To the editor:
Over the past six months in a “smokefilled” back room in the bowels of the Village Hall of Palmetto Bay, a bevy of professionals have been meeting to help determine how millions of dollars in village tax revenues are spent over the next five to 10 years.
These professionals consist of attorneys, architects, engineers, bankers, real estate developers and Ed Silva, the Village of Palmetto Bay’s director of Building and Capital Projects. These people are collectively the Downtown Redevelopment Task Force or DRTF. Their main goal is to push forward an agenda to redevelop the 330-acre area called the Franjo Triangle. The DRTF also will eventually determine how 2.6 to 10’s of millions of Palmetto Bay’s tax dollars are spent and allocated on this endeavor.
Upon first glance this exercise could be considered a very noble endeavor — to revitalize an area which has provided little to no tax revenue and is considered to be a blighted area. But if you delve a little deeper into the process you will find Mayor Shelly Stanczyk and village manager Ron Williams are playing Russian roulette with the village’s future since there is no guarantee that expenditures will be offset by revenues in the near term.
Furthermore it seems as though a few professionals involved in the DRTF already have started purchasing available shopping centers or buildings within the Franjo Triangle in hopes of making a quick buck. It’s hard to see how this is anything short of insider trading.
What is actually pushing this project is that Palmetto Bay, unbeknownst to village residents, has been forecasted by the director of finance, Desmond Chin, to lose $5 million annually in the near future. These numbers have not been released to the public yet. Apparently, it’s due to the fact village manager Ron Williams does not want the community to know the dire financial future of the village.
The DRTF strategy is to redevelop the Franjo Triangle and bring in major development. This is intended to increase commercial real estate tax revenue with the benefit of not increasing residential real estate taxes.
The plan, although admirable, is wrought with prickly issues — not the least of which is that DRTF meetings have not been advertised effectively and are essentially not open to the public as one would expect. Furthermore, public participation in the form of comments and questions is prohibited by a decree from village manager Williams.
I know that first hand because I attended one of the meetings and was informed of the rules when I walked into the conference room. Another insult to the public is that no records or notes of these meetings have been published or are available for public review.
It also is surprising to find that our elected officials have not been engaged in this process. Those we elected to protect the village as our representatives are not actively participating.
To compound the problem, the village manager has advised all village department heads that they are not permitted to meet with members of the council unless the manager has been noticed and is present. To mask what’s really going, the DRTF has withheld projected capital costs and revenues from council at the village manager’s orders, even though various council members have repeatedly requested them. No council member has been advised if there will be any return of investment on the millions of dollars that the DRTF is planning on spending.
Let me repeat myself, NO RETURN ON INVESTMENT has been shown to the council for what could ultimately be $50 million of expenditures from public coffers.
Vice Mayor John DuBois has become so frustrated in the process that he has even called for numerous town hall meetings in an attempt to embarrass Mayor Stanczyk (whose husband is a DRTF member) and village manager Williams into releasing some of the financial information that has been withheld for months.
I’ve also spoken to an attorney who has foreseen litigation which will make the Palmer Trinity fiasco look like a trip to small claims court in comparison due to the lack of information that is being released to the public.
These DRTF meetings are certainly not ill advised in theory. I agree with the idea that redeveloping a blighted area for additional tax revenue is extremely commendable. It’s just that the DRTF process is failing in practice. Keeping financial projections from the council and having no public oversight should be an ethics violation at best when the village is discussing a public-private development project that could exceed a cost of $50 million of public money.
There appears to be no checks and balances presently in place for stupidity within our village. John DuBois is the only council member who has spoken out publicly against what is shaping up to be a DRTF debacle.
One would hope that Councilman Patrick Fiore, who plans on running for mayor in 2014, and Tim Schaffer would start demanding answers from the village manager and Ed Silva before they vote to approve one cent being spent on the Franjo Triangle redevelopment project. I suggest anyone who is so motivated write Mr. Fiore and Mr. Shaffer and request that they push for financial transparency in the DRTF process.
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