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Baitball Blogger

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Current location: Seminole County, Florida
Member since: Sun Mar 18, 2012, 10:16 PM
Number of posts: 39,492

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Posted another entry on daily kos: Anti-Government Corruption Probes

Anti-Government Corruption Probes – Why does Central Florida Keep Getting A Pass?
By the Baitball Blogger

Are the parameters for anti-corruption probes too narrow, leaving large areas exempt from scrutiny? In Florida I think the obvious answer is yes. Especially in Central Florida. I live in Seminole County and I’ve spent a good part of the last ten years researching a community development matter which never passed the stink test. It was something that should have caught the attention of the authorities, but never did. Since then I’ve tried to understand why, but like most things in Florida, it defies logic.

Around here, political witch hunts are the closest thing we have to anti-corruption probes and it’s just not enough. Instead of selecting politicians who have fallen from favor, what we really need is a good shake up which digs deep to get rid of the local operatives who use ethics like a bargaining chip. Until that happens the reality we live with is that it doesn’t take much to lower the ethical standards in our communities.

It’s easiest to witness at the bottom of the political spectrum through the actions of the officers who serve on Homeowner Association boards. Too often, their decisions have no legal foundation and no one seems to be concerned about getting slapped for breaches of fiduciary responsibility.

It’s not hard to see why they’re fearless. This kind of offense is considered small fry to legal authorities who expect homeowners to file a civil lawsuit to resolve these matters locally. It’s a crazy system that for a number of reasons, doesn’t work. Yet, the legal authorities won’t get involved even when the actions of the Homeowners board were influenced by government misconduct, which is what sometimes happens when the issue involves a community development matter.

Think of the impossible situation this creates for a homeowner if they now have this added hurdle to overcome through the civil courts. When a government body is involved, young attorneys are quick to recognize the potential career gamble. They not only have to face the Association’s attorney, but any politically connected attorney who plans to represent the city government.

Older and more seasoned lawyers have other problems that may create issues for the homeowner. Many people assume that a lawyer will disclose potential conflicts of interest, but this revelation may be discovered late in the process so the cost to start over puts the entire experience beyond the resources of an ordinary homeowner.

This is the reason why this kind of situation should be handled by anti-corruption units, but it never happens.

Let’s see where their attention has been directed:

In 2009 when Governor Charlie Crist requested approval for a 12 month grand jury corruption investigation, the Florida Supreme Court denied his request until he refiled and specified that it “…was necessary in response to a wave of corruption cases focused in South Florida.” (See Footnote 1)

And in 2011 the FBI began its own crackdown on government corruption, but its focal point was Tallahassee. Their explanation: “Since it’s the capital and the home of Florida’s Legislature and numerous state agencies, any public corruption there, has the potential to have consequences on a much broader scale than similar corruption in a smaller town or county.” (See Footnote 2)

I would have to disagree with that assessment. From a homeowner’s point of view, corruption which is closer to home causes more personal hardship BECAUSE nobody in authority is paying attention.

The best way that I can describe the effect of their omission is to compare it to a malpractice case that was published in a Florida paper years ago under the title, “Her cancer signs were ignored.” The patient experienced chronic distress but was called a whiner because the blood work came in within the acceptable, normal range. What everyone failed to notice was that the indicators were on the low end of normal, and steadily dropping. Those doctors didn’t just ignore the negative pattern, they also missed that narrow window of opportunity where they could have done something to prevent an absolute travesty from developing.

When the FBI concluded that the cancer which festers in small towns was not worth their attention, they committed the same kind of error in judgment which generally lands a physician in court due to malpractice. That kind of omission has consequences.

We all have seen the evidence. Without the FBI’s attentive presence and oversight, local government becomes lax, creating an environment where process and procedure gets bypassed to expedite personal agendas. Before you know it, everyone else catches on and understands that no one will come after them if they routinely cut corners. That’s how corruption becomes endemic in a community. That’s what inspires the kind of hubris we find on Homeowner Association boards where officers make self-serving decisions that have no supporting legal foundations.

When you allow this kind of thing to go on for too long, no one should be surprised when the unthinkable travesty takes place that catches the national attention. Case in point: the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Even though George Zimmerman pulled the trigger, as of this writing, it’s the Sanford Police Department which will be facing an investigation. That’s because no one can believe that a police department, and maybe the state attorney’s office, could have possibly overlooked so many procedural steps in a case that involved a shooting. Nobody, that is, except those of us who live here and have been decrying the state of our local government agencies for years.

So I petition the FBI to reconsider its position and find a way to help homeowners who live in small towns across Florida, by getting more involved in cases which involve government malfeasance. This is the kind of misconduct which stretches into our communities, often filtering in through our Homeowner Association boards. It’s hard to believe that no one has thought to take local corruption seriously before now, since it doesn’t just destroy our trust in our local leaders, it also lowers the quality of life for too many people. As Americans citizens, we deserve better from our local and state leaders.

Footnote 1: Josh Hafenbrack, Crist, state Supreme Court agree on need for anti-corruption probe, Orlando Sentinel, Political Pulse, December 3, 2009.

Footnote 2: http://tallahasseeo.com/2012/03/06/fbi-cracks-down-on-rampant-government-corruption-in-tallahassee-florida-needs-tips-from-the-public/

Visit www.keystoneworksite.com for the personal research used to support the position in this diary entry.

Daily kos link: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/03/29/1078945/-Anti-Corruption-Government-Probes-Why-does-Central-Florida-Keep-Getting-A-Pass-

Posted by Baitball Blogger | Thu Mar 29, 2012, 04:53 PM (2 replies)

How to Turn a Red County Purple. (Long)

This is something I wrote which is political, so I hope it works for this forum. I would appreciate feedback from anyone who can get through it.

Just about everyone has something to say about the differences between Republican and Democratic principles. We hear it so often that we shut down when an opinion begins to diverge from our own. Democrats will do it when someone goes off on a rant about wanting less government in their lives, and Republicans shut down when someone suggests raising
taxes as a solution to the problems we face in society. Me, I wish life were that simple again.

Where I live I’ve seen so many inconsistencies that absolutes are meaningless. I live in a community which consistently votes Republican, and though some things might run true to form, others require an entirely new perspective to understand.

To see things from my point of view, a politician would have to go beyond the rainmakers and campaign donors to come eye to eye with people who are living with the consequences of bad policies. This is difficult to do for many because the problems of ordinary people lack sparkle.

Try these words out to see what I mean: Homeowner’s Association meeting, (“HOA”), Architectural Review Board, Declaration of Covenants & Restrictions. This is the language of ordinary people who live in the growing number of community associations which are springing up across Florida. What local government can’t force upon a homeowner is possible to do through the HOA boards. So, if you want to see how policies are trickling down to the people who are most regulated, you wouldn’t do better than talk to someone who lives within the boundaries of a Florida HOA.

The needs of these homeowners have been so overlooked that they are in a prime position to be the next soccer moms or grizzly bears, or whatever trendy word you want to call a motivated voting demographic. One thing that will move things along faster is finding a candidate who can prove he or she understands their issues. They would have to be well-versed on the subject because not even homeowners fully understand where to pin the blame. The overall feeling, however, is that they’re at the bottom of the food chain, serving as one huge baitball that feeds the real estate industry. How this is allowed to stand unchanged is a lesson in local politics.

Because I live in a Republican community, my observations are best suited for Democrats who want to understand the inner workings of a red voting district. What I research and post on my website is based on an experience which began in 1998. Back then my city was operating under the philosophy of minimalist government so I had a sneak preview of the future which we now are all faced with. What the last fourteen years of research offers is a track record that helps to point out the kind of community that this form of government inspires.

In the end, the data will lead to the conclusion that a government that ignores its regulatory responsibilities leaves a vacuum which is filled by self-interested networks that exist to game the system. These societies are like Russian stacking dolls, where a government exists within a government.

It may take new homeowners years to understand that they moved into a community where decisions are influenced by a trip-wire society. And if that isn’t bad enough, the effect gets amplified when they realize that City Hall promotes programs which go head-to-head with their rights.

Having lived through one of these city supported operations I can tell you that the overall impression you’re left with is that nobody has your back.

The irony is that most Republicans would agree with me. No one wants to see their rights abused by a government supported program. So it’s hard to understand why Republicans work so hard to hamstring procedures which are meant to protect everyone’s rights; or why they don’t recognize that private interest groups are rushing in to fill the void they helped create. As a bystander, it’s like watching people strangle themselves in their sleep.

Today, the favored way to introduce these programs is through public-private partnerships or 3Ps as some people call them. On the surface, these projects have sparkle. Who wouldn’t support a plan which promises to create jobs or lower taxes because the private sector agrees to take the financial burden? I would support them too, if I didn’t have the awareness of what goes into making these programs appear successful.

Perhaps in a Democratically controlled precinct government agencies which promote 3Ps know how to keep everything transparent and how to follow a uniform process which ensures that everyone’s rights are protected. But such a process would be slow and laborious which is precisely why, in a Republican community, all of that becomes secondary. Instead, the priority is to minimize delays and remove road blocks for the business sector.

The impression one is left with is that the city takes shortcuts which are rarely beneficial to the homeowner’s interest. For example, with the community development issue I write about, city staffers failed to perform the due diligence to determine ownership of residential property so homeowners were left to feel like spectators when they actually had legal standing in the proceedings. Instead of conducting a legal review which would have cleared up the confusion, the city relied on word of mouth for their information.

On the same project, elected officials did not follow the Sunshine Law and met with the developer before the issue came before the board in a public forum. But because process was not followed, it took years before it was understood that the development received favoritism because of an economic development objective.

It’s a paradox that these things occurred in a community which is populated by people who claim to be in favor of law and order. But it does occur, which is why this minimalist form of government is failing homeowners.

These kind of governmental “slips” are documented on my website which can be accessed by pointing your browsers to www.keystoneworksite.com. It’s just a coincidence that the website carries the same name as the Keystone Pipeline. Though the two do not share a common origin, they do share this one similarity: They both offer lessons to what can happen to individual property owners when private interest is allowed to take on the power of government. In the case of the Keystone Pipeline, a foreign corporation attempted to eminent domain a homeowner’s property. As of the 9th of March, the owner prevailed. The Texas legislature, however, is considering an exemption that will make it easier for the corporation to succeed the next time it tries.

Something similar is happening in Florida. The state legislature continues to pass laws which causes hardships on homeowners. The trend is to delegate more power to local government even though the evidence indicates that local government has failed to be honest brokers where the interests of homeowners are concerned.

No one seems to take notice or care that homeowners are left to fend for themselves and don’t have the resources to match what they’re up against. Or maybe, that’s the point.

This should signal an opportunity for the party that can find a better way to achieve economic development objectives without encroaching on or usurping the rights of homeowners.

At a minimum, an effort should be made to show how the methods used in these Republican municipalities erode trust in government. When people see how their rights are being usurped by those who have a fiduciary responsibility to protect them, it will be easier to get their attention. It’s my hope that the website, and the issues I bring up in my blog, will be used by candidates who believe in putting fairness back into the government process, and that it will give them the edge they need to connect with voters they thought were beyond their reach.
Posted by Baitball Blogger | Tue Mar 20, 2012, 01:04 AM (4 replies)
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