By: Councilman Robert Weinroth
Good governance and transparency are virtually synonymous. Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine law provides a right of access to governmental proceedings at both the state and local levels.
In other words, municipal governance is accomplished in the open allowing residents a much more expansive view of what is being considered. It also means, the continuing process of self-appraisal and review, essential to any successful enterprise, can become fodder for those interested in twisting and spinning.
Case-in-point, in December, the Boca Raton City Manager, Leif Ahnell (acting in his dual role as Executive Director of the Community Redevelopment Agency), sought the input of the Mayor and City Council (sitting as CRA Commissioners), with respect to the proper interpretation of the Downtown Development Order (Ordinance 4035), the enabling legislation for the creation and operation of the CRA in Downtown Boca Raton.
After the city’s Downtown Manager made a presentation to the CRA in December (referencing a memo, authored over a decade prior, from city staff to the, then, Executive Director, Jorge Camejo), addressing the rules for downtown development and the “open space,” Mr. Ahnell outlined his concerns and sought direction from the CRA Commissioners. Commissioners directed Mr. Ahnell to undertake a thorough analysis of downtown development.
Unfortunately, this was all that was required to cause those with their own agendas to seize on this exchange as nothing less than a plot to steal from residents, for the benefit of the developers, “public space” they were entitled to, pursuant to the Downtown Development Order.
Calls for the immediate termination of the City Manager were made with a full page ad proclaiming the city was “breaking the law” as officials had “condoned cheating” with developers allowed to substitute “concrete for open space.”
After an exhaustive review of over 50 projects, but for one project (Townsend Place), all open space was properly calculated. More importantly, the review determined open space in the downtown exceeded what was required by over 25%, almost 10 acres.
You might think this news would have brought cheers (or at least sighs of relief) from those who had sought characterize this administrative review as nothing less than an attempt to change the rules in a corrupt fashion with demands for the immediate termination of the City Manager.
This was not to be. Instead, inexplicably, the very individuals who had demanded the review the Board had directed staff to undertake, now criticized the waste of time and resources in completing that exercise and, without skipping a beat, pivoted to a new issue relative to the architectural integrity of the downtown projects.
Boca Raton has accomplished the goal of rejuvenating its urban core at a time when other South Florida cities suffered from the westward migration of residents and businesses. This fact was underscored by the recent report from the Property Appraiser highlighting the fact that Boca Raton boasts the highest increase in property value (7%) of any city within the county.
This did not happen by accident but, rather, by executing a well thought out plan over the last 25 years to create a vibrant downtown – attracting residents, businesses and visitors.
Government-in-the-Sunshine is every resident’s right. Observing the operation of municipal government can often be dull and tedious with many of the issues (e.g., roads, water and sewers) are not the most glamorous. As the political body works through the municipal issues under its authority it does not have the luxury of keeping things “under wraps,” making the process susceptible to those who have their own agenda. It is important for residents to understand the difference between fact and innuendo.
By: Councilman Robert Weinroth