BALANCE SHEET BLOG – HOLLYWOOD, FL


Final Post
September 10, 2013, 4:37 PM
Filed under: Uncategorized

After more than nine years of vigilance trained on Hollywood City Hall, the Balance Sheet is closing down.  It’s not that there’s no longer a need for citizen watchdogging.  Indeed this need remains as great as ever. We have confidence that sooner or later someone will follow in the Balance Sheet’s footsteps with a new and better blog to help residents keep informed about key city issues.  A good place to start would be the high fees Hollywood charges for water and sewer service and the city’s long-time practice of annually diverting millions of dollars of our water/sewer fees to other city uses. Until someone decides to launch a new blog, however, Hollywood residents who make an effort to keep themselves informed can help to keep the city on track.  That’s where you come in.

But first, since we’ve decided now to move on to other pursuits, it’s perhaps worth recounting what prompted us to spend as much time as we have in studying and reporting on city hall doings. Will Watman, Laurie Schecter, and Sara Case started the Balance Sheet in 2004 after a City Commission election that kept in place long-time incumbents whose ideas for Hollywood sharply diverged from ours.

We have always envisioned Hollywood as a unique, healthy, family-friendly beachfront city with our many historic buildings refurbished for new uses. We wanted government that would meet the needs of Hollywood’s existing residents, and support the city’s multicultural and economic diversity. We wanted to preserve our environmental treasures that contribute so much to the city’s unique character. At the time, our elected officials wanted demolition for big box retail and upscale condo towers with the stated goal of attracting new, wealthy residents to replace the existing population.

The 2008 city election brought a City Commission more in tune with our hopes for Hollywood, but the economic crisis overshadowed almost everything as time went on.  We don’t know yet how the 2012 City Commission will take shape. With three new Commissioners staking out positions, it is not yet clear what the future holds. Will the Commission coalesce around policies that recognize the city’s unique strengths?  Will they understand the value of Hollywood’s diversity and support it?  We don’t know, but there’s definitely a role for you in steering Hollywood toward success.  We urge you to pay attention to proposals that will be coming to the city commission for a decision before any decision is made.  It’s too late if you don’t know what’s happening until after the commission has already voted.

Informed residents who care are an essential part of successful government and unfortunately newspapers (and TV) are no longer covering the day-to-day issues that confront our elected officials.  Each of you has ideas about the kind of city you’d like Hollywood to be. As most of you know, the City Commission meets twice a month (on the first and third Wednesdays) and their agenda is posted online the Friday before each meeting.  You can sign up on the city’s Notify Me web page to receive an e-mail link to each agenda as it becomes available.   Take the time to scan the agenda and check out items that seem to have significant impact so you can communicate with the elected officials before they vote.  In addition, keep in close touch with your neighborhood civic association so you can help shape the positions and actions it takes.

We have found our time spent with the Balance Sheet rewarding and our efforts from time to time successful in nudging city government in a better direction — the reason we embarked on this adventure in the first place. Our hope now is that residents from all the city’s neighborhoods will stay focused on the common good, keep informed, and be vocal. A successful Hollywood requires no less.



Governing by Waiver UPDATE
April 30, 2013, 3:53 PM
Filed under: Development

We have just learned that Stiles has asked that the waiver request be deferred from Wednesday’s City Commission agenda. Meanwhile, everyone should understand that this project is still moving forward.  It has been approved.   The ground breaking event is set for Thursday, May 2, at noon.

We hope that removing the waiver request from this week’s City Commission agenda will allow the City and Stiles to come to agreement on a way to uphold the ordinance and move the project forward.



Governing by Waiver
April 29, 2013, 1:09 PM
Filed under: Development

Up until the recession in 2008 Hollywood was widely known as the city that “governed by variance.”  Whatever a developer wanted, the developer got, mostly because Hollywood’s leaders seemed to feel that our city was somehow substandard and no developer would want to build here unless the City Commission “gave away the store.” Huge tax incentives were promised, minimum lot sizes and setbacks reduced, and other variances granted to the point where lavish developer handouts came to be expected by developers and protesting residents alike. Most of these giveaways came to a halt at least temporarily with the economic downturn, with the notable exception of the large Margaritaville incentives.

But now, development in Hollywood is picking up again.  The question this week is whether the City Commission will grant Stiles Corporation,  a large “invest-build-manage” company, the waiver it seeks from Hollywood’s Green Building Ordinance. This ordinance requires compliance with minimal environmental standards: only the most basic LEED or other recognized environmental certification programs.

Stiles is building West Lake Commons, a shopping center to be located on Sheridan Street just east of Federal Highway.  The anchor tenant will be Publix.  We’ve been told other tenants will include Pollo Tropical and Starbucks along with as many as 13 additional stores. In the site rendering below, Federal highway runs along the right side, with Sheridan Street perpendicular to it  at the bottom.

Will West Lake Commons be just another strip mall behind a sea of cars?  Or will it be an environmentally certified shopping destination that brings a measure of forward thinking and quality to our city?

West Lake Commons

Stiles Corporation is the first developer to seek a waiver under Hollywood’s 2011 ordinance (but we’re told Walmart at State Road 7  is next in line and what we say here applies equally to Walmart).  Stiles claims compliance with Hollywood’s green building requirements would be (1) cost prohibitive and (2) unmanageable because the project has multiple tenants.   We can’t see how the first of these justifications can’t be taken seriously. Lest anyone think Stiles a small mom-and-pop developer barely making ends meet, the logos of some Stiles clients proudly displayed on its website make clear that Stiles is comfortably positioned in the heavy-weight category.

Stiles Clients

The question of complications caused by multiple tenants has validity but should not be cause for an unconditional waiver.  Stiles’s concern seems to be that build-out of the out-parcel stores may not be under its control and could delay certification for months after the anchor store opens its doors. We don’t see a problem with certification delayed until the entire project is complete.  Stiles is delivering “vanilla box” and “raw shell” spaces in which the different tenants will build out their stores. Stiles can build these bare-bones structures to LEED specifications.  And by lease (or sales contract if applicable), Stiles can require green building standards of all the smaller stores.  Stiles also expresses concern that the ordinance will complicate its negotiations with potential tenants.  This is a poor excuse to trot out in the second decade of the 21st century.

Shopping center development with multiple tenants has achieved LEED certification in many other jurisdictions for many years.  From Savannah’s Abercorn Common which was the first LEED certified shopping center in the U.S. back in 2006 to the current Brooklyn Navy Yard‘s 74,000 square foot supermarket complex in the six-acre Admiral’s Row site, developers all over the country have managed to achieve Silver and even Platinum LEED certification for multi-tenanted shopping centers. Hollywood should follow the lead of these other cities and so should Stiles.

So long as City officials fail to hold development to high standards, mediocrity will continue to be Hollywood’s legacy.  It is very important that the City Commission uphold the City’s Green Building Ordinance. At its meeting last week, Hollywood’s Green Team unanimously adopted a motion opposing the granting of this waiver but the final decision will be made by the City Commission at its meeting on Wednesday, May 1.

The Green Team’s statement, after hearing Stiles make its case at a meeting last week, is clear: “The Green Team Advisory Committee vehemently opposes the waiver to circumvent the LEED certification for the West Lake Commons project. LEED certification will ensure a better, more environmentally friendly outcome that will be better for the city and its residents. The Green Team worked very hard to ensure that the green building ordinance would be mandatory and any variance would establish an unfortunate and dangerous precedent.”

If you agree with the Green Team, as we do, ask the City Commission to uphold Hollywood’s Green Building Ordinance by not granting a waiver for West Lake Commons. In addition, try to attend the City Commission meeting on May Day and speak your environmental concerns directly to the Commission.



Margaritaville
April 1, 2013, 2:12 PM
Filed under: Beach, Budget, City Commission, CRA Districts, Development

Margaritaville will request an extension at a Special Joint Meeting of the City Commission and the CRA on Wednesday, April 3, at 5 PM, at City Hall.  The announcement of this event, made today from the City Manager’s Office,  is posted below.  According to the City Clerk, “the agenda and backup are not completed at this time.  When completed, the information will be posted on the [City] website.”

City’s Announcement:

“As you know, the City of Hollywood and the Hollywood CRA have been working with Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort LLC for the redevelopment of the Johnson Street property on Hollywood Beach after a two-stage competitive Request for Proposal process.  A Development Agreement and Ground Lease was executed in February 2011 followed by a First Amendment in April 2012 which revised the timelines for development.  Later, in September 2012, additional amendments revised the funding sources for the project including the diminished role of EB-5 financing, the introduction of a $23 million Compensated Funding Agreement with the CRA, and the anticipated role of Starwood Capital as an equity partner in Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort LLC.  Third Party reimbursements (allowing the City and CRA to contract with advisors at the expense of the developer) and rental income to the City were increased as a result of the updated funding sources.  Because the project had encountered unanticipated delays, an April 10, 2013 “outside possession date” was also established.  Several important milestones would have to be satisfied by that date thereby allowing the property to be transferred to the developer for the commencement of construction.  Although City and CRA staff have been vigilant in reminding the developer of the upcoming deadline and the developer has made significant progress, Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort LLC has asked to appear before the City Commission/CRA Board to provide an update on the project and to request one last extension. Representatives from Margaritaville, Lojeta, and Starwood Capital will be in attendance. 

 



Balance Sheet In The Crosshairs
March 25, 2013, 10:35 AM
Filed under: Budget, City Staff, Taxes

A comment submitted last week by Hollywood resident Jeff Brodeur rails against the City’s treatment of our employees (salary cuts, pension cuts, outsourcing, lack of overtime pay, and more).  He deplores the departure of valued staff for better jobs elsewhere “because they are overworked, underpaid, and not appreciated” here in Hollywood.

His comment also nails the Balance Sheet as a “mouthpiece” for the City, an about-face from what he saw as our former role of challenging the City. His entire statement can be found here.

We agree the current state of our City is distressing.  City employees have been subjected to abrupt salary reductions and pension cuts.  In addition Hollywood has way too many dilapidated buildings and litter strewn, pot-holed streets. The City’s infrastructure is badly in need of repair or replacement.  But it’s one thing to rail against these conditions and another to come up with solutions.  The fact is the City has very little money.  Why?

City Finances

The compromised financial situation the City finds itself in today was foreseeable years before the economic downturn.  A long state of official denial and refusal to take hard steps on pensions in past years brought us to the huge and ongoing painful consequences of Financial Urgency in 2011.  The Balance Sheet’s efforts to sound the alarm about this looming problem started back in 2004 and continued right up to the point of Financial Urgency in 2011. Our record on these issues is summarized in the attached document:  Balance Sheet History With Cartoons

To say that the Balance Sheet has changed from critic to mouthpiece is to ignore both our record and the fact that the City has changed from years of denial, possibly ignorance, about the consequences of its actions.

By 2011, the City had overspent its budget in mid-year.  Then, there was no choice but to take hard steps to address the problems that the Balance Sheet had been urging the City to fix for at least eight years.  Had the City done so earlier, the results today would be far less painful.  However, there’s no way to go back and do things differently.  Hollywood is now in the process of digging the City out of a huge self-made financial hole.  The necessity of digging out is obvious to anyone who has paid close attention

The hard truth is that without significant increases in property taxes and fees, the General Fund is inadequate  to substantially improve employee salaries and pensions at this time. Additional ways to increase the General Fund in future years include  proposed development such as the Walmart Shopping Center at 441, suing for the WiFi shortfall guarantee if that’s the only way to get it, and possibly either capping the Beach CRA or removing the Diplomat from its boundaries if future beach development would allow such a change.

Some have suggested borrowing from the City’s Water and Sewer Enterprise Fund to make up for salary and pension cuts.  As many of us know, Hollywood residents already pay disproportionately high water and sewer fees and we don’t hear anyone offering to pay more. Note:  The City recently did borrow $2 million from the Water and Sewer Fund to purchase and outfit police vehicles.  This money is supposed to be repaid with interest.  We view this transaction as a highly questionable practice. The City normally would have bought these vehicles with a lease-purchase agreement — a form of financing now unavailable to the City because of its low fund balance.

Other Matters

Mr. Brodeur also criticized the Balance Sheet for ignoring “inconvenient facts” by not disclosing the returns of the Police and Fire pension funds.  Both of these funds post investment returns on their websites for all to see.  We did review them before writing our article.  It is important to understand that one year’s returns do not stand in isolation.  For example, the Police Pension Fund earned about 17% this year, and about 2% last year. A great many more really good years would be required to significantly reduce the City’s pension obligations that the City Commission was still voting to increase as late as 2010.

While  Mr. Brodeur’s comment raises important issues for Hollywood, we object strenuously to his charge that the Balance Sheet heaps “more garbage on the men and women that protect us every day.”  Everyone agrees that our City employees are hard working professionals and we all deplore the current situation that has caused them so much hardship. They are victims of more than a decade of overly generous promises that the City is unable to keep.

Finally, Mr. Brodeur correctly notes that the Balance Sheet does not cover many important City issues that residents should be informed about.  We are such a small volunteer operation that there is no way our coverage could be comprehensive, nor have we ever claimed it to be.  We would welcome Mr. Brodeur and any other residents so inclined to try their hand at their own blog, researching and writing about City issues of concern to them.  A clear analysis of difficult issues can be a force for progress.




City Budget Squeeze
March 15, 2013, 3:28 PM
Filed under: Budget, City Staff, Residents, Taxes

A recent budget workshop for City Commissioners demonstrated that the City is recovering from its 2011 financial meltdown. Nonetheless, property tax revenues are cautiously projected to remain more or less flat for several years to come. (We’ll be watching for City staff’s mid-year revenue projections expected later this month for any significant changes in the forecast.) The City has stated its commitment to improving City employee salaries and benefits insofar as the budget can support it – a little at a time.

Working against our strapped City’s potential salary and service improvements, however, is litigation spawned by the City’s two Pension Boards.  The Police Pension Board and the Firefighter Pension Board are City Boards whose purpose and members are listed on the City’s website along with those of the 17 other City Boards (African-American Advisory Board, Historic Preservation Board, Education Advisory Board, Green Team, etc.).  But unlike the other City Boards, the two Pension Boards have the power conferred by State statute to sue and be sued.

After Hollywood voters approved the Pension Referendum in September 2011, the trustees of each Pension Board voted unanimously to sue the City in an effort to overturn the pension changes that resulted from the Referendum.

Each Pension Board pays its administrative expenses including legal fees from the pension fund it administers. Every year the pension plan’s actuary examines the plan’s financial obligations and tells the City how much it must pay into the plan.  The plan will be short whatever amount was spent on legal fees and the City will have to make that up. So when these Boards sue the City, the City pays not only its own legal fees but those of the Boards as well.

Last December, the City won a Motion to Dismiss the two Pension Board suits (now consolidated), but the judge’s ruling allows the Boards to correct their pleadings and start over. This litigation between the Pension Boards and the City is at an early stage. But already the combined legal fees of the two Pension Boards come to nearly $400,000 with the City having spent about $60,000 on its own defense.

With the City on the hook for both sides’ legal fees — an amount that seemingly will reach the millions at the rate this litigation is moving -– the City’s ability to improve employee salaries and city services is lessened.  Such a result is harmful to both Hollywood employees and Hollywood residents.

Separate from the Pension Board litigation, the Unions are seeking to have the pension changes invalidated as a violation of their collective bargaining agreements. These actions, which began in the courts, are now being adjudicated in the State’s Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC).

So far the only winners in the Pension Board litigation are the private law firms engaged in the Pension Boards’ lawsuits. We urge the Pension Boards to drop these costly unproductive suits.

As for the Unions, we can only hope that all three City Unions will enter into negotiations with the City in a mutual effort both to rebuild trust and to work out creative and sustainable salary/benefit structures that will help all their members. Only then can we move forward together to create a sound footing for a more prosperous, successful Hollywood.



Election Violations – Police Union
November 7, 2012, 12:36 PM
Filed under: City Staff

Update: March 8, 2013. We just learned that after earlier unsuccessful service of process,  the City finally served the PBA’s registered agent on Feb. 26, 2013.  Arraignment is set for April 4.

November 8, 2012.  Police Union Charged with Illegal Election Activity

Editor’s Note:  This post is not about the candidates.  We now have winners and it’s important that we unite in helping them succeed.   Campaign finance reform is the subject of this post.  The Charter Review Committee wanted citizens to know who was financing ads supporting or opposing candidates for the City Commission. The Commission agreed, and the Charter now requires it.

Alleging election-related violations of the City Charter, Hollywood’s City Attorney, late last month, charged the City’s police union with unlawful conduct.  The Police Benevolent Association’s failure to file the campaign finance reports required by Section 3.12 of the City Charter is set out in a Municipal Information** filed in county court.

The City Charter, amended in 2010 to include a section on campaign finance reform, requires disclosure of all contributions received and expenditures made by an “Express Advocacy Organization” in City Commission elections. The City’s charge against the PBA relates to its activity in the District 3 City Commission race. Under the City Charter, the public is entitled to know the source of the union’s funding for its electioneering activity targeting Commissioner O’Sheehan.  The union has refused to file the required reports disclosing this information.

The penalties for City Charter violations are limited by State law to a maximum fine of $500 or 60 days imprisonment, or both. We are unaware of the union’s rationale for noncompliance.  Perhaps it considers the penalty a slap on the wrist.  Or perhaps it has a legal argument for considering itself exempt from the City’s campaign finance requirements.  In due course, the matter will be resolved.  Meanwhile, it is disquieting that the union representing those responsible for enforcing our laws is charged with violating them.

__________

**”An information is tantamount to an indictment in that it is a sworn written statement which charges that a particular individual has done some criminal act or is guilty of some criminal omission. The distinguishing characteristic between an information and an indictment is that an indictment is presented by a Grand Jury, whereas an information is presented by a duly authorized public official.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law




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