The Sky IS Falling

Wednesday’s meetings had some notable points of interest we might like to consider, and I mentioned yesterday that today I would offer notes from a Commission Meeting. Unfortunately, I only got as far as notes from a CRA meeting. Here they are:

800 Park Avenue

This currently vacant property which our town is paying for was the subject of much discussion, as usual. It was stated repeatedly during Wednesday’s CRA meeting, while discussing the proposed plans to reopen a non-profit art studio within the building at 800 Park Avenue, that because of grant funds we took to purchase the property, we are unable to charge anything such as rent for the use of the property. We cannot cover our debt service of $36,000 a year. Too bad; we are only allowed by grant conditions to collect funds to pay for expenses such as utilities.

In the classic children’s tale, after Chicken Little is hit on the head by an acorn, he believes the sky is falling. He goes around warning of impending doom that never actually happens.

The warnings we regularly make regarding the doom that comes with grant funds is not conjecture or some Chicken Little pessimistic attitude we are mistakenly sending up red flags about. For the record, the dangers of accepting grant money are very real and the admission of the fiscal ball and chain they attach to us is now rearing its ugly head. This was admitted from the dais repeatedly during the CRA Board meeting this week. There was no question or push back on that. It was obvious. The sky IS actually falling. How long ago did our town accept these funds, yet how long will the conditions which we agreed to in order to get those funds negatively affect us? We presume upon the future when we rush to grants to satisfy our desire for goodies. We set ourselves up and take a huge risk by gambling on grants. The gamble has cost us greatly and repeatedly. Are we really better off in the long run? We have actually fallen into a trap that is continually setting us up to feel needy and weak so that we continue buying into the next new grant opportunity just to help us out, to make it through,to solve one more problem…each time risking fallout from stipulations written therein. Does that sound wise? The conditions are there, buried somewhere on page who-knows-which, and possible ramifications seem far away and hopefully (keep your fingers crossed) unlikely to those who vote for these funds. However, it is clear that the conditions are well-able to work their way to front page status in time and cause us harm. The situation with 800 Park Avenue is evidence of that. Take heed to the warnings, Lake Park. That chunk of sky that just hit your head is no acorn.

For The Public Good?

The mayor smiled broadly while stating that we can charge a dollar a year for the property at 800 Park Avenue (I believe that was the number). He seemed to find it quite amusing, based on his facial expressions and tone of voice, and also seemed to think reinstating an art studio on the premises to make use of this misfortune is a good thing. What the town is now proposing, because the debt service on the property is $36,000 a year, is that we will all feel better if we write this off by reinstating an art studio and call it “for the public good.” Does that make YOU feel better? (This is what grant funds have done for us, folks – we received a lumbering debt, a property financially underwater and we can’t even rent it out to help pay that debt service because of stipulations of the loan, and some of our town leaders want to spin this as a positive. Woo hoo! Isn’t the CRA great? Sounds like insanity to me.)

In an attempt to “provide for the public good”, it was stated we could “maintain the property as an Art Gallery”. “Maintain” sounds purposefully misleading. The building currently sits empty, having been shut down some time back because it was unsuccessful and cost the town too much money. We aren’t “maintaining” anything. Or are we? Isn’t it interesting that we are now going to reinstate an art community into our midst (is this the same art community that was using the facilities before? I’m not sure), touted by some as what’s best for the CRA, claiming it will be to the public’s benefit. That is certainly a subjective assessment. Someone is picking and choosing for us and they want to offer this now as a nearly free opportunity to someone. Curious. I just wonder why the great desire for an art gallery? It’s almost like the whole thing was planned to benefit a select few. The continued desire for, supposed importance of, and the financial benefit of an art gallery is lost on the general Lake Park population, I assure you. The town is requesting that this be required to be open 7 days a week. Why is this condition being included? And I still find it curious that whomever is awarded this set up must have a history that includes “past performance records in support of local governments or Arts and Museums participation”.

Another point in regard to the curious way in which this is spun is that it was repeatedly stated that we will save money under this plan compared to last year. Leave it to the government to operate at a $36,000 loss, provide a free opportunity to someone at taxpayer expense and then find a way to call it saving money. That’s no savings, it’s mismanagement, it is the doling out of favors and it is misuse of public money. The spin needs to stop. Who do they think they are fooling?

What Would You Ask For?

Think of it this way, if we had $36,000 just to blow so we could “give to the residents of Lake Park”, and we asked residents what they would like to see done with the money to benefit the community, is this what people would ask for? Hardly. I have never heard anyone in Lake Park clamoring for an art studio, no one except the past administration, and some currently on the commission. I have to wonder if this is something that is going to benefit personal friends or associates of those in the town employ or within the CRA Board or on the the Town Commission? It’s a fair question. It should be asked. Transparency is, after all, something our leaders say they advocate. If this isn’t a way to set up a favored group or whatever, this project makes little sense. This appears as little more than a “hope and dream” that everything will work out. We need to grow out of that hopey changey mindset and get realistic.

The Workshop

The CRA board has planned a workshop ,which, if I remember correctly, was originally intended as a way for the town, including residents and business owners within the CRA, to get together to reevaluate the CRA with the board and discuss where it is going and where we would like to see it headed. It was going to be a time to discuss ideas, etc. However, at the meeting this week, the mayor seemed to have redefined the meeting for us, or at least who he felt were the important voices we should hear from on the matter of the CRA. He continually mentioned “stakeholders” and sought to include supposed experts on CRA matters from outside of our town in the meeting.

When Board Member Longtin questioned the mayor about who these stakeholders were to whom he repeatedly referred (it was obvious he didn’t mean residents or business owners) he gave a very confusing answer trying to connect at least one outside entity (I can’t remember which one) as some sort of stakeholder with a right to speak into our town’s ear regarding its business. It was a big stretch and he had to go round about and in and out to make his premise work. It didn’t. It made no sense. Meanwhile, others were distracted by the change of narrative and got on the bandwagon adding in names of individuals and agencies we could get to come and speak. This is not what the workshop was originally designed to be. It looks like it is now going to be about listening to someone from the North Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce, perhaps even the BDB as well as other CRA operatives who will tell us what is best for our town. Please note, the NPB Chamber is the entity which brought us the joke of a “forum” for the special election wherein they wrote the narrative and delivered us their candidates, signed, sealed and delivered, making sure not to allow residents an opportunity to ask questions they were concerned about. Lake Park would do well to begin looking out for themselves.

Commissioner Stevens made a good point; the financial status of the CRA is where we need to focus. Some feel such an evaluation may include the possibility of abolishing this agency. Unfortunately, this meeing is now set to be a three ring circus of outside organizations and individuals obfuscating the purpose. The CRA is on shaky ground, we don’t need minister’s of propaganda to come in and “steer us” to where they would like us to go before we ever even decide whether or not we want to go anywhere. Our town needs to make some personal evaluations and decisions for the best of Lake Park.

It was also mentioned that there are all these wonderful resources out there to make CRA’s great by marketing our businesses, etc. If so, and this is an opportune strategy, why haven’t they already helped make our CRA great after all these years? If it was that simple, wouldn’t we have tapped their wisdom already and be operating a successful CRA venture? If outsourcing is something we want to look into, by all means, let’s discuss that possibility at the workshop. As of Wednesday, the current plan, it seems, is that we will be in for a long night of presentations from anyone and everyone but the residents and business owners. If the CRA is not about the residents and the business owners, then we’ve had quite a chunk of our town co-opted. 

Giving Sue a “Talking To”

Wednesday night, Sue Lloyd, a private citizen came  to present her three minutes of comments, speaking out against the many grants our town is procuring. She warned of the fallout to our town, which it turns out, even the mayor himself admitted is a reality during the CRA discussion about 800 Park Avenue. At the close of Sue Lloyd’s comments however, the Mayor, took it upon himself to give her an earful about how much he disagreed with her (he couldn’t disagree more, he said). He spoke in a tone and with an attitude that suggested his opinion was the final word in Lake Park. This is not a new for the mayor, and residents and fellow commission members must put a stop to this right now. The mayor is not the ruling authority of the town, the residents are. He is a figurehead with no more say or vote than any other member up on the dais. He did not offer anyone else on the dais an opportunity to speak either, so why did he feel it was his place to give a resident a “talking to”? How many residents will self-censor themselves and think twice about speaking freely at town meetings having seen what can happen if you cross the “governmental authorities”? This is disturbing and unacceptable. Thankfully Sue is not easily intimidated. The mayor would try a second time to intimidate her by questioning her choice of words. Her presentation was actually well researched, thoughtful, creative and apropos. She did not back down. Bravo, Sue! We must all stand against this type of bullying tactic and misuse of office by an elected individual who goes out of bounds to get their way. Do not tolerate this, Lake Park. I urge you to speak out and let the mayor and commission know your thoughts on this important matter.

Finally, I would like to extend my thanks to board member Sue-Ellen Mosler for asking common sense clarifying questions at the board meeting. It was refreshing. We always appreciate individuals who will do what the board is meant to do, which is think things through and manage the CRA for the good of the town, considering the whole of the propositions brought forward, and asking questions when needed.

Yes, I said it. The sky IS falling in Lake Park, but the good news is we can do something about it. The question is… Will we?