The Neighborhood of Make-Believe

UPDATE: Please see the end of the post for an additional reference: The Contract Oversight Notification from the Office of the Inspector General of Palm Beach County.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, yes, of course, a beautiful day once again…

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Behind the scenes, though, things are not quite so tidy and “nice”. Tongues are wagging and fingers are furiously tapping on keyboards. Phone calls are made, texts are sent, papers shuffle. It seems we live in the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe”.

In the wake of a couple of articles in the Palm Beach Post this week, and WPTV’s news report regarding the Inspector General, Sheryl Steckler, being brought in to review the $2.4 million land deal for the Marina parking lot in Lake Park, residents have not been placated. Not by a long shot. Ms. Steckler said in the WPTV News 5 interview that she was looking for justification of the amount spent, but had “not found that ‘why'”.

After the Inspector General looked into the matter, she characterized the purchase price, in other words, as being very high over the land’s value, which prompted County Managers to request a change in policy regarding land acquisition deals in the future. She mentioned that there should be some sort of accountability and transparency as to why they paid that kind of money. However, all that is apparently being done, according to these reports, is changing policy going forward, not digging in and doing anything about what has transpired already.

That’s it? Really? That’s the best they can do? Lip service to accountability, yet holding no one accountable?

There also seems to be a “hands off” sentiment regarding who actually purchased the property. The Town Manager of Lake Park wants to push blame onto the county for doing it, but according to the Palm Beach Post article, dated last night, “…the site was technically purchased by Lake Park, and not the county.” In the end, the County’s Director of Property and Real Estate Management Division, according to the Post, is asking the commission to “amend the rule and close the loophole,” according to the article and require appraisals from now on, as if that tidies it all right up.

Yet, residents in Lake Park aren’t buying it. Some silently shake their heads while others mumble out loud over the Inspector General’s response…others are fighting mad. Implying that an unfortunate outcome like this musn’t happen again, as if it was nothing more than a mere oversight, will not cut it with residents; especially in light of the fact that this parking lot purchase fiasco is only one aspect of the much broader “wheeling and dealing” being done in regard to the Lake Park Harbor Marina; and it’s still in progress.

The grant that sparked this mess is replete with confusing stipulations, intertwined with conditional “must do’s” and is a shared deal with the county where confusing “he said/she said” will inevitably continue. Perfect cover for all sorts of impropriety, it seems. This town/county agreement sparked fast-tracked decisions for the Town of Lake Park to go, go, go, go before the ramifications of the commitments were fully investigated, deliberated and before proper judgment had time to be made. Now, once again, we hear the words “transparency and accountability” coming from a county government official, but where is the evidence of that accountability when it comes to matters of significance, such as this uber-costly Town/County land deal?

This much, as stated in the Palm Beach Post article, is right:

“Hering said the project was extremely complex and had been mischaracterized as a simple land deal.”

This, my friends, is an understatement. There is so much more in this deal than meets the eye. What we don’t understand is why the Inspector General is not pushing to brand this, in the opinion of many watching this unfold, as more than a tidy case of poor policy. “Better luck next time,” she and the County and The Town of Lake Park might as well say. I would like to respectfully say, please “man up” Ms. Inspector General. It’s a dirty job, but after all, it’s yours. Please do it.

These people must be held accountable and not with a wishy-washy verbal “Now be good, you all, ya’ hear?” Those holding the keys to the coffers must be carefully watched and made to justify and account for EVERYTHING they do. This is YOUR money that is now being deemed as overspent on the purchase of this parking lot because of lack of an appraisal. Due to the conditions written into the agreement, costly repercussions have been sparked; costly to residents and taxpayers throughout the county. Yet the response by officials to the concerns from town and county residents sounds a lot like, “My bad, better luck next time.”

Well, thanks, thanks a lot. Should we go back to our little world of make believe now and enjoy the puppet show, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Government official?

Don’t count on it. We do not intend to sit quietly and nod off while their show goes on. Residents aren’t buying the simplistic shoulder shrugging over “bad policy”. To us, this shouts yet another warning across the waters of the Marina, and the response will most likely be heard well beyond the surrounding waters, down the street to Town Hall, the County Commission offices and on up the chain of County and State government command.

Meanwhile, activity is underway near the Marina as the town moves ahead with their plans. Behind the scenes, decisions are being made that certainly have the possibility of resulting in unfavorable outcomes for many Lake Park residents. This affects both those who live near the Marina, and also all residents who will be left to foot the bill if conditions are not met. It matters to all of us. Your government officials have Mommy and Daddy’s credit card (YOURS) and there seem to have been few limits placed on the account. Like that ever works out. And the charges will continue to rack up on our bill because they aren’t finished spending yet. You can be sure of that if nothing else.

Yes, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. It’s a beautiful day to get involved in what is happening not only in our town (by all means, please start here) but also in this county and beyond.

Articles and further reading on this topic for your review:

The Contract Oversight Notification – Issued 9-28-2011

Palm Beach Post Article – September 28, 2011 – Palm Beach County Spent $1.77 Million Above Market Value

WPTV Article – Video of the news report is now embedded within this article.

Palm Beach Post Article – September 29, 2011 – Palm Beach County Policy Targeted for Change

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