Monday, June 14, 2010

A Cooper City Ethics Proposal

I have placed an item on tomorrow’s commission agenda regarding Cooper City and ethics. I believe we must adopt, and add to, the proposed Broward County Ethics Ordinance. Some parts of it are great, yet it didn’t go far enough. We also need campaign reform along with a system of dealing with the dirty politics of late that have negatively plagued our great city.

Unfortunately, a city cannot ‘legislate’ integrity. It can write a code of ethics for officials and public employees, but it cannot impose honesty. Honesty must begin with public officials who believe in core civic values and morals. A public official must be honest in his or her own values. He or she must think to himself and declare to others; I will tell the truth, I will keep my word, I will be professional, I will treat citizens with respect, I will cooperate with business owners, I will do my job to the best of my abilities, I will listen to the public, and I will be progressive. As a public servant, I have tried to do just that.

In the terms of its own charter, city government is supposed to be honorable. City governments like Cooper City seem to sometimes operate in an ethical vacuum. Cooper City has no rules of ethics of any consequence. Not all corruption is blatant criminal conduct like bribery or vote fraud. For this we have laws, prosecutors and people like some of the recent county commissioners to make examples of. The real problem that undermines honorable government is "soft corruption". Intimidation, harassment of people who speak out, giving too short of a notice of pending actions to discourage debate, distortion of facts to mislead the public (outright lying), or evasive actions to avoid disclosure of conflicts of interests.

Simple honestly is the core value of any system of ethics. But as I said, you cannot legislate truthfulness, fidelity, or dedication. A public official is honest or not honest. If he is not honest, he will not be any more honest the day after a code of ethics is enacted than the day before. It really starts with honest people. How you get honest people to run for office and how you motivate voters are questions of political strategy, rather than ethics.

Unfortunately, Cooper City is now known as part of the cesspool of dirty politics (I myself use the term ‘politricks’ based on all the dirty tricks used against me by my past opponents and some on the current commission) in Broward County. The answer to political ethics and corruption is political action. There must be honest people who are willing to do something for the betterment of our city and speak out without fear of retaliation or fear the dirty tricks played upon them and their families. When honest people run for office, and voters put them in office and when these reformers do what needs to be done without compromise or lame excuses, whether it is better rules, programs, or education, then that is when real reform can begin.

Cooper City, as noted, has no code, or ethics training, of any sort. It has an interesting, but essentially useless provision concerning conflicts of interest. The state code of ethics, in part, applies to city officials, but is not vigorously enforced and has severe shortcomings. City commissioners have shown little interest in developing a public ethics program in our city. Thus, any implemented code of ethics can become "technicalities" in the hands of unscrupulous public officials, evadable with a little creativity. Rules, as they say, are made to be broken, and it happens consistently in our city.

The fact is, this city and most others like it are run by small groups of people. Most people don't vote. Less than ten percent of the resident’s control who will serve as public officials and what will be in the charter. Not many people attend commission meetings, or watch it on TV or the Internet, write letters to the editor, or even concern themselves with civic affairs yet they affect them directly. The people who have the stamina to read through this treatise are interested in local affairs and well informed, but how many residents of Cooper City even know who the city manager or their city commissioner is?

There are no signs that an uprising of the masses is about to occur demanding ethics reform. Residents seem more upset with property taxes, soaring insurance costs, government waste and other pressing economic and financial issues. People are probably more concerned with new trash collection rules than with abstract questions of public ethics. But, we don't need a mass movement. We just need public officials and employees to adhere to a good set of ethics rules and standards.

An official can be honest, but not be very professional. He can be competent, but uncivil and disrespectful. He can be gracious, but lie and do unlawful and dishonest things. Criminals are not necessarily brutes, but crude people are not necessarily liars and thieves. Yet most people would agree that lying, stealing, and cheating are wrong, even if many, on the other hand, are willing sometimes to forgive or overlook dishonesty. There is an agreed principle or imperative, a rational basis to ethics, a reason why it is wrong to lie, steal or cheat. The imperative in the case of the ethics of politics and government, is the public trust.

A public official is vested with the requisite powers to discharge the responsibilities of his office. Aside from the legal implications of giving someone in a public position this mantle of authority, the investiture of considerable power over the lives of ordinary people also represents the confidence that people have in the person who has, that is, is entrusted with, that power. As such, the public's trust is imperative.

Public trust is built upon the agreed principles of right conduct in civic affairs, such as truthfulness, fidelity, honesty, teamwork and professionalism. On the other hand, where the usefulness of local government in the service of special or insider interests is the political dynamic of the city, civic values and principles of right conduct such as these may be displaced. After all, speaking the truth or keeping one's word can be inconvenient. It sometimes also depends on the agenda you are trying to push at a commission meeting. An honestly informed public invites dissent and delay, so why would any public official admit his loyalties are not to the citizens? Your answer is probably right...

If ethics reform were a simple matter, the city could just copy a code of ethics from the many codes already in existence. It would then have its own set of guidelines for the right conduct of public officials and city employees which it does not have now. But would it have ethical government? The solution isn't that simple.

The competitive nature of elections invites dishonorable and corrupting behavior. We have seen that in our great little city, and it’s bad enough to make you want to wonder, why and/or how did it get so bad? What is so important to candidates and elected officials that would resort to the kind of politricks we have seen in Cooper City? It isn't the commission pay, but it certainly may be the money. It boils down to control in my opinion.

The council-manager structure, which turns the administration of the city over to a "professional", meaning non-political, highly qualified person selected after an exhaustive search, provides, in theory, a counterpoint to the seedy political side of government. Nonetheless, the key policy-making positions must remain elective to insure that citizens have the final say on public policy and in the conduct and character of public officials. There seems to be no better way to select city commissioners than by a vote. It just needs to be an honest vote, not one supported by political action committees, non-profit organizations and fraudulent absentee ballots.

Public ethics are grounded on values which reflect the agreements of the community on the right conduct of public officials and the proper functions of local government. This does not necessarily result in honesty, truthfulness, or professionalism as these may not be the dominant civic values of a community, although they should be. Consequently, there is an institutional basis for corruption in politics and government that cannot be overcome by a simple statement of rules and procedures.

The personal integrity of public officials and city employees is the basic component of any system of ethics. Honest officials tell the truth, keep their word, do a good job, set aside personal interests which conflict with the public interest, do the best they can in representing their constituents and faithfully serve the citizens of the city. They do not steal or misappropriate public funds, even under a pretext of serving the people. In both their personal and public lives, they try to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

While good government always starts with good people, the operating philosophy of the city government sets a standard for official conduct which transcends the personal integrity of its individual members. Is city government an open and responsive government, or one operated by and for insiders, with information concealed and the public record distorted to support special causes? Is public opinion casually and arrogantly disregarded, with public business conducted in the shadows? Yes to both questions.

If the leaders of the community do not set the proper standards, it is the right of the citizens to write the standards. The city charter amendment should insure that people are able to get complete and accurate information from the city and require that the business of the city be conducted in the open and with fairness to all concerned. The problem is, it may or may not be in writing, and it may or may not be practiced as it should be.

Any City Charter should read: The citizens of Cooper City, in order to protect the health, welfare and safety of its residents, and promote honorable, efficient and responsive government, hereby adopt a Code of Ethics.

This is the agenda item I have placed on the agenda for discussion at tomorrow night’s city commission meeting. Although it is a proposal, and modeled after some great ethics codes and campaign practices, it needs to be addressed, refined and implemented.

As such, the ethical city official should:
Properly administer the affairs of the city.
Promote decisions and votes which only benefit the public interest.
Actively promote public confidence in city government.
Keep safe all funds and other properties of the city.
Conduct and perform the duties of the office diligently and promptly dispose of the business of the city.
Maintain a positive image to pass constant public scrutiny.
Evaluate all decisions so that the best service or product is obtained at a minimal cost without sacrificing quality and fiscal responsibility.
Inject the prestige of the office into everyday dealings with the public employees and associates.
Maintain a respectful attitude toward employees, other public officials, colleagues and associates. Effectively and efficiently work with governmental agencies, political subdivisions and other organizations in order to further the best interest of the city.
Faithfully comply with all laws and regulations applicable to the city and impartially apply them to everyone.

The ethical city official should not:
Engage in outside interests that are not compatible with the impartial and objective performance of his or her duties.
Improperly influence or attempt to influence other officials to act in his or her own benefit.
Accept anything of value from any source which is offered to influence his or her action as a public official.

There are many more issues and details to consider, but the most difficult issue to be addressed in ethics reform is how to create a tribunal to consider allegations of unethical conduct which is itself immune from politics and corruption. To be effective, such a tribunal should have subpoena power as well as the power to make findings and determinations which respect to any complaint. It must be impartial and truly independent of any political influences or favoritism. The complaint process, also, should be made as simple as possible so that there is full citizen access.

The important features of this model are that members are appointed in a manner which makes it difficult for political officials subject to its jurisdiction to unduly influence its proceedings, and it employs independent counsel.

If ethics reform is to be successful in a community, it must be viewed as a comprehensive program with several components. One component is the body of rules, guidelines and procedures which are designed to maintain public trust in the city government. Ideally, the code of ethics will be grounded upon a wide consensus in the community favoring honest and ethical government. This component would also include government openness, transparency and access to all.

A second component is an authority, an ethics commission created to be as independent as possible, to consider and rule upon ethical issues. Again, ideally, the ethics commission will be comprised of "experts," that is, people who uniquely and substantially qualified to serve in this role, and people who have little or no personal interests in local politics. The commission should also be able to employ special consultants, investigators and masters, and should be advised by its own counsel.

Third, a training program should be devised and seriously administered to all employees, vendors and commissioners. Fourth, the ethics commission should have adequate administrative support, and the support element should be independent of the city administration. The support element, or another element, could be given some summary authority to deal with minor infractions.

We also need serious campaign and election reform. It really does not matter whether money, that is, the expenditures of a candidate, is the determinative factor in the outcome of a typical election. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems as if it is. What is important is that people give money to candidates in order to gain influence. This is why the contribution reports are interesting, to see who may get an advantage when the candidate is elected. If a candidate receives a large percentage of his campaign finances from developers, it is presumed that he will give consideration to developer interests in his votes over what is perceived to be the better public interest.

Cooper City has nothing pertaining to campaign contributions, thus candidates can receive up to $500 per contributor and, doubtless, some contributions are bundled, especially to the mayoral candidates. If limitations modeled on the Sarasota laws were enacted, it would be a new ball game in Cooper City at election time. Candidates can say that contributions from developers don't influence their decisions all they want, but most common-sense people know better.

In addition to finance issues, we need ethical issues to be enacted in Cooper City elections. I can say first hand that I have seen the worst, unethical politricks in our city, and it emanates from a choice few individuals and groups who do not have your, or the city’s best interests at heart. I can honestly say that some in city hall, and their supporters, despise me more than they love their city! How sad…

Aristotle viewed hate as a desire for the annihilation of an object that is incurable by time. In psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud defined hate as an ego state that wishes to destroy the source of its unhappiness. It can also be used to disparage a person or group of people based on their social or ethnic group, such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, ideology, social class, occupation, appearance (height, weight, skin color, etc.), mental capacity, and any other distinction that might be considered by some as a liability. The term is also sometimes called antilocution and is simply a measure of prejudice in society.

I don't know if the citizens of Cooper City are interested in an honest, caring government or not. Only five or six citizens attend the meetings of the commission on a regular basis, if that. There has also been little discussion about the wrongs that have been blatantly committed, and the betrayal of the public trust that had been alleged in our city. The importance of everyone adhering to uncompromising integrity and ethics rules is paramount, but rules alone can’t guarantee ethical conduct. Only people can do that. Responsibility to uphold a code of ethics for public officials must be in everything we do, and it starts at the top. As such, we need to implement it at the top, starting tomorrow.

Excerpts used with permission DeerfieldBeachUSA.com

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Red Light Cameras – Facts Are Stubborn Things, Cooper City Mayor

Red Light Cameras – Facts Are Stubborn Things, Mayor

"He (she) uses statistics as a drunken man (woman) uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

According to Mayor Eisinger, (See this Agenda, Item 11) “To date, research collected from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (www.iihs.org), the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (www.fhwa.dot.gov), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.gov), report that Red Light Cameras do actually reduce the number of “t-bone” accidents at intersections caused by red light running (which are far more dangerous than rear end collisions).” Dominant theme: 'Red lights are good for all of us'...trust me!

Not so fast, Mayor! A Virginia Transportation Research Council research report by Nicholas J. Garber, Ph.D, P.E. (et al) entitled 'The Impact of Red Light Cameras (Photo-Red Enforcement) on Crashes in Virginia' strongly disagrees. This meticulous study, carried out over a 7 year period and over a large sample area (The entire State of Virginia), concludes that on average and over time, a small (statistical) reduction in injury crashes is observed overall, with the incidence of minor, or non-injury crashes increasing to the extent that “When these results are aggregated across all six jurisdictions, the cameras are associated with a net increase in comprehensive crash costs (emphasis mine).” The study concludes; “[t]hese results cannot be used to justify the widespread installation of cameras because they are not universally effective (emphasis mine).” In essence, according to this exhaustive and highly respected study, red light cameras are universally ineffective and have the added burden of actually increasing costs! Ladies and gentlemen, facts are stubborn things. You can read all about a Florida based red-light camera study here, from the Florida Health Review, which mirrors the Virginia study in regards to being hazardous to your health.

Our mayor goes on (my comments in brackets) “Under the newly adopted law, which goes into effect July 1, a $158 fine will be assessed against owners of vehicles caught on camera running red lights. Of that amount, $75 will go to the local government entity. The remaining fees would go to the State, and the State is required to use $10 for health care (government boondoggle) and give $3 to the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis for brain and spinal cord research (another government boondoggle. Why not crash safety research, yellow light timing fixes, or a road traction study?). In the event the State runs the program through the Department of Highway Safety, $100 of the fine will go the State’s general revenue fund (padding out the budget) and $45 to the municipality in which the violation occurred (again, padding the city budget - maybe for a new city hall - and divvying up the spoils). The registered owner of the vehicle would get ticketed, regardless of who was actually driving the vehicle.” Increased taxes, costs that come out of the subject's citizen's pocket.

As I have said repeatedly since this debate began, “It's all about the money!” Consider “a $158 fine will be assessed against owners of vehicles caught on camera running red lights (emphasis mine).” There is no attempt to find the actual driver of the vehicle, no effort is made to determine culpability for these infractions, the system simply takes a photo and sends the bill to the registered owner. Under this system, If I borrow Mayor Eisinger's car (an unlikely event, but bear me out) and drive through a red light, she gets the bill. Hooray! And...I get off 'Scott free'. Hey Mayor, can I borrow your car..pleeze? I feel like running a lot of red lights today! Add to that the increased insurance premiums assessed against all of these rear-enders and now we're talking real, serious, new city hall money, both the various governments and the insurance companies cash in on hard earned our dime...Cha-Ching!

When considering legislation one is always obliged to ask “Is this new law 'legal' ?” We shall soon see, as there are numeorus court cases and appeals in the making.

The fifth amendment to our Constitution clearly states: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence (sic) to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation (emphasis mine).” Clearly this law deprives me of my rightful property without the due process of law. Try replying to one of these 'auto-tickets' with a photograph of $158 and see what happens! In fact, in a recent Red-Light camera case, the lawyer subpoenaed the camera itself as a witness, and it failed to show up for court, as a prime witness. Case dismissed for lack of a witness!

Moreover, the sixth amendment to our Constitution clearly states: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence (sic) (emphasis mine).” Am I to assume that in order to defend a charge arising from my car running a red light (not me, personally), my legal defense will be obliged to subpoena the red light camera as my accuser (as happened already)? Are they sentient or intelligent enough to answer rhetorical questions and/or affirm that they saw me drive my car through a red light at a given date and time? Of course not. The law is written to pad budgets, not punish lawbreakers or make running red lights safer. Simply having a police officer'sign off' on a citation does not make it so.

Once again, I find myself opposed to the local 'legislation' of a petty tyrant, intended to further suppress the rights and freedoms of ordinary people and deprive them of their rightful property (money) in pursuance of an agenda driven by the logic of socialism and the nanny state, not the solid principles our founders laid down for us in our constitution. Instead of casting about looking for ways to increase revenues by reducing unnecessary expenses and pad out the city coffers, our mayor should be taking steps to increase red light safety by utilizing proven engineering methods, reign in the wasteful and unnecessary spending rampant within, and under her disgraced administration, cutting taxes and putting the money back where it belongs – in the pockets of you, We The People. If my car commits a crime, take it up with my car, not me. Please join with me in reminding our mayor whose money she's trying to steal (for a new city hall maybe?) and tell her a resounding NO! to these ridiculous schemes, now and in the future.

Yes, mayor, facts are stubborn things. Behind every scheme there's a schemer, wringing her hands and drooling over all the ways to deprive us of our hard earned property and money. Enough already! Again, go and re-read your sacred oath, unless it means absolutely nothing to you...

Contact Mayor Eisinger at (954)434-4300 ext. 260, or via e-mail at: mayor_eisinger@coopercityfl.org and tell her to stop trying to steal your hard earned money thorough local resolutions, ordinances and majority commission votes!

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Cooper City BSO Catches Robbers!

BSO Commander Stoner recently advised that there were 2 robbers were caught early this morning on the East side of Cooper City.

The robbers broke into vehicles in the Embassy Lakes subdivision last night, and this morning in Country Address.

The robbers were caught in the Country Address subdivision.

Many of you may have heard the BSO helicopter orbiting overhead early this morning.

A reminder..PLEASE keep your doors and windows locked at all times, set your alarms, do not leave valuables in your vehicle, and report any and all suspicious activity immediately to BSO, no matter how slight.

The purpose of government is health, safety and welfare of the community at large, with your safety, and that of your family and business being our number on priority.

We need your help in keeping our neighborhoods safe and secure.

You can read mor about safety tips on my blog at http://www.johnsimsblog.com and at http://johnsims3.blogspot.com/2010/04/crime-prevention-tips-for-cooper-city.html

Have a great and safe weekend!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Sky Won’t Fall In Cooper City If Amendment 4 Passes

Opponents of Florida Hometown Democracy’s Amendment 4, developers and land-speculators, have been successful in scaring many local governments with misinformation.

Unfortunately, many local governments aren’t even researching these bogus claims. They’re just accepting them and passing resolutions saying that the sky will fall if Amendment 4 is passed.

Overdevelopment helped crash Florida’s economy. We currently have over 400,000 vacant dwellings. Local governments helped create the building boom by charging artificially low impact fees to builders, and not requiring them to fund the needed infrastructure (roads, schools, water, sewer, safety). In spite of what politicians tell their constituents, development doesn’t pay for itself, as numerous studies have proven (Jacksonville, Sarasota, Hillsborough, etc.). It costs government more to provide infrastructure and services for new development than it receives in new tax revenue. [Note: Some in the form of impact fees, or even 'donations' of fire trucks]

Our State-mandated long-range growth plans are meant to place services and population in an organized and efficient manner so as to improve our quality of life, prevent sprawl, and keep taxes lower. But these well-thought-out plans are constantly being changed, every time a developer wants to build something that conflicts with existing plans. Instead of asking developers to conform to our plans, our politicians quickly cave-in and approve the plan changes.

This is occurring everywhere at an alarming rate because our politicians can’t seem to say no to developers. If you look at most politicians’ campaign-contribution records, they receive a sizable amount from development interests (sometimes more than 50%). Is it surprising that they approve most of the plan changes submitted by developers? As an example, the Hillsborough County Commission approves over 92 percent of submitted plan changes.

Most counties are in dire straits because of overdevelopment and inadequate infrastructure. Do the Legislature, local politicians, chambers of commerce offer a solution? No, their solution is more of the same. They say, “Don’t change anything … we like it this way … we need to make it easier for developers so they can quickly build still more homes … we’ll have to raise your taxes to add and widen roads and provide basic services, but it’s worked well for us politicians, and our developer partners love it, too.”

What will Hometown Democracy’s Amendment 4 do?

• It’ll provide a simple and balanced approach to planning for our communities.

• It adds only one step – your vote -- to the existing process for changing growth plans.

Citizens will have a say in the future of their communities. Shouldn’t we residents have meaningful input in deciding where the next 3,000-home subdivision will go, or the next airport, or the next supermall?

• It’ll help force business interests/developers to stick to a community’s plan.

• Local governments will be more cautious in approving developer-initiated changes because citizens will veto bad-growth decisions.

• As the number of privately-initiated changes is reduced, process costs will decrease, and governments will be able to do more long range planning.

• The approval of plan changes will still be in the hands of elected officials and their staffs as it is today. The only difference is that voters can agree or disagree with the officials when the item reaches the ballot, as the last step in the process.

The only changes that residents will vote on will be major land-use changes to their growth plans. Voters will not vote on zoning, rezoning, variances, building permits, etc. Depending on the size of the city or county, the estimated number of ballot items would be from one to five per election.

• Amendment 4 won’t stop anyone from building. Florida is “shovel ready” as we speak. It does not require a change in any growth plan to build a building. Current land-use designations already in place allow enough home-building to accommodate another 100+ million people, without ever making another change. More than 1.3 billion-square-feet of additional commercial floor area (13,000 Walmarts) is already approved on our growth plans. Pre-approved land is everywhere. When the market rebounds there’ll be nothing to stop business from building. Amendment 4 will simply assure that building occurs in these pre-approved, appropriate, rational places.

Look at your own community. The bad growth decisions that we have to live with are all too obvious. Amendment 4 is needed. We need a seat at the table on land-use decisions that can directly and irreversibly harm our pocketbooks and our quality of life.

George Niemann (813) 662-7100
Tampa-area Amendment 4 regional coordinator
Hillsborough County
George_n@verizon.net

Reprinted with permission