By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org
A screen shot from an on-demand video of a meeting last month by the Miami-Dade County Commission. Broward commissioners don’t make on-demand viewing of their meetings available to the public.
Unlike most local governments, the Broward County Commission limits the amount of sunlight that shines on its meetings.
Broward is the only county in Southeast Florida, and the only major government in Broward County, that does not archive its recorded commission meetings for later on-demand viewing online by the public.
Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Monroe counties, the Broward School Board, and 18 of 31 Broward cities – including Fort Lauderdale – provide on-demand video or audio web viewing. Only Broward’s smaller municipalities lack this service.
More than 85 percent of Broward’s population resides in cities that offer on-demand web video or audio viewing of commission or council meetings.
Many governments also provide anytime viewing for meetings that occurred months or even years earlier. For example, Coral Springs has archived online video recordings of every city commission meeting since the start of 2007.
Fort Lauderdale started putting video of every city commission conference and regular meeting online in August 2012. The Broward County School Board keeps videos its meetings available online for the last six months.
Individuals wanting to watch a video of a prior Broward County Commission meeting must file a public records request to obtain a DVD copy of the session. A DVD copy costs $8 plus postage if it is mailed.
The Broward County Commission broadcasts live regular meetings and public hearings on its web page and on cable television. The meetings are re-webcast and most of the time re-broadcast on cable once, at 5:30 pm the Friday following the meetings.
FLORIDA’S SUNSHINE LAW
While Florida’s Sunshine Law only requires governments to keep general written minutes of their proceedings, on demand videos increase transparency by preserving the “richness of the discussion” that leads to decisions, said Carla Miller, founder a non-profit organization called City Ethics that provides local governments with ethics training and programs.
“If you don’t do digital recordings there is a…suspicion,” she said. “Anything that decreases the public trust is not good…Withholding things on line will always bring up suspicion.”
Broward residents have reason to be suspicious. According to the Justice Department, Florida led the nation in federal public corruption convictions between 2000 and 2010.
Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, reported that public corruption was a factor in Forbes Magazine’s decision to list the greater Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area as the seventh most “miserable city” in the United States in 2012. Forbes ranked Miami #1. West Palm Beach was fourth.
Daniel Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, supports on-demand video or audio web access, noting that many people are at work during commission meetings and are only able to watch them later. The Broward Commission meets regularly on Tuesdays starting at 10 a.m. Public hearings begin at 2 p.m.
“There is a difference between transparency and providing easy access,” said Krassner. “Putting them on line would be a best practice for open accessible government.”
Still, there appears to be no urgency to make on-demand video happen any time soon at County Hall.
“There are other things in the pipe line ahead of (on-demand video of commission meetings),” said Broward Mayor Kristin Jacobs. Jacobs pointed out that commissioners were briefed last week about efforts to redesign existing county web sites for mobile devices. “We are really excited about it,” she said.
ON-DEMAND SYSTEMS RELATIVELY INEXPENSIVE
Jacobs said, too, that Broward’s limited budget hinders archiving videos of commission meetings for on-demand viewing by the public.
In fact, many on-demand systems are relatively inexpensive.
In Jacksonville, the city purchased a $250 digital recording device and after each governmental meeting city staff links an audio recording on its web site for on-demand use.
“It’s not a hard thing to do,” said Carla Miller, who is also director of Jacksonville’s Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight.
Broward School Board spokeswoman Cathleen Brennan said her board’s more sophisticated video system cost $12,485 to operate this year.
Fort Lauderdale pays Granicus, a California corporation, $2,290 a month to operate the city’s on-line video system. Granicus started managing the city’s system in 2012. The city’s startup cost with Granicus was $27,825.
Chaz Adams, Fort Lauderdale’s public information officer, stressed in an email that Granicus’ cost covers not just online web access to meeting recordings but it also covers many aspects of the city’s “workflow management system.”
Government on-demand web services range from the sophisticated to the simple, from the easy to the difficult to access.
Fort Lauderdale’s system is one of the more sophisticated. Once a video recording is selected, that meeting’s agenda appears below the screen. Clicking an agenda item moves the video to that part of the meeting where the item is discussed.
Miami-Dade County’s online video archives feature more than commission meetings. Also to be found are meetings of various committees, including county finance, health and social services, public safety and animal services.
William Hladky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By William Gjebre, Broward Bulldog.org
A group of Broward cities have reached an agreement with the county Inspector General’s Office to turn over financial documents from their redevelopment agencies, temporarily heading off a possible court battle over the county’s claim that it has jurisdiction to investigate those agencies.
The Inspector General’s Office requested those Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) documents earlier this month citing its authority under the county charter, but after encountering resistance agreed instead to request them using Florida’s public records law.
Hallandale Beach city commissioners, criticized this year by the Inspector General for mishandling millions of dollars in CRA funds, sounded the battle cry at a meeting on Monday with a vote to explore teaming up with other CRA cities to obtain a legal ruling about the county’s authority over CRAs.
Commissioners approved several aggressive measures aimed squarely at the Inspector General’s Office, including a requirement that the county pay the city copying and other fees for any CRA financial documents it receives under the Public Records Act.
Commissioners authorized the city to file its own public records request for the Inspector General’s file on its completed yearlong probe of Hallandale Beach, including information about the sources of the allegations that helped start the investigation. Likewise, the commission also approved asking the Inspector General to specify the authority it believes it has under county law, or any legal ruling, to investigate CRAs.
MILLIONS AT STAKE
The Inspector General’s request for CRA records from city halls’ across the county signaled the opening of a broad inquiry into the potential misuse of funds and a possible attempt to recover from those cities millions of unspent taxpayer dollars.
Hallandale Beach maintains the Inspector General does not have the authority to investigate CRAs, and that CRAs are under the jurisdiction of the state.
“The jurisdiction question has to be resolved,” the Hallandale Beach CRA’s attorney Steven Zelkowitz told the CRA’s board of directors Monday. In Hallandale, as in many other cities, the city commission also sits as the CRA’s board.
Zelkowitz is expected to seek support for any legal action from eight other cities that challenged the IG’s request under the county charter for the financial documents. Those cities are: Lauderdale Lakes, Dania Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Coral Springs, Deerfield Beach, Pompano, and Davie.
“I feel comfortable that we have support,” Zelkowitz told Hallandale commissioners. The cost of any legal action would be spread among the participating cities, he said.
Plantation, the tenth city to receive a letter from the Inspector General, is not part of the challenge. Mayor Diane Bendekovic said her city had already provided the requested documents under the original request.
Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper, who leads the pushback effort against the county, blamed county officials for “a witch hunt” against cities whose CRAs receive property tax funds from the county.
“I’m tired of the Inspector General wasting taxpayers’ money,” Cooper said. “We welcome an investigation by the proper authority,” Cooper said, adding that the Inspector General is not that agency.
OTHER CRA CITIES CONCERNED
Hostilities between Hallandale and the county flared again following the Inspector General’s letter to Hallandale Beach and nine other Broward cities seeking a variety of CRA financial documents. This time, Hallandale’s concerns were shared by others.
Attorneys and officials representing eight CRA cities challenged the Inspector General’s assertion of jurisdiction under the county charter. They met last week with Jennifer Merino, general counsel for the Inspector General.
Zelkowitz said an agreement was reached in which the Inspector General’s Office would rescind its letter citing charter authority and re-issue a letter seeking the information under Chapter 119 of Florida’s statutes, the public records act.
The county also agreed to push back the date when the documents were due to be produced by about two weeks. The records had been due on Friday.
Merino told Browardbulldog.org her agency agreed only to “clarify” its request letter, saying the agency always wanted the documents under the public records law even though the original letter cited the county charter. She also said her agency is only conducting an “inquiry” for information and not an investigation.
According to Zelkowitz, the Inspector General’s office refused a request by the cities to jointly seek a ruling in Broward Circuit Court on whether does or does not have investigatory authority over CRAs. He also said the Inspector General failed to cite specific provisions giving it investigatory authority over CRAs.
Merino, maintaining that the Inspector General’s Office has the authority, said her office felt it “was not the right time” to seek such a court ruling.
“We are not trying to throttle any investigation,” Zelkowitz told Hallandale commissioners. “We want the right investigative agency to do the investigation.”
In June, Broward County commissioners, expressed frustration when told by county staff that their authority to audit Hallandale Beach’s CRA was limited by both state and county law. They vowed to change state law to gain control. The commissioners created the Inspector General’s Office several years ago.
In Hallandale, several of Mayor Cooper’s colleagues expressed a different kind of frustration as the tug-of-war continues with the Inspector General’s Office.
“We spent enough taxpayers’ money on this,” said Vice Mayor Alexander Lewy.
But Commissioner Michele Lazarow, the lone dissenting vote in Monday’s commission action, has called for state officials to seek an Attorney General’s opinion on the city’s use of CRA funds, and for an outside audit of the CRA to determine if funds have been misused in the past.
William Gjebre can be reached at email@example.com
By William Gjebre and Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
The Broward Inspector General’s Office has opened a broad inquiry into the potential misuse of public funds across the county with written requests sent to at least nine cities with a Community Redevelopment Agency to hand over a variety of financial records for inspection.
One official with knowledge of the inquiry told BrowardBulldog.org the Inspector General’s review is “the beginning of a long term process.”
Frank Schnidman, an attorney and senior fellow at Florida Atlantic University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, said the Inspector General’s request for records is all about millions in tax dollars and who should control them.
“It’s about time that somebody was trying to hold CRAs accountable. The Inspector General’s Office might not be the right mechanism to do that, but it’s about time,” Schnidman said.
CRA’s administer programs within districts designated by local governments under state law as community redevelopment areas. Boards made up of local government officials or persons appointed by the local government run them.
Tax increment financing is used to fund CRAs, which receive tax revenue generated by increases in real property value in their area over a baseline number determined when the CRA is created. By law, those revenues – the “increment,”— are put into a CRA Trust Fund that’s dedicated to the redevelopment of the area.
KEEPING TABS ON CRAS
In sending letters to the CRAs the Inspector General’s Office is carrying out a vow made earlier this year amid its investigation of Hallandale Beach’s CRA to keep close tabs on municipal redevelopment groups that receive half their funds from property taxes collected by the county.
Identical records requests were sent to at least eight of the 10 Broward cities with CRAs that receive county funding – Hallandale Beach, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Lauderdale Lakes, Davie, Pompano Beach, Margate, Deerfield Beach and Plantation. An official in Coral Springs, the 10th city, said that city has not received a letter but expects one soon.
While some CRA officials express uneasiness, others welcomed the Inspector General’s action.
“I think they are looking for general information, but they may want to see if there is anything that’s improper,” said Will Allen, administrator at the Davie CRA. “They won’t find anything wrong here.”
In Hallandale, City Commissioner Michele Lazarow said, “I don’t think it is an accident that the letter was sent” shortly after the Inspector General issued a critical report against the Hallandale Beach CRA.
Earlier this year, the Inspector General charged that Hallandale Beach city officials had “grossly mismanaged” millions of dollars in CRA funds. The office said it found at least $2.2 million in questionable expenditures between 2007 and 2012.
Mayor Joy Cooper challenged many of the county’s allegations. Asked to comment about the Inspector General’s new request for documents, she said the city “will respond accordingly.”
The Inspector General’s office asked the cities to produce:
*A copy of the ordinance that established the CRA Community Redevelopment Trust Fund. Hallandale Beach, for instance, did not have a separate fund for the first 16 years of the agency’s existence.
*Bank statements for the redevelopment trust fund accounts for the months of September and October for the years 2009-2012.
*The CRA’s general ledger account ending balances from 2009-2012
*Any and all CRA capital improvement plans for 2009-2012.
*Documentation for the disposition of all money remaining in the redevelopment trust fund at the end of fiscal year ending September 20, 2012 that was later used to reduce indebtedness for pledged funds.
*Records regarding all money deposited into escrow accounts from 2009-2012 for repayment of CRA debts.
Schnidman said the records that were sought indicate that the county’s agents are attempting to determine if the CRAs have complied with the requirements of state statute – 163.387(7) – regarding how tax increment trust fund balance amounts are to be treated at the end of the fiscal year.
Under the law, Schnidman said, those balances are supposed to be proportionally returned each year to each taxing authority, such as the county, that paid into the CRA.
“What the Inspector General is doing is he’s trying to figure out which of the county’s CRAs are in violation of the law and need to return all this money they’ve husbanded away,” said Schnidman. “It’s millions of dollars.”
WILL OTHER COUNTIES FOLLOW BROWARD’S LEAD?
At a time of tight municipal budgets, the Inspector General’s gambit could reverberate it city halls across the state.
“I wonder if other counties will follow this effort by the Broward IG’s Office in the continuing revenue discussions between some counties and their CRAs,” said Schnidman. “The threshold question is by what authority is the Broward IG seeking this information from Broward County Dependent District CRAs that it arguably does not have jurisdiction over?”
City officials in Hallandale briefly challenged the Inspector General’s authority over its CRA, but later backed off that position.
In Margate, where the CRA has focused on “streetscape” improvements along Atlantic Boulevard and State Road 7, City Attorney Eugene Steinfeld took a wait-and-see approach to the county’s inquiry.
“It sounds like they are just gathering information,” Steinfeld said.
Lauderdale Lakes CRA executive director J. Gary Rogers welcomed any new oversight.
“They are doing their job,” said Rogers.
In 2012, following up on a story the year before by BrowardBulldog.org about missing redevelopment funds, the Inspector General found that Lauderdale Lakes had misspent $2.5 million in CRA funds. The city is repaying the money to the CRA.
“We were investigated and employees were terminated,” Rogers said. “We came close to a big financial disaster” under a previous administration, added Rogers who was not with the city at the time.
“I got no problem with them looking at us,” Rogers said. “They want to make sure we are spending money appropriately.”
William Gjebre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
A for-profit career school operator with once-bustling campuses in Broward and Miami-Dade counties agreed this month to pay $3.7 million to the government to settle whistleblower fraud claims.
ATI Enterprises, which operated as ATI Career Training Center, agreed to the payout while denying accusations it had recruited students at homeless shelters, strip clubs and among criminals, then forged paperwork to make them eligible for thousands of dollars in federal tuition grants and loans.
The settlement, announced by the Justice Department last week, comes as crisis managers liquidate the Texas-based company by selling off assets and transferring or referring students to other schools, according to interim CEO Michael F. Gries.
At its height a few years ago, privately held ATI boasted 24 campuses in five states with more than 3,000 employees and 16,000 students. It was valued at more than $400 million.
ATI’s South Florida training schools in Fort Lauderdale, Oakland Park, the Doral area west of Miami International Airport, and Miami Gardens closed at the end of last year, Gries said.
Whistleblower Dulce Ramirez-Damon
The settlement resolved a pair of federal whistleblower complaints, including one filed in federal court by Dulce Ramirez-Damon, ATI’s former assistant director of education in Fort Lauderdale.
Ramirez-Damon’s False Claims Act complaint was filed in secret in July 2011. It alleged that ATI had engaged in a “systematic and nationwide fraudulent practice of forging documents and records to create an appearance of student eligibility in order to receive federal funds.
A similar whistleblower action was filed in federal court in northern Texas in 2009. Both suits have now been made public.
Private individuals bring false claim lawsuits in the name of the United States. They share in any recovery, in this case up to 25 percent plus attorney fees.
After investigating, the government decided to intervene on Aug. 7 in Ramirez-Damon’s case for the purposes of settlement, court records say.
The Department of Justice’s press release said ATI’s payment would resolve allegations it “falsely certified compliance with federal student aid programs’ eligibility requirements and submitted claims for ineligible students.”
ATI also allegedly misrepresented its job placement statistics to authorities in Texas in order to maintain its licensing and accreditation, the press release said.
‘MISUSE OF FUNDS’
Federal prosecutors in Miami, Washington, and Texas investigated, along with the Department of Education’s Inspector General.
“Federal financial aid is there to help students attain their dreams and goals, and misuse of these funds to increase corporate profits is unacceptable,” Miami U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said in a press release. “We are committed to ensuring that federal student aid is used for the benefit of students.”
Neither Ferrer’s office, nor Ramirez-Damon’s Miami lawyer, Bjorg Eikeland, responded to requests for comment.
Former ATI CEO and Chairman Arthur E. Benjamin
ATI has changed hands a couple of times in recent years, with the current owner being Texas-based Ancora Holdings.
But according to Gries, “all of these allegations” engulfing ATI occurred under the leadership of former ATI Chief Executive and Chairman Arthur E. Benjamin, a resident of Delray Beach.
Benjamin, who now runs Salt Lake City-based Stone Mountain Investments, did not return a phone message left with his office. Here’s a link to a You Tube video he made about ATI when he was CEO.
Benjamin worked at ATI from 2005 to 2011. While there, he contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a bipartisan array of Congressional candidates, according to federal election records.
Florida recipients of Benjamin’s largess include: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston; Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar; ex-Reps. E. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale and Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton; and Charlie Crist, the ex-Republican and ex-governor and presumed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
The whistleblower lawsuit alleges that within a month of Ramirez-Damon’s hiring in October 2009 it became apparent to her that ATI was engaged in active Pell Grant fraud. She said she notified her superiors, but that company management chose “to look the other way.”
Ramirez-Damon claimed she was abruptly demoted in April 2011 and transferred off the Fort Lauderdale campus at 2890 NW 62nd Street to a job as an instructor in Miami. The reason: “to keep her silent” and deny her access to school records, the lawsuit said.
She is no longer employed by ATI.
Pell Grants provide government aid to students from low-income families. At ATI, students could take courses to train them for jobs in automotive, health care, business, information technology and other fields.
According to the whistleblower suit, ATI falsified documents to enroll “as many students as possible” in programs with tuitions ranging from $13,741 to $46,744 per program. One former ATI employee is quoted as saying “the ATI culture…was to recruit anyone with a pulse.”
The numbers could add up quickly.
‘A LUCRATIVE SCAM’
“With a student mass of over 750 (in Fort Lauderdale) alone, and 18,000 country wide, federal subsidy of tuition is a very lucrative scam for ATI,” the suit said.
To find students, the suit said, ATI admission representatives targeted “the ‘down and out’ at homeless shelters, strip clubs and poor neighborhoods.” The “bait” to entice them to sign up was the promise of financial aid and low-interest loans. ATI distributed flyers promising lucrative salaries and guarantees of job placement.
The alleged fraud by ATI was sweeping: forged admission exams, forged proof of education, the acceptance of students without screening for criminal history, forged attendance records and falsified grades – all done to make it appear that federal standards were being met so the money would continue to flow.
In the lawsuit, Ramirez-Damon contended, “of a student body of 750 enrolled students” in Fort Lauderdale “at least 150-200 students have a violent or drug-related background.” She provided the names of more than a dozen such students in her complaint.
“It is common practice at ATI when a student is missing attendance, that employees check (the) Florida Department of Corrections website to see if the student has become incarcerated,” said the lawsuit.
ATI would also “re-circulate” poorly achieving students who faced dismissal, letting them know that they could transfer into another career training program. “This way the old grades no longer count and the student is again eligible to receive financial aid,” the suit says.
Some students who failed would fail again because they did not have the academic ability or background to take the courses they were in, according to the lawsuit.
“As a result, the students incurred more debt without graduating. ATI, on the other hand, has made more money,” the suit said.
The government’s press release noted that $2 million of ATI’s settlement payout would be used to refund student loans involving lawsuits brought by individual students against ATI.
The press release did not say how much taxpayers lost on government loans to ATI students.
By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org
James Anderson’s Teacup Puppies Store at 4001 N Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale
“Wizard of Claws” dog seller James Anderson, who shut his business four years ago amid numerous allegations of wrongdoing and a lawsuit by Florida Attorney General’s Office, is back in business in Fort Lauderdale under a new name and again is involved in legal controversy.
Anderson’s new businesses, the Puppy Collection and the Teacup Puppies Store, are the target of a federal lawsuit alleging that he has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices.
Also, a former customer of Anderson’s claimed in an interview that Anderson stocks sick dogs.
Competitor Eleonora Bonfini sued Anderson last month alleging he violated a permanent state injunction when he infringed on Bonfini’s federal trademarks, causing unfair competition.
In 2010, Anderson and his wife Gilda consented to a judgment and permanent Injunction after the late Broward Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Aleman found that they and Wizard of Claws had violated state law by misrepresenting to customers the source, pedigree and adult size of their dogs. Many had bought puppies believing that they would stay “teacup-size” into adulthood.
ALLEGATIONS OF MASS-PRODUCED DOGS
The Wizard of Claws case, highlighted by allegations that the pet store sold unhealthy dogs that were mass-produced at puppy mills, made headlines across South Florida.
The injunction was the end result of about 17 lawsuits filed against the Andersons, including suits brought by the Attorney General and the Humane Society of the United States.
The Humane Society’s suit was the first of its kind in its history.
A year before the injunction was finalized, the Andersons filed for bankruptcy and the national Humane Society removed more than 30 puppies from their store.
The injunction ordered the Andersons not to use the words “teacup puppies” and “puppy boutique,” or several variations of those names in any future businesses or web sites.
Bonfini’s business, TeaCups, Puppies and Boutique, is located at 9003 Taft Street, Pembroke Pines. Her website is www.TeaCupsPuppies.com. She has registered the store’s name and a picture of a puppy sitting in a teacup as trademarks.
Anderson’s Teacup Puppies Store is located at 4001 N Federal Highway. His many web sites include www.TeacupPuppiesBoutique.com, www.TeacupPuppiesStore.com, and www.PuppyBoutiqueStore.com. Anderson also shows photographs of puppies sitting in teacups on one of his web sites.
Anderson’s wife’ Gilda, is not connected with Anderson’s new business and is not being sued.
‘SOUR APPLES’ BY A COMPETITOR?
Roberto Stanziale, Anderson’s attorney, said in an interview that the words and picture that Bonfini claims are hers couldn’t be trademarked because they are generic. The Fort Lauderdale attorney labeled the suit “sour apples” because Anderson “is very competitive in the market”
“Each one of those words is so pervasive in the industry that to say that they have exclusive use of those words is silly,” Stanziale said, adding that Anderson is in compliance with the injunction.
In addition to the trademark infringements, Anderson is misleading customers into believing that are dealing with Bonfini’s company when they order dogs from him, Bonfini’s attorney Miriam Richter said in an interview. Between 20 and 30 customers have complained recently to Bonfini about Anderson’s misrepresentation.
Richter said Bonfini noticed something was amiss during last Christmas’ shopping season when her business dropped by $50,000. Bonfini also heard reports about how Anderson was allegedly misrepresenting his store as her business.
Richter said several customers have given her client statements about the misrepresentation. Two women said they each deposited $2,000 with Anderson’s business to buy puppies after Anderson’s employees told them that were at Bonfini’s store. After they realized that they had been misled, one woman stopped payment through her credit card company and the other woman demanded a refund from Anderson, Richter said.
AN UNHAPPY CUSTOMER
Morgan Rohrhofer purchased a Boston Terrier puppy for more than $1,700 from Anderson’s store in May. Within days of the purchase the puppy got sick. A veterinarian diagnosed the puppy as having giardia, an intestinal parasite. Dogs become infected by coming in contact with contaminated food, soil, or water.
Rohrhofer sent Anderson an email to complain. “According to the vet he contracted the parasite from where he was picked up given the short amount of time between departure from Teacup Puppies and showing of symptoms,” she wrote.
Rohrhofer said in an interview that she spent nearly $400 in vet bills, but Anderson’s business reimbursed her more than $200. She said her now five-month-old pup, Blake, is still ill and on medication.
Puppies at Anderson’s store were kept in cramped glass cages, about 1½ foot by two feet, with three to six dogs per cage, she said,” she said. She saw the puppies “crapping on each other,” she said. “That’s how (Blake) got giardia…I’m so glad that I got him out of that situation. It’s so terrible.”
Rohrhofer said her Boston Terrier came from RCW Kennels located in Elk City, Kan.
The Humane Society of the United States in a 2007 video report listed RCW Kennels as a puppy mill. The puppies lived in “worn out wire cages exposing dogs to sharp edges,” the report stated, adding that a Kansas state inspector in 2006 reported that “urine ammonia smell was so strong in an unventilated building that it burned her nose and eyes.”
The Florida injunction states that James and Gilda Anderson may not acquire animals from breeding facilities that they know “or has reason to know” that the animals were kept “in substandard conditions…”
Attorney Stanziale said his client does not buy puppies from suppliers who raise animals in substandard conditions.
“Mr. Anderson is under scrutiny every month about where he purchased the puppies,” he said. The injunction requires Anderson to report his business activities monthly to the state Attorney General’s Office.
Stanziale questioned the Humane Society’s objectivity in labeling RCW Kennels a puppy mill, claiming that the society “has its own interest.” He said the Humane Society wants to steer people to shelters and away from retail stores that sell “beautiful” dogs.
“There is no way in a million years you can sell thousands of puppies that one won’t be sick,” Stanziale argued. “Where would you want to buy a puppy? I would want to buy a puppy from a guy who is being monitored by the State of Florida.”
Molly McFarland, deputy press secretary for the Florida Attorney General, said in an email that her office is not investigating Anderson for any alleged injunction violations.
“Should consumers believe that this company and its owners are in violation of the injunction filed…under the previous administration, we encourage them to contact our office…,” she said.
By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org
Dr. James F. “Doc” Sistrunk
To honor Dr. James F. “Doc” Sistrunk’s legacy, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission may have to defy Flagler Village Civic Association opposition to extend the boulevard named for the black physician.
The proposal is to extend the name Sistrunk Boulevard east of Andrews Avenue through the Flagler Village neighborhood to Federal Highway.
Sistrunk Boulevard currently runs west from Andrews Avenue through City Commission District Three. The road, however, is named NE 6 Street east of Andrews Avenue, which is part of City Commission District Two.
Sistrunk Boulevard is four lanes wide until it meets Andrews Avenue, where the road narrows to two lanes as it continues east.
Economics and politics are the reasons given for opposing the Sistrunk Boulevard extension. Race is an unstated tension.
The Sistrunk district, just west of Flagler Village, is the largely black, historically segregated area of the city. Flagler Village is gentrifying into a predominantly white residential neighborhood.
Asked if racial bias is driving opposition to the Sistrunk Boulevard extension, City Commissioner Dean Trantalis – who represents Flagler Village – said, “I don’t know what prejudices are in the hearts of people.”
The Northwest Progresso-Flagler Heights Community Redevelopment Advisory Board has voted twice – in 2009 and 2012 – to rename that part of NE 6 Street as Sistrunk Boulevard to encourage economic traffic into the Sistrunk neighborhood.
TO HONOR A BLACK PIONEER
Commissioner Bobby B. DuBose, who represents the predominately African-American District three, said in an interview that many of his constituents want Sistrunk Boulevard extended to honor the black pioneer’s memory.
Dr. Sistrunk, a historical hero to the black community, moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1922. In 1938, when hospitals were racially segregated, he helped established the city’s first medical facility for blacks, Provident Hospital. He died in 1966.
During a July 2 City Commission conference meeting, Mayor John “Jack” Seiler and three of the four commissioners indicated support for a compromise. They suggested using both names along its six-block stretch through Flagler Village. Street signs would read Sistrunk Boulevard underneath NE 6 Street.
Trantalis rejects that idea.
“The big problem that people have is not that they don’t like Dr. Sistrunk and the heritage he brings to the community,” Trantalis told the commission. “(The name Sistrunk Boulevard is associated) with urban decay and crime…The people who live in Flagler Village don’t want that association to be passed into Flagler Village.”
But just a few blocks west of Flagler Village, Sistrunk Boulevard has undergone a recent and dramatic transformation aimed at stimulating private investment in the area. The city, along with its local community redevelopment agency, spent $15 million on the installation of new decorative tile, wider sidewalks, streetlights, landscaping, bus shelters, on-street parking and lane reductions.
DuBose sees the area differently from Trantalis. “We have two different perceptions,” he told the commission. “I (do not) want to belabor this for another year…This is important to the city…At this point I’m ready to move…just vote on it.”
Mayor Seiler lamented that Sistrunk Boulevard retains a negative connotation to some. He called Dr. Sistrunk “a legendary individual who delivered 6,000 (babies) and had a huge impact on…those who did not have access to health care.”
Dr. Sistrunk’s legendary status has not swayed Charlie King, a local activist who is thinking about running against Seiler in the next mayoral race.
“The name Sistrunk Boulevard makes people immediately start thinking of crime, drugs and prostitution,” King said in an interview.
PREJUDICE NOT THE ISSUE?
King is a realtor who owns two townhomes in Flagler Village, and lives further east in Fort Lauderdale’s more upscale Victoria Park neighborhood. He said prejudice is not the issue.
“It is economics,” he said, adding that renaming NE 6 Street would slow down the gentrification of Flagler Village. “The mayor is overstepping his bounds by forcing people to change the (street) name against their will.”
Street signs bearing the Sistrunk Boulevard name were installed in Flagler Village in 2012. They were removed following complaints to City Hall. Photo: Matthew Pici, Flagler Village Civic Association
Trantalis, who attended the last Flagler Village Civic Association meeting, said opposition to renaming the street is widespread. “Nobody in the room supported the renaming,” he said.
Matthew Pici, president of the Flagler Village Civic Association, said in an interview that his association complained to city hall in 2012 when new street signs were erected renaming NE 6 Street as Sistrunk Boulevard. The new signs subsequently were removed.
City spokesman Chaz Adams said a contractor prematurely installed the Sistrunk Boulevard signs in Flagler Village. Once discovered, the contractor removed them. The city commission had not approved the name change, Adams added.
The Flagler Village Civic Association passed a motion in 2012 requesting that any proposal to change street names in its neighborhood be submitted to the association for a vote before city approval.
The association may vote on the co-naming proposal at its Sept. 18 meeting. Commissioners DuBose and Trantalis both are expected to attend the meeting to be held at 6:30 pm at 408 NE 6 St.
“Commissioner DuBose may very well make his case (at the next Flagler Village Civic Association meeting),” Trantalis said in an interview. “I don’t want to predetermine the outcome of the meeting.”
Trantalis said the co-naming of the street in Flagler Village is not a “foregone conclusion,” even though the rest of the commission appears to support it. But if the commission votes to do it without Flagler Village support, it would set “a very bad precedent.”
To Dubose, the renaming proposal is a citywide issue. “We’re not taking, we’re adding, in co-naming, in co-branding,” he said.
By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org
Dixie Highway in the Middle River Terrace neighborhood Photo: Laura Croscenco
Bitter disagreement over a proposed Dixie Highway improvement project is pitting neighbor against neighbor in Fort Lauderdale’s Middle River Terrace neighborhood.
The fight is between former city commissioner Tim Smith and Laura Croscenco, president of the neighborhood association, and their minions, with recently elected Commissioner Dean Trantalis trying not to get hit in the crossfire.
The rift has “exposed raw nerves that (have been) festering beneath the surface,” said Trantalis, who represents the area. What’s happening is a “total personality conflict,” he said.
The debate is about how best to improve a 1.2-mile stretch of Dixie Highway that winds through a mostly residential neighborhood of single-family houses and small apartment buildings from NE 13 Street north to Wilton Manors.
Two years ago, the Middle River Terrace Neighborhood Association appointed Croscenco to research how to improve roadway safety for pedestrians, slow down traffic, reduce traffic crashes and improve drainage. Croscenco continued with the project after she was elected to president of the association last August.
A FUNDING SOURCE
The Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has agreed to contribute $2.3 million for part of the project that would add four-foot wide bicycle lanes to each side of a 20-foot wide road. Dixie Highway currently is 24 feet wide.
An additional $2.1 million for landscaping and other needs would be sought from grants.
The bicycle lanes proposal is similar to the MPO’s plans for Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors, according to MPO director Greg Stuart. Wilton Manors has approved its upgrade.
The MPO, with a board of Broward elected officials and community leaders, funnels federal transportation monies to local projects. If Fort Lauderdale accepts the bike lanes proposal, construction on Dixie Highway in both cities would begin in about two years, Stuart said.
Opposition erupted to the Middle River Terrace proposal after an Oct. 14, 2012 vote by the association to support the bike lanes concept.
Four days later, Tim Smith, an ex-commissioner who resides in the area, sent out an email against the bike lanes plan. He claimed mature trees would be cut down and that the project would make Dixie “a large boulevard.”
Croscenco argued back, claiming in emails that the MPO had refused to fund Smith’s preference for a single shared-use path on the east side of Dixie for cyclists and pedestrians because cyclists would be endangered from vehicles quickly backing out of driveways onto the pathway.
In an interview, Smith said he does not think the shared-use path idea is unsafe.
“How come (motorists) haven’t run into people in the last 15 years when bicycles use the current sidewalks?” he said. “That is where everybody’s been riding and walking and nobody has been hit.”
The personal nature of the dispute is evident in mass emails sent by both sides.
“The neighborhood has been fractured since you became president,” Smith told Croscenco on Dec. 12. “We always worked as a team before, but meetings are now contentious and unnerving, and the neighborhood is losing a lot of respect with the city…I too hope you will resign and will support any move to impeach you.”
Smith is a founding member of the Middle River Terrace Neighborhood Association and a voting president emeritus.
On Feb. 7, past association president Randall Klett emailed Croscenco with a similar sentiment: “I suggest you resign as president…to save yourself the embarrassment of being voted out of office.”
Tim Smith, left, and Laura Croscenco
Croscenco fired back the same day, accusing Smith and Klett of bullying her and others. “Dixie Highway (does) not belong to Smith/Randall (Klett),” she said.
Croscenco’s opponents failed to oust her during a Feb. 10 association meeting.
The hostilities have seeped into city electoral politics. Smith supported Trantalis and Croscenco supported his opponent Charlotte Rodstrom in last March’s election to fill Fort Lauderdale’s District Two commission seat. Trantalis beat Rodstrom by 18 votes.
Croscenco had told Trantalis that as association president she would remain neutral in the election. So Trantalis became upset when he spotted a Rodstrom sign in her front yard.
“Have your ethics…changed recently?” Trantalis asked in a Feb. 23 email. Croscenco replied that her husband planted the sign.
In a Feb. 5 email, Klett implied that Rodstrom was helping Croscenco. “Shame on Laura Croscenco and Rodstrom,” Klett wrote.
The animosities reached a crescendo May 25 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Fort Lauderdale beach when Croscenco confronted Trantalis. Both were attending a party to celebrate inductees into the city’s Hall of Fame.
Croscenco said she approached Trantalis and asked, “Do you really want to lose $2.3 million for the Dixie Highway project?”
“Stop nagging me. I’m here to have a good time…I’m working to put people together,” she said Trantalis replied, while pointing his finger at Croscenco.
Croscenco, a native of Italy, said the commissioner later lectured her about democracy and said the neighborhood should vote on which project to adopt “because that’s how we do it here.”
Croscenco shot back that Trantalis wanted the neighborhood to vote for a project that will not be funded and “never can be built.”
Trantalis confirmed that Croscenco approached him at the hotel. She “launches into it…She wouldn’t stop,” he said, following him as he attempted to walk away. Trantalis said her “passion doesn’t have to morph into… (being) condescending.”
The acrimonies have continued. In a May 30 email, association secretary Domingo Cid asked, “Should the influence of Tim Smith…be allowed to put the lives of the residents…in harm’s way for his own gains?”
“My wife just told me that you have accused me…of some sort of unspecified corruption,” Smith replied the following week. “If you ever do that again…we will follow through with unrelenting legal action to make you prove it or pay dearly for your folly.”
‘MAKE A DECISION’
Trantalis said in an interview that although he “sympathizes” with the shared-use path proposal, he wants to put a straw vote to Middle River Terrace residents and/or property owners to determine which plan has the most support.
Other city commissioners shot down that idea at a June 18 meeting.
Mayor John P. “Jack” Seiler called it “expensive” and told Trantalis the commission would support whatever proposal he endorses because he represents the neighborhood. Commissioner Romney Rogers quipped, “Do you want us to vote to where you will be going on vacation?”
“You are elected to make a decision,” City Attorney Harry Stewart reminded Trantalis.
“It is some type of Greek tragedy I’m dealing with,” said Trantalis, referring to the animosities in an interview after the meeting. “I need a chorus to tell me what to do.”
Recently, Trantalis said he’s leaning toward the plan that’s got the MPO funding if traffic-calming devices like speed humps are added.
William Hladky can be reached at email@example.com
By Dan Christensen,BrowardBulldog.org
State Attorney Mike Satz, left, and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein
The Broward State Attorney’s Office has dropped a felony burglary charge against a 15-year-old boy who defense attorneys say was coerced by Fort Lauderdale Police into falsely confessing to a crime he did not commit.
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein is making an issue of the case as “yet another instance of police misconduct” that Broward State Attorney Michael Satz has done nothing to correct.
“Because of your office’s inaction, there is no distinction between right and wrong when it comes to police interrogations in Broward County,” Finkelstein wrote in a May 14 letter to Satz that cited prior examples of false confessions during Satz’s 38 years as state attorney.
Satz did not respond directly. But Maria M. Schneider, the assistant state attorney in charge of the juvenile division, later told Finkelstein by letter that she was “perplexed” by the allegation “because this youth did not confess…There is, in fact, no evidence whatsoever that the youth admitted committing any crime.”
Indeed, the youth repeatedly denied entering the home or taking anything. But police and court records also show that while under police duress, the boy gave detectives incriminating statements that led authorities to charge him with burglary of a dwelling, a second-degree felony.
“It should be noted the subject later identified as (——-) subsequently confessed to committing the burglary and was placed into custody by Detective (Daniel) Gowans,” wrote Officer A. Agular in his sworn affidavit the day of the incident.
JUDGE TOSSES STATEMENTS
Broward Circuit Judge Michael J. Orlando tossed out statements allegedly made by the youth, a student at Fort Lauderdale’s Whiddon-Rogers Education Center, to police following a Feb. 27 suppression hearing in juvenile court.
Luz Quiroz, who lives in the 3600 block of SW 23rd St., told police she was doing laundry when she heard a noise coming from her son’s bedroom.
A police report says Quiroz said a young, unknown Hispanic male wearing a gray hoodie and tan pants had climbed through a window and was looking through the room. He bolted when she startled him.
Quiroz’s son, Anthony Arcila, chased the suspect, but lost him. He told police that a black HP laptop computer was missing from the bedroom, but a few days later said he’d been mistaken and that it was not missing.
A police K9 unit later found a hooded gray sweatshirt in the area.
Detective Gowans and his partner, Detective Shane Calvey, canvassed the area and found the 15-year-old at his home about a block from where the sweatshirt was found. Gowans wrote in his report that when he began to question the boy he began to cry, stated “it was me” and offered that while he hadn’t entered the home he’d gone there to steal “weed.”
The youth was arrested the same day, Nov. 30, and charged in a petition for delinquency. Burglary of a dwelling is a crime that’s punishable by 15 years in prison for adults. Juveniles can be placed in a youth program for six to 18 months, or until their 21st birthday, according Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes.
Assistant Public Defender Jeffrey Hittleman, the youth’s lawyer, asked the judge to suppress self-incriminating statements, contending they were made as the result of an unlawful interrogation.
Hittleman argued the boy had not been informed of his Miranda rights against self-incrimination, and that police repeatedly had threatened to call Child Protective Services to take away his sister’s two-year-old toddler if he “did not admit to committing the burglary.”
‘YOU WON’T TAKE MY SISTER’S BABY, RIGHT?’
“If I admit it to you, you won’t take my sister’s baby, right?” the boy asked a detective, according to defense court filings.
Hittleman’s conclusion: “It is hard to conceive of circumstances more coercive than those presented here.”
Gowan didn’t mention anything about calling the Child Protective Services in his police report. But he and another officer acknowledged they’d brought it up while testifying in February.
Assistant State Attorney Maria M. Schneider
“They explained that when they entered the youth’s home they smelled the odor of recently burned marijuana,” Schneider wrote in a May 17 letter to Finkelstein. “The officers testified that, because the youth’s sister and her toddler were in the home, they advised the youth that he was putting his sister in jeopardy of CPS involvement if he continued to engage in criminal activity around the child.
“Regardless of whether we accept the officers’ version of events or the (different) one testified to by the youth’s family, such statements, in the context they were made, are inappropriate,” Schneider said.
Nevertheless, Schneider said in an interview that prosecutors disagree with defense assertions that police coerced a false confession from the youth.
“They are characterizing it as a confession,” said Schneider. “We don’t accept that characterization. We don’t condone false confessions.”
In her letter to Finkelstein, and during the interview, Schneider noted prosecutors had “counseled” the officers not to make such statements during future interrogations because they could “have a negative and intimidating effect on a listener.”
“Additional measures to educate both our attorneys and police agencies regarding such issues have been and continue to be taken,” Schneider said.
No disciplinary action was taken against Gowans or others in the case, Schneider said.
“The bottom line is this is not something for which sanctions are appropriate, but if it reoccurs that might be different,” she said. “The legal remedy here is that the (defendant’s) statement gets tossed.”
But Finkelstein, citing the recent false confession murder case against Anthony Caravella and others, wants Broward prosecutors to do more.
“I am asking you to institute some controls,” he said in his May 14 letter to Satz. “At the very least, train your lawyers to recognize police misconduct when it’s right under their noses.”
By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org
Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis
A crowd disturbance on Fort Lauderdale beach that resulted in the Police Department’s deployment of tear gas has left beach residents and business owners in an uproar.
The Memorial Day disturbance was downplayed by the police chief and was not widely reported by the media, but complaints to city officials have prompted City Commissioner Dean Trantalis to invite the public to a meeting to discuss the unrest. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. on June 27 at the International Swimming Hall of Fame, 1 Hall of Fame Drive.
According to police, a “large fight broke out’’ about 5:30 p.m. on May 26 on the beach southeast of Beach Place, a popular complex of bars, restaurants and retail shops at 17 S. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., also known as State Road A1A.
“Several hundred subjects surrounded the fight making it nearly impossible for officers to break up the fight safely,’’ Police Officer Zack Baro said in a report. The fight spilled into A1A, blocking traffic. “More onlookers came out of Beach Place and continued to agitate the crowd . . .,” according to Baro.
Police Capt. Jonathan Appel reported that several hundred people “cheered [the fighters] on.” After Appel ordered the crowd to disperse, bottles and debris were thrown at the officers. A water bottle struck Baro’s head, Appel said.
About a dozen police officers working at off-duty jobs responded to the beach to back up the dozen officers already there.
‘AEROSOL DEFENSE SPRAY’
When Appel got concerned about the safety of his officers and the public and became worried about losing control of the area, he ordered that an “aerosol defense spray” be deployed on the ground upwind of the crowd, according to the police report.
The tear gas dispersed the crowd and no injuries were reported, the report said. One person was arrested.
Juan Restrepo, manager at the nearby H2O Café, 101 S. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., said in an interview that the gas forced patrons at sidewalk tables to flee either inside the restaurant or down the road with napkins over their faces. The disturbance caused the café to close about 6:30 p.m. instead of at its normal 11 p.m. closing hour.
The next day, Restrepo said, numerous tourists asked him if such unrest was “a regular thing” on the beach. He said many of them told him they do not plan to return to Fort Lauderdale.
Mayor John P. “Jack” Seiler said during a June 4 City Commission conference meeting that the crowd appeared to be a spillover from Miami Beach’s Urban Beach Week. Because of heavy police presence in Miami Beach, “word got out through the social media . . ., saying, ‘Let’s all go to Fort Lauderdale … move from Miami Beach to Fort Lauderdale Beach,’” the mayor said.
Restrepo said the rowdy crowd, composed mainly of youths, were not the usual visitors to Fort Lauderdale beach.
Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley
Responding to a 300-word article on June 7 in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that downplayed the unrest, “Joedavotta” posted on the newspaper’s Web site, “I was there and it was dangerous…About 10-15 police units besieged the place…SWAT arrived. Pepper spray fill[ed] the air. A1A was jammed with traffic … Debris was strewn across the beach.
“VictoriaHoliday” posted on the Web site, “Many, many, many in the…crowd demonstrate[d] classless behavior…They [were] aggressive…and unpleasant…If you tell me the event does not attract thugs – you are lying.”
In the Sun-Sentinel article, Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderley denied that the disturbance was a riot.
“If there were a riot on the beach, I think we would have had more people going to jail . . . We had the situation under control,” Adderly was quoted as saying.
During the commission conference meeting, Fred Carlson, a member of Fort Lauderdale‘s Central Beach Alliance Board, cautioned against making too much of what had happened.
“We’re risking overreacting on this issue … On the matter of police presence, they were there when I drove through [the beach] around 6 o’clock … I don’t think we should get all bent out of shape about [police] coverage because it was there,” Carlson said.
But the mayor and Trantalis appeared to disagree with Carlson.
MAYOR: ‘CAUGHT OFF GUARD’
“We seemed to be caught off guard,’’ Seiler said.
“I think we got caught with our pants down, and I truly believe we were not prepared,” Trantalis said.
When told that the police chief appeared to downplay the disturbance in the Sun-Sentinel article, Trantalis said in an interview: “Everybody wants to downplay it…We were caught by surprise. We haven’t seen things like this for decades.”
Although city commissioners normally are notified of all serious police events shortly after they occur, the police did not inform the elected officials about the beach disturbance. The commissioners learned about the unrest from outraged citizens the next day.
Seiler complained during the conference meeting that the commission should have been made aware of the unrest on Memorial Day.
“I’ve been inundated,’’ Trantalis told his fellow commissioners. “I’m sure all of you have been inundated with people who live and visit the area who feel extremely threatened.”
City Commissioner Romney Rogers said his secretary visited the beach at 2 p.m. on Memorial Day. She found the crowd “the rowdiest she has ever seen.” Citizens complained to Rogers about the large number of glass containers littered on the beach after Memorial Day.
“We need to go back to enforcing the open container law,” Rogers told other commissioners. “There shouldn’t be glass out there.”
Spur of the moment advertising by Fort Lauderdale beachfront bars also drew people to the beach, the mayor said. The mayor and Rogers both said beach businesses have a responsibility to beef up private security when they attract large crowds of customers.
Rogers praised the police for quickly quelling the disturbance. “The marketing surprise was the bad part,” he said.
Seiler disagreed with several people who wrote him blaming the disturbance on blacks.
“This isn’t about race,” the mayor told the commission. “We have had a tremendous diversity on Fort Lauderdale beach…It was just a raucous party crowd that was attracted regardless of race and economic background.”
William Hladky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org
A gun show in January at Fort Lauderdale’s War Memorial Auditorium
Fresh efforts to enforce two county ordinances should prevent cash-and-carry gun sales at guns shows in Broward County for buyers who have not already passed a state background check.
BrowardBulldog.org reported last month that Fort Lauderdale Police were not enforcing the county’s background check ordinance for sales made at gun shows due to police confusion over its legitimacy. This month, police posted a sign at the entrance to a gun show at War Memorial Auditorium warning patrons about the county ordinances.
The Broward County Commission in 1998 passed the background-checks ordinance and a companion ordinance requiring a five-day waiting period when gun sales occur “on property to which the public has the right of access.” A violation is a misdemeanor.
The ordinances exempt holders of Florida concealed weapons permits who have already passed background checks. State law also exempts law enforcement officers from background checks mandated by state statute.
Fort Lauderdale Police spokeswoman Detective DeAnna Greenlaw verified by email that city police were now enforcing the background check and waiting period ordinances.
“I am aware of the sign,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. “Jack” Seiler. “That sign already confirms what we are doing…We are fully enforcing the county ordinances as well as the state law.”
Last month, police told BrowardBulldog.org that the county’s background checks ordinance was no longer in effect due to Florida Statute 790.33, enacted in 2011. That law declares all municipal ordinances that regulate gun possession and sales “null and void.”
Legal experts, however, said the department’s legal interpretation was wrong because that statute is trumped a 1998 amendment to Florida’s Constitution giving counties the option to enact ordinances requiring a background check and a three-to-five-day waiting period.
FORT LAUDERDALE POLICE ABOUT-FACE
The department soon changed its policy. The sign about the county ordinances was first posted outside the auditorium for a gun show on May 4-5.
The city police’s legal position is important. Broward’s two largest gun shows, sponsored by Ohio-based Suncoast Gun Shows and North Lauderdale’s Trader Ritch, are held in Fort Lauderdale.
Greenlaw, who speaks for Police Chief Frank Adderley, declined to discuss the department’s about-face.
But Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan focused attention on the enforcement issue in an email to county commissioners and the mayors of other Broward cities. He cited last month’s BrowardBulldog.org article and said, “If your City is intending to conduct a gun show or your law enforcement encounter a gun transaction initiated or conducted on property to which the public has access, I would strongly suggest you obtain a legal opinion regarding the city’s authority and obligation to enforce Broward County Ordinance(s)…”
Broward Commissioner Lois Wexler
Ryan’s email prompted County Commissioner Lois Wexler ask County Administrator Bertha Henry to request a legal opinion about the ordinances from County Attorney Joni Armstrong.
On May 1 Armstrong wrote, “…The County’s requirements for a five-day waiting period and a criminal history records check for the described firearms sales remain valid.”
Wexler also brought the ordinances to the attention of the Broward County League of Cities. “I wanted elected officials to be aware of what the ordinances said and for them to be enforced,” Wexler said. She added that Henry sent the county attorney’s opinion to Broward’s city managers.
The county ordinances should slow down “straw purchases” at gun shows, said Hamilton Bobb, retired Assistant Agent in Charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Miami. Straw purchases occur when a criminal uses a girlfriend or an associate who can pass a background check to buy a gun.
“It should slow it down if the girlfriend has to wait five days,” Bobb said. “Usually they want to get a quick sale.”
Gun sales between individuals at non-public locations are not subject to background checks and a waiting period.
While state law requires licensed gun dealers to perform background checks on buyers even at gun shows, private sellers at gun shows in Florida are not required to do so in locations without an ordinance similar to Broward County’s.
Bobb pointed out that a felon can purchase a gun at a gun show if the seller does not do buyer background checks.
“I think (the ordinances) will have an impact,” Broward County Mayor Kristin Jacobs said, adding that she backs the ordinances “1000 percent.”
“It will surely stem the tide of illegal sales,” the mayor said. “I’m hoping through education about the ordinances that those cities that have shows will work with their city attorneys and law enforcement…”
“I don’t believe (the ordinances) will have an impact,” said Rich Nascak, executive director of Port Orange-based Florida Carry, which describes itself as a nonprofit, grassroots, lobbying organization “dedicated to advancing the fundamental civil right of all Floridians to keep and bear arms for self defense…”
Nascak said, “I don’t believe in laws that are designed to be preventative in nature because they do not work. Laws against murder and robbery don’t prevent them. Laws are designed to determine penalties.
Residents have spoken out about gun shows at War Memorial Auditorium.
At commission meetings this winter, Charles King urged that they be discontinued, saying they were “getting a little out of hand” with guns being displayed as kids played outside in the surrounding Holiday Park.
Mark Hartman told commissioners, “The use of park facilities for gun shows for the promotion of weapons is completely contrary to a child’s safe environment. It sends an inappropriate message especially to our youth and to our foreign tourists.”
Marshall Schnipper disagreed. “I’ve never been to a gun show where a gun fight has broken out, never. Most of the people who own guns are responsible owners of firearms…I think everybody should own an assault rifle.”
Mayor Seiler said in an interview that Suncoast has a contract with the city to hold eight gun shows at War Memorial during the year. Suncoast will pay the city more than $38,000 for the use of the auditorium, he said.
“We will evaluate at the end of the year” whether the city should enter into a new contract with Suncoast, said the mayor, pointing out that he is not against gun shows.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Lawrence Livoti represents Suncoast. He said his client supports background checks and will not challenge the county’s ordinance.
“We’re appalled at what happened at Sandy Hook. We are not out to make sure everyone has a firearm…We want to keep them in the right hands,” Livoti said.
Suncoast considers the city its business partner. He said the company recently sent letters to each of the commissioners inviting them to attend a show.
“We pay a lot of money to the city, plus they earn huge fees from parking. Exhibitors stay overnight and buy food. They come from around the state and bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in business,” Livoti said.
The next Suncoast gun show at the auditorium is scheduled for June 15-16.
Gun shows have been held at War Memorial since the 1970s. The city never has had an issue inside the auditorium, Seiler said.
The mayor, however, is concerned about the city’s lack of authority to control guns outside the auditorium in Holiday Park. “There should be reasonable restrictions so people can enjoy Holiday Park,” he said.
Seiler complained about the 2011 state law that invalidated all other city or county ordinances regulating gun possession and sales, saying it has “handcuffed the city.” He called it “ironic” that the state law that blocks police from enforcing “reasonable (gun) restrictions” in Holiday Park may now force the city to stop gun shows at the auditorium.
The city commission unanimously voted on Feb. 5 to ask the Legislature to repeal the law and allow municipalities the authority to regulate “firearms and ammunition in public parks and other local government owned facilities and property”
The Broward County Commission passed a similar resolution three weeks later.
Broward Bulldog Editor Dan Christensen contributed to this report.
William Hladky can be reached at email@example.com