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Cocoa Beach: Meetings and Woulas, Doggies, and Licenses.

Tonight the City of Cocoa Beach will host a regular City Commission meeting starting at 7:00 AM. The agenda and supporting documentation can be found here. The meeting can be seen online at the City website or on Spectrum Channel 497.

Before we discuss tonight’s meeting, we want to jump back to last meeting, specifically to item item J(2) which was described as:

Review the City Attorney’s firm performance, and determine whether to continue or terminate services per the existing contract.
Representative: Commissioner Williams
Recommendation: Determine whether to accept resignation and solicit replacement, terminate services and solicit replacement, or continue services until further action

We wrote about the genesis of this item prior to the March 2, 2017 meeting. Never could we have guessed what came out of the meeting that night.

First, when the item came up, we were stunned that City Attorney Fowler was not present. He simply wasn’t there. No reason was given for his absence, but we have to say that if one’s job, credibility and reputation is on the line and is going to be discussed, one would think you’d show up at that meeting. Not attending the meeting or having another person say why you weren’t attending is, in our opinion, a slap in the face to the Commission and the people of Cocoa Beach. In Mr. Fowler doesn’t care about his contract, we see no reason as to why anyone else should.

It is our belief that Fowler’s actions which came to light during the February 16, 2017 Commission meeting were illegal and contrary to the City Charter. Four of the Commissioners – Commissioner / Mayor Malik. Vice Mayor / Commissioner Woulas, Commissioner Martinez, and Commissioner Miller were accomplices to those illegal actions.

It is also our belief that this was the final straw to Commissioner Skip Williams, who was not part of the activities and who had not even been asked about what direction the City Attorney should take when it came to the Ocean Dunes lawsuit. Williams seems to have the moral decency and ethics to know that if you can’t trust your lawyer to do the right and legal thing, you don’t need that lawyer. That is why he brought forth the agenda item to have the contract of Fowler terminated and a search for new representation for the City initiated.

(NOTE: It certainly caught our ear that the amount of the base contract for the City Attorney was $140,000 and last year the City had also contracted for $100,000 more work above the contract. That number stayed with us because of this:

Cocoa Beach: Stand Up.

The story goes that after the Constitution was passed in 1787, as he was leaving Independence Hall, Benjamin Franklin was asked by a lady, “Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy?”

A republic,” replied Franklin, “if you can keep it.”

The story may be apocryphal, but it is enlightening even today.

Franklin, like many others of his time, knew that unless people are involved in government and hold officials accountable, special interests and the interests of the elected officials would end up dismissing the wishes and the desires of the citizenry.

There are far too many times when we think this happens or when there are seminal moments in government.

One of those times may be tonight.

The Cocoa Beach City Commission will hold two meetings – a CRA meeting starting at 6:00 PM and a regular City Commission meeting starting at 7:00 PM. The meetings can be seen on Spectrum channel 497, but there is always room at the meeting for people to actually come, watch and participate in the meeting(s). The agendas for both meetings can be found here.

There are two items on the agenda for the Commission meeting that have caught our eye.

The first item is agenda item G(1) which is listed as:

Request to schedule a Joint Workshop of the City Commission and the Planning Board to discuss the proposed revision to the Land Development Code. (Added to Agenda 02-28-17)
Representative: Commissioner Williams
Recommendation: Schedule Joint Workshop

We can’t read Williams mind but looking at the Land Development Code (LDC) document he references, we see several issues The first is the continued reference to the idea that the permissible height of buildings in Cocoa Beach is 70 feet. (See Policy II.2.1(a)(2) on page 9.)

We have been down this path before and it makes no more sense than it did when the Ocean Dunes variance was being given.

There is also this section that is being deleted from the LDC:

Policy IV.1.2

When developing Special Area Plans, the City must seek public participation and input, using techniques including, but not limited to, neighborhood meetings, charrettes and advertised public hearings.
Significant categories for focus of these public discussions will include:
(a) Land use;
(b) Protecting existing residential development
(c) Transportation/traffic;
(d) Historic preservation and development patterns; and
(e) Accommodating tourists.

The Planning Board’s recommendation is to apparently not allow or encourage public participation in determining the direction of development and redevelopment of the City.

Between these two issues, and probably others, we believe Williams wants to have a public discussion about them that is far beyond a agenda item where there is a deadline for when the entire agenda has to be finished. Williams wants this document brought out into the light and discussed at length if necessary.

We believe he is right.

The second agenda item of interest is agenda item J(2) which is described as:

Cocoa Beach: Questions And “Unfunded Mandates.”

(image courtesy of the City of Cocoa Beach)

We weren’t planning on doing this post today, but hey, why not?

There were two “interesting” things we noticed at the Cocoa Beach Commission meeting last night and we’ll take them in the order they happened.

During the Staff reports, City Attorney Skip Fowler reported on the litigation concerning the Ocean Dunes project.

Mr. Fowler reminded the Commission that the judge in the case had denied the City’s motion to dismiss based on failure to file in a timely manner. Fowler than gave an overview of the steps in the lawsuit (motions, counter motions, pleadings and answers) following which there would be a three judge panel seated to decide the case. While the date of the decision would be based on the Court’s schedule, Fowler said he expected the decision would be “maybe in April – probably in May.”

Then Fowler said something truly curious:

Assuming that you haven’t changed your minds and wish to do something different, then we’ll proceed in that direction.

“Haven’t changed your minds?” Who is this “you” and when were they asked about proceeding with defending the lawsuit?

Commissioner Skip Williams then asked:

COMMISSIONER WILLIAMS: When you say ‘you’ve not changed your minds,’ who specifically on this Board…..

CITY ATTORNEY SKIP FOWLER: The four who voted in favor of the variance.

WILLIAMS: So as far as expending additional City funds, basically to defend a rational from a property owner variance, the City is spending additional funds by having you help them defend their variance.

FOWLER: That’s largely correct. What we are defending is the Commission’s decision and that clearly is in accordance with the property owner’s desires.

WILLIAMS: Well, I would have thought that the burden of defending their rational would have fallen to the property owners and not required an incurrence of additional funding from the City Commission….

FOWLER: Well, they’re in there too, Commissioner. I didn’t mean to suggest that we are carrying all…

WILLIAMS: Well, I’m just saying it’s kind of a blindside to me that we are spending…..what do you think those costs will evolve to?

FOWLER: Well, that’s a good question. I could see it could easily go $15,000 to $20,000.

WILLIAMS: So I want to ask this Commission was it your expectation that the attorney would spend $15,999 – $20.000 to rationalize and to defend the rational for the variance on behalf of the property owner?

FOWLER: No, I expect the judge to….

WILLIAMS: I want to ask the Commission, sir.

FOWLER: I’m sorry. I thought you were speaking to me.

Cocoa Beach: UPDATE: Commission Meeting Tonight. (Also Known As “Oh Crap, Did We Miss This One.”)

We are going to do something that we seldom (if ever) do – use a comment as the entire post. (Or at least the focus of the post.)

One of our readers noticed that while he felt that our discussion on the County Appraisers and Tax Collector interlocal agreement was important, there was another issue on the agenda of importance:

K. New Business:
Approve proceeding with the design for the construction of a new City Hall, Police Department and Parking Structure, following Option D, as presented at the February 9, 2017, Commission meeting, and requests that Staff begin the planning and the budgeting for the project.

We stopped reading after “proceeding with the design for the construction of a new City Hall, Police Department and Parking Structure,” and did not realize that the agenda item would present, vote upon, and essentially give the approval of the basic design plans, including locations.

Geez, did we screw that one up.

Here’s the comment that was left for us and we are presenting it because we don’t think we can add more to it.

These are important issues, but I believe the big issue facing our city is the proposed option D for the new downtown police dept, city hall, green space, and parking structure. While I agree these facilities require updating I really hate the idea of placing the police secure parking along our main drag (S. Orlando ave.). This would be a poor use of high value real estate and an eyesore for folks traveling thru our city.

Below is a copy of an email I sent to the commissioners and city manager. If you agree (or disagree) I urge you to either show up at the meeting to voice your concerns or email them with you inputs. Thirst decisions will be very tough but will affect the look and feel of our downtown area for many years to come. Now is the time to voice your inputs.

(click on image for larger resolution)

Dear Commissioners and City Manager:

I am resending my original input to voice my objection to having the PD parking along our main drag (South Orlando) as it looks like happens if you select option D. I realize there are many ways to skin this cat but IMHO placing a parking lot along our main thru-way would be an eyesore and a turnoff for both tourists and residents – also a very poor utilization of high value real estate. Put the PD parking lot back on Brevard ave.

Please consider placing the new PD next to the fire department – I believe there is a lot of synergy to be gained by locating these two buildings in close proximity (meeting spaces, training classrooms, communications antenna’s and towers, backup power units, etc). No need to have separate stuff at two separate locations when you could put it all together and share common items between police and fire.

A nice green space and city hall along our main drag would be very attractive and make our city look great, additionally by putting the green space along S. Orlando you locate it closer to the proposed parking structure which would seem to make more sense than having to have folks park in the garage and walk across A1A to access events at the new green space as option D would have you do.

Also, as I stated in my previous letter it seems like a bad idea to co-locate police parking and public parking in the same structure due to security concerns.

The writer and commenter is dead on point. No matter how you feel about this, you should show up and express your support or concerns as this is a long term project for the City of Cocoa Beach.

Thanks to the writer for noting our omission and making a great comment.

Cocoa Beach: Commission Meeting Tonight.

The Cocoa Beach City Commission meets tonight at 7:00 PM for a regular meeting.

The agenda can be found here.

There is one item on the agenda that gives us pause.

4. Approve an Interlocal Agreement with the Brevard County Property Appraiser (BCPA) and Brevard County Tax Collector (BCTC), to contract with a third-party vendor, Tax Management Associates, for the review of the validity of all residency-based property tax exemptions; the City agrees to have 28% of the proceeds of the collections paid to the vendor. (If no liens are filed and paid, the vendor will not be paid. This agreement has no immediate impact on

the budget, and in the future will decrease the number of exemptions that are improperly claimed and increase the property tax revenue to the City.)

In theory, it is a great idea to stop tax fraud. It is a great idea to have people pay back taxes for deductions and exemptions they have taken in the past illegally.

Our concerns are what we give up to get the tax money.

1) The third party deal reminds us greatly as to the stop light cameras and other “outside lawyers for hire in civil suits by the government.” There is a perverse incentive to “get” more people. Even though the contract says it is the Brevard County Property Appraiser who has the final say in proceeding with actions against tax payers, the incentive for the company is to find more candidates of alleged cheating. We would be interested in seeing data from other counties as to the number of people who TMA alleged were cheating, but were not.

2) The agreement does not stipulate who pays for the removal of a tax lien if in fact it was improperly applied to a property. Should a citizen pay the costs of going to court to defend an accusation like being a tax cheat when they are not? It seems that the contract between the County and TMA tries to isolate the TMA from any legal consequences of being wrong. We aren’t sure that seems right. If a company is acting on the direct of the County and something goes south, the company has legal responsibilities as well.

Cocoa Beach: Board Of Adjustment.

The Cocoa Beach Board Of Adjustments meets tonight at 5:25 and while we usually just keep an eye on these proceedings, we have been asked to cover this meeting a little more extensively.

The agenda for the meeting can be found here.

The first agenda item in which a variance is requested deals with the marina / restaurant / parking area at 400 West Cocoa Beach Causeway.

The owner of the property is requesting a variance on building two outdoor seating areas – one on the first floor and one on the second – overlooking the Banana River. The deck areas will allow an additional 90 patrons on the decks to the 160 person capacity of the restaurant on the inside.

The first issue is the parking for the restaurant. The area around the restaurant does not have enough parking spaces as required by the city codes. That means the restaurant will have to go elsewhere for parking. They are trying to negotiate a parking agreement with the AT&T lot next door to allow parking that would supplement that of the restaurant and bring the parking requirement up to code.

Cocoa Beach: Speech Is Not The Same As Fried Chicken.

As many of our readers know, we have been talking about Cocoa Beach’s “rules” that don’t allow for “negative personal comments.” The despite the rule being UnConstitutional, the Commission decided to let the rule stand and to task the City Clerk with finding “best practices” for meetings and report back next year. (Apparently it is acceptable in Cocoa Beach to say “we don’t care about your rights but we’ll get back to you in a year.”)

However, it is not only the Commission that has rules that limit “negative personal comments.” The Boards of the City have the same or similar rules in place. The fact that the Commission did not remove their rules on speech left Boards to do the same.

One such board is the Planning Board.

This past week on February 6, the Planning Board held their first meeting since October of 2016. When reviewing the policies and procedures of the Board, a board member asked about the very thing we have been talking about – whether the Commission and therefore Boards could limit the content or viewpoint of what the public speaker was saying. As the member was asking the question, Chairman John Byron of the Board interrupted him several times as Byron is prone to do throughout all meetings in which he participates.

Byron then said (starting at about 29:40:)

Byron: For four years…eh…eh….It has been my practice and I would hope to continue it to be big and easy, pretty open when people comment but when they start making disparaging remarks about individuals that falls under the part of state law that under “b” says The chair has authority to maintain orderly conduct and proper decorum and to rule a speaker out of order should comments depart from the proposition before the board. Attacking Zach Montgomery is not the proposition before the Board and so state law says I can rule them out of order. This is meant to express this a bit more. On “c” and d it would be my hope to gently and on “b” as well on er a rather on “a,” “c,”. and “d,” it would be my hope to gently ease people in the direction of goodness and light rather than hammering them down and saying ‘get out of here.’ It’s a balancing act… you’ve seen it…

Marsha Segel George: Oh yes, way too many times…

Byron: But all the way through the Supreme Court bodies have the right to specify, to be specific about time, place and method of free speech. And that’s what this does. So that’s my answer to it. And if ever I do something that the Board doesn’t like, there are procedures in Robert’s Rules to appeal the ruling of the chair and if the votes, you override it.

Where to begin?

Cocoa Beach: A Peek At The Presentation.

Last week, we sent our mouthpiece to the Cocoa Beach Commission meeting to comment and make a presentation on the speech issue that had occurred in several meetings.

Several things happened, none of which were very good.

First, our representative had been told previously that his time to talk at the podium would begin when he began to speak. As he had to bring up the PowerPoint presentation onto the screen so everyone could see it, it does not seem right to penalize a speaker for having to open a file and have it appear on the main screen. Yet that is what happened. His time began when he got up to the microphone, not when he started talking.

That came into play as we as a group had practiced what he was going to say. We timed it. We had his presentation down consistently to be between 2:50 and 2:54. Without fail, that is what he was running. When the buzzer went off way before the end of the presentation, he was perplexed and thought he had blown it. It was not until someone from the audience said the Commission had started the timer early that he realized he had not messed up the timing at all.

For every speaker following him, the timer started AFTER the speaker began speaking.

We thought you’d like to see what the presentation was so here it is. We have added the PowerPoint slides in the correct positions. What we do and what he did was read the section and then click to change the slide without looking. We can’t reproduce that on a blog, but you can see what was said and the slides.

You may be wondering who “Ring Lardner” was and why the reference to him.

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