Friday, September 25, 2009

Cooper City Budget Comments and More...

The People are suffering in Cooper City. As of this month, there are over 360 properties either already foreclosed, or being foreclosed on. A Cooper City real estate agent recently reported in e-Foreclosure magazine that all the homes she has sold so far were either foreclosed or distressed. There are also numerous businesses being foreclosed on. The unemployment rate has also skyrocketed in our city, contrary to the belief of a few in city hall.

We’ve now adopted an increased budget and spending rather than a decreased budget and reduced spending. My proposal(s) to cut unnecessary and discretionary spending were either ignored by the staff and other members of the commission, or responded to with threats of proposed layoffs which may have created a crisis situation. I've never known of a city commission that didn't want to know the implications of their actions, until the new commission was seated. I simply attempted to lay a foundation and the groundwork for our city which needs to continue to move aggressively into the future at an affordable cost to our residents and business owners without raising taxes.

The adoption of a 23.2% increase in the fire assessment tax only illustrates the current governing body's inability to do the real work that is needed to bring Cooper City’s budget into reality mode. Absolutely no-one on the commission or staff did their due diligence and homework on the issue.

Also, the mayor is obviously not willing to lead the city into prosperity, nor is she willing to lead the way in cutting expenditures and has her head firmly planted in the sand. Being in a state of denial regarding the city and our residents is absurd, reckless and misguided. Cutting expenses more aggressively will leave a cushion of future reserves as well. This is not rocket science and as the old saying goes, “If you feed the beast, it grows. If you starve it, it will shrink.”

We are looking at several more years of extremely challenged times because of the unpredictable nature of the ad valorem tax base. Thank goodness there is one commissioner who places the city's residents and business owners as a priority.

Regarding the recent federal arrests of Broward politicians, public servants and civic leaders are supposed to hold the bar high on themselves before holding the bar high on others. A leader’s example is supposed to inspire and serve others. In my eyes, these public officials that were recently charged with public corruption sold us out for a pittance. Issues like this tarnish everybody who is in public service, even the employees. Sort of like the same way people generally think about lawyers. Thank goodness the FBI prosecuted them under the honest services fraud laws and then said "We are not done".

So what exactly is honest-services fraud? The typical case of honest services fraud is that the public is not getting what it deserves: honest, faithful, disinterested service from a public official. Honest Services Fraud is very broadly defined and encompasses any scheme to defraud citizens of an intangible right to honest government from public officials. A scheme to defraud is defined as "a departure from community standards of fair play and candid dealings” and/or “a willful act with intent to deceive or cheat."

I will also include that it is considered a deprivation of honest services as anything that encompasses the misuse of public office. Intent is all that is required to be found guilty. Concrete parameters outlining the duty of honest services should not be necessary in order for a person to be charged with violating this duty. The prosecution simply must show that the scheme would have deprived an individual of interests protected under the law. It all boils down to trust and betrayal.

A public official has a duty to disclose information regarding any personal interest that may affect his or her judgment and therefore undisclosed, biased decision making, regardless of tangible loss to the public, which constitutes a deprivation of honest services. How many times have we seen this violated in our own city business dealings? Not only are we required to disclose who we have spoke with on business matters, we are required to explain the substance of our communication, which is rarely, if ever done.

Public officials do not have to receive personal gain from their scheme. In general, courts have held that "The prosecution need not prove that the scheme was successful or that the intended victim suffered a loss, or that the defendant secured a gain. The gist of the offense is a scheme to defraud.” Need a summary? Here it is: "The loss of good faith services alone establishes the breach."

The city's sole role, according to the charter, is to protect the health, welfare and safety of The People and safety should be number one in my eyes. Our city government does not exist to promote business, economic development, or the welfare of selected public officials and their friends. In the terms of our own charter, the city government is supposed to be honorable.
Simple honestly is the core value of any system of government and ethics. The profound truth is that you cannot legislate truthfulness, fidelity, ethics or dedication. A public official is either honest or dishonest. If he or she is not completely honest in his or her dealings and decisions on behalf of The People, he or she will not be any more honest the day after a code of ethics is enacted than the day before.

Our residents and business owners want honorable, efficient and responsive local government. As such, I urge each and every person in our city to report to the proper authorities, any and all information regarding any personal interest that may affect the judgment of anyone on the commission, a staff member, an advisory board member, or vendor/contractor including any and all appearances of impropriety, no matter how small or insignificant, and whether in the past, present or future. Our government can only be ‘cleaned up’ and made completely honest with the help of The People that we are privileged to serve.

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