elginjones3web.gifTRAVEL WOES
Things are tough all over, and consumers continue to feel the pinch of this Great Recession.  The latest example is Delta Airlines, which announced an additional $5 surcharge for baggage checked curbside, at airport ticket counters and kiosks.  The extra five bucks will be added to the $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for a second bag the Atlanta-based carrier already charges passengers. The airline industry began implementing various surcharges in an effort to offset the impact of fewer people who are flying, the slumping economy and higher fuel costs. Welcome to hard times.

Palm Beach County

Riviera Beach City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency board, on Wednesday, July 22 voted 5-to-1 to fire Floyd T. Johnson, who had worked as executive director of the CRA for just over five years.  Johnson earned a salary of $185,500.  He was fired following criticism that he hired too many staffers in an agency that was not getting enough work done.  In November 2007, city officials voted 3-2 to fire Johnson over similar concerns, but during a 10-minute recess, one of them changed her mind and joined the other two in giving him a six-month reprieve.  Before Johnson was hired in Riviera Beach, he was fired as Fort Lauderdale’s city manager in 2003 over his performance, and a financial collapse in that city’s government.  Prior to that, he was fired after four years as city manager of Richmond, California in 1997, again due to poor performance and budget problems.

Palm Beach County commissioners tentatively agreed on Tuesday, July 21 to support the creation of a Palm Beach County Ethics Commission that would provide training and enforce lobbying rules for elected officials and county employees.  They also agreed to implement a full-time anti-corruption watchdog agency called the Office of Inspector General.  Business leaders would like to see swifter action.  They want a measure placed on the ballot as a charter change referendum, for voter approval, as quickly as possible.  Palm Beach County has been mired in countless corruption scandals and criminal investigations by state, local and federal agencies since 2006.  During this time, no fewer than three former county commissioners – Warren Newell, Tony Masilotti and Mary McCarty – have been sent to prison on federal corruption charges.

Mayor Jeff Clemens, Commissioner Retha Lowe and the other three Lake Worth elected officials voted unanimously on Tuesday, July 21 to implement a policy prohibiting the mayor and commissioners from receiving text messages, e-mails, phone calls and handwritten notes during commission meetings.  The questions are: How in the world do they intend to enforce this policy, and what will be the consequences if it is violated?

Mark R. Hilton III of Boynton Beach is president and former treasurer of the Casablanca Isles Condominium Association.  He has lived in the condominium complex for more than 15 years.  He was dismissed from the treasurer’s position in 2008, after it was discovered that he had served time for theft from a company for which he worked in 2006.  He is serving two years probation related to that 2006 grand-theft conviction.  In that case, he was charged with stealing $13, 252 from a Delray Beach air conditioning company where he worked as an account manager.  On Tuesday, July 21, he was arrested at his home and charged with stealing $166,646 from his condo association’s bank account since 2007.  These included trips, jewelry and cash advances, police say.  As of press time, he remained in the Palm Beach County Jail on multiple counts of grand theft and fraud charges, with no bond.

Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s submitted his $7.8 billion budget proposal last week.  It includes layoffs, salary reductions and funding cuts to numerous services, including a senior citizens meals program.  On Tuesday, July 21, the 13 Miami-Dade county commissioners had their first crack at it.  There was no consensus, and the budget in its current form will likely go down in flames.  Miami-Dade is trying to close a $400 million shortfall, and some commissioners want to freeze the current tax rate. Commissioner Katy Sorenson advocates a rollback to the previous year’s rates, and still others want to raise taxes and increase fees for some services to cover the shortfall.  The final tax rate will be set in September, and it will be a dogged fight in these difficult times. 

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates the Tri-Rail commuter train system that runs through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, has awarded a $5.2 million contract to Apopka-based Finfrock Construction Inc. to build a new parking garage. The facility will be constructed at the site of the Dania Beach station, and will include three levels of parking. Parking is crucial, but at a time when Tri-Rail is gasping for financial breath, is this the time to undertake construction of a new garage?  Should this project be delayed, or am I missing something here?

Recording artist Marc Anthony, 40, and his wife, singer-actress Jennifer Lopez, announced on Tuesday, July 21 that they are the latest entertainers to invest in the Miami Dolphins professional football team.  They bought a portion of the team from owner Stephen M. Ross. Gloria Estefan, also a singer, and her husband, Emilio Estefan, a music producer, have also purchased a minority stake in the team.  Folk singer Jimmy Buffett has an option to become a partner, and Ross says he wants the Dolphins ownership to reflect South Florida.  I’m not sure exactly what that means, but if it’s based on the ethnic makeup of this area, should we expect a black person to buy a share of the team?

Broward County

Miriam Oliphant, the former Broward County Supervisor of Elections and a former school board member, was among 122 people fired from the Broward County School District on Tuesday, July 21 after they failed to attain their state teaching certifications.  Oliphant served on the school board from 1990 to 2000 until she was elected to the Supervisor of Elections post. She was removed from that post by then-Gov. Jeb Bush for incompetency in 2003.  She was hired as a counselor with the school district in 2007.

Broward School Superintendent Jim Notter told board members on Tuesday, July 21 that the Susie Daniels Charter Elementary School in West Park has received two failing grades on state exams within a four-year period, and state law required the district to revoke its charter.  Charter schools are privately owned, but they contract with public school districts to educate students. Susie Daniels opened in 2006.  At its peak, it enrolled 136 predominantly black students. This is the second charter school the board has closed this year due to academic failure.  The first was the Smart School Institute of Technology and Commerce in Lauderdale Lakes, which was also black-owned.

The problem-plagued Broward County chapter of the Florida Democratic Party’s Black Caucus held new elections on Wednesday, July 16, and here are the results: president, Corey Alston; vice president, Freda Stevens; secretary, Tamika Hamilton; treasurer, Percy Johnson.  On Feb 27, a political clique conducted its own elections and its members improperly began representing themselves as the Broward chapter of the Black Caucus.  However, this time, the local elections were formal and were carried out properly.  Nevertheless, the statewide organization remains in complete disarray, and the Florida Democratic Party is expected to begin decertifying several of its chapters in the coming weeks, which is embarrassing.  Many of the organization’s issues stem from egos, unethical activities, greed and plain-old, black-on-black nonsense.