Friday, November 03, 2006
Politicians Behaving Badly: Cooper City Commission
According to this article in the November 3, 2006 Miami Herald, the elected Cooper City Commissioners (pictured above from left to right: Valenti, Roper, Kleiman, Eisinger, and Ferrara), along with City Manager Chris Farrell and staff, have been meeting at various local restaurants and pubs before Commission meetings to eat and to drink wine, beer, and liquor at taxpayer expense.
When confronted by a citizen at a recent Commission meeting about their pre-meeting soirees, City Manager Farrell said "I won't dignify myself by responding." He certainly did not dignify himself. His wits were so dulled by food and liquor that he couldn't even articulate his misgiven thought properly, which would have been that he won't dignify the question by giving a response.
As a Cooper City homeowner, I am appalled and outraged, more than anything else, by the Commissioners' self-righteous attitude that they are entitled to charge expensive meals and liquor to the City's taxpayers, and their arrogant and condescending attitude toward anyone who would have the audacity to question their activities.
If the Commissioners were discussing City business at these dinners, then they violated the Sunshine law. If they were not discussing City business, then how dare they bill their dinners to the City's taxpayers?
If the Commissioners have even one shred of decency, they will, at the very least, agree to reimburse the taxpayers for these illegitimate expenses, and issue a public apology.
''As with any type of PR activity, it gets expensed to taxpayers,'' Commissioner Elliot Kleiman said. ``The whole purpose was to develop our image.''
Is that their best defense?
In my opinion, the only image they have developed is the image of a bunch of greedy pigs gorging themselves from the public trough.
Update: After I posted the above, I had a telephone conversation with Commissioner Elliot Kleiman concerning this matter. Commissioner Kleiman made a number of interesting comments:
- Kleiman stuck to the story that "we've been doing this for fifteen (15) years" and these expenses were justifed because, he claims, they were used to entertain elected officials from other jurisdictions, such as state representatives, to "develop rapport" with them, which he claimed has resulted, for example, in state grant money being awarded to Cooper City.
- Kleiman also claimed that the expenses for these dinners are or were included in the City's budget for"public relations."
- He said that, at some point in the past, an attorney (he didn't say which one) had advised City Commissioners against having these dinners because it could create an appearance of impropriety, but the City Commissioners and/or the City Manager decided to go ahead and have the dinners anyway.
- Before the CBS 4 report aired, the City Manager suggested that the dinners should stop because of concerns that were being raised about similar activites in other cities.
- The City Commissioners never tried to "hide" the fact that these dinners were taking place, and, because no one ever objected in the past, the City Commissioners assumed that it was permissible and unobjectionable. Kleiman conceded, however, that neither did the City advertise or notify taxpayers that these dinners were taking place, or make it clear that the taxpayers were footing the bill for the food and drink.
- No public apology or reimbursement of taxpayer dollars spent on these dinners is likely to be forthcoming because neither the Commissioners nor the City Manager believes they did anything wrong.
Update: At 4:26 p.m., on November 3, 2006, City Manager Farrell's office sent the following e-mail:
The story broadcast by Channel 4 on November 2, 2006, contained insinuations
of wrong-doing by members of the Cooper City Commission and staff.
These innuendos have no basis and are false.
At no time have I ever witnessed a violation of the Sunshine Law or seen any member of the Commission or staff members consume an inappropriate amount of wine or any other alcoholic beverage, and no member of the City Commission or staff has ever been intoxicated while attending a City Commission meeting. Any allegation or insinuation to the contrary is without basis and is insulting to each member of the City Commission, City Staff and to the citizens of Cooper City. In
addition, each and every Regular Meeting of the Commission is broadcast live on
the local cable network, and is viewed regularly by numerous residents of the
community. Also, members of the press are in attendance at all meetings.
Each and every member of the Cooper City Commission is a dedicated and hard-working public servant who has and continues to serve our citizens with the highest level of professionalism and integrity.
Christopher J. Farrell