In Part 1 (link below), I summarized the current positions of the City and the District towards joint participation on the Boca National Golf Course project. I believe that these two governments are still so far apart that any hope of going forward together is quixotic at best.
The fur that was once glossy and thick lays dull and uneven over bones. There was skin showing where she had itched. Dust, dirt, and mud all stained her matted coat, knotted and twisted with months of neglect. The cat walked with a stiffness of age, but also with the fragility of one so withered. The cat was a ginger, but not harsh red tabby, it was more like the kind of orange you’d see on a beloved old-shirt mixed with heavy cream. Her tiny cheeks were completely covered with long white whiskers and her large colored eyeballs would sparkle at some angles.
Three truly World Class cities, London, Amsterdam and Paris, deal with traffic in different ways that’s hard not to notice and compare. Compared to how we get around, the three of those cities have a lot more ways to get around and a lot more people moving from place to place. The time that it takes to go about our daily business in Boca Raton is worse than it has ever been in memory, yet it’s far better than real World Class Cities deal with. What’s interesting is the different ways they’ve dealt with their traffic and how those ways might work for us.
Comparing the Size of the Cities to Boca
London has 9 million people while Paris claims around 2.5 million people are in the formal city boundaries. Amsterdam has just less than a million people and is still twice the population of the City of Miami at 0.46 million. Paris packs the entire population of Dade County into a space that’s only 6 miles wide – that’s the distance from the Pavilion on Palmetto to where Palmetto crosses over the Turnpike. We have around 0.13 million people in Boca Raton, so Paris is basically 20 times more crowded than Boca – like fitting our present population plus nineteen more populations of the same size in the same space. That’s a lot of people – that’s a lot of crowding – that’s a lot of traffic. London is second only to Moscow in terms of European’s time spent in traffic: gridlock. Paris is the third most gridlocked European city but none of them are worse than Los Angeles.
The Means of Travel
Here in South Florida things are generally spread out. You need a car in most cases where there’s a need to go to work or to do shopping. There’s some public transportation in Boca but most people find it an impractical means to get where we need to go. In real World Class cities there’s a strong dependence on walking and public transportation – it’s the primary means of travel for most people. Bicycling in European cities is much more popular than in major US cities, so much that many city residents have no need to own a car. For example, London has roughly 9 million people and there’s only 2.6 million registered cars. In Amsterdam there’s roughly 1 car for every 2 people but there’s more bikes than people.
Public Transportation, Metros and Uber
In London, Amsterdam and Paris, each has impressive public transportation systems. Each has a metro system that we call subways. London depends on lots of busses, most of which are double-deckers. In the US double-decker busses are a novelty that gets used for sight-seeing, but in London they’re a practical necessity given how many people need to ride. Amsterdam depends more on cable car trams that move above ground and are electrically powered. In Paris there’s less bus and tram options than the other two cities, but more than here. In Paris, people walk a lot and rely on the Metro.
Metros, underground rail systems, are the fastest means to travel from one place to another. The most impressive Metro system between the three cities was Amsterdam’s which was the cleanest, most frequent, least crowded and fastest. This was in spite of the high water table in Amsterdam – they still manage to do a lot underground and keep it dry. If we wanted to install an underground rail system we could do it using Amsterdam’s techniques and technology.
Paris has a fast and frequent Metro system but unfortunately the stations are kind of gross, worse than NYC. London’s is the most crowded during rush hours, so crowded that there’s literally no room to add another traveler on a car. In London, stations get dangerously crowded as people are forced to watch doors close and wait for the next train.
Finding How to Get Around Using Google
The public transportation systems in each of these cities stay on schedule quite tightly and can be timed using Google Maps which seemed to have very accurate information on when busses and trams are scheduled. By using Google Maps to discover routes and timing it’s possible to move across these cities much more quickly than by car.
But just like here on Tri-Rail, there can be issues with public transportation that can cause big uncontrollable delays in your journey. Being trapped on a train car while precious moments tick by can be quite an anxious and costly experience, especially when your next connection, a train or a plane, won’t wait.
Uber and Street Traffic
Paris is slightly better than London with regards to street congestion. Uber exists in all three cities and it’s often cheaper to use Uber than public transportation when you’re going short distances with a group. The fares around Paris are pretty competitive.
It’s hotter in Paris compared to London and Amsterdam. It’s fair to call it the “Atlanta of Europe” in terms of the weather, all landlocked and far from sea breezes. This week it saw temperatures as high as 115 in the city! Whereas a mile or two might be a cool and pleasant walk in London or Amsterdam, in Paris going the same distance is a sweaty, dirty, architecturally monotonous affair. Therefore taking some kind of vehicle in Paris is ideal. Greater Paris is so large that there’s a heavy dependence on the Metro but cars move a little more freely than the latter two. Paris doesn’t have car lanes on it’s streets so it’s a free-for-all in terms of who can get in front of who: vehicular anarchy compared to the USA.
In European cities, like some US cities, there are now these electric scooter board things all over that can be rented immediately and activated via phone app. Many people use these and many can be seen all over, abandoned, left after use in the location where the last user ended their journey. Some people ride two to a scooter, with the person in the rear wrapping their arms around the person in the front with both holding the handlebars.
If we had enough of them spread around Boca this might be a popular mode of transportation here. But the problem would be acquiring one while deep within a gated community, and what good does it do other people if they’re left far from where they need to be found? Maybe it would be practical for us to have them privately owned. Maybe Downtown Boca should consider finding a company who can do this here?
Skateboarding is awesome no matter where you are. It’s one of the most effective ways to get around in a giant city where there’s public transportation. It’s even faster and easier than using a bike because you don’t need to chain up a skateboard. However, skateboarding depends on having surfaces that facilitate it. Skateboarding on cobblestones is impossible. Doing it on sidewalks with a lot of bumps and grooves is unpleasant if not difficult.
Downtown London isn’t therefore a great place to skate. Too many weird curbs and cobblestones make moving on a skateboard too unpleasant. Amsterdam is the same. Neither are worth bringing a skateboard along. Paris, however, is another story. Paris has cobblestone streets but someone in Paris has been designing the sidewalks to be skateboard friendly. They’re smooth and keep very clean in a manner that counts. This makes travelling on a skateboard or scooter very nice in Paris.
How is Boca for skateboarding? It’s hit or miss. We have skate parks that keep the skating contained. There are a few places in Boca that can be called “skate friendly” and as a general rule it’s more often easier to skate in the road compared to using the sidewalk. For example, Potomac has a stretch between Jog Road and Military that has a wide sidewalk separated from the road. However, the sidewalk paths along this stretch are not amenable to skateboarding. There are too many grooves where there’s concrete and it’s too bumpy where there’s asphalt. Riding for a block on that kind of surface can make your feet feel sore.
A good example of a smooth stretch of sidewalk circles the lake inside the Spanish River Atheletic Park, across from the library. Skating there is quite nice. Boca would see more people using skateboards, practically, if we made an effort, like Paris, to think out our sidewalks better and make them super smooth.
But what about bikes?
Keep an eye on BocaWatch… the second half of this article is coming next and it’s all about bicycles. It will reveal how bikes are used in World Class cities, how we can learn from them, and how it might make our biking better here.
Forty years ago, Boca citizens voted themselves into the golf business. Golfers and non-golfers alike agreed that it would be an important recreational feature and economic development investment for their growing City.
They set up their venture as an Enterprise Fund at City Hall. City Council would serve as the Board of Directors and fund managers for the stockholders and the city would hire employees to operate the business. They collectively invested in farmland west of the turnpike, and that land was converted to an 18 and a 9 hole golf course; i.e.-Boca Municipal Golf Course.
The ‘Golf in Boca’ business model worked well for many years. Not a big money maker, but not a big money looser either. But market conditions changed over time. More golf courses entered the western market, which competed for the non-residents that sustained the Municipal Courses. Once the County opened its Osprey facility, the Municipal course consistently lost hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
Fortunately for the Boca resident, in the last few years, housing developers showed significant demand for the land. Now it’s to the point where the City has the opportunity to divest this land asset for $65 million dollars. However, that potentially results in the end of the ‘Golf in Boca’ model in place for decades. Just as fortunate, this same set of circumstances has caused the residents of Boca Teeca to raise community consciousness about the state of affairs with their derelict golf course.
Over the last few years community voices have caused a resident driven movement to ‘Keep Golf in Boca.’ This movement gained momentum in the last two election cycles. Both the City Council and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District members all, I reiterate, all committed to ‘Keep Golf in Boca’. The residents appealed for help and the Beach and Park District stepped up to the ‘tee’ agreeing to purchase the land with the implicit understanding that the City and the District would work together and open the new Boca National course. The sentiment was that Boca Raton would have a ‘championship’ course, commensurate with what one expects from the Boca Raton brand.
Since then, the experience, or should I say saga, of ‘Keeping Golf in Boca’ has begun to look like there will be ‘No Golf in Boca’. Despite an extensive history of jointly acquiring land and developing recreational assets, the elected officials at the City and the District have defied previous models of cooperation and are embroiled in what can only be describes as a ‘childish’ battle of minutia driven by politicians whose motivations are in serious question.
The City Council members are such political creatures that out of jealousy and hubris, they have failed in their duties both as directors of the enterprise and as the elected leaders for the City by displaying an astounding lack of any semblance of business acumen.
As representative leaders of the residents, the Council’s decision making has been dismal. They, as a whole, caved to special interests; allowing the developer a 2nd bite of the bidding apple for the purchase and sale of the Boca Muni Course. That turned out to be a $7 million bite when the purchase price dropped from $72 million to $65 million.
As elected leaders, the City Council has demurred on multiple occasions when the District requested even a ballpark estimate for a commitment of funds from the Boca Muni sale. The Council, as a whole, acts like they’re clever negotiators when they are simply obstructionists to a new business model of a multi-faceted family-oriented modern facility on an eastern location; a location with the competitive advantage of no, again no, nearby competition. Worse yet, they seemingly don’t recognize the obvious benefit to their stockholders. the residents. Every dollar the City would send to the District generates a 75% Return on Investment to City residents in improvements to the recreational facilities and benefits of preserved green space.
So far, all that the City Council has ‘benevolently granted’ to their ‘partner’, the District, is to serve as the financier for the purchase of the land on the west side of Boca Raton Boulevard in a humiliating display of political theater resulting in an Inter-local Agreement that has little chance of success.
In the past, the District has answered the cry to preserve green spaces and the City granted financial participation without a second thought. Those truly cooperative partnerships allowed the District to acquire and preserve Ocean Strand on A1A and develop Sugar Sand Park. This time, however, City Council is questioning everything from the property value for the public land; the District’s ability to repay the loan; and the second guessing of the District on the course design; a design arrived at after a year long evaluation.
Green Space isn’t a priority any more? Really?
Questioning now the long-term value of preserving public green space that is fundamental to our quality of life, to property values and to economic development?
Questioning a State of Florida authorized taxing authority’s ability to repay a loan?
The history of the District’s interaction with the City on previous occasions belies the foolishness of the City Council’s position.
Meanwhile, the District Commissioners spent more than hundreds of thousands of dollars to design a new facility without any real financial commitment from the City and without any hands-on involvement from the City Council. Instead, the District has clung to the belief that the City Council will do the right thing and re-invest proceeds from the Boca Muni sale to the Boca National location.
Is it a good design in a non-competitive location driven by Boca-based market factors?
The numerous presentations in public workshops by a world class team of experts make it so. Besides, in spending time and money on a project without any the City’s commitment, the District has failed to look beyond their current balance sheet and income statement to consider viable options for the independent long-term financing for the Boca National project; options that would let the District tell the City to, proverbially, ‘pound sand on the 18th hole’.
In other words, the District could go it alone.
That’s how the District acquired and preserved the Swim and Racquet Club on St. Andrew’s Boulevard 20 years ago. When that facility was threatened with closure to add more housing, the District answered the call by raising its mileage. That amounted to a small increase in individual taxes but accumulated millions to purchase the property the next year. That increase subsequently paid for millions of dollars of improvements from Gumbo Limbo to Sugar Sand for years to come.
As recently as this past month, the City Council has continued to bully the District with nonsensical rhetoric and the District has accepted the beat down with its gentile institutionalized personality; that has got to come to an end!
The District proposed that the City Council members take 6 weeks or more to study and understand the design concept and trade-offs with the hope that the City will commit a $20 million grant from the Boca Muni sale to the Boca National project. The District also offered the City a 45% partnership share of the project’s annual operating bottom line for its $20 million contribution.
That the District offered this deal, and that the City actually demonstrated interest to ask the District to outline with more specificity, shows how naive the 10 elected officials are about business and finance.
Here’s what the District Commissioners proposed in response to the City’s request for details.
District/City Golf Course Partnership Amendment Term Sheet
The loan terms listed below are provided as a summary and are subject to change. Final terms are subject to negotiation based on agreement between both parties.
GOLF COURSE CONSTRUCTION & OPERATION:
Investment Amount: City contributes $20 million to construct golf course; District has contributed and/or committed $30 million
Additional Fees: District will pay all design fees for Southern Hills (Price/Fazio) and construction costs that exceed $20 million
Project Management: City and District shall mutually agree on a project manager, subject to compliance with all local and state financial policies, rules and regulations. All major changes, as defined by both parties, to design during construction will be agreed upon by both parties.
Ownership: District continues paying bond on west side of property; title of property will be transferred to District per terms established in
Operation and Maintenance: Golf course is anticipated to run as an enterprise fund; City can operate and maintain the golf course to mutually agreed upon standards established by Southern Hills (Price/Fazio); If golf course is not maintained by City in accordance with mutually agreeable standards, as defined in future ILA, the District shall assume control over maintenance.
Profit & Loss: Profit and losses will be shared at a 55/45 rate. Once both parties’ initial investments have been satisfied in full, the District shall assume 100% control over operation and maintenance and assume 100% of any and all profit and loss.
Future Investments: Future investments, including but not limited to a permanent clubhouse, will be funded at a 55/45 split.
This arrangement would be a huge mistake!
First, this would be a forced marriage of a couple that does not trust or respect each other. These elected officials are not realizing that the details and unintended consequences of this joint arrangement are worse then if the City simply provided funding from the Boca Muni sale and let the District develop and manage the course alone.
The District must separate itself from the City and go about developing the Boca National Course without the City’s participation financially or in the design.
The District has alternatives…
One option would be to approve a small millage increase which would result in an increased revenue stream available to support multiple financial opportunities; financial opportunities enough to fund the Boca National build out independently (More on this in Part 2).
In Part 2, I will also review each elected official’s ill-considered, on the public record, stated positions and the unintended consequences that could result.
Stay tuned folks. You can’t make this stuff up.
Publisher of BocaWatch
It should be no surprise that the City Administration, with or without collusion from the City Council, regularly attempts to get approval for controversial items by bringing such items to the public’s attention at the last minute while arguing that time demands immediate action even over the reasonable objection of residents and clearly without objective evidence supporting the exigent and emergency circumstance.
On June 11th this exact technique presented itself. Buried in the consent agenda was Resolution No. 75-2019; a resolution to execute an “interlocal agreement” with Palm Beach County to build a new 400 foot communication tower, arguably, for “public safety” replacing the 180 foot tower now servicing the needs of the city of Boca Raton.
The City’s communications needs are currently satisfied and, arguably, with a simple replacement of the existing tower at 200 feet would supply all the “public safety” needs of Boca Raton for the foreseeable future; for a replacement amount as low as $400,000 instead of potentially as high as $3 million dollars if the contract with the County is to go forward.
‘But for’ the request of some Councilmembers to remove this item from the consent agenda and have it presented for public discussion, the public would not have had any input into the process, would not have even known what the City Administration was about to do.
As it turns out, this communication tower item is highly controversial.
City residents and others from West Boca have generated over 1,100 signatures opposing the adoption of the resolution. Representatives of one objecting party came to City Council with a well reasoned Power Point presentation listing elements not previously known to the public and requesting a reasonable delay to review alternatives before Council takes a determining vote. The Power Point entered into the public record is published below in its entirety for you, the reader, to consider.
Offering reasons for a delay, the objector speaks truth to power; truth being that there has been no opportunity for public input and no public hearing as to alternatives that exist and have existed for some time.
Why the rush to vote the issue???
A ‘resident friendly’ City Council would have no objection to extending a vote for a short delay but no….not this City Council…
With a three to two vote (Singer, Mayotte and O.Rourke-yes Rodgers and Thomson-No), the Council approved Resolution 75-2019 allowing the administration to now complete the process with the County and commit city residents to the $3 million dollar price tag versus the $400,000 alternative solution; this vote now moves forward what is admittedly an optional need, and, perhaps, an unnecessary one. That equation, however, may never be examined as the 3-2 vote is the requisite action needed from the city to give the County the signal to move forward with the 400 foot tower; a County vote is scheduled for June 27th at the County Commission in West Palm Beach.
What reasoning prevailed to allow the City Council to take such a vote?
Scott Singer was the driving force for this approval.
Singer played the straight man for the comedic act by the Deputy City Manager George Brown who gave a presentation on the need, the cost, and the time table for construction completion; presenting only his version of facts while not allowing presentation of available alternative solutions.
Singer met with resistance….
Rodgers and Thomson did not agree and voted to delay the vote so that all parties could get together during the six week before the next City Council meeting to review other proposals. Deputy City Manager Brown argued that delay would put in jeopardy the construction timeline needed for completion by a proscribed date of October 2020. Mr. Brown offered no proofs of his assertions; he disputed the objectors’ reasoning that the current tower could be replaced for $400,000 and suggested that the City’s review indicates that replacing the current tower independent of the County agreement would be closer to $1.2 million; still a far cry from the potential of $3 million required to join in with the County.
When asked the justification for wanting to enter into the agreement, Brown stated that the objective was for the City to have ownership of the tower. No real reason was given for why the City wanted to own the tower as it is not a revenue producer and the City would have to pay like every other user for space on the tower. The County has the need to go above 200 feet; the City does not. In fact, the City will be in the lower section of the proposed tower with the County at heights above 200 feet.
It is my intent here to argue that a six week delay would not put “public safety” in jeopardy as claimed by Mr. Brown especially since he offered no proof of that alleged fact.
Councilwoman O’Rourke was the swing vote here.
It was apparent that although Mr. Brown said the City Administration was working on this proposal for the better part of a year, the City Council was seeing this for the first time and the residents had not seen it at all. That fact alone should have caused the Council to push back on the Administration and, given the residents’ objection, provide a chance to better understand the proposed interlocal agreement and analyze available alternatives. This type of behavior by the Administration should be unacceptable. It is exactly what is being complained about with the Sunshine Law violations alleged in a pending Midtown lawsuit. It is clearly designed to thwart public input and the Councilmembers, as representatives of the people, should not simply be a rubber stamp for the Administrative bureaucrat.
One of the three affirmative votes on the Council should make a Motion to Reconsider at the next scheduled City Council meeting. Only an affirmative vote has this option and, if exercised, a reversal would seem apparent and a small delay would follow.
Given such a delay, the parties, the residents and the council members could become better informed to support or not the proposed interlocal agreement.
It never ceases to amaze me how civil servants presume to decide how best to spend the taxpayer’s money in an amount differential arguably in the range of $2.6 million without providing a reasonable period of time to understand the whys and wherefores of the implications and residents’ concerns.
Slow down…reverse this decision… and, invite the public in to better understand the need and the costs before taking the final vote…
Publisher of BocaWatch
I recently read yet another ‘Plant’ or ‘Seed’ (or setup) article on June 13, 2019 published in the CityWatch section of Boca Magazine presumably at the behest of Steve Abrams, the current Executive Director of the SFRTA.
Palm trees sway in the warming breeze. The sky blazes blue and the sun is a celebration of yellow and gold, free and bright. In the distance, the heat waves bounce off the concrete floors of the FAU Breezeway and cause an illusion of wavering images.
Approaching from out of the waves is a young man. He glided down like a confident panther the way he held his broad shoulders back, yet his eyes frequently checking his own appearance. He wears a fitted white t-shirt that would even make fresh snow look grey. The t-shirt logo is bold and reads, ‘Spicy Wear’. His warm and welcoming smile, soft, like petals caught in a breeze. It was enough to allow a gleam of white from the teeth below and a slight dimple in his cheeks.
It was over two years ago that the City Council was confronted with having to investigate the actions of one of its own, former Mayor Susan Haynie, when, during the election cycle of March 2017, facts were uncovered which eventually led to probable cause findings at the State and County Ethics Commissions and her subsequent suspension from office by then Governor Rick Scott for a variety of alleged criminal charges; charges that are still pending in Palm Beach County Criminal Court Division.
Prior to the ethics findings and eventual suspension from office there were assertions of her ‘breaching the public trust.’ Those assertions were presented to the then members of Boca Raton’s City Council (Singer, Rodgers, Weinroth and O’Rourke), all of whom refused to exercise their duty to investigate. Council members could have reacted to the assertions and may have avoided the results of third-party agencies having to investigate what eventually became a serious tarnish to the reputation of this city and to the integrity of its elected leaders.
This, of course, is all old news…perhaps…but what is not old news is that there are now new assertions raising breach of the public trust issues and, even more serious, assertions of possible Sunshine Law violations; violations that if established are of a criminal nature. These assertions point to members at the highest levels of Boca Raton’s City Administration, and may also include some, if not all, elected officials.
Where to start….
The genesis for these assertions arise out of the ongoing dispute between the city and Crocker Partners concerning the Midtown project. Midtown is a planned mobility development that also was to be a transit-oriented district; a district where the development’s design is aimed at the reduction of road trips, and, in its original concept, anticipated a tri-rail station to be located there. (Publisher’s note: The tri-rail element is no longer available as it has been removed from the future plans of the SFRTA).
As was the case during the Haynie matter, the City Council has the ability to investigate the assertions alleged. However, the current situation differ from the Haynie matter, as individual Council Members may be unwittingly involved. Only the efforts of outside third-party agencies, agencies with power to take sworn statements with subpoena power, may be able to uncover the relevant facts. Agencies like the Inspector General’s office and/or the State Attorney’s office but not the State or County Ethics Commissions. Ethics Commissions do not have jurisdiction where assertions are of a criminal nature like that involving the Sunshine Law as here.
What facts exists to even raise these possibilities?
Below are assertions compiled from the public record; the public record comprising the civil Sunshine Law complaint filed by Crocker Partners and the City’s own records including, but not limited to, video recordings. Reader(s) are encouraged to review the underlying referenced materials and formulate their own opinion. City Council members should take heed and look deeply at the facts asserted to determine what, if any, action might be taken to rectify the situation.
Statement of Facts:
Councilwoman O’Rourke, in concert with City Attorney Diana Freiser, created out of thin air the requirement of an undefined “Small Area Plan” to frustrate and delay the development of Midtown.
April – August 2018:
City hires a consultant to produce the “Small Area Plan”. The consultant conducts the first of two public charettes to obtain comments from the public for an initial recommendation for the residential density proposed by the Midtown property owners.
October 9, 2018:
City Council holds a workshop to discuss status of the “Small Area Plan” at the end of which Mayor Scott Singer and Council Member O’Rourke both have the City Manager agree to hold a second public charette on December 4, 2018. This second charrette was expected to address the residential density question and inquire of the public the number of units preferred for Midtown along with several other areas of concern.
November 14, 2018:
Although there had been no other public meeting nor any executive sessions with the City Council and legal counsel following the October meeting, the City Attorney, at the start of the November 14 meeting, without any public comment or input re-writes council history by misrepresenting the results and direction from the council to staff at October meeting. The City Attorney introduces into the record a memorandum that falsely proclaimed that the council concluded the “Small Area Plan” at the prior meeting and that the council had directed staff to prepare land use regulations eliminating residential in the Midtown area. Neither assertion is supported by the video record.
November 15, 2018:
Development Services Director, Brendon Schaad, sent an email to the consultant advising him that his contract was terminated and that “no further work, tasks and/or deliverables relating to Midtown need to be performed.” The email states that “based on the report made to the council on October 9, 2018, that the City staff is proceeding with its general planning efforts,” and cancelling the second public engagement charette scheduled for December 4, 2018.
That was not the conclusion of the City Council at the October 9, 2018 Workshop or the November 14, 2018 City Council Meeting.
On January 8, 2019 the City Council adopted Ordinance No. 5476 making numerous changes to the City’s Zoning Code of Ordinances regarding the Midtown area. This ordinance contains no authorization for residential development in the Midtown area. Videos of all these meetings are available on the City’s website.
When and how did the City Council give the City Manager and City Attorney the direction to cancel the second public engagement charette and terminate the contract with the consultant? There is no public record of this action being authorized by the City Council in open session.
When and how did the City Council give the City Manager and City Attorney direction to exclude residential development from the “Small Area Plan?” Again, there is no public record of this direction being authorized by the City Council in open session.
There is only one plausible explanation!
Council members must have met secretly outside the public view to discuss this change of course with the City Manager and/or the City Attorney, collectively or independently, and the City Attorney must have received direction from council members to proceed with land use regulations eliminating residential from Midtown. Also, the City Manager must have received authorization from council members to cancel the December 4th second public charrette. None of this is contained in any public record; no public record can be found to support these unexplained directional changes.
‘Backroom’ secret meetings outside the public view are strictly prohibited.
Such ‘backroom’ meetings are specifically designed to keep the public out of the process and, in this case, to prevent the Midtown property owners the ability to make their record of objection for any subsequent appeal or Circuit Court review. Not only are these tactics undemocratic and a violation of the political pact between the politician and the voter, this type of governance is arguably illegal: a textbook violation of the State of Florida Sunshine Laws.
Florida Statutes, Chapter 286.011, “The Sunshine Law,” states, “all meetings of any board or commission of any state agency or authority or of any agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision, except as otherwise provided in the Constitution, including meetings with or attended by any person elected to such board or commission, but who has not yet taken office, at which official acts are to be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, and no resolution, rule, or formal action shall be considered binding except as taken or made at such meeting. The board or commission must provide reasonable notice of all such meetings.”
The Statute has been interpreted to prohibit any evasive devices such as the use of someone (e.g. the City Manager or City Attorney) to act as a liaison or intermediary between City Council members to circumvent public meeting requirements. Still, the dramatic shift in the course of events following the October 9, 2018 Workshop and the November 14, 2018 City Council Meeting could only have been authorized by the City Manager with the City Attorney’s knowledge and, arguably, at the direction of the City Council.
In the City of Boca Raton, it is customary for the City Manager and City Attorney to meet privately with each City Council member to discuss upcoming City business. A regular practice that has been complained about on numerous occasions in open sessions and on the public record.
These behind the scenes meetings between the City Manager, the City Attorney and the City Council, where critical decisions about the future of the City are being made, deprive the public of any participation in the process and are arguably in violation of the Sunshine Law.
There are numerous Florida (AGO) Attorney General Opinions and numerous court filings that specifically prohibit said conduct, e.g., AGO 74-47 and Blackford v. School Board of Orange County, 375 So. 2d 578 (Fla. 5th DCA 1979).
Boca Raton City Manager Lief Ahnell has been the City Manager for over 20 years. Boca Raton City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser has been the City Attorney for a similar period. Both are keenly familiar with Florida’s Sunshine Law requirements. I have publicly criticized the City Administration for these backroom tactics on more than one occasion. These backroom tactics ought to be viewed as blatant and willful violations of the Sunshine Law.
The City Council should take measures to uncover how the above facts and circumstances came about. Such an investigation is within the Council’s power. The public is without investigatory authority to conduct such an investigation; to take sworn statements.
As in the Haynie situation, the City Council can exercise its power to investigate. However, not taking action by our elected officials may invite outside third party agencies to once again get involved.
Let’s hope it does not get to that point!!
Publisher of BocaWatch
In my June 4th article, about ‘The Sunset of Resident Friendly’, I commended Councilmember Andrea Levine O’Rourke on her position paper to the community where she opines that “we can’t stop development” and that “developers are reasonable business men and women” with development rights; a position shared by many including myself.
Only an entrenched, self-serving bureaucrat could be embarrassed by the financial state of Boca Raton. Somebody who, due to a paucity of imagination, an abundance of caution, a fear of responsibility, job insecurity, or all of the above, would rather sit on a $ 300 million budget surplus which is earning a whopping 1.08% interest than spend that money on making the quality of life better for Boca’s taxpayers NOW.
Unfortunately for our City Manager and his timid band of nut hoarders, all of this has come to light in Boca Raton’s 2018 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). It should be called the Incomprehensible Embarrassing Financial Report. The CAFR is indeed comprehensive.
At 200+ pages ( City of Boca Raton, FL – Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the Fiscal Year Ended September 30, 2018 ), it is difficult for the average resident to comprehend. So we asked some independent CPAs familiar with city finance experience to have a look, and here’s what they found:
- Boca has a tax base of $22.469 billion! That compares with Delray’s tax base of $9.6 billion. Boca has the highest tax base of any municipality in Palm Beach County and the fourth highest of the three South Florida counties behind Miami, Miami Beach and fort Lauderdale.
- Our total assets, including capital assets in 2018 were $1.116 billion. By contrast, the City of Delray had assets of $342 million. Our liabilities are $262 million.
- Boca currently holds $384 million in cash and investments, of which only $76 million is restricted.
- We are currently earning 1.08% on our blended average portfolio.
- If you subtract Boca’s liabilities of $262 million our net position is $886 million, a healthy increase of $5.5 million from 2017. For you CPA-challenged, “net position” is the difference between total assets and deferred outflows of resources, less liabilities and deferred inflows of resources.
- $155.8 million, or 18%, of the City’s net position is unrestricted, an increase of 35% or $40.4 million from 2017.
- Boca currently holds a small amount of debt, $72.1.
- Total revenue from government activities (taxes, fees, etc.) is $225 million with 36% of that from property taxes. Property tax receipts increased by $5 million in 2018 due to new construction and higher property values.
- Other taxes increased in 2018 by $5.76 million, of which $2.2 million was due to the new voter approved 1-cent “infrastructure” tax.
In short, Boca is rich. Sloshing in shekels. Tumescent with takings from taxpayers. We are the envy of our neighbors, and we should be celebrating the fact, not hiding it.
Why does most of this come as news to you? Because Boca’s financial position is not presented to the public in a way that is understandable and transparent. We should fix that by holding a workshop to engage the residents and to discuss Boca’s long-range revenue prospects, spending requirements, and options for additional spending. We should look at past CAFRs of Boca and other cities. Such a comparison might yield valuable intelligence and reveal important trends. This would help our elected officials ask better questions about the cost of longer-term obligations. Like the potential cost of the city’s promises for pensions and the retirement packages of current City staff.
Once our City Council (and the public) has a clear understanding of Boca’s strong financial position, there should be a public discussion about the way forward. I guarantee that you will hear from Mr. Ahnell and his number crunchers that we are not rolling in dough—that there are plenty of dark clouds on the horizon waiting to rain on our fiscal parade. “The surplus isn’t a surplus because” will be their mantra, as they try to hang on to their City Hall stash, or spend it on what they have planned. But let’s have that discussion in the public view, so that we can all decide what’s needed and what’s possible before we’re asked to vote on yet another special tax or new bond issue.
In the meantime we could be fixing our parks, improving our intersections, beautifying our public areas, subsidizing public transportation downtown, saving our beaches, building a world-class golf facility, creating more parking. The needs are obvious. So is the fact that we have the money. Hiding there in plain sight in the CAFR.