Saturday, March 3, 2018

TWO DOWN, TWO TO GO: Court voids 'misleading' ballot questions in Palm Beach Gardens

Describing them as 'vague' and 'misleading,' a court Friday invalidated two of four ballot measures that a 4-1 majority of the Palm Beach Gardens City Council placed on the March 13 municipal ballot.

Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Curley's action did not come as a great surprise, as numerous citizens and one council member, Matthew Lane, had been pointing out the defects in the questions since the ballot language was released at the end of last year.

The first question dealt with a grab bag of proposed charter changes that were described in "insufficiently descriptive" terms.

The second was a weakening of term limits that voters had approved with 80% of the vote in 2014. The ballot question asked "Shall the Palm Beach Gardens Charter be amended to provide for term limits for city council members which shall be effective retroactively for all sitting council members providing that no person may serve more than three (3) consecutive full terms?"

The measure was cleverly designed to solicit a yes vote from term limits supporters, even though the actual effect of the measure, if approved, would be to weaken the existing two-term term limits already approved by voters!

The Judge Curley's final word was damning:

“The failure to communicate that the amendment’s effect is to increase — rather than create — a term limit, renders the summary so misleading that it must be invalidated."

The election will still be held as scheduled, but only measures 3 and 4 will be valid. A citizens effort is under way to encourage voters to reject them both and close the book on this unsavory chapter of Palm Beach Gardens history.


The court victory represents the second time Palm Beach Gardens citizens have been forced to resort to the courts to preserve the popular voter-approved law.

In 2016, incumbent council member David Levy announced he was running again in defiance of the voter-approved term limits law and the political wagons -- with the assistance of Palm Beach Gardens City Clerk Patricia Snider and Palm Beach County's Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher -- circled around him. In that case, the courts also stood up for the voters against political malfeasance.

But court review isn't automatic.  In both cases corruption would have triumphed if it went unchallenged. Once again local lawyer James D'Loughy and plaintiff and resident Sid Dinerstein came to the defense of the voters.


Had the other four council members heeded the warnings of Matt Lane, the city could have saved a lot of money and embarrassment. Lane was the only council member to question the process and vote against all four proposed ballot questions.

Many of his comments at the Dec. 7 city council meeting were prescient:

"I believe the ballot language is so obscurely written  as to be subject to legal challenge and be voided for vagueness. I believe if we are going to make changes to the charter we need to specifically lay out what the changes are that we are asking for the citizens to approve..."

About the term limits proposal, he was even more forceful:

"The way that this ballot language is written (pause) ... It’s so deceptively written that it is guaranteed to be subject to a legal challenge. And you can feel free to quote me as a council member as part of the legislative history of this proposed ordinance in any legal proceedings that will inevitably be brought to challenge the ordinance...

"They are intentionally written in a manner that masks their purpose. If we are going to put these on the ballot we should at least be honest about what we’re doing."

On Friday, Judge Curley agreed and struck down two of the ballot questions. On Tuesday, March 13 Palm Beach County voters will have the opportunity to finish the job and vote down the remaining two.

Friday, December 8, 2017

FOLLOW THE MONEY: Palm Beach Gardens edition

Last night, the Palm Beach Gardens city council voted 4-1 (with Matt Lane voting 'nay') to place an amendment on the March ballot to overturn the term limits citizens initiative approved in November 2014 by 79% of Palm Beach Gardens voters. Citizen after citizen took the stand at the meeting with the message "don't touch our term limits." But one of the most illuminating was by resident Sid Dinerstein, a prime mover behind the term limits initiative:

Sid Dinerstein
SID DINERSTEIN: The first question I ask after having been here two months ago was how do five very well-intentioned city council candidates turn into five special interest apologists in a wink of an eye.  So, I do what everybody does when they have problems like that and I follow the money.

So here’s what I figured out: the extra three years you want the electorate to give you is worth $200,000 to each of you.

$30,000 plus for your base pay. $20,000 each of your own Cadillac health insurance packages. [To audience] How many of you people get one like that? And $10,000 for the pension that you get that we pay for that no one knows that you get. Then, additional thousands for mileage and giving reimbursements when you reach into our pockets instead of into your own.

Multiply that by three years and you just pocketed a cool $200,000.

Marc Pintel's new cap, custom made for him at the Gardens mall
Once I figured that out, I didn’t have to wonder anymore what happened to you guys. And why you are so unappreciative of the work we did when we put our hands in our pockets to get rid of the guys who were never leaving so we can have five new people just like you.

Furthermore, something that I am guessing you don’t know, in the David Levy term limits saga we the taxpayers, and this includes you, gave the city attorney $232,000. That’s what it came to for the privilege of trying to overturn the will of the voters.

MAJORITY OF ONE: Gardens Council Member stands up for the voters

Last night, the Palm Beach Gardens city council voted to place four amendments on the sleepy March ballot, one of which would overturn the 6-year term limits law approved in November 2014 by 79% of Palm Beach gardens voters in a high-turnout general election. While the self-serving majority rushed to extend their terms via their new term limits proposal, one council member brought the citizens to their feet with his thoughtful case for honesty and restraint. Here is Matthew Jay Lane's case for his sole nay vote:

COUNCIL MEMBER MATTHEW LANE:  ...I think the timing of these four proposals is extremely poor. We just had an election where over 20,000 Palm Beach Gardens showed up, 79% of them approved a citizen initiative that limited city council members terms to two consecutive three-year terms.  It seems to me that for this council who are sitting in our seats because of term limits to make it one of our first priorities to say that we want three more years in office -- it just seems like an amazing act of hubris, really terrible timing. It is saying to the the  80% of Gardens residents that came out that their vote didn’t mean anything. You gave us your opinion, and we don’t care.
Second, this proposal doesn’t address the most fundamental problem with the charter as it currently exists. Our terms in office need to be staggered. When I’ve spoken to the members of the charter review committee individually and when I have spoken to leading members of our community whom I respect , they’ve told me our terms need to be staggered. When this council took office the collective experience of the five members of this council were one year and seven months. There needs to be a mechanism put in place in this charter that obviates this problem.

This leads me to the third issue. The reason that the committees proposal doesn’t stagger the terms is because the members of the committee were not given sufficient time to complete their work. I attended a presentation by the vice chair of the charter review committee where she said the committee didn’t have sufficient time to look into the issue of staggering the terms and the facilitator of the committee, Dr. Lee, commented that this whole process was being done in weeks when it usually takes months to years  to appropriately and thoughtfully complete this task.

Fourth, the city shouldn’t be spending between $70-80,000 for a free-standing election where these important proposals are being hidden on a March ballot with the hope that they’ll be passed. Two-thirds of the registered voters voted for term limits in a general election where there was a high voter turnout. By placing this issue on the ballot this March we are permitting a small group of 1,000-2,000 people to overturn the vote of the 20,000 people who voted for a specific term limit.

Fifth, two of the five members of the charter review committee thought that we should have two four-year terms, which is really the norm across the country and the norm in the state of Florida. And I believe that the logic supporting this proposal is substantial and persuasive. And so I agree with two of the five members of the charter review committee on this issue. However, I have discussed this at a prior meeting and I won’t keep you here to hear my rationale again.

So, although I have high regard for the five people who agreed to serve on the charter review committee, I consider them as friends, and although as a matter of course I usually agree with these people 95% of the time, on this issue strongly disagree and I am voting against all four of the proposed changes to the charter. I believe the recommendations of the charter review committee were badly timed, rushed through without sufficient time to do the job right, are being hidden on the March ballot where very few people are expected to attend, and they are incomplete proposals...
... The public also needs to know that we as a council are receiving emails almost daily opposing the [council's new] term limits which were recently voted upon by 80%. If we pass these ordinances in the deceptive form in which they are written, we are intentionally -- these ordinances as written are intentionally attempting to deceive the public and we will be that type of politician that we are being accused of being in all these emails from our constituents who opposed these [new] term limits.
So for these reasons, I am voting against.
MAYOR MARIA MARINO: Sit down, please! No clapping, please!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fear and Loathing in Palm Beach Gardens

Clearly, the Palm Beach Gardens City Council fears and loathes the voters that elected them.

When voters approved a retroactive term limits initiative with 79% of the vote in 2014, the political establishment of this small city of gated communities and golf courses went berserk.

One council member, David Levy, simply refused to obey the new limits and City Clerk Patricia Snider and other officials lined up to defend their own in court against the citizens. To add insult to injury, they used the citizens' tax money to do it.

They lost in court, but the fight didn't end there. In their first term in office, the new crop of council members have taken a unified stand against the results of the 2014 elections, creating a new referendum to gut the term limits law. But they aren't going to offer this new amendment to the general electorate. How could they? The council already knows that 79% of the voters approve of the term limits.

PBG residents, please go here to send a quick email to the council and tell them:

Hands off our term limits!

Instead, at their Dec. 7 meeting, the council is expected to vote (first reading) to put an anti-term limits proposal on the March ballot tucked inside a series of amendments recommended by a phony, hand-picked Charter Review Commission. The council members know that turnout will be light, with maybe as few as 1,000-2,000 voters going to the polls. Compare this to the 20,000 who voted in 2014. The council members know that they can count on the special interest constituencies in the town to turn out their supporters and they can use Palm Beach Gardens resources to promote the measure.

Only with this deceitful multi-level scheme can they hope to overturn the expressed will of the voters. If this proposal is presented to the general Palm Beach Gardens electorate, it wouldn't have a prayer.

This move is particularly brazen when you consider that the Palm Beach Gardens Charter explicitly warns against corrupt referendum shenanigans like this one. See Sec. 26-7(a) Calling of Election: "Except as otherwise provided in the law or city charter, an election shall be held in conjunction with a regular state, county or city election." In spite of this clear direction, the council will vote Thursday to place the referendum alone on the March ballot.

In 2014, the voters gave Palm Beach Gardens 6-year term limits, just like Boca Raton, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. West Palm Beach and Wellington have 8-year limits. The Palm Beach Gardens proposal, if approved by a small subset of voters in March, would weaken the term limit to nine years, the weakest term limit in Palm Beach County!

Palm Beach Gardens residents are encouraged to email the council members and tell them to leave the voter-approve term limits alone. Also, at 5 p.m., prior to Thursday's council meeting, there will a sign-waving outside city hall at 10500 N. Military Trail, Palm Beach Gardens. Join us!

Monday, November 27, 2017

THE LOBBYISTS ARE COMING! Term limits a crucial defense against degenerating school board politics

Last year, the Orlando Sentinel revealed that candidates the Orange County school board were raking in campaign contributions from the building industry. At the same time, a school building boom is under way in Orange County, with plans to open 13 new campuses by 2020.
A representative of the Florida School Boards Association admitted such contributions were "quite typical," and indeed they are. There has always been a battle between parents and local special interests to hold the attention and favor of school board members. Due to the phenomenon of "concentrated benefits and dispersed costs," local special interests too often win out.
In response to entrenched incumbency and special interest relationships, there are two efforts to put 8-year school board term limits on the statewide ballot in November 2018. One is via legislation introduced to the legislature and another via the state's Constitution Revision Commission process.
But there is a new wave of soft and not-so-soft corruption emerging in our nation's school board politics that make this reform even more urgent. A new crew of lobbyists are coming, with hands full of cash to establish relationships with incumbent school board members who statistically are unlikely to lose their low-turnout elections.
To voice your support for a school board term limits referendum, you can contact the Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) here.
As the Economist put it in their Nov. 11 issue, elections to choose school boards "have historically been sleepy, low-turnout affairs. But in recent years they have become contentious, serving as proxies for the rancorous debate between advocates of education reform and teachers' unions." The Economist pointed to recent big money campaigns earlier this month near Denver and Las Vegas that have drew in $1.65 million and $15 million, respectively. In Florida, we saw a 2016 Collier County race swamped with special interest money to the tune of more than $350,000.
This is dangerous as once a candidate is on the board and has demonstrated they are reliable to special interests, the financial contributions come pretty much automatically. Such contributions are a good investment for lobbyists, as well over 80% of incumbents are regularly re-elected. Many run unopposed and elections are not even held.
Eight-year term limits will improve our school boards in several ways:
  • Term limits will encourage regular, open-seat elections.
  • Term limits encourages independence by the board, as term limits will regularly sever the relationships that grow between special interests and incumbent school board members.
  • Term limits improve citizen access to the process, both in running for office or working on meaningful campaigns.
  • Term limits encourage new faces and fresh ideas. Incumbent members often have their heels dug in over past political battles or are wedded to the special interests they have relied on for reelection.
  • Term limits mandate rotation in office which expands the circle of citizens with intimate knowledge of how the school board works.
  • Term limits encourage transparency and discourage corruption, both soft and hard.
Florida has term limits on its governor, lt. governor, state cabinet members, legislature, its largest counties and too many mayors and council members to count. It is time to bring this simple, effective and popular reform to our school boards.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Florida families cheer twin efforts to enact school board term limits

The times they are a-changin!

There are two efforts afoot right now to reform Florida's school boards, empowering parents above politicians, severing special interest relationships and opening parental access to the process. If either is successful, Floridians will be able to vote for 8-year term limits on their school board members in November 2018.

The first is emerging from Florida's Constitutional Revision Commission. The CRC is a 37-member body created to review the Florida state constitution and suggest amendments to be placed on the ballot for public approval. To make its way to the 2018 ballot, 22 of the 37 must vote approve the term limits amendment by May.

To voice your support for school board term limits, please go here.

Simultaneously, Florida State Sen. Gregg Steube of Sarasota is introducing a bill for the 2018 legislative session starting Jan. 9. The goal and language of the bill is nearly identical with that of the CRC proposal. If approved, it would allow voters to approve 8-year school board term limits on the November 2018 ballot.

"We have school board members all over the state who have been there well longer than two terms," Sen. Steube told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "I think we need some fresh blood."

On the CRC, the proposal comes from commission member Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member and past president of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members. Donalds has seen the need for term limits first-hand.

"Serving in office too long makes you more loyal to the institution as opposed to representing the people that put you there," she told the Naples News. She pointed out many board members have held their positions for decades.

And not all school board members are as public-spirited as Donalds.

One reason why some Florida school board members cling to their positions and oppose term limits is simply naked self-interest. Unlike states like Texas, Florida pays all of its school board members for what is essentially a part-time job. In Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Orange Counties, the salary is $44,443 annually. Compare this to school board members in New York, Houston and Chicago where school board members serve without pay. In fact most school board members nationwide do so as a public service, rather than a job, according to the National School Board Association.

Across the country, only 2% of school board members earn more than $15,000 a year. In Florida, they all do.

Keep in mind that school board members do not 'run' the school districts. That is the job of the school superintendent, generally an experienced professional who can be seen as the full-time CEO of the school district. Under the super you'll find numerous other levels of full-time professionals. This is the management team that 'runs' the district.

The school board's job is (in most districts) to hire and evaluate the superintendent, set priorities and approve the budget. But most of all, they -- as elected officials -- are there to represent parents, students and other citizens in an otherwise bureaucracy-driven process that is most attentive to the education industry and the state politicians who make the appropriations decisions.

Without term limits, mutually beneficial relationships form over time between the entrenched incumbents and these special interests. The school board members get paid handsomely and re-elected forever and the lobbyists, unions, politicians and bureaucrats are happy.

However, what about the children and their parents?  Where do they fit in?

The fact is, too often they don't.

We can change that next November, but first we have to get this idea on the ballot. We have two chances. Let's get to work.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Term limits coming to Pompano Beach?

Even as self-serving council members in Palm Beach Gardens try to gut their voter-approved term limits, citizens in other South Florida cities move forward undaunted to try to improve their local representation with term limits.

Petitions are now being circulated to put 8-year term limits and other reforms on the November 2018 ballot in Pompano Beach, Fla. Pompano is a city of about 100,000 on the Atlantic ocean just north of Fort Lauderdale in Broward County.

The grassroots effort is sponsored by a local group of activists called Citizens for Good Government. To put the proposal on the ballot, they need 6,208 valid signatures by April 1. To reach this goal, the group has set a goal of 8,000 signed petitions.

The group has published a website and a Facebook page, so it is easy to find the campaign and get involved.

Registered voters in Pompano Beach are encouraged to request petitions from the new Pompano Beach Term Limits website to sign and get signed by family, friends and associates.

Important note: You can print and copy petitions yourself for circulation. But city regulations require that the petitions be printed on both sides of one sheet of paper. Two-page petitions will not be counted as valid.

The petitions have started circulating and the group has a couple hundred in hand. The group needs contributions and volunteers, quick!  Please forward this info to everyone you know in Pompano Beach.