by Diana DiMeo
VOL. 12 NO. 2

What should have been a 'no brainer' of verifying the correct number of signatures on petitions in order to bring three issues to the ballot for the March election has turned into a 'fight to the death'. Four members of the Riviera Beach City Council and the Mayor have spent all of their energies making sure that the democratic process does not occur in our City. Jim Jackson, who ran on the Ocean Mall development issue, has ridden out the storm in opposition to the actions of his fellow Council members and the mayor.

It has been a war of words with the Council members and the mayor using Channel 18 to disseminate incorrect information about the petition gathering process. City Clerk, Carrie Ward, has also made a number of misstatements in order to sway the public to move away from supporting the effort to keep the municipal property, known as the Ocean Mall, public. The goal of the three petitions is to keep the municipal beach area for the benefit of all citizens of this city to share, now, and in the future.

City plan is to build a 300 foot tall Tower in the Mall Parking Lot.  One corner of the structure will be at the street corner seen above.

As reported in the December '06 issue of the Islander, there were three petitions circulated in October 2006, in an effort to get issues on the March 2007 ballot concerning the municipal beach area known as the Ocean Mall. The registered voters of Riviera Beach were eager to make their voices be heard and willingly signed to put these items to referendum. The signed petitions were submitted to the Supervisor of Elections for signature verification and, in a letter dated 22 November 2006, the Public Beach Coalition Committee, as well as the City, was notified that the required number of signatures for each of the petitions had been met.

1) Petition for Charter Amendment to limit lease of Ocean Mall to 50 years for the purpose of tourism and recreation:
Signatures Required: 1961 Signatures verified: 2646

2) Petition for Charter Amendment limiting height on the Municipal Beach Property to 5 stories:
Signatures Required: 1961 Signatures verified: 2682

3) Petition for Reconsideration and Repeal of Ordinance 3016, which allows a 99-year lease on
Ocean Mall:
Signatures Required: 2943 Signatures verified: 2944 (hundreds more available but
not needed)

Normally, this would be end of job and the three issues would have been placed on the March 2007 ballot. Not so in Riviera Beach!

From the date that the signatures were verified by the Board of Elections, the City has taken every means possible to keep these items off of the ballot. In an unbelievable scenario, the City Council, excluding Jim Jackson, defied the findings of the Board of Elections and found that there were only 400-plus valid signatures on the petitions. In addition, they tried other maneuvers to defeat the people's right to choose what is built on the municipal beach property.

The City Tennis Courts will be sacrificed to the Tower Structure plan.

And, that is not all! The City has hired some expensive lawyers to go to court to stop the referendum process. The Public Beach Coalition has also gone to court and, on 8 January, a Circuit Court Judge approved an 'alternate writ of mandamus/order to show cause' against the City. This means that the City has been ordered to set an election on the proposed charter amendments in the next general election currently scheduled for March 2007, or, show in writing within twenty (20) days why these amendments should not be put on the ballot.

On another front, Senator Atwater obtained the Florida Attorney General's opinion concerning the referendums' validity. The City Clerk has taken the position that only the five members of the Public Beach Coalition could get petitions signed. The Clerk has also taken the position that each of the petitions required signatures from 15% of the voters in the previous election (only one of the petitions required 15%, the other two required 10%). This ridiculous position has never been the law in the State of Florida. The Florida Attorney General's letter to Senator Atwater dated 29 December 2006 stated:

"The governing body of a municipality may, by ordinance, or the electors of a municipality may, by petition signed by 10 percent of the registered electors as of the last preceding municipal general election, submit to the electors of said municipality a proposed amendment to its charter……"

"…This office has consistently stated that the charter amendment provisions in section 166.031, Florida Statutes, prevail over conflicting provisions in a municipal charter. Sections 166.031(3), Florida Statutes, itself, provides that a municipality may amend its charter as described above, even if the charter itself
provides otherwise."

"…a provision in the city charter that limits its number of petition gatherers to no more than five persons is not contained in section 166.031. Therefore, citizens availing themselves of the procedures in section 166.031 are not limited by the strictures of the city charter."

At every turn, the City attempts to deprive the people of their right to vote. Not once, has the City government expressed a desire to listen to, and work with the very citizens who elected them into office. Your right to vote on public issues is being denied by the actions of the Riviera Beach City Council. Is this their objective, or, what is their motive?

On 11 January, the Public Beach Coalition Committee filed a Counterclaim against the City which states that Florida Statute, Section 768.295 "specifically prohibits Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suits
by governments." The City is a governmental entity as defined by the Act. The counterclaim states that the suit that the City filed against the PBC Committee members ”is a SLAPP suit without merit and filed solely because the Defendants have exercised their right to petition their government as protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Section 5, Article 1 of the State Constitution."

On a completely different issue---the CRA audit--- the Auditor General's office has discovered many inconsistencies in reporting, including lack of documentation for charges made to/paid by the City/CRA. This audit highlighted a misuse of city issued credit cards as well as a number of flagrant violations of Florida law. The City spends our tax money wantonly and does not feel that it needs to be accountable for the monies spent. When the CRA Audit was first put in front of the state auditor, Councilperson Liz Wade traveled to Tallahassee in an attempt to stop the investigation. Again, who is this council working for, certainly not the citizens!

Riviera Beach residents are up in arms on this issue, enough so that Rep. Carl Domino is moving to get the CRA audit before the legislature for review. On Monday, 8 January, Rep. Domino "attended a meeting of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee in Tallahassee with committee staff, to discuss the next course of action. They decided that due to the seriousness and gravity of non compliance issues, to hold an in depth review of the audit findings." The date for this review has not yet been set, but it will probably be held sometime in February 2007. The CRGRB newsletter and website will post the date for this hearing when it becomes firm.

What these actions reveal is a city government that has absolutely no concern for its citizens to the point of disrespecting anything the public has to say. This Council acts as if it is above the law and does not have to account to the people. What happened to the principles on which this country was founded? It is time for all of us to speak out to insure that our voting rights are protected. And, it is time to hold this government entity accountable for misusing our tax monies. It is time to be heard! We have four local politicians who support the people's right to decide and hold government accountable: Sen. Jeff Atwater, Rep. Carl Domino, County Commissioner Karen Marcus and City Councilman Jim Jackson. Please, stand up and be counted! Contact them to express your views on these issues.


Regular updates on issues affecting Singer Island/Riviera Beach can be found on the website:
rg4rb.org. Now, more than ever, it is extremely important for all of us to keep up to date on what is happening that affects Singer Island as well as all of Riviera Beach.

Please lend your support to the Public Beach Coalition. This group of unpaid volunteers is spearheading the effort to have the Municipal Beach Property (known as the Ocean Mall) developed in a manner that keeps it as a public space for all to enjoy. Contributions to fund the legal actions can be sent to: Public Beach Coalition, 1281 N. Ocean Blvd., PMB 119, Riviera Beach, Fl 33404

Please note: The expressed opinions may or may not be the same as those shared by Seabreeze Publications Inc