David vs. Goliath--Riviera Beach Style

by Diana DiMeo

What do you do with city officials who are out of control?  You vote them out of office.  And, that is just what happened!  Riviera Beach voters gave four incumbents their walking papers at the 13 March Municipal Election. 

Now, for a little background on some issues that brought about the 'cleansing'.  The Riviera Beach government blatantly ignored citizens' input asking for the right to vote on public issues.  As a result, the citizens went through the referendum process to acquire the right to vote on the development of the Municipal Beach property, known as the Ocean Mall.  Well, surprise!!!--the Riviera Beach City Council fought, tooth and nail, to prevent this process from working.   

'David' was successful in getting two referendums on the ballot for the 13 March election.  One referendum addressed the leasing and usage of the Public Beach Property, known as the Ocean Mall, and the other set a building height restriction in keeping with the City/CRA 'Promise' of several years ago to build a Caribbean village on that site.  

The two referendums were on the ballot thanks to Judge Glenn Kelley's 'order to compel', which was issued on Thursday, 8 February 2007.  This order stated that City Clerk Carrie Ward was to submit the wording for the two referendums sponsored by the Public Beach Coalition to the Supervisor of Elections.  This wording was to be submitted by 4:00 p.m. on 8 February or Ms. Ward would be held in 'contempt of court'.   

This action from Circuit Court Judge Glenn Kelley came after days spent in court with the City's attorneys and the Coalition's attorney presenting facts and case law to back the Public Beach Coalition's right to have referendum items placed on the 13 March 2007 ballot.  The City had their four lawyers plus at least four lawyers from Catalfumo Inc. working to keep the citizens of Riviera Beach from voting on the future of the Municipal Beach Property known as the Ocean Mall.  Even Norton Herrick, a partner in ORMD with Dan Catalfumo, along with his lawyer, was in court on the second day of the hearings.  Was it 'developers against the citizens' or, 'the City against its citizens' …….. or both??

Attorney John Jorgensen presented/argued the case on behalf of the Coalition and did a magnificent job of citing case law that supported the Coalition's position.  

Getting these issues on the ballot was a very long and tedious 'battle'.  From day one when the Coalition tried to start the petition process, the City threw roadblocks in the way.  At the very beginning, City Clerk Carrie Ward even refused to talk to the committee's members and legal counsel thereby delaying the start of the petition effort.  

While circulators were gathering signatures, Catalfumo Inc. was surveilling and filming circulators and signers as a means of intimidating them.  In addition, Catalfumo Inc. hired a former CIA agent.  This agent signed three of the petitions with a fake name and address in an attempt to invalidate the petition efforts. 

The February 2007 issue of The Islander described the petitions and detailed the successful efforts of the Public Beach Coalition to get the required number of signatures on three referendums to be included on the March ballot.  Despite the fact that the Coalition got the required number of signatures, which were validated by the Supervisor of Elections, the City Council voted to ignore the voice of the people and refused to put any of the referendums on the ballot.  City Clerk, Carrie Ward, insisted that the petitions did not meet the requirements of the City Charter.  However, only one petition, reconsideration of Ordinance #3016, fell into the City's arena.  State law governs the other two petitions, and, for these two petitions, state law has precedence over municipal law.

After the City Council voted to turn down all three petitions, the Coalition and the City filed suits against one another on the same day.  There were two court sessions that led to Circuit Court Judge Kelley's

1 February order stating that two of the three referendums were to be put on the ballot.  The third petition was denied pending further hearings.                                                                 

The City filed for a stay against the ruling that put the petitions on the ballot, and it was back and forth until the final order came on 8 February, placing the petitions on the ballot. 

It took a Herculean effort to get the positive ruling on the two referendum issues.  At every turn, the City and its highly paid lawyers continued to file legal documents to block these items from being on the March ballot.  The judge ruled in favor of the Public Beach Coalition's two referendums a number of times, only to have the City back in court with another legal maneuver to squelch the citizens' right to a vote.  During this time, 'Goliath' continued to work the legal system to overturn the voting results should the City not agree with the voters' choices. 

This is something that Riviera Beach citizens remembered when they went to the polls on 13 March.  Who wants to vote for a person who has openly fought against his/her right to have a voice in public issues?  And, who wants to vote for a person who supports a government that is unresponsive to its constituency?  Do you?    Riviera Beach registered voters spoke, loud and clear, with their ballot, voting an overwhelming 'Yes' to both referendums.  Not only did the referendums pass, the Mayor and three incumbent Council members were removed from office.  

Finally, the forces came together to stand up to a City government that has been out of control for a very long time!  "You can fight City Hall and win!"…we are almost there.  As of this writing, Thomas Masters is the new Mayor of Riviera Beach, winning 54% of the vote.  In the aftermath of the mayoral election, former Mayor Brown, unable to accept defeat did not concede the race and continued to attempt to overturn the absentee ballots.  However, even without the absentee ballots, Mayor-elect Masters still won this race.  

Also, as of this writing, Riviera Beach heads into a runoff election.  Although each of the candidates who supported the 'Yes' vote on the municipal beach referendum issues received more votes than his/her opponents, none of them received the 51% required to win.  By the time this April issue of the Islander is delivered, Riviera Beach will have three new Council members and a new Mayor sworn in to office. 

Thanks to an organized effort linking all Singer Island groups (Community Officers' Association of S.I., the Public Beach Coalition, SICA and CRGRB) and many mainland groups, a new day is dawning for Riviera Beach.  The divisiveness of the outgoing administration will be soon be a thing of the past. 

Another history-making event occurred on Tuesday, 20 March, when SICA opened its monthly meeting to leaders of organizations on both sides of the bridge to discuss Riviera Beach's future.  What an upbeat meeting.  The attendees presented many good ideas.  The emphasis was on fiscal responsibility, pursuing responsible redevelopment, community outreach programs, mentoring and the like.  It is very apparent that the bad press given to our community is just that. 

Clearly, anyone now taking office will be a novice.  It is incumbent on all of us to work together to make Riviera Beach the best City in which to live, work and play.  Please think about volunteering with one of the many groups working to better the lives of our residents.  And, please be a constructive part of our governmental process so that we can make some real progress on the issues affecting our citizenry. 

A big "THANK YOU" to everyone who helped in this massive uphill climb.  And, thanks again to Sen. Jeff Atwater who has been with us every step of the way.  Thanks also to County Commissioner Karen Marcus who continues to give us assistance and support.

On another front, a legislative committee reviewed the City/CRA financial audit at the request of Rep. Carl Domino.  The committee voted unanimously to send the matter to the State's Attorney General to request a grand jury investigation because the City's responses to the 25 items in question were so inadequate.   

The efforts of the Public Beach Coalition have brought with it huge legal bills as this group sparred with the City in the attempt to insure that the referendums made it to the ballot.  Please consider giving a contribution to help defray these costs.  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. 

Regular updates on issues affecting Singer Island/Riviera Beach can be found on the website:  rg4rb.org.  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 note:  The expressed opinions may or may not be the same as those shared by Seabreeze Publications Inc.