Her High Hopes

Councilwoman Judy Paul wants Davie to look like the Old West. Lobbyist Judy Stern is prodevelopment. Is the town big enough for the both of them?

"If you don't provide those incentives, business is not going to come here. We may have the last land in the county.... You can't stop development. The best thing is to negotiate that development so you don't look like Pembroke Pines or Miramar."

Of the criticisms of her power in Davie, Stern sees it as a "healthy community partnership" between business and government. "I don't think I'm an evil lobbyist. Have I pissed off some people? Absolutely. What can I say. I'm sorry if I've been successful on some issues that people haven't been in favor of. Do I control a vote? No. Do I get the respect of at least having my issue listened to, and have the ear of someone and being listened to? Yes."

Finally Stern was asked about her "confrontation" with Judy Paul, during which, according to a postelection Sun-Sentinel article, she "threatened" Paul and "warned that Paul's political career was over because she dared to challenge the lobbyist's power."

"That was the most insulting statement," Stern exploded. "It never happened. I don't know where it came from.... What I did say to her was I asked her before she makes any decision to at least take the time and go out and visit American Medical Response to see for herself, instead of just having one side of the issue."

While Paul denies she ever said Stern "threatened" her, she's never publicly refuted the newspaper account, leading Stern to insist, "That one I took as a very personal attack. She owes me an apology."

With that the Devil of Davie offered one final statement for the reformers and reporters seeking signs of political change in the attempts to limit her influence: "The real power is doing the same thing, and no one ever sees you."

On June 24 Davie council members and residents will discuss stringent new lobbying restrictions aimed at forcing public disclosure of Stern's role in the town. In a draft of the proposed ordinance, the preamble reads like Davie's version of the Declaration of Independence: "Whereas... open and responsible operation of municipal government requires that the fullest opportunity be afforded to petition and freely express to their elected and appointed officials their opinions on legislation.... Whereas, in order to preserve and maintain the integrity of the governmental decision-making process, it is necessary that the identity and activities of certain persons who engage in efforts to influence Councilmembers... be publicly and regularly disclosed."

The ordinance requires disclosure not only of the legislation the lobbyist "seeks to influence" but also of "any business, professional or familial relationship" the lobbyist has with council members, appointed officials, or town employees. That would include disclosing any campaign consulting fees paid to the lobbyist by council members.

To residents pushing reform, the lobbyist legislation is an attempt to tell Stern her days of control are over. Among those active in the effort is Daniel Barr, an 18-year resident who first got involved in town politics over the location of a horse trail behind his house, then helped organize a group called United Neighbors of Davie to focus on broader issues, such as the garbage-collection contract, EMS, campaign money -- and Judy Stern.

"When you start drawing links on all these issues, every time we turned around, she just kept popping up," said Barr, an accounting consultant. "We said, 'Wait a minute, who's running this town?'"

From four initial members, United Neighbors has grown to more than thirty, Barr says. During the council campaign, the group organized phone banks to call voters, bringing together volunteers from all sections of Davie interested in diverse issues but linked by a general dissatisfaction with town government.

Said Barr: "A lot of factions came together with a common theme that, 'Hey, nobody's paying attention to us, they're not listening to us,' that there was a certain aura of arrogance about the council, that special interests, the developers and the lobbyists, were getting the ear of the council and the general public was not."

With Weiner's and Paul's council victories, Barr sees the beginning of a process that will bring more public involvement. "The good-old-boy network I don't think is going to fly any more here in Davie," he said. "There are young, upcoming professionals moving in. They're new residents, so it takes them a couple of years to get acclimated, but they're looking around and seeing what's going on. I think there's going to be a change. People are already sitting up and taking a little bit of notice, and we're going to keep the pressure on."

Like many Davie residents, Barr was surprised at Judy Paul's victory. "Ms. Paul, quite frankly, we didn't think she was a very viable candidate," he explained. "She was relatively unknown."

So why does he think she won?
"Strictly on her position on EMS," he said. "Those firefighters put a lot of time and energy into that campaign, and they really carried her.

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