Not Enough Time in the Day

If you missed last night’s commission meeting, I suggest you watch the rerun on channel 18. (You’ll have to check the schedule for the timing of that.) Unfortunately I don’t have time to entirely recap what happened; there is not enough time in my day. That said, prepare for a long one here, folks.

Commissioner Hockman, however, has spent an unbelievable amount of time over many days, weeks and months, and gone to much trouble to bring reams of well researched and documented information to the town and the commission, information that sheds light on what many see as reason for Lake Park Town Manager, Maria Davis’ dismissal. The documented trail of evidence that Commissioner Hockman compiled and shared in public for the first time last night are up for review now, by not only the town and the commission, but also by the County’s Ethics Commission.

Much of the controversy is centered around the apparent conflict of interest in the bid award for the rewriting of the town’s employee handbook, which began back in 2007. The person awarded the job, a woman named Patricia Bass, happens to own property and is believed to share this residence with Ms. Davis, even if part-time. Meanwhile this handbook rewrite (someone might want to look into whether it was even necessary or whether it might have been done to position Ms. Davis to obtain more authority) which was presented to the commission for approval as an approximately $4,000 job back in 2007, according to information collected from the town by Commissioner Hockman, ended up costing the town somewhere around $110,000 in the end. Are you kidding me?!! It seems a payment to Ms. Bass of some kind was reportedly made as recently as November of 2011. Wow.

Power Structure

Some time last year I happened to read the handbook and was taken aback by it. It would be wise to see a comparison of the previous version and the final rewritten product created by Ms. Bass so we can see what we actually got for that money. The new one seems written to favor the town manager and to place in her hands quite a nice power structure. If so, you might say “we got duped twice over”. There are other items in the handbook that appear, in my estimation, to have been rewritten in such a fashion as to favor her political ideology as well. How many people would ever read the employee handbook to know this or realize how our town structure has been rewritten? How many understand the effect upon our town’s future because of the language with which such a document is written? It’s yet another structure put into place that dictates the way our town operates, and yes, there are others that have been reworked and created under this Town Manager’s direction that greatly affect our town’s future. These favor a certain political bent and ideology that in the opinion of many residents is dragging our town down, changing our values and has also reworked our town to have an entitlement mindset and even a literal designation as such within the county. The writer of the town’s employee handbook seemed to take liberty with the language put into the document, instilling a framework that further ties our hands going forward, just as the many grants that our Town Manager insists upon procuring do as well.

There were many concerns brought to light during last night’s meeting. This was the most dramatic, the quite startling and apparent evidence that seems to spell out one facet of what so many have been concerned with about our Town Manager for a long time. Now it’s up to the commission to look at the facts in light of the town’s best interests, put aside their own relationships with the town manager and face this objectively. At the end of the meeting, the manager said that Commissioner Hockman’s statements were full of inaccuracies and that she would review the packet and get back to the commission with her response. She stated that Commissioners Hockman and Longtin are always “attacking her”.

Who is Looking Out for Lake Park?

Commissioner Hockman, thankfully set that record straight. He basically stated that he was elected to the Commission to look out for the citizens’ interests and to keep an eye out for such things. Bravo. He is her boss, after all. Many of us are thankful that we have Commissioners Hockman and Longtin on the commission because they regularly delve into the details that others make no mention of, and they pay attention to what’s going on beneath the veneer of town decisions. This was also evident in the situation last night regarding the town’s plans to award a bid to a contractor for work at Bert Bostrom park. Commissioner Hockman was the one questioning the bid and the fact that all costs were not brought to light in the presentation before the vote. The question of whether the Ahrens Companies (the winning bidder) might have a conflict of interest because of Mr. Ahrens relationship to the town over the course of many years as the owner of One Park Place and a deal we have with them for the use of their “green space” was brought up by Commissioner Hockman as well. This is what we elect our commission to do. Look out for our best interests as a town.

Meanwhile, during this whole discussion, Mayor Dubois chose to show more concern for the fact that if we let Ms. Davis go, we will have to  pay her severance and we might face a lawsuit. This seemed to matter more than the apparent conflict of interest that is jeopardizing our town and more than what it has cost residents over the course of the years and years that these things have been going on. He showed little concern that the ethics of our Town Manager are in question. This was disturbing. I would hope he would put aside his relationship with the town manager and consider the facts in light of those of us he was elected to serve.

All we can do now is give our input to the commission and hold them accountable to placing the residents and our town’s future first. Commissioner Rumsey made a statement to the effect last night that there will continue to be conflicts with any town manager even if we to replace Ms. Davis, and that we need to decide whether we are going to keep her or not once and for all.

Take Heed

If some serious consideration isn’t given now in light of this information, it never will be under the current commission’s direction. This decision will tell residents a lot about those who have been elected to represent them. Pay attention, Lake Park. You are getting the information you need now to make future election decisions. Take heed.

Perhaps the Town Manager/Commission form of government we use in Lake Park IS ripe for conflict, and yet, again, perhaps it’s a matter of choosing someone more carefully, someone with a completely different take on government. If you look back at the hiring of Ms. Davis, was it done in a hurry? Was the commission desperate to get someone in there, and did that cause them to cave to Ms. Davis’ demands? Having also read her contract back sometime last year, I find the deal she scored for herself to be unbelievably sweet. She has set herself up to win no matter what happens. The commission who allowed her to set this up is at fault, but the current commission must make sure this does not happen again and must keep things in check. The fact that the commission at the time accepted her demands is disturbing and the fact that she made such demands should have suggested to all involved who we were getting in the bargain and the kind of “rule” she would have as our Town Manager. It also reminds us that what we put into contracts and agreements today will come back to bite us in the rear later if not done right.

Someone made the statement last night that it’s a handful of residents who want Ms. Davis out, as if there is more than a handful of residents who pay attention to anything in Lake Park, and as if this “handful” does not represente the town’s wishes. Think again. In Lake Park, a small number of attentive residents is a pretty big deal, seeing as without them, there would be precious few paying attention and speaking out about anything or even attending town meetings. Those who do show up and take part should rightfully have a say. They are the ones looking out for this town while others show little interest and will probably never even hear about what is happening right now. Okay, most residents show zero interest, thinking all will go along fine without them. They figure those they elected and hired are taking care of things. Maybe they should think again in light of recent discoveries.

Asleep at The Wheel

Most of the town is asleep at the wheel of a car careening into oncoming traffic. I suggest that in days to come, and at upcoming commission meetings, we be on the lookout. We can guarantee that those with whom Ms. Davis has garnered favor in the town employ, by either her mode of operation or her favoritism to those who support her, will be paraded in front of the dais as this investigation plays out. We will see them come out to extol her virtues. We’ve seen this type of behavior often in recent days. Let’s be wise. Let’s cut our losses and move on to better things and a brighter more prosperous future for our town. In my estimation, the amount of money poorly spent, the direction our town has taken for the worse under the rule of Maria Davis and the intimidating and negative attitude she has displayed toward members of the commission and residents (as well as employees) who disagree with her, is reason enough to bid her “adieu”. These charges of ethical misconduct and conflict of interest are apparently the palpable evidence of the kind of thing that has been going on that most believed to be happening, but didn’t have the trail of paperwork to prove.

Thank you Commissioner Hockman for looking out for Lake Park’s best interests and having the guts to stand against the tide and present this research.

It was also noted last night that the previous commission knowingly allowed the employee handbook rewrite to go on as it did. Once the new commission came in, it was perhaps already underway and the continued payments to Ms. Bass went on. Were they paid with the knowledge of the rest of the commission? Maybe. This will hopefully come out during the review of the situation. We need now to face the truth, admit what was done was wrong, if it was wrong, and seek out new leadership for our town STAFF and for the direction our town will take in the future.

Deciding Who’s in Charge?

Many of us hope that the commission will begin to act as the leaders of this town and take corrective action, even if we as a town have to take some lumps in so doing. We need to cut our losses now and move on without this millstone around our neck. A huge concern is that look that many on the commission seem to get on their faces when it comes to issues regarding Ms. Davis or the need to disagree with her on things. They seem to see her as their boss and someone they need to please and support rather than understanding that she is their employee. The residents are their bosses. They are the leadership we hired. The manager works for them and reports to them. Unfortunately over and over again we see that this has been somehow turned upside down, at least in the way it seems to have played out, and a different relationship has bloomed, one in which many on the commission feel they are there to support her ideas and plans. However, in fact, she is there to serve them, as well as us, the residents.

This is one of my concerns with the employee handbook. If you read it, you will find that throughout its pages, one of the most prevalent statements within suggests that employees serve at the pleasure of the Town Manager. It is a well-hammered point. In relation to town employees, that is of a degree of concern, but furthermore, she seems to have taken this same attitude in relationship to the commission as well as with the residents, and that is something that needs to be corrected, and fast.

I believe it was Commissioner Longtin who noted that we can’t count on the county ethics commission to settle this for us. We need to review the evidence and make our own decisions. Government has been known to cover for its own, and the county has not been properly responsive in the past when concerns have been brought by residents. Government is also notoriously slow. Lastly, do we even know if anyone on the ethics commission has a relationship to Ms. Davis that would affect their view of the situation? Ms. Davis has many ties and relationships she has formed in government, and she has also been a member of certain boards throughout the county. This matter is our town’s concern, and our commission, her boss, needs to consider her performance and make the tough choices about what’s best for our town whether the Ethics Commission is on the ball or not.

We need to take better care of our moments in Lake Park. The years are showing the wear of many instances of poor judgment, misguided policies and poor leadership. We can do better than this. If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves. Then maybe we will begin to see the gem of Lake Park shining again.

Let’s restore the jewel of the Palm Beaches to it’s setting here in Lake Park.  This will begin with residents paying attention and getting involved and the commission taking a hard look at reality and doing the job they were hired to do.