Deck the Halls With Waste and Folly

Just don't ask too many questions about a sweetheart trash contract in Florida's most complacent city

Between the November 16 meeting and the commission meeting of December 12, the momentum shifted between the old guard and the new. Suddenly, there seems to be critical mass forming around the idea that this town needs drastic reform.

One of those voices belongs to John McNamara, president of Local 3080, the union for the city's firefighters.

"The reality is that this community needs two things," he says. "They deserve accountability from people they elect. And they should have a right to be told when things are going wrong."

C. Katz
Two relatives of Commissioner Joseph Scuotto  have landed jobs at All Service since he took office.
Two relatives of Commissioner Joseph Scuotto have landed jobs at All Service since he took office.

But McNamara, who says he hasn't missed more than a dozen commission meetings in the past five years, says it's also the residents' job to be active. Merely spectating at a meeting might be enough of a catalyst. "If you came to a meeting and watched what occurred, you could make your own decision and realize: This ain't being done right," he says. "This city is notorious for people who don't know what's going on. [The commissioners] want to keep it that way."

The firefighters' union is one of the city's most precious endorsements, not just because it is active at the polls but because its sheer numbers and organization boost turnout around the community. The union had supported each member of the current commission, but as of mid-December, union members appeared to support the challengers.

During the public comment period of the December 12 meeting, Roger Wishner, who was a Sunrise commissioner for 14 years, then the area's state representative for four years, hit upon a paradox. Despite all the spending on a refurbished City Hall and despite high fees from the building department, not to mention the fact that commissioners in Sunrise are among the best-paid in the state, there ought to be money for the Police Department, which before the meeting had been negotiating a new contract with the city.

"Where is the money going if it isn't going to them?" Wishner asked. "This is the time to send a message and say, 'We care about you. '"

The crowd, half of which was police officers dressed in their union's black shirts, roared their approval. Earlier, another contender for commissioner, James DePelisi, had received a similar ovation for expressing this same sentiment.

During this December meeting, the three-member bloc of traditional power on the commission looked lethargic. Scuotto and Harlem hardly talked, and Feren's voice was barely audible. He kept his elbows on the dais, looking down at the base of his microphone or sideways at the other commissioners but never out at the audience.

The commission's minority members, Alu and Rosen, appeared galvanized. Alu put Feren, Scuotto, and Salerno on the defensive, demanding to know why they would be against listing the identities of businesspeople who use the city's luxury suite at the BankAtlantic Center.

"We need to make full disclosure of who is using the skybox," Alu said. "And that outweighs any benefits that may come from economic development." Rosen backed her during his remarks, which seemed to give Alu even more confidence, even if she lacked the votes to pass her motion.

"I'm not going to be kept silent any more... when I don't know what's going on. You will see — although I'll be professional — a different Sheila. Because I want answers. And I'm not going to play any more games."

With Harlem's vote against, her motion failed.

The luxury box was a symbolic issue but a significant one. As with the city's relationship with All Service Refuse, it strikes at fundamental differences between the way one side governs and the way the other side believes it ought to govern.

But considering it was Wishner who last month dared the commissioners to make that list public and since he will be running for election against Harlem next spring, it seems he, Alu, and Rosen could form a new majority on the Sunrise commission.

That possibility, however, presumes an even more fundamental change: not only that the city's voters learn of this clash of styles in their otherwise torpid commission but that those voters go to the polls to express their preferences.

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