FORT LAUDERDALE – The first African American and first female city attorney of the largest municipality in Broward County is adjusting to her new role in the position. Cynthia A. Everett has represented Fort Lauderdale since her predecessor Harry Stewart retired last summer. Everett said that her first year on the job had a few challenges including getting familiar with a new county and issues surrounding the city.
An issue currently a concern of many residents is a new ordinance that prohibits the public feeding of the homeless. Mayor Jack Seiler has been under fire recently about the law after 90-year-old Arnold Abbott was reportedly arrested for allegedly publicly feeding the homeless population. Everett said that Abbott has been cited on more than one occasion for defying the ordinance. “I know that he has been cited one or more times and that he’s retained, I think, one or two attorneys advocating on his behalf,” she said. “My understanding is that there has been at least some court activity and I don’t comment on pending litigation.”
Reportedly, those in non-compliance with the public feeding ordinance may face a fine of $500 and up to 60 days in jail. Everett said that these are the maximum penalties and not all outdoor feedings are prohibited. “The ordinance does not prohibit outside feeding,” she said. “There are criteria which need to be met, such as making sure you have permission of the property owner if it’s not your property. There are other requirements dealing with the sanitation and related criteria if you’re basically going to distribute food to the public,” Everett said.
Seiler said in a statement released by his office that there has been misinformation about the statute which regulates public feedings. “Feeding the homeless is not banned in the city of Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “Our ordinance expands the number of locations where feedings can take place to ensure public health and safety.”
Seiler said that Abbott was never taken into custody but several citations were rightly issued at a recent public food distribution.
Everett said that she will probably have to deal with this issue directly in the advent of potential legal actions against the city. “This has all come up rather quickly and the manager and the mayor and the city commission have been dealing with the issue,” she said. “Now that it has reached a court arena, there will probably be issues that I and my office will have to deal with.”
Everett, who previously lived in Miami-Dade County, said she expects other issues to arise but being an outsider has also been challenging. “Not having Broward County as my primary residence or place of business (before this position) and having a different perspective from this particular community or area is the bigger challenge,” she said. “Getting to know people and places and having the opportunities for people to get to know me (has been difficult).”
Before Everett was hired, Commissioner Dean Trantalis expressed concerns about her start date and if Everett, who had a private practice at the time, would be able to effectively address city issues. Trantalis even suggested a delay for hiring Everett which did not happen. “Once I was offered and accepted this position, I closed my private practice so that I could concentrate full-time (on the city attorney position),” Everett said. “It was a requirement. They wanted someone to come in-house full-time. Now I only have one client, the city of Fort Lauderdale.”
Everett said that she plans to continue in the vein of the high standards set by Stewart as she and her office move forward. “We want to continue to give the best legal advice that we can provide to the commission and the offices and committees of the city,” she said. “I think stepping into the shoes of someone who was considered a legend not only in the county but in the legal profession, I wanted to make sure that I continue to do that which has been done by the previous legal administration.”
With the continued growth of the city, Everett said she expects other issues to arise and thinks she will be prepared for whatever happens. “Fort Lauderdale is a growing city. More people are moving to the city. It’s becoming more developed and more urban,” she said. “With that comes challenges. I just want to be able to keep on top of all those issues as they arise.”