Doing Homework ~ Avoiding Cliffs

I know, I know…it’s Saturday, and as such, I typically post a little graphic with a quote or something short and  sweet. No one wants homework, especially on the weekend, BUT I feel there is an important topic to address. If you dare read on (it’s quite detailed), please, by all means do. If you are a citizen of Lake Park, what I will say may matter to you because an ordinance is being considered that we as residents and citizens will be bound by upon it’s final vote. It could have lasting effects upon us. It will afford some new rights to the town and perhaps remove some from the individual or property owner. (The way it’s stated now, the ordinance is quite open to interpretation and I find many things here questionable.) Citizens must guard their personal and property rights very carefully and consider what the abdication of them may mean in the future. This is in regard to the vote on the Ordinance 05-2011 Bank Registration (Please do not be misled by the name.) which will go for further vote soon. Please read on. Included near the end is a link to the ordinance and pasted below that are my specific concerns regarding sections of the ordinance.

Jumping Off Cliffs

Everyone is jumping off cliffs. Maybe not literally, but that is, in so many words, what the Town Attorney may as well have said at last Wednesday’s Town Commission meeting. He was speaking of proposed ordinance, 05-2011 regarding Bank Registration in terms of foreclosed homes in town. Palm Beach County is doing this, he eagerly reported. He stated this in order to encourage passage of the ordinance by the commission. He stated that Palm Beach County passed the first reading of an ordinance similar to the one we were about to vote on.

Yeah, so what? Did his mother never teach him about “everyone” and “jumping off bridges or cliffs”? And just because it passed first reading doesn’t mean they will end up adopting it in the end.  And if the County runs like our town, and everything is just brought up for a quick rush-to-vote, and everyone just says “aye” and “nay” without thorough investigation, even if they do vote it in, what does their vote really even tell us?  Shouldn’t we have a little more to go on than what everyone else is doing? Shouldn’t we care about more than the latest thing? We aren’t “everyone”, we are Lake Park, and it’s high time we do our own homework and think for ourselves.

This “everyone’s-doing-it-logic” was also used earlier in the same meeting during a push for a vote on allowing a raise in town health insurance premiums. You will hear this often from our town officials. Rather than study an issue and think things fully through for themselves, some merely follow the lead of others and do what their cohorts in the League of Cities or other organizations and municipalities are doing. I’m not so sure I agree with what those entities are doing. Maybe we shouldn’t be following. Do we know which municipalities we are being asked to copy, and what do we know about the ones that we are being encouraged to emulate? I find the copycat reasoning ridiculous and haphazard. And worse… it is careless, and it’s an abandonment of our commissioners’ duty to us. They should know exactly what they are voting on and how it will affect us. Does anyone out there wonder why I and others are questioning these people as well as their decisions and motives?

I am curious. In the municipalities whose footsteps we have been directed to follow by the Town Attorney and Town Manager… how many have actually FULLY adopted this type of legislation and had sufficient time to test and prove that it’s worthy? We weren’t presented that information. Doesn’t it make greater sense that if they’ve already jumped the gun and run headlong over the cliff first, that we would wait to hear if there might be a rather loud thud when they hit rock bottom? Why not let them make the initial jump to test and prove whether it’s of value for us or whether it proves to be a waste of time? Why not let their trial and error actually serve us? Why not take stock of the actual lessons learned first and go from there? Is there some tangible track record of theirs we are being asked to go on in order to know how this legislation ACTUALLY works versus how everyone would LIKE it to work? If so, why were we not told those facts and specifics?

During the discussion, the Mayor randomly chimed in, out of the blue, as our commission members are known to do, and made a leading statement about the item up for vote. This time it went something like: This is an efficient way to take care of the abandoned house issue. Period. Huh? Efficient? Based on what? Hopes and dreams? What in this ordinance is efficient? Has he read it? He gave no indication there was anything to back up his statement. Odd, especially when you read it and all you are left with is questions about how this could possibly be effective.

I personally find the fact that the Mayor said what he did to be of concern. It gave the sense that he was acting as a consensus driver on the issue and that his job in the discussion was merely to lead the group to a predetermined outcome. I would rather he spend time reading, thinking and being concerned about the issues rather than getting the Town Manager and Town Attorney’s vote passed for them.

I read this thing through once and immediately had a whole lot of questions related to the seeming inefficiency of this ordinance, the added costs to the town, the paperwork, lack of ability to hold anyone to this and the personal property issues, not to mention the concern that these homes might end up looking later on just as they did prior to this ordinance being passed. If the same code officers that cruise the rest of the town are in charge of these homes, I wouldn’t expect much.  Have you looked at the state of many properties in town? How are the already-busy officers going to fit all of this new work in? How is all of this to be funded?

So it seems this ordinance must not actually be proven to work. If it had been, the Town Attorney would certainly have lauded the proof. Instead he gave us a generalized statement that many municipalities have begun to adopt it, or in the case of Palm Beach County, he stated that it had passed first reading there, as if that does anything more than tell us to go along with the crowd (get on board with the consensus.) Think: blind following blind. What does that statement by the attorney mean? It means nothing! If there was something to hold up to us as evidence of the wisdom of this, we would have heard all about it. Common sense, anyone?

What might be helpful would be to hear what the outcome was over time for those who actually have adopted and tested this legislation. Wouldn’t it be helpful to do a cost and probability analysis for Lake Park first if the town is so hell-bent on this. Why not do such a study first rather than after we have sunk our money and a Special Magistrate and new hires into it, along with all else that will eventually be involved.

I would like to know what the implementation of this ordinance will cost us.

This is the kind of thing our town jumps into, calling it something good (in the name of the homeowners) and then the homeowners are the ones who pay for it later in multiple ways. (Think parking meters, interlocal agreement, for starters.) What is the town really hoping to get out of this? I suggest, they are being led this way in order to get money, perhaps large sums of money when the bank doesn’t keep up these homes. I also suggest, the Town knows the banks won’t keep the properties up and thus, the potential payoff. I feel this is being proposed as much in the hopes of raking in revenue when the banks don’t follow through, as it is with the expectation that foreclosed homes will suddenly become neat and trim, looking lovingly cared for. I also suggest we consider that the Town may try and use this to buy up more land in Lake Park, as they have already done on more than one occasion. Sure, go ahead, call me cynical.

Oh, you didn’t know about the homes our town has purchased? As soon as I find a link to that information, I will update this post.

All of a sudden, after this is fully in place, someone will realize the process is costing us in  money and man hours, paperwork and time spent tracking down the owner, etc. After it is implemented, and it gets dicey, someone will most likely say, “can we get a cost comparison study on this to see how much we are making compared to how much it’s costing us?” (Again, think Parking Meters, just for starters.) How about for once we do the comparison and cost analysis first if we must go forward, rather than fumbling our way into this only to find it is actually detrimental.

Someone mentioned that this ordinance will ensure that lending institutions are responsibly caring for these properties. Really? How? If they are not responsible now, why would more forms and regulations make them responsible? If banks carry large fines already because they don’t take care of properties, what makes anyone think they will suddenly gain a conscience and follow through and start paying up? If they were going to be responsible, they would have done so without this. Someone tell me why we’re really trying to pass this ordinance that will be one more binding piece of legislation upon us?

Is there time to stop this? I believe this needs to be thoroughly considered and then if they still want to go through with it, they should make some changes first. Better yet, they should wait and implement this only after it has been in effect for the surrounding towns who have gone before… you know, the cool trend-setting municipalities who are part of the in-crowd that certain town officials are so fond of following… you know… the others who are going off of cliffs.

And could someone tell me why the discussion of a new ordinance is not something that requires public notification? To me, an ordinance that we are bound to is a big deal. And why, when items are given public notice in the newspaper, are they not made note of on the front page of the town website as well? Aren’t more people likely to go there to see what’s going on in town than to go and check the newspaper and search through classified ads looking for public notices?

It sure seems like information is made as difficult to obtain as possible. Would it kill the town to update their site with relevant information regarding issues and things being decided in our town? I would never think of looking in the newspaper to find town information, especially when we have a website. If informing the public is the Town’s goal, which I seriously doubt, they would constantly update the information on the home page of their website instead of making that information difficult to come by.

The website is, instead, a convoluted treasure hunt waiting for someone to spend vast amounts of time while trying to find relevant information. By the time one finds what they are looking for (if they ever do) the vote in question has often already taken place. There’s a lot of outdated info and generic information on the town site, but nothing regarding a new ordinance about to be established, to which residents will be legally bound. As the town tends to do, they just “move forward” and pass things in rapid fire succession, “on our behalf”, of course..

Case in point and I think this is important: On Wednesday night, at the very end of the commission meeting, suddenly without warning, Commissioner Stevens (for the 2nd time, maybe the 3rd) brought up, out of the blue, the subject of the Special Magistrate, as if it has been lying like a burning coal on his heart. He had brought it up with great enthusiasm the week prior at the budget workshop for no apparent reason either. It was rather odd both times; quite the strangest thing. On Wednesday night, the meeting was about to be adjourned and no mention of the Special Magistrate or a vote in that regard was indicated on the agenda. I believe I read somewhere that there was also supposed to be a separate hearing, discussion and a vote in regard to a Special Magistrate on some future date. However, at this mention by Commissioner Stevens, like a bolt of lightening out of a clear sky, the Mayor said “All in favor?” and a vote was taken approving Gary Brandenburg as the Town’s new Special Magistrate. Again, I say, “huh?” Interesting in light of this proposed bankruptcy ordinance that the Special Magistrate was suddenly rushed for a vote. And who is Gary Brandenburg? He had never been brought before the commission for questioning and had only been briefly mentioned for the first time at the previous July 13th meeting. I believe this vote was completely out of order; it is suspect, and should not be allowed to stand.

Part of the  reason I am so curious about the Special Magistrate vote is that when going through the detailed and somewhat-convoluted bank ordinance information, in 54-108, it mentioned that the town’s Special Magistrate would be responsible for presiding over hearings with the owner who’s property has been confiscated, etc. I thought it odd that a vote could be taken about this ordinance at that time, even a first reading vote, because at that time we didn’t even have a Special Magistrate. Do you follow? Is this ordinance the only reason we are hiring a Special Magistrate? Does it seem interesting that obtaining one had to be oddly rushed ahead by the end of the night and the town’s “collective” butt covered quickly? (I use the word “collective” purposefully because “a collective” is also where we seem to be heading in this town.) Someone please pay attention to this whole mess. I have done some of the homework. You’ve heard my thoughts on the matter. It may amount to something or not, and you may or may not agree with my concerns, but I would have been remiss as a citizen not to address them.

So, I link here to the Proposed Ordinance found within the 080311 Agenda and have pasted below my  notes on Ordinance 05-2011 which lists my concerns in regard to specific sections. I ask that if any commissioners read this blog, even now and then, and see this, please read and consider these concerns as well, if you will.

Please consider waiting on this ordinance until all the cool kids you know have made the jump off the cliff ahead of you. Please wait and listen. If you hear the sounds of wailing as the others hit bottom, then I suggest you have your answer. If you see them rise up and soar upon wings like eagles in regard to the management of foreclosed homes, then you can rush your vote through then and be no worse for the delay. Honestly, what’s the rush?

After all, we might like to steer clear of cliffs for a while.

Now for the real homework…

My Notes on Ordinance 05-2011

I am especially concerned about this ordinance which has already come up for a first reading vote. Once again, what is decided here binds the residents of the town and places more power in Town hands and puts questionable policies into place regarding rights of property owners. It seems open for multiple interpretations by the town and the possibility of being misused.

Question for consideration: Do I have more or fewer personal property rights as a result of this legislation?

The following are certain sections that caught my eye and left me with questions or concerns:

Sec. 54-105 Maintenance Requirements

  1. What’s the difference between this in regard to abandoned houses and other occupied houses in Lake Park that are just not maintained? (This could describe many Lake Park houses on certain days.)

Code enforcement doesn’t enforce consistently the codes on the homes that have residents. Why do we expect them to enforce this consistently and well?

This ordinance seems to be all about fees, regulations, paperwork and government bureaucracy. Is it merely a means by which the town hopes to create revenue?

On any given day in Lake Park, codes seem randomly enforced and then certain homeowners get fined based on random, undetermined feelings of the code man. Ask the people of Lake Park about the code officer, and you will see fire in their eyes and venom on their lips. Everyone I speak to in this town has a whole lot to say on the matter of town codes and the code officers. Why are we adding fuel to the fire with this?

54-106 Security Requirements

  1. Broken windows shall be secured by reglazing or boarding windows. (How is this any better than what is going on now? I have driven around and seen boarded homes and they ARE the eyesore.). Why write that in, especially as means of fixing? We might as well do nothing rather than this, because many homes already look like that. (Thank you Commissioner Longtin for addressing this at the meeting.)

How will the Town collect from the Mortgagees, since I assume this is about money and control. The Town hopes this will be a source of revenue, right? Why would the banks register the properties if they already have properties they are not caring for and yet do not chose to do anything about them? If lending institutions were responsible, they would have already done something and not racked up fines already. Do you honestly think adding more paperwork and bureaucracy is going to suddenly make them develop a conscience and responsibility in these matters?

  1. Sign placed visibly in window or by front yard – How will code officers have time for all this? How much will signage cost? Do we hire more people for this? With what budget?

How will you be able to collect later if mortgagees aren’t paying now? Are we then looking at litigation and the costs associated with that?

Town Magistrate – at the time of the proposal of this ordinance and the first vote, we didn’t even have one yet, but it was still voted on as if we did.

54-107 Immunity of enforcement officer – This needs to be addressed. It is of concern.

I know Commissioner Longtin was trying to be diplomatic in regard to this and her concern was actually that we CAN”T just allow for complete trust and immunity of enforcement officers, in regard to individual property rights of our citizens, but in regard to code and enforcement officers and others being so above board as to not do anything untoward in regard to their ability to enter buildings that do not belong to them…. we can never assume this. Personal property rights are of the utmost importance and we should never assume everyone will be on the up and up, especially in government, especially when the door is left wide open. And I will suggest such impropriety happens more than you know. I know someone who actually had a code enforcement officer who came into their house when they were not home, hoping to find something he could fine them for. I found it funny that the Town Attorney said to Commissioner Longtin in response to her concern: “As with code officers, you don’t have the ability to trespass.” Oh really, Mr. Attorney? That seems a little naive coming from a lawyer and in respect to this person’s actual experience to the contrary.

54-108 Additional Authority

This states that the Community Development Director has the authority to require additional maintenance, etc. on property. (This leaves things wide open for additional requirements to be added at will. The government’s rights should be enumerated. Commissioner Longtin brought this up, and I believe this needs to be removed from the ordinance or clarified as to what extent additional items can be added later, if at all.)

Sec. 54-109 Removal of abandoned personal property authorized

a. Abandoned property left outside of a structure is also up for grabs by the town.

  1. The enforcement officer will find the owner and cite them based according to this, on PRESUMPTION. And how much time will this consume? If they have to find the owner after all the registration etc., then it will be no different than it is now. It will only prove that the registration process doesn’t work and if you are already presupposing they will have to be searching for this information later, this suggests it doesn’t work and that the outcome is rather about collecting money on default or some such thing, rather than maintaining the homes and positively influencing the neighborhood for the residents’ sake.

Officers can confiscate personal property according to this section if it is deemed an immediate public health hazard (How is this decided and by whom? This sounds open-ended.) Another concern with this ordinance is that the town may determine other property is abandoned, aside from the home itself, and take it. This should throw red flags up for everyone. Please think this through, as well as what we are potentially allowing someone to be set up for here.

This is disconcerting and seems to offer a lot of assumptions regarding private citizens’ property. It goes on to state that property owners would be allowed rebuttal at a hearing with a Special Magistrate. How likely is it that with the way this town handles announcements, etc. that anyone would even know there would be a hearing they were required to attend. Here is where the Special Magistrate comes in, the one which at the time of the first vote on this ordinance, there wasn’t one; so how the commission could have actually voted to go forward on this when they did on Wednesday, makes no sense and seems to nullify the vote. Why do we need to hire a Special Magistrate? Will these be the only duties of this Special Magistrate? How much will this individual cost the town? Has this already been included in the proposed budget?

Section 4 Repeal of Laws in Conflict– This is not clear and a bit of a concern. Any laws that conflict with this can be repealed? Is that what it’s saying?

Other concerns: If payment is not made by the mortgagee, what happens? Seizure? – Hasn’t the town already seized homes and a boat? Is this perhaps the desired outcome, to gain access to certain property and in the end, gain the house itself? Should this be an option? It sounds the way this is written that it will become one.

This ordinance was repeatedly brought under the “comparison” umbrella that seems to be standard operating procedure in our town. This happens often, I’ve noticed, when those pushing an item want to lead us along to do as they want. They tell us everyone is doing it.

Do we have any real and time tested municipalities to consult on this or are we once again going on “consensus”. Do you realize that consensus is how we got all this global warming and green BS that’s now being crammed down our throats and affecting every aspect of our lives and wallets? Consensus just means everyone agrees to go along with something. That’s it. Every time we hear this commission say “consensus”, our ears need to prick up and we need to open our eyes wide, sit up straight, be very quiet and pay close attention to what is said from that point on. We need to watch and see if facts are presented and if anyone bucks the trend and leads. Consensus is a means of seeing that everyone just get along and “move forward”. It is meant to prevent debate, and the fact is we need the debate; we need leaders who will stand up for what is in the best interest of the people of this town.

Section 6

This ordinance shall take effect immediately upon adoption.

Please consider the chains this ordinance places on our town and our property owners and individual rights. I believe we should rather be limiting the Town’s power over us rather than increasing it. If residents were aware of this, I assure you they would not want these additional open-ended ordinances that can later turn around to bite them in the rear like ordinances passed in days gone by are now doing.

Thanks for reading… now go take a nap.