to the Village.

Unfortunately, we as residents have all experienced a history of Mayor Stanczyk and Joan Lindsay spending taxpayer’s money for Palmer Trinity litigation.

Simply put, all the Churches, Schools and residents in the Village have become collateral damage in a war that has nothing to do with us. Our hard earned tax dollars have become collateral damage. The Real Estate rights of Churches and Schools have become collateral damage, as seen by what happened to Alexander Montessori School when they wanted to expand. Alexander Montessori School has lost thousands of dollars in revenue due to a war which is raging between Mayor Shelley Stanczyk and Joan Lindsay and Palmer Trinity.

The passing of this Charter Amendment will commence a cycle of new litigation but this time it just won’t be with Palmer Trinity. It will be with the various churches and other educational institutions in the Village.

There are both Federal and State laws which prohibit the type of action the Mayor and Councilwoman are attempting. The Village Attorney has stated on record that this Charter Amendment could bring future litigation.

[SDM Comment: Mr. Singer is being a little misleading here and you know we can’t stand such effrontery. The Village Attorney is quite comfortable that the proposed charter amendment was constitutional and permissible under RLUIPA and other statutes. He noted that anyone can sue, but he was clear that he believed such suits would not prevail, though he also stated such suits would not be frivolous. We’re not sure Mr. Lehtinen is correct with respect to the level of scrutiny applied to the question: he says strict scrutiny would not apply, where we think it would under RLUIPA’s statutory scheme. Anyone attempting to sue has a hard road, regardless.]

If anyone were to question the likelihood of future litigation please look no further than The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. When filed it will takes years to resolve, just as the Palmer litigation has taken years to resolve.

If asked to sign a petition respectfully decline and warn all your friends and neighbors who live in Palmetto Bay not to sign. If the petitioner tells you it’s about stadium lighting don’t believe them as they are not being honest. The Charter Amendment they are attempting to pass is written to prohibit all lighting at institutions which should be respected not discriminated against by the Village of Palmetto Bay.

[SDM Says: Right on!]

David Singer

PB: Stanczyk – And the mob will rule…or maybe not

Palmetto Bay’s village council took up a controversial measure proposed by Mayor Shelley Stanczyk on June 23rd, which would prohibit by charter any form of lighting to be installed on religious facilities, daycare centers, private schools and other nonpublic facilities.

Immediately upon her measure losing – even after a heroic effort by Councilman Patrick Fiore and Councilwoman Joan Lindsay to find a compromise – Mme. Mayor Stanczyk’s true reason for pushing the measure surfaced. After the vote went down 3 to 2, “we’ll walk it,” she said.

There you go. Incumbent Mayor Stanczyk, who has so far failed to report a single contribution for her re-election, has a re-election strategy of walking door-to-door to scare the public in person. We can only imagine what Mme. Mayor and her minions intend to say to the village people as they canvass unsuspecting residents.

We have sufficient reason for trepidation given the Mayor’s long questionable history regarding telling the truth to those who may wish to vote for her.

In a very recent effort, Concerned Citizens Of Cutler Inc. and Mrs. Stanczyk told hundreds if not thousands of residents that Palmer Trinity wanted to install “stadium lighting” on its athletic fields. This lie is most egregious since Mrs. Stanczyk knows that the code does not permit such lighting and would never be approved by a village council.

What also troubles us is the mob mentality that permeates village politics. Mrs. Lindsay and Mrs. Stanczyk claim that the village charter is the people’s document. Implicit in their statement is an acknowledgment that schools like Palmer Trinity are somehow excluded from the charter because of their non-person or non-taxable status (as former candidate Bev Gerald and village gadfly Warren Lovely shamelessly remind us at every meeting).

Mrs. Lindsay and Mrs. Stanczyk endorse the majority’s ability to legislate away the property rights of religious, nonpublic facilities. (If you doubt the master plan, note that both Mrs. Lindsay and Mrs. Stanczyk parroted the line that “hundreds of people sent emails” against the red herring stadium lights. Not much of a big deal given that the village has thousands of residents, but plenty for the purpose of scaring those who fail to pay attention to what’s really going on.)

Fortunately, three courageous members of the council (Mr. Fiore, Mr. Dubois and Mr. Schaffer) decided against placing on the ballot Mrs. Stanczyk’s divisive and politically motivated charter proposal.

SDM Says: Which leaves the decision up to us… If you think we should be zoning by charter and that we ought to create second class property owners based on religious or nonpublic status, then by all means open your door to Mayor Stanczyk. No doubt she will leave her re-election literature with you, too. However, if you think our village is being drawn once again into a state of perpetual strife, then you can tell Mrs. Stanczyk that you disagree with her plan to further divide this village and that you will be looking for different leadership this fall. You can also tell her to leave our dogs alone.

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