Lake Park, Land of Sunshine?

It was noted Wednesday night at the end of the budget hearing that due to Sunshine Laws, when replying to an email from one commissioner, residents are asked not to copy other commission members on that reply. We are told this is designed to protect the residents and the commission. Our town has, on a number of occasions, stated their concern with ethics in this regard.

The Commission and Town Staff pay homage to the Sunshine Law in certain circumstances, but wouldn’t it be nice if they (and the county) were as concerned about proper and ethical procedures when it comes to the millions of dollars spent on the town’s budget(which are a much higher indicator of ethics) as they are about the issues they do focus on like emails… and sprinklers, for instance. It would be reassuring to see equal concern for other Sunshine Statutes, beyond the budget, including just for starters, those regarding Public Business, such as the following:

286.011 states

(2)  The minutes of a meeting of any such board or commission of any such state agency or authority shall be promptly recorded, and such records shall be open to public inspection. The circuit courts of this state shall have jurisdiction to issue injunctions to enforce the purposes of this section upon application by any citizen of this state.

The last meeting minutes made available on the Lake Park town website were from a July 13th special call meeting. Today is September 23rd, and since the last meeting minutes were provided, there have been 2 budget workshops, 2 budget hearings, 2 regular commission meetings and a CRA Board meeting with no minutes furnished the public. But wait, there’s more. Residents were not provided a final rough draft of the budget before the final public hearing, and discovered during the meeting that the finance director didn’t even finish her final calculations until around 6:00 p.m. for the 6:30 meeting. This made for an evening of murky dealings here in the SUNSHINE state. Some commissioners seemed to have information others did not. How are all residents and commissioners to prepare adequately for what only some have access to?

The Debacle of the Final Budget Hearing

Wednesday night’s CRA meeting and Final Budget Hearing were sort of like a food fight without the food. This meeting was an embarrassment to our town and extremely frustrating and painful for residents to watch, not to mention confusing. I will have to watch again to grasp what was actually decided through the grand finale debacle. I have only a vague notion, after all the theatrics, of what passed and what those of us paying the bills are “going to get” for our money. Most likely, the ramifications of the hasty votes that took place after 11:00 p.m. will come to light only in time, and then they will probably come as a surprise. Such surprises are rarely positive.

It was also exasperating to see that when the possibility of saving money was created during the meeting, those savings were immediately funneled directly into some other new spending. This dashed any possibility of cutting or reducing waste. It also reminds us that the problem is not with the amount of money the town has, but their management of it. More money in the town’s pocket just means less in the residents’ pockets and more opportunities for mismanagement. Like cash in a wallet, if it’s there and available, the temptation is to spend, spend, spend, not to save. As a resident, my hope was for cuts that equated to the times in which we live. Instead, we watched the commission fund extravagant expenses that do not fit with the reality of most in Lake Park who are being told to open their wallets to the town.

Art on Park

Screenshot of Lake Park’s Art on Park information 

On Wednesday, the residents and most of the commission got the news that the Art Gallery is to be closed at the direction of the Town Manager without the knowledge of this by the full commission ahead of the meeting. That was a little gem that didn’t see the SUNSHINE until perhaps much later than it should have. There was no discussion in public by the commission on this decision or on the future plans for the building into which the town has dumped excessive amounts of your money. The gallery was also one of the cornerstones of an “Arts District” which has been a stated focus of the Town Manager’s goals for Park Avenue.
The future plans for the Art on Park Gallery are now also the Town Manager’s privileged information. And what of the grants that were procured for that gallery, the hours and hours of town time and money spent on it through advertising and for the salaries paid to run that gallery since its inception? Check the budget and see how much money was spent on salaries alone, not to mention time and money spent on paperwork and who even knows what else. Money wasted. Were there conditions to that grant money when it was provided, conditions to which the town is still obligated? This was not discussed at the budget meeting, so I couldn’t say…but questions should be posed. The commission is responsible to rein in the Town Manager. However from the outside looking in, it seems to constantly work the other way around.

The Lake Park Harbor Marina

And one more thing (although there are other concerns which we hope to list tomorrow)…when the huge Marina deficit was brought up once again, it was also once again met with silence due to the agenda of the Town Manager and 3 commissioners who sought to provide financial cover for other line items they deemed more important. Their personal priorities seem to have clouded their perception of the good of the town and the binding financial obligations already in place in areas such as the marina. They managed to step over, around and slide under this issue and kept silent on it. They have also gone against the policy already established by the commission to reduce slip fees. The town has our money and they’ve been enjoying a shopping spree. The deficits at the Marina, due to what many believe is mismanagement, are being drowned out by a sea of other town controversies which divert attention from this important and costly matter. Watch both hands. The distractions are endless and there is much to keep an eye on here. Attention to the Marina issues needs to be forced by residents and corrected very soon by this commission and the Town Manager. The commission spends hours haggling over questionable items and then they leave glaring problems sitting on the table untouched as if they are invisible. Are they hoping we won’t notice or that we will keep silent or that we will grow weary of dogging their heels on these matters? Whatever the reason, they are hoping in vain. We are here and we intend to follow through.

These meetings will be remembered for a very long time (even until the next election), and I’m sorry to say, not as a positive step toward the more responsible and efficient town government that many of us were hoping for. I hope the commissioners will take the time to watch Wednesday’s “meeting replay” and see their actions on the dais from a citizen’s perspective. Maybe while watching it onscreen their eyes will be opened to what we saw and the reason we have so many concerns.

Time will tell if Lake Park is truly a land of Sunshine. As of now, that’s certainly debatable.

However, just so you know, the behavior of the majority of the commission, while making the town look bad, has been good for our readership. Thanks for stopping by, everyone. Yesterday was busiest day yet for viewership on The Street Where You Live! We hope that after reading, you will get involved and help hold Lake Park accountable. (See sidebar for info on Lake Park Citizens Requiring Accountability from Politicians.)