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:

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

Last year Mayor Malik had proposed reviewing the City Attorney’s contract based on the cost of services. We said at the time and believe that is somewhat dangerous. The fact of the matter is that good attorneys cost money. The better ones costs more. If the City is looking to get good legal representation, they need to pay for it. If the idea is to get the cheapest or least expensive representation, that’s a bad idea. With attorneys you get what you pay for.

The question is then, “when it comes to Cocoa Beach, what is the City getting? What are the taxpayers getting for their money?”

Last meeting, it came to light that City Attorney Skip Fowler had gone to four of the five Commissioners to ask them whether to defend the lawsuit over the variance issued for the Ocean Dunes project.

As we wrote at the time, “polling” the four Commissioners out of the public view and not getting direction from the City Commission as a whole seems to be a violation of the Florida Sunshine statutes and is definitely against the City Charter.

The lone Commissioner who was not polled by Fowler was Commissioner Skip Williams.

Given the tone of his comments at the last meeting, we sensed he was a bit peeved. We believe that after he thought about it some more, Williams became righteously angry about what happened.

You cannot have a City attorney that willfully breaks the laws of the state and the laws governing the City. If this were a one time thing, we could dismiss it as a big “whoopsie!” but this is consistent from Fowler and his associate Marsha Segal-George.

Over the past years we have seen them both break rules in meetings. We have seen them both willfully trample on the rights of citizens. We have seen not only shoddy opinions, but opinions that were totally wrong given to Commissioners and City staff. We have seen the attorneys flip flop on the issue of height and density.

In short, the credibility and work product of the attorneys is now even a larger issue than before.

We believe that Williams may be fed up as we have been fed up for quite some time. While the last meeting may have been the straw that broke Williams’ back, we have had our back broken by bales of straw from the attorneys.

If you cannot trust the attorneys to know and follow the laws, what good are they?

So what does all this have to do with Ben Franklin and “keeping a republic?”

Love him or hate him, one thing that Williams can never be accused of is allowing his views or the views of special interests to be put above those of the citizens.

Time and time again that puts Williams in the position of being a lone voice in the night. Too many times he is on the losing end of a 4-1 vote because he does follow the rules and the laws of the land. He reads the documents, sees the flaws and then acts on what he sees.

Like many principled people, Williams is often alone.

That is not to say that we agree with him all the time. We sometimes / often disagree with him on his decisions, but never his principles. Even if the same set of facts brings Williams and us to different conclusions, we know that his conclusions came about honestly and without a bias other than to the citizens of Cocoa Beach.

Tonight, it is time to support him. It is time to go to the meeting, stand up and say “what in the ‘aitch ee double hockey sticks’ are you doing up there?”

It is time to tell the Commission that no longer will the citizens put up with elected officials, City staff and contractors that break the laws of the country, state and city.

It seems that only Williams cares about that which is a shame. It is such a shame that it threatens at the very fabric of the City government. If we don’t support the man who is willing to stand up and say “we cannot allow illegal actions here in Cocoa Beach,” then we have thrown away our voice. We have thrown away our ability to be heard.

We will have thrown away our system of government.

We will have allowed ourselves to be at the mercy of those who think laws and rules don’t apply to them.

What we are saying is that it is time to get off the couch and get in the game.

Stand up.

Be counted.

Be heard.

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