A few weeks ago, I explored the proposition that residents cannot prevail on most issues within the political arena at City Hall…..simply put, I believe the political process is stacked against the resident in favor of the land owner(s), the developer(s) and their politically connected attorney(s), architects, and consultants.
In most cases, opinions ‘de jour’ are offered into evidence by these ‘hired guns‘, justifying whatever posture is most favorable for the advancement of their individual project. Examples of this are too numerous to outline here. Many hours are spent by the developer interest with city staff and with lobbying efforts directed at the appointed and elected official.
Relatively few hours, if any, are spent with the affected resident by the project applicant, a strategy that, if employed, may quell some of the negative sentiments of the residents before entering into a confrontational process.
In Part 1, the conclusion reached was that residents must seek redress against this stacked deck in forums other than the political process. A prediction that now seems to be playing itself out.
Let’s take a look….
In a recent grass root movement over a development dispute in West Palm Beach, a watchdog resident group retained counsel to challenge the City’s process. Those residents fought the legal process in both the political arena and the Circuit Court resulting in an out of court cash settlement agreement with the developer leaving a well-funded resident group for future watchdog activities. WPB’s mayor called this process “extortion”….
Funny, when residents use the process successfully, its extortion, but when local government uses these same processes its good governance….
In Boca Raton significant items in this regard need to be reported:
1) There are at least three (3) different neighborhood resident groups that have engaged legal counsel to monitor, and, potentially seek Circuit Court redress for improper or legally insufficient approved development orders;
2) There are now multiple complaints filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics working their way through that process and challenging the activities of the City Council and its agency appointments; and,
3) There is research being conducted to determine ways to engage the Palm Beach Inspector General and the State Attorney’s office when intentional misrepresentation are offered under oath by applicants and/or their representatives to the reviewing body; to wit: the City Council, the P&Z board, and the City Staff during the review process.
Most of these efforts are a direct result of the deep public sentiment that resident concerns are not given a fair hearing when the elected and appointed officials seem to accept, as true, facts that are empirically questionable and, with diligent research, factually inaccurate.
The process is skewed. Appointments to the review boards are weighted with the very professionals vested in the outcomes of the advisory body upon which they serve.
These advising bodies would be more responsive to residents’ sentiment if their makeup were a broader personality of residents; to wit: ordinary residents with a community lifestyle stake in the outcome of the development patterns and process.
Elected officials are representative of all the residents not merely responsive to the developer interest alone. That sentiment is lost within the broader community.