South Dade Matters

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

Tag: John DuBois

Quick Bites: Money and Principles Edition

Palmetto Bay Campaign Reports

Not a lot to report on the campaign front, but some tidbits are hiding in the campaign reports.

  • Shelley Stanczyk and Patrick Fiore posted modest campaign numbers for their initial filings. Stanczyk mustered only one contribution – from herself! It’s not a good sign when a sitting elected mayor cannot even find one other person to open her campaign fund. Fiore managed four contributions and is leading on the money front early. Peter England and Eugene Flinn haven’t posted any reports yet.
  • Council candidate Karyn Cunningham is sitting on a healthy balance of more than $15,000 while her opponent David Zisman has a balance of more than $20,000. SDM expects this race to get ugly given Zisman’s uncivil past. Vice Mayor John Dubois contributed wine for a party in honor of Mr. Zisman’s campaign, which indicates he’s made a decision in this race. If the rumors about Mr. Zisman turn into fact, look for Dubois to hedge his bets with Cunningham.
  • Given Dubois’ support of Zisman, SDM can only scratch our collective pates at Cunningham’s largest expenditure last reporting period. She paid over $4,000 (some of which was for hard printing costs) to the Green Point Group, which managed Dubois’ campaign last cycle. Green Point Group is Jose Castillo’s consulting company that ran Lynda Bell’s surprisingly successful campaign for county commissioner. SDM Says: Money talks.

Soccer’s lights are dimming

The Miami Herald is spending much time on the back and forth over the David Beckham’s dream of a waterfront soccer stadium at Port Miami.

SDM is sympathetic to the allure of the bright lights that seem to accompany Mr. Beckham wherever he goes. Politicians and the local hoi polloi find his aura irresistible, so much so that they are seriously considering paralyzing Miami’s second largest economic engine.

Fortunately for those of us who wish to see an end to corporate welfare – especially, dumb corporate welfare – a serious and potentially devastating counter-puncher has appeared on the scene to stave off Mr. Beckham’s advances.

Miami’s own Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines seems to have rallied the port’s tenants into forming the “Miami Seaport Alliance,” which is designed to dim the soccer promoter’s klieg lights.

SDM Wonders: Isn’t it a little ironic that the Arison family’s company is a force behind killing off a downtown sports stadium?

SDM predicts that county commissioners will turn their backs to Mr. Beckham now that their regular supporters have awakened to the potential of a soccer nightmare at their doorstep. However, we don’t expect these masters of raiding public coffers to extend their outrage over this deal much past the port’s confines. A principled stand this is not.

PB: Getting Personal

If you haven’t watched the March 19 Committee of the Whole meeting, you might want to do so.

Village gadfly Gary Pastorella once again embarrassed himself with a completely unsubtle and direct personal attack on Vice Mayor John Dubois.

Mr. Pastorella makes no bones about his intense, personal hatred of the Vice Mayor. As an example, Pastorella spoke against a recent land use decision by accusing Mr. Dubois of voting based on campaign contributions. Of course, Pastorella ignored that his favorite pol Mrs. Stancyzk accepted campaign contributions from the same individual.

What struck us as bizarre was Mayor Stanczyk’s flexible application of the village’s ever-malleable decorum ordinance. For a refresher, below is the decorum statement:

Any person making impertinent or slanderous remarks or who becomes boisterous while addressing the Village of Palmetto Bay Council shall be barred from further audience at this meeting before the Village of Palmetto Bay Council by the presiding officer, unless permission to continue or again address the council be granted by the majority vote of the council members.

According to Dictionary.com, impertinent is defined as follows:

im·per·ti·nent [im-pur-tn-uhnt] adjective

1. intrusive or presumptuous, as persons or their actions; insolently rude; uncivil: a brash, impertinent youth.

2. not pertinent or relevant; irrelevant: an impertinent detail.

3. Archaic. inappropriate, incongruous, or absurd.

4. Obsolete . (of persons) trivial, silly, or absurd.

 Mr. Pastorella made statements, which the Vice Mayor directly addressed as being untrue, alleging that a landowner coordinated contributions and expenditures of an independent committee with Mr. Dubois. Isn’t such a comment intrusive and presumptuous, not to mention insolent, uncivil and rude?

Or, as the Mayor stated, is Mr. Pastorella merely exercising his right of free speech?

To give you an idea of how the Mayor views free speech, almost immediately after Pastorella’s rant, sometime guest poster David Singer rose and questioned how Mr. Pastorella as a simple flight attendant had such amazing access to information.

Mayor Stancyzk interrupted Singer to upbraid him for calling out Mr. Pastorella.

So Mr. Singer doesn’t have a free speech right, Mme. Mayor?

SDM Says: Mayor Stanczyk is not the first presiding officer challenged by implementing restraint on public speech. She’s also not the first to muddy the water when applying the rules. SDM would like to see some consistent application of the decorum rule or the council should abandon it entirely. Otherwise, decorum just becomes another word for favoritism.

PB: A Long List of Bad Ideas

Cop Politics

Here at SDM, we are big fans of county police. The officers who don the uniform – in our experience – are competent, well-trained and professional. They’re also expensive compared to other local agencies.

Palmetto Bay’s indolent administration appears so contented with the county police contract that they’ve offered the barest-of-bones analysis of why the village should continue the arrangement for another five years.

Considering that the police contract devours nearly half of the village’s operating budget, one would think that village elders would at least inquire on potential options for alternatives to the county contract. But no, item 10-c on tonight’s agenda devotes a scant two paragraphs of staff “analysis” on a contract of more than 40 pages.

The “fiscal/budgetary impact” section of the cover memo merely refers back to the village budget and provides not even a mention that the 2013-14 police budget grew by more than 13% over FY 12-13 (more than $800,000 of additional spending!) estimated final budget amount.

SDM Says: We’ve blogged to no avail in this space about this village council’s inability to take on cop politics. When a municipality or county merely adopts a budget and extends a contract without any pretense of testing the market, then the taxpayers are guaranteed to swallow double-digit cost increases. And, when our village manager gives the public virtually nothing to review in terms of his professional opinion, we must conclude that the fix is in.

dresiarczyk-162-OBRAZKY.PL

School Politics

Once again, Mayor Stanczyk is spending – wasting? – valuable staff and council time on issues over which she has no jurisdiction and SDM believes little knowledge. Tonight, just as last year, Mayor Stanczyk is asking her colleagues to support the school district’s legislative program hook, line and stinker.

Item 10-F and 10-G represent MDCPS’s ongoing campaign to weaken the district’s only real competition in the education marketplace: charter schools. Mayor Stanczyk is very open in her disdain for giving children and parents an option to escape failing traditional schools and she is now asking her colleagues to follow suit.

SDM Says: The village council ought to send Mayor Stanczyk a message tonight. The council should reject items 10-F and 10-G and tell the Mayor to run for the school board if she wants to engage in district politics. You all have plenty to chew on here at home.

Weakening Ethics

Mayor Stanczyk is also asking her colleagues to support “ethics” legislation that the Florida League of Cities is pushing. SDM read the resolution and noted that the legislation actually weakens current ethics laws. For example:

  • Authorize political subdivisions to adopt, by charter or by ordinance, ethics requirements more stringent than those prescribed in state statute only for officers and employees of that specific political subdivision (i.e., a county could not impose ethics requirements onto municipal officers or employees).
  • SB 606 repeals a requirement to report any gift valued over $100 if the gift has not been otherwise prohibited or reported under current law as being from a lobbyist, vendor, or political committee.

So Mrs. Stanczyk doesn’t want to be bothered with the county’s ethics code so she will use the state legislature to bypass its requirements? SDM maintains grave reservations about the county’s ethics code – it is written poorly and administered unevenly – but it does help restrain our county’s perverse political class somewhat. Why shouldn’t city residents have their elected officials held to a reasonable standard?

And what’s with changing the gift law? Is Mrs. Stanczyk trying to avoid disclosing gifts from lobbyists?

SDM Says: We can’t be sure that the resolution represents the actual legislation, but what we see in the council agenda raises alarms. Under the guise of ethics, Mayor Stanczyk looks to be pulling another fast one on village residents.

Blank Water Check

Let’s just put this on the record: SDM supports clean water. Apparently, so does Mayor Stanczyk because she introduced yet another resolution supporting the “Florida League of Cities and the Everglades Coalition in their efforts to urge protective legislation concerning water quality and quantity.” Not nebulous enough for you? Maybe the Everglades Coalition website can shed some light on what exactly they want:

Protect Water Quality as a Critical Economic Resource: One in three Floridians depend on the Everglades for their drinking water; waterfront  economies depend on good water quality. The State needs to increase its investment in its water quality infrastructure. Strong pollution standards and controls should stop pollution at its source and local control should never be preempted. Wildlife and public health impacts should be tracked and addressed.

SDM Wonders: Does anyone know what the heck this means? What does it mean in economic and regulatory terms to “stop pollution at its source” and to never preempt local control? Does this mean local governments should be able to force all of us to hook up to the sewer system and abandon our polluting septic systems?

SDM Says: Once again, our illustrious Mayor has become enthralled by the latest political hot button. SDM suspects she wants to be able to run around town claiming she helped clean up our groundwater by supporting the Everglades Coalition. We hope village voters can see through such blatant tomfoolery.

Stanczyk Endorses a Tax Increase

In her resolution 10-I, Mayor Stanczyk openly asks for a tax increase. Currently, many internet-based transactions are not subject to Florida’s sales tax. The tax and spend crowd hates this savings so much they call it a “loophole.” (Anytime a government can’t easily stick its hand in your pocket is a loophole.)

So Mrs. Stanczyk and the Florida Chamber of Commerce have decided to support legislation “closing the Internet sales tax loophole.” (See page 22.)

SDM Says: Next Christmas, when you buy your grand kids that new swing set on-line, you can thank your local mayor for the extra 7% cost. Unless of course, you wake up and vote her out of office in November.

Some Stuff to Support

  1. Item 10-D by Dubois requires the village clerk to post notice of sunshine meetings (meetings between council members) on the village website.
  2. Item 10-K by Stanczyk that supports a delay in the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.
  3. Item 14-A. Establishment of a Financial Advisory Committee by DuBois.

  4. Item 14-

    B. Drafting of a law to prohibit anonymous Code Compliance complaints by Dubois.

SDM Says: All of the above deserve council support. Number 2 above proves the old adage: Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

PB: David Singer’s Really Pissed About Those Batting Cages!

At the February 3rd Village of Palmetto Bay Council meeting there was a vote held to approve spending $250,000 on four batting cages. Two are to be located at Coral Reef Park and two at Palmetto Bay Park.

This expenditure was approved 4:1 with Mayor Shelly Stanczyk, Councilwoman Joan Lindsay, Vice Mayor John Dubois and Councilman Tim Schaffer voting for this waste of $250,000. Councilman Patrick Fiore was the only one with the common sense to vote against it.

I expected the Mayor and Councilwoman to vote for the expenditure. They have had the time of their lives wasting our money from village coffers during their tenure, so another quarter million bucks is just another drop in the bucket. What was unexpected was the vote by John Dubois and Tim Schaffer.

Councilman John Dubois was elected on a platform of fiscal responsibility. In voting to spend $250,000 for batting cages, he aligned himself with the irresponsible spenders who dominate the council. Dubois’ vote couldn’t be any farther from the fiscal responsibility he promoted and promised on the campaign trail.

Councilman Tim Schaffer also voted in the affirmative. If he stopped admiring himself for five minutes he may have considered the fact a 2,000 square foot house can be built in Palmetto Bay for what the batting cages are going to cost taxpayers. Houses have walls and roofs and floor materials and plumbing fixtures and appliances and electrical systems and air conditioning and a whole host of other things that cause them to cost a quarter million bucks.

Both John Dubois and Tim Schaffer were misled by both City Manager Ron Williams and Parks Director Fanny Carmona. This being the same city manager that I feel would be a perfect fit if they were casting someone to replace Jim Carrey in a sequel to the hit movie Liar Liar.

Spending $250,000 in taxpayer’s money to build batting cages is totally irresponsible – especially at Coral Reef Park. I’m sure we can all recall that there is no longer any organized baseball at Coral Reef Park (besides Palmetto High which has its own batting cages) since the Village terminated our relationship with the beloved Howard Palmetto Khoury League several years back.

So the baseball fields where the batting cages are to be placed by aren’t used. You can be sure that the $125,000 worth of batting cages won’t be used either because Palmetto Sr. High certainly won’t walk across three-quarters of the park to use them when walk five feet from their dugout and use their own.

Spending $125,000 at Palmetto Bay Park is even murkier. The women who play softball do need batting cages but not at a cost of $125,000? These cages could be erected at a cost of less than $75,000, including the storage units they wish to have at the park.

Rather than overspending aimlessly for big ticket items, the Council needs to focus on saving money for some sorely needed deferred maintenance items at Coral Reef Park. These expenses will have to be dealt with within the next six months, and from what I observed, they will be a rather large. I doubt the village has budgeted current or reserve revenue sufficient to cover these costs.

So why wasn’t there a more intelligent conversation on spending the $250,000? I can’t tell, maybe someone from village hall can enlighten us. There have been numerous special council meetings over the last couple of months to discuss spending similar sums for various reports required to advance downtown redevelopment.

There have been presentations to the council and to residents, spending hours and hours on the redevelopment and associated costs. But, the council can find only ten minutes on a quarter million bucks for batting cages? One can only wonder why the same amount of money is treated so differently.

You would think that village officials and politicians would have learned something after spending a million dollars on an over-designed, over-built, over-bearing, under-utilized concession stand in the worst possible location in Coral Reef Park.

You may know it by its friendly name “The Million Dollar Hot Dog Stand.” [SDM Comment: Didn’t Mr. Dubois coin this term?] The cost might be justified if it was functional enough for the village to peddle hot dogs for a buck each. But it’s not even useful for that and it has been sitting vacant and shuttered for years as a symbol of an ongoing lack of leadership and vision.

How to stop wasting taxpayer’s dollars should be the theme in this year’s election. The first step, as I’ve tried to convey so many times in so many ways, is to the terminate Village Manager Ron Williams. The Village Manager and Mayor Stanczyk continue to push irresponsible spending by and it must stop.

Maybe if their heads were ‘clunked’ together ala Groucho Marx they might realize their constituents would rather pay less real estate taxes over out of control spending on the local level.

My only hope is that John Dubois and Tim Schaffer lost their way for just this one night. Maybe they had a temporary lapse of judgment, or fell off the wagon just this once.

Next time I hope they will ask pertinent questions like: “What groups will use these quarter million dollar batting cages?” and “When will these groups use these quarter million dollar batting cages?” and “How many people are projected to use these quarter million dollar batting cages and over what time period?” and “What are the costs to maintain these quarter million dollar batting cages?”

If those questions had been asked then the expenditure would have been voted down. There are no realistic answers which would support this type of expenditure for four batting cages, two which will be infrequently used.

How about it John and Tim, can you please get back on the right track?

David Singer

PB: Model Mayor?

SDM finally digested all of the goodies from the Super Bowl party so our stomachs are sufficiently settled to watch Monday night’s village council meetings.

The Model Was Here!

If it weren’t so serious, it would be funny. First up for the night, after some pleading from residents for the village to (a) slow down on downtown redevelopment until the community starts to understand what’s going on, and, (b) make sure that all members are present when taking up spending on the downtown (doing less is “dishonorable” according to one resident), the council had an odd moment.

The Marathon Man wanted the manager to share some of his projections on how the village would be paid back for investments in downtown. Councilman Schaffer quite reasonably wanted to understand how much new tax and fee revenue the village will yield once redevelopment begins.

Village Manager Ron Williams noted that the Finance Department created a model purporting to show how revenue might return. The model’s inputs will come largely from the studies the village approved at the last special council meeting. Williams also said the model was available at the last meeting, but since Schaffer wasn’t in attendance he didn’t get to see it.

Mayor Stanczyk asked Schaffer if he was satisfied with the model, which the stunned audience and council understood her to mean the table-top display that the DRTF created to show how the buildings might look in a newly rebuilt downtown.

The village manager and Schaffer quickly corrected her Lostness to say they were talking about a financial model and not a physical model!

If you think SDM makes this stuff up, go to 19:00 and see for yourself.

Carts & Horses

As SDM understands the purpose of the proposed projects in the redevelopment area, the village expects after the DRTF studies are completed that taxpayers and the council will know if the public infrastructure investments are made, then the village will receive a revenue yield.

Vice Mayor Dubois seems to hold the same understanding, which is why he asked several pointed questions as to why the village should spend $120,000 on master plan changes before the studies are completed.

The response from village staff was essentially that Mr. Dubois shouldn’t be questioning the wisdom of the process. Mr. Ed Silva nearly jumped across the dais as he protected his turf.

SDM Says: Mr. Silva needs to take a deep breath and listen to Mr. Dubois’ constructive criticism. He is correct that there should be no changes made to the village’s master plan until the planning data is available for review. To do otherwise makes the entire project look like staff is insisting that the cart come before the horse. Staff hostility to constructive suggestions from an elected officials should be ringing warning bells across Palmetto Bay.

SDM Wants To Be An Engineer Intern

Vice Mayor John Dubois raised an interesting point on the traffic study proposal provided by the firm Marlin Engineering. Dubois pointed out that the open continuing services contract with Marlin contained a rate of $110 per hour for work done by engineer interns. (Of course, the Village of Transparency didn’t disclose these rates in the published agenda, for what now seems like an obvious reason.) He also noted that the bulk of the hours assigned to this project would be done by these interns.

Mr. Dubois asked an important and critical question: Why would an intern be billed at $110 when licensed engineers are being billed at $125 per hour?

SDM Wonders: Do these interns get paid by the firms? If this work is so basic that an intern can do it then why can’t the village do the work in house with its own unpaid interns?

SDM Says: Good questions. One thing is for sure: these must be pretty smart interns and Palmetto Bay is fortunate Mr. Dubois is keeping us from looking like a bunch of suckers.

Marathon Man Cuts Loose

At the end of the regular council meeting (1:05:00), Councilman Tim Schaffer read a nearly three and a half minute prepared statement that you must, absolutely must hear for yourself.

With his voice breaking, Schaffer castigated Mayor Stanczyk for comments she made at the unnecessary January 23 special call meeting where she not so subtly accused Schaffer of shirking his duties.

Mr. Schaffer explained that he had been clear when the January 23 date was chosen that even though he initially said he could attend it upon a second review of his calendar he found out that his mother’s 84th birthday party caused a conflict. According to Schaffer, he immediately notified the clerk but the meeting went ahead anyway.

The explosive allegation came at the end when Schaffer accused Stanczyk of saying that Schaffer should have attended because his mother had Alzheimer’s disease and wouldn’t know it if her birthday celebration was moved!

Before Stanczyk could reply, Vice Mayor Dubois asked for a chance to speak and in a bizarre interlude spent a couple minutes discussing the tree committee while the mayor sat and stewed.

When she finally spoke and after a strained explanation of her choice of dates, Stanczyk acknowledged – amazingly – that there was no emergency that required the meeting to be held on January 23rd! Here is what the village code says about setting special call meetings:

Special meetings. Special meetings may be held on the call of the mayor or three councilmembers upon no less than 48 hours’ notice to the public, or such shorter time as a majority of the council deems necessary in case of an emergency affecting the life, health, property or the public peace. Sec. 2-44(b), Palmetto Bay Code of Ordinances. (Emphasis added by SDM.)

SDM Wonders: So why, then, didn’t you defer the meeting as Councilman Fiore requested Mme. Mayor, especially if you knew the meeting was not “an emergency affecting the life, health, property or the public peace”?

SDM Says: One is hard pressed to answer which is more disturbing, that the mayor would knowingly call a special call – emergency – meeting for a non-emergency matte while knowing 40% of her council could not attend, or that she made a disparaging remark about a colleague’s mother. Regardless, Mayor Stanczyk missed an excellent opportunity to apologize. Instead,SDM agrees that she looks like a dictator – to borrow Mr. Schaffer’s words – though SDM would say a poorly trained dictator.

P.S. SDM knows the pain of Alzheimer’s disease having seen it kill a loved one firsthand. For those many families struggling with the pain of watching a parent or grandparent deteriorate and lose his or her memory and sense of self, all we can say is it’s no laughing matter. We hope the mayor didn’t tell that tired joke, but if she did, she should never do so again, especially if she wants to hold public office.

PB: Three For The Show

As SDM expected, only three of the village council attended last week’s special call meeting to adopt the initial projects for the downtown redevelopment project. SDM hasn’t watched the entire video yet – can you blame us? – so we don’t know how Mr. Fiore voted.

We hear talk that he voted no, but immediately told his followers that by attending the meeting he didn’t allow the project to get sidetracked. If so, Mr. Fiore will have officially joined the political rank and file – rank being the operative word. We’ll get back to you on this profile in courage once we know for sure what happened.

The reason we stopped watching was – well – the mayor hurt our delicate feelings. You see, local activist Stanley Kowlessar rose at the start of the meeting during public comments and referenced your humble bloggers. He said he had read about the potential absences of two members – Dubois and Schaffer – on this very site. He wanted to come to the council to tell them to defer action until a later date when the two absentees could make it.

You know what happened next? This blog’s beloved  mayor said she didn’t think “the anonymous blog” (meaning SDM) supported the village!

Yes, you read that correctly. Mayor Stanczyk has conflated herself with the Village of Palmetto Bay. Egomania is alive and kicking in our little burgh.

Of course we support the village – if such a thing really matters. What we don’t support is this current mayor. We don’t agree with ramming “economic development” spending down our throats when – conveniently – the council’s most vocal critic is home recovering from surgery.

You read that right, too. Mayoral candidate David Zisman – a Dubois confidante – explained that the reason the Vice Mayor couldn’t come to the meeting was that he was at home recuperating and was “in great pain.”

The Marathon Man’s excuse for not attending was a little flimsier – it was his mother’s birthday. Then again, we here at SDM have lost a couple mothers and you really can’t make up those opportunities once they’re no longer around. We certainly don’t begrudge a person for choosing his family over attending a totally unnecessary meeting.

But let’s get back to the mayor’s slap at your servants here. SDM supports the village by paying lots of taxes and some of us were involved in creating this village long before her highness showed up. Because we are invested financially and by deeds,  that means we don’t gag ourselves when we see somebody running the village into the ground.

The fact is that the decisions made on January 23rd were important and deserved to be vetted fully. SDM would go further to say that the mayor missed an opportunity to put her political opposition on the spot. Neither Mr. Dubois nor Mr. Schaffer has to defend their votes on the downtown spending now. Your constituents cannot hold them accountable, Mme. Mayor because you let them off the hook.

Are you following us?

SDM Says: When SDM engages in the contact sport of politics, we seek to serve Palmetto Bay…not its politicians.

PB: Secret Transcript Revealed!

SDM got hold of another super secret transcript of a telephone call from a week or so ago. For your eyes only:

Williams: Bad news Madame Mayor, everyone is available for the January 22 special call meeting. You know that John is going to raise a stink about our rushing out these contracts without bidding them properly. Even Flinn is pointing out in his blog that we took those shortcuts.

Stanczyk: Don’t listen to that blowhard…nobody reads his blog or that other pile of crap SDM either.

Williams: Well, forget the blogs. We can’t bring these items up to the council on the 22nd because I will get crucified. I’m already nervous about these three guys…Schaffer tried to run me over in his fire truck the other day.

Stanczyk: Ron, you worry too much. Look, I have to get this money flowing to the Triangle or I can’t go home again…you getting me? Plus, a couple of my supporters are buying property downtown based on this money flowing into the area. We have to get this done. Don’t give me problems, give me solutions.

Williams: (Grumbling) I have a solution you pain in the…

Stanczyk: What?!? I missed that last part.

Williams: Nothing, my cell is running out of battery. My suggested solution is that we cancel the meeting so you can go out and convince the village that we need to spend this money now. We really need your leadership.

Stanczyk: That’s your solution?!? You know Ron, you are the manager here and this project was your brainchild – or at least it came from your administration. Now we have some very important people – at least one of which is very near me, at all times, capiche? – who are expecting action not leadership. Maybe I’ll exert some “leadership” at your next contract review.

Williams: Okay, okay, I get it…no need to get nasty. (Pause) I did hear one thing but it may look a little fishy.

Stanczyk: Everyone knows I have no problem with fishy. What is it?

Williams: Well, the Marathon Man and Dubois both said they couldn’t do the special call under any circumstances if we held the meeting on Thursday,  Jan. 23. Both have prior business appointments.

Stanczyk: Are you recommending we change the meeting from the 22nd to the 23rd so that we can control the votes on that night?

Williams: I am recommending no such thing.

(Long pause)

Williams continued: Besides, moving the meeting might not work if Fiore either didn’t show up or left before we could hold a vote. The blogs would love that.

Stanczyk: Like I told you, nobody reads that crap. Look, I have to get back to the Garden Club. The old bitties are devouring the cucumber sandwiches like they missed their Alpo last night! What’s Meighan’s extension again?

+++

SDM can’t vouch for the precise accuracy of this transcript but we’re pretty sure it tells it like it is. :)

First Quarter-Million to Downtown or Down the Drain?

And so it begins…

The Palmetto Bay village council will hold a special call meeting on Thursday, January 23rd at 7 p.m. to take up four proposed expenditures totaling more than a quarter-million dollars:

  • A “market absorption study” for $34,100 and $120,000 to prepare “land development code provisions and an amended zoning map reflective of the downtown redevelopment task force recommendations.” Both jobs will be done by Bermello Ajamil & Partners, a politically connected “multidisciplinary design firm” located in Coral Gables. [SDM Wonders: We are not aware that the council has changed the zoning downtown, yet. Wouldn't it make more sense to hire the firm after the council reviews and adopts the changes? Or, have we outsourced zoning code amendments to the DRTF? If the council fails to adopt the DRTF proposals, will the village be wasting $120,000?]
  • $60,000 for “a concurrency review and capacity study, and to prepare any amendments necessary to the village’s comprehensive plan elements and future land use map consistent with that study and any other studies.” This work will be done by another politically connected firm, Kimley Horn. [SDM Wonders: Why do we need two firms working on connected projects? The village is going to have BAP look at market absorption and zoning changes and then have Kimley Horn work on the CDMP and concurrency. Why not have one vendor do the entire project since they are linked? And, for that matter, why not have the village staff do the work? This is starting to look like a consultants' relief act.]
  • $39,725 to Marlin Engineering for the notorious traffic study. [SDM Wonders: The Vice Mayor asked a very good question when he wondered about how useful a traffic study would be given that so much change is expected down the road. The Manager says this study will establish the baseline. Is a baseline worth almost forty grand?]

In the blink of an eye, three local consulting firms snatch up $253,825 of the village’s ebbing reserves. All of this work is probably necessary if one buys into the DRTF’s vague master plan. One has to ask whether putting this project on such a fast track makes sense since the council has really been left in the dark.

SDM Says: The village council – and especially Vice Mayor Dubois – should tell us at this meeting that they feel comfortable with the DRTF’s work so far and that they have bought-in to the DRTF’s plan. We point especially to the Vice Mayor because he has been the most vocal in his questioning of the DRTF. SDM has heard a rumor that this meeting was scheduled without the Vice Mayor’s approval and that he may not be in attendance. If so, this will look more like a railroading than a deliberative discussion.

Public Works Building Highlighted in the Miami Herald – and Not in a Good Way

Did you catch the story on page 20A of the Miami Herald on Sunday? SDM has been frantically searching the interwebs for a copy to no avail…you might want to rummage through your trash, assuming you still get a hard copy of the Herald delivered.

The story lays out the village’s decision to accept some federal money that it will use to pave over most of the green space in its Public Works building. You say you didn’t even know Palmetto Bay had a public works building? Neither did SDM, who think of ourselves as paying very close attention.

Apparently, early on in the village’s life, the council purchased a private residence that it converted to office space for the Public Works Department. [SDM Wonders: Did the village hold a zoning meeting for that little change?]

It also appears that over the years the department has been parking all kinds of trucks and equipment at its HQ, which SDM is also sure is totally legal from a zoning standpoint. [Sarcasm. Imagine if a particular private school had done the same thing on its property!]

Then, some federal grant money became available and the village decided to invest the money in the Public Works HQ. At least a portion of the funds will be used to pave the HQ parking lot. [SDM says "parking lot," but our imagination tells us what we are really talking about is paving the front or rear yards, or both. Will the site still have sufficient on-site drainage and pervious area? Or is the village exempting itself from these life-safety-health requirements?]

The upshot of the story – and please forgive us if our summary so far is either incomplete or incorrect in the minor details, we are working from memory – the upshot is that the village was required by federal law to reach out to their neighbors before proceeding with this project. A Herald reporter contacted the neighbors and found – surprise, surprise – they knew nothing of their good neighbor’s plans!

SDM would like to chastise the Village Manager Ron Williams on his failure to follow the law, but his ignorance of the outreach and other requirements of the grant seems part of a larger problem with this federal stream of money. Other local municipalities have been running around spending this money without following federal law either. It’s a conspiracy of dunces, one might say while mangling the title of a wonderfully funny  novel. [If you've never read Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, you owe it to yourself to do so.]

Where SDM feels entitled to chastise Mr. Williams is that he didn’t reach out to his neighbors of his own volition. Wouldn’t you want to know what the village had planned for a facility near your home, out of common courtesy if not political behind-covering?

SDM doesn’t know precisely what is going to be done to the Public Works building, but we know this for sure: Mr. Williams and his staff owe the village an explanation and toot sweet. In the meantime, he ought to visit with his neighbors…and bring some flowers as peace offering on behalf of the rest of us.

PB: Dubois Taking the Lead on DRTF?

You may have seen a story in the Palmetto Bay News where Vice Mayor John Dubois raises some very serious questions about the village administration’s plan for downtown Palmetto Bay. Among his comments, SDM found these to be right on point:

  • “The missing link is the financial plan with projections,” the vice mayor said. “We have seen a 90-slide PowerPoint, but a PowerPoint is not a plan. We need a written plan that is properly documented.”
  • DuBois asked how many years it would take for return-on-investment for the project, and who the first seven anchor tenants of the new shopping area would be.

Incredibly, one member of the DRTF committee responded that “[t]he redevelopment plans can’t all be driven by return-on-investment…” And, “[Palmetto Bay is] not business, this is government, and government is supposed to create a better environment for people.”

While it is strictly true that government is not a business, it’s resources are not infinite; choices must be made. So, when Palmetto Bay is presented with a project like downtown redevelopment where some $2.5 million will be spent from village reserves, a reasonable question to ask is “what are we getting for the money?”

Generally, a government expenditure on road construction, for example, would come from a dedicated source of funding like gas taxes, fees or revenue sharing. What Mr. Dubois is correctly pointing out is that Palmetto Bay is being asked to “invest” in the downtown using general funds, rather than dedicated revenues.

We as residents are giving up something precious when we agree to spend reserve money in the downtown. We are giving up the opportunity to reserve against future downturns and/or to spend that money on some other activity that will “create a better environment for people.” Most importantly, we are giving up flexibility.

The other thing we think Mr. Dubois should be concerned about is the task force’s murky behavior. We’ve pointed out that they don’t keep minutes – or at least that the don’t post them on their site. We’ve also been told by people we trust that some of the members of the task force are speculating on the downtown.

That’s all well and good so long as the decisions the council makes are not being influenced by the speculators. In other words, if downtown Palmetto Bay needs road improvements and sidewalks, then those needs should stand on their own two feet and clearly benefit the entire community.

However, if a speculator needs some specific work that will make her property more valuable – which can benefit the village – then a return on investment model makes perfect sense. Again, the village must employ some rational mechanism to choose between competing expenditures, so why not use a reliable, time-tested methodology like ROI?

SDM Says: The DRTF is a good thing and is doing important work. We wish we could feel confident that it’s on the straight and narrow path. Vice Mayor Dubois has our support to hold the task force accountable and we think his colleagues on the council should join him in doing so.

PB: Guest Post by David Singer- Beware the DRTF?

50 Million Reasons to Follow the Palmetto Bay DRTF

Over the past six months, in a “smoke-filled” back room in a the bowels of the Village Hall of Palmetto Bay, a bevy of professionals have been meeting to help determine how millions of dollars in Village tax revenues will be spent over the next five to ten years.

These professionals consist of attorneys, architects, engineers, bankers, real estate developers, and Ed Silva, the Village of Palmetto Bay Director of Building and Capital Projects. These people are collectively the Downtown Redevelopment Task force or DRTF. Their main goal is to push forward an agenda to redevelop the 330 acre area called the Franjo Triangle. The DRTF will also eventually determine how 2.6 to tens of millions of Palmetto Bay’s tax dollars are spent and allocated on this endeavor.

Upon first glance, this exercise this could be considered very noble: to revitalize an area that has provided little to no tax revenue and is considered blighted. But if you delve a little deeper into the process, you will find Mayor Shelly Stanczyk and Village Manager Ron Williams are playing Russian roulette with the Village’s future since there is no guarantee that expenditures will be offset by revenues in the near term.

Furthermore, it seems as though a few professionals involved in the DRTF have already started purchasing available shopping centers or buildings within Franjo Triangle in hopes of making a quick buck. It’s hard to see how this is anything short of insider trading. [SDM Note: We have no independent evidence of this claim so we respectfully request some hard data proving it.]

What is actually pushing this project is that Palmetto Bay, unbeknownst to Village residents, has been forecasted by the Director of Finance, Desmond Chin to lose $5 million annually in the near future. These numbers have not been released to the public yet. Apparently, its due to the fact Village Manager Ron Williams does not want the community to know the dire financial future of the Village.

The DRTF strategy is to redevelop the Franjo Triangle and bring in major development. This is intended to increase commercial real estate taxes and revenue with the benefit of not increasing residential real estate taxes.

The plan, although admirable, is fraught with prickly issues, not the least of which is that DRTF meetings have not been advertised effectively and are essentially not open to the public as one would expect. In addition, public participation in the form of comments and questions is prohibited by a decree from Village Manager Williams. [SDM Note: Again, we have no independent corroboration of this allegation. Anyone want to support this accusation?]

I know that first-hand because I attended one of the meetings and was informed of the rules when I walked into the conference room. Another insult to the public is that no records or notes of these meeting have been published or are available for public review.

It is also surprising to find that our elected officials have not been engaged in this process. Those we elected to protect the Village as our representatives are not actively participating.

To compound the problem, the Village Manager has advised all Village department heads that they are not permitted to meet with members of the Council unless the Manager has been noticed and is present. [SDM Note: This is wise on the part of the Manager. He is the point of contact for the council and staff can be put into an untenable position when they meet directly with the council members.]

To mask what’s really going with the projections of capital costs and revenues the DRTF has been withheld from Council Members, at the Village Managers orders, even though Council Members have repeatedly requested them.

No council member has been advised if there will be any return of investment on the millions of dollars that the DRTF is planning on spending. Let me repeat myself, NO RETURN ON INVESTMENT has been shown to the Council for what could ultimately be $50 million in tax expenditures.

Vice Mayor John DuBois has become so frustrated in the process that he has even called for numerous town hall meetings in an attempt to embarrass Mayor Stanczyk (whose husband is a DRTF member) and Village Manager Williams into releasing some of the financial information that has been withheld for months.

I’ve also spoken to an attorney who has foreseen litigation which will make the Palmer Trinity fiasco look like a trip to small claims court in comparison due to the lack of information that is being released to the public.

These DRTF meetings are certainly not ill-advised in theory. I agree with the idea that redeveloping a blighted area for additional tax revenue is extremely commendable. It’s just that the DRTF process is failing in practice.

Keeping financial projections from the Council and having no public oversight should be an ethics violation at best when the Village is discussing a Public-Private development project that could exceed a cost of $50 million in public money.

There appears to be no checks and balances presently in place for stupidity within our Village. John DuBois is the only Council member who has spoken out publicly against what is shaping up to be a DRTF debacle.

One would hope that Councilman Patrick Fiore, who plans on running for Mayor in 2014, and Tim Schaffer would start demanding answers from the Village Manager and Ed Silva before they vote to approve one cent being spent on the Franjo Triangle redevelopment project.

I suggest anyone who is so motivated to write Mr. Fiore and Mr. Schaffer and demand that they push for financial transparency in the DRTF process.

David Singer

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