Donkey Farmer Austin Forman Files Suit Against Commissioner, Citizens
Austin Forman, the land heir, developer, and political power broker, has branched out to the Panhandle, where he's got several pieces of apparently environmentally sensitive parcels of land, a pending lawsuit, and a small herd of donkeys.
I'm most interested in the lawsuit, since it tangentially involves my newspaper. Forman and his brother, Collins, have sued Wakulla County Commission Chairman Howard Kessler and two citizens for "poisoning the well" against their attempts to turn rural land -- some of it on or bordering protected wetlands -- into residential and commercial developments. And yes, one of the properties has donkeys on it. You can read about the lawsuit here.
Part of the suit involves an email sent by resident James Hennessey of Florida State University to Kessler that linked articles about Forman that have been published in New Times. Here's what's interesting: Forman, as far as I can remember, never complained about the articles to New Times or myself when they were published. The email also included links to galtmile.com and fortlauderdaleobserver.com.
Two of the articles linked by Hennessey were columns of mine regarding Forman's involvement in an inside deal at the rampantly corrupt North Broward Hospital District, which was practically founded by Forman's father, Hamilton. You can read the columns here and here. Obviously I stand by every word in them (oh, and does the name Patricia Mahaney ring any bells?). The reporting helped kill a medical office building deal being developed by Forman that would have wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. The newspaper's district investigation also prompted then-Gov. Jeb Bush to clean house and replace almost the entire district board and its CEO, general counsel, and chief financial officer.
These kinds of SLAPP suits really get on my nerves, even when they aren't using my reporting as a partial excuse to sue. Note to Austin Forman: In America, people have the freedom to oppose your big development dreams. They also have the freedom to talk about you in terms that aren't so nice, especially when you are trying to transform their community into something they hate. So be a good donkey farmer and quit using the court system to scare your critics. Drop the suit.
After the jump you can read the email on which the Forman brothers' lawsuit is based. It's included in the Forman lawsuit, of course, and is a matter of public record in Wakulla County because it was received by Commission Chairman Kessler. I hope it will help the folks up there and here make informed opinions -- no matter which side they may agree with -- on the case.
Sent: Monday, January 12, 2009 11:25 PM
Subject: H. Collins Forman
Dear Dr. Kessler,
My wife will be contacting you tomorrow with more specifics regarding Mr.
Forman and the kind of "development" he is bringing to Wakulla County. We
have had some unpleasant interactions with him, including a lawsuit,
regarding his property in Spring Creek which borders ours. He has a
tendency to appropriate land and to do whatever he wants regardless of laws
or concerns of neighbors. He has just been found in violation of a number of
wetland and building code ordinances on the Spring Creek property. The
arrogance with which he and his family operate is evident in the following
piece which was taken from the Galt Mile Community Association website:
You should be aware that his brother Miles Austin Forman is a silent partner
in his Log Creek, LLC and Miles has also been associated with a variety of
suspect and, on occasion, illegal financial dealings in South Florida.
The minutes of a city commission meeting which was part of this shameful
episode can be seen in this link:
What can be evident in all of this and in Mr. Forman's current behavior is
the tendency to go ahead in spite of laws, codes etc. and then dare
officials to undo their damage.
James Hennessey & Kathryn Gibson, 90 Shady Sea St., Crawfordville, FL
Do it Yourself " Urban Development
Park Permit Hijinx
October 22, 2004 - On October 21st, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle told
http://www.galtmile.com/archives4.html#nauglebond> Galt Mile Community
Association Advisory Board members that an affirmative answer to Fort
Lauderdale Ballot Question No. 3 on Election Day would help protect precious
park areas throughout the city. The Question, "Should the Charter of the
City of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, be amended to require that any conveyance
of City-owned land zoned Park in accordance with the City's Unified Land
Development Regulations or the removal of such zoning designation be
approved by a unanimous vote of the entire City Commission?" Since each
Commissioner represents a different area or "district" of Fort Lauderdale,
passing this amendment would give the Commissioner whose park space was at
risk a "veto" over its loss or "transformation". That Commissioner would
then have to explain to constituents why the loss of valuable "green space"
was allowed - no wiggle room. The Mayor is right. If park space in a
particular district is to be forfeit, the benefit to the City should be so
self-evident and all-encompassing that the representative Commissioner will
be comfortable explaining the loss to constituents.
13th Street Median Park before Parking Lot Construction
SE 13th STREET MEDIAN BEFORE CONSTRUCTION OF PARKING LOT
Ironically, a recent incident questioned the efficacy of this amendment.
Galt Mile residents aren't the only unfortunates that are unceremoniously
awakened to the soft strains of construction equipment. It happens
throughout the "Venice of America". On Southeast 13th Street in Poinciana
Park, the inhabitants awoke one July morning to find a tree-dotted median
park being noisily transformed into a parking lot. The grassy street medians
that afford that neighborhood some "green space" are generally used by
joggers and dog walkers. The residents of the neighborhood didn't ask for
the 15-space parking lot. They preferred the greenery. A Broward County
powerbroker, Hamilton Forman, wanted the parking lot.
The resilient real estate investor who's http://www.charterschool.com/>
Charter School of Excellence (currently serving as Secretary of the school's
Board of Directors) lies adjacent to the parking lot (as well as his
church), applied for a permit to accommodate their parking needs. The
neighborhood, zoned for residential and commercial use, is home to some
influential county icons including Broward Circuit Judge Kathleen Ireland
and Broward County Mayor Ilene Lieberman's law practice. Not coincidentally,
the area is also home to Ham Forman's Way, a tribute street that meanders
through Poinciana Park to SE 11th Street.
Local residents were never consulted about their median park's conversion
into an asphalt strip. Angry community activists are engaged in a whirlwind
of damage control, contacting and meeting with City officials to reverse
what they consider to be a perversion of the permit process. They want their
park back. Intransigent, Forman responded that, "I have no intention of
giving up those spaces. I personally have parked in those medians there for
75 years." The cost to Forman for the construction was $8000 plus a few
bucks for the permit. He asserted, "I regard my ability to park there as
kind of a constitutional right."
Hamilton, Austin and Collins Forman
PATRIARCH HAMILTON WITH
AUSTIN AND COLLINS FORMAN
83 year-old Hamilton Forman once owned most of Davie. He is probably the
individual most responsible for West Broward's explosive growth. He sued the
State to prevent the Florida Turnpike from being built on its originally
intended site, the corridor currently occupied by Interstate 95. Instead, he
maneuvered the Turnpike's placement further west to snake through his land,
eliciting additional overpasses and exits that provided the access required
for West Broward's ultimate development. http://www.nova.edu/> Nova
Southeastern University and the http://www.novaschools.com/> four Nova
public schools were built on Forman's land and financed, in large part,
through his efforts - in recognition for which
http://www.novaschools.com/NBF/default.htm> Blanch Forman Elementary School
was named after his mother. Forman fostered the growth of the
https://www.browardhealth.org/> North Broward Hospital District,
engineering the construction of the
https://www.browardhealth.org/default.cfm?id=28> North Broward,
https://www.browardhealth.org/default.cfm?id=29> Imperial Point and
https://www.browardhealth.org/default.cfm?id=30> Coral Springs medical
centers. Forman also developed Broward's first County Charter, wherein the
powers and responsibilities of county government are delimited. During his
55 years as a shaper of worlds, he has sponsored a huge collection of
elected officials who are a phone call away. Campaign support in the form of
professional advisors, poll workers and buckets of money has inflated
Forman's political black book to unparalleled stature. As such, he has
cultivated a crop of new "power brokers", all indebted to Forman. The
community activists trying to reclaim their green space have their hands
Although the Ballot Question amendment would enable a City Commissioner to
slam the front door on an unsupportable loss of "Public Trust" park land,
this incident outlines an elephant-size loophole that effectively subverts
the amendment's intention. There is no need to change the zoning designation
of a park when anyone can apply for (and receive) a permit to legally
construct self-serving projects on city-owned park property. Using the
permit process as a fast track to "back-door" the loss of green space sets a
dangerous precedent. Genia Ellis, president of the http://www.cflca.org/>
Council of Fort Lauderdale Civic Associations, explained, "It tells you that
any area in a neighborhood can basically be acquired for private use through
a permitting process; the public isn't even queried on it." What use is
providing Commissioners with de facto veto power over zoning indiscretions
if a permit will provide the applicant with permission to build a parking
lot, or anything else, on park land?
Again, the Mayor is correct in supporting this amendment. It's a laudable
first step. However, city officials would do well to consider plugging this
permit loophole before they come to City Hall one day and find construction
of a toxic waste dump underway in Stranahan Park!
Click To Top of Page http://www.galtmile.com/archives4.html#top>
A King's Loophole Gets Plugged!
February 20, 2005 - The King's Loophole - a bedtime story. Once upon a time
during the summer of '04, a very powerful figure in the County of Broward
decided that he wanted a parking lot across the street from an establishment
with which he had an affiliation. This County Icon served on the Board of
Directors of an exclusive private Charter School called the
http://www.charterschool.com/> harter School of Excellence<. down the block>from his Charter School was his Church, the First Christian Church of Fort
Lauderdale at 201 SE 13th Street. The School and the Church were nestled in
a beautiful residential boulevard with a park-like median separating the
alternating lanes of traffic. Community residents took long walks along the
grassy median. It set the tone for the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the
powerful man decided that he would prefer a parking lot for easy access to
his School and his Church. Despite the "No Parking" signs, the influential
man illegally parked on the median for years. He unabashedly demolished the
wooden barriers that the City foolishly emplaced to deter parking on the
grass. In fact, at a September 20th Planning and Right-of-Way Committee
meeting, he announced, "The first time (the city) put some in front of the
church, I went out and got a sledgehammer and knocked 'em down." Having
wearied of destroying City property while parking his car... he built the
lot ...on the grassy median... that the City owned.
Coincidentally, the City was promoting the passage of a new ordinance. This
ordinance said that City-owned Park land couldn't be bartered without the
unanimous consent of the City Commission. Giving every Commissioner a veto
over the injudicious use of valuable green space would protect the precious
dwindling naturescape. In fact, a special referendum in the form of a ballot
question posed to the City's electorate confirmed that 74.59% of the City's
residents wanted the City Commission to have this power; they agreed that no
one should be able to capriciously adulterate their green space.
When this influential man's Poinciana Park neighbors saw that their median
was gone - replaced by a parking lot - they went to City Hall and
complained, "Someone covered our grassy median with asphalt!" On October
17th, they told the Mayor and the City Commission, "We don't want the
parking lot; we want our park-like median back." City officials said,
"Bedebeep bedebop bedeboop, hmmm... we didn't know blah blah...!"
But...there it stayed...hard, black and sticky.
Hamilton, Austin and Collins Forman
PATRIARCH HAMILTON WITH
AUSTIN AND COLLINS FORMAN
Octogenarian Hamilton Forman once owned most of Davie. During a long and
prosperous career, he fostered the development of West Broward, engineered
the growth of the https://www.browardhealth.org/> North Broward Hospital
District, helped finance the http://www.nova.edu/> Nova Educational
Complex (which was built on his land) and shaped the original Broward County
Charter. A classic powerbroker, Forman's influence was more than adequate to
blacktop the median occupying the place he wanted to park... even if it did
belong to the public. His rationale was simple, "I regard my ability to park
there as kind of a constitutional right."
In view of just having passed their "park-protecting" ordinance, the City
Commission was placed in the awkward position of explaining this inequity.
If an "average" citizen could circumvent the process and use park property
(or street medians) for a personal agenda simply by applying for a "permit"
to do so, the new ordinance would appear as a useless bit of political
fluff. The Poinciana Park Civic Association decided to raise hell about the
dangerous precedent. They enlisted the aid of Genia Ellis, president of the
http://www.cflca.org/> Council of Fort Lauderdale Civic Associations. She
framed the loophole as, "It tells you that any area in a neighborhood can
basically be acquired for private use through a permitting process; the
public isn't even queried on it." As neighborhood associations throughout
the City became aware of the travesty, their survival instincts led them to
offer their support to Poinciana Park. After all, this could just as easily
have happened to any one of them!
The City decided to act. Having carefully investigated and properly
navigated the loophole, Ham Forman's median transformation was accomplished
legally. By using the tactic of securing a simple building permit as
authorization for his plan, he avoided the public scrutiny that he would
have been subject to had he brought his intentions before the
http://www.fortlauderdale.gov/commission/index.htm> City Commission and the
Mayor. When queried about reconsidering his actions, he made it clear that
he was not predisposed to returning the median to its original state. "I
have no intention of giving up those spaces. I personally have parked in
those medians there for 75 years." The writing on the wall read, "Too
little, too late". The community would have to acclimate to the asphalt.
Walkers and joggers would have to find another route. The battle was lost.
But not so the war! If Poinciana Park would be forced to bear the asphalt
scar, it wouldn't be for nothing. The defeated but irate community vowed to
prevent this loophole from being used again to injure some other
unsuspecting neighborhood. They would plug the loophole. On January 12,
2005, Poinciana Park Civic Association President Karl Gloekner notified the
City that they were throwing in the legal towel. However, they requested
that an ordinance amending the City Charter's Chapter 25-100 right-of-way
permits, "include appropriate wording to ensure input and review of all
proper channels, including but not limited to: adjacent property owners,
Civic/Homeowner Association, Property and Right-of-Way (PROW), Planning &
Zoning, DRC, BOA, Parks & Recreation, Code Compliance and Commission as
Gorge Demetrios Gretsas - New Fort Lauderdale City Manager
NEW CITY MANAGER
The next day (January 13th), City Manager
http://www.fortlauderdale.gov/manager/manager.htm> George Gretsas sent
Memorandum 05-101 to the Mayor and the 4 other City Commissioners
recommending that they "approve the proposed ordinance amending Chapter
25-100 right-of-way permits..." In Gretsas' memo, he outlines the process in
which "permits issued for conversion of landscaped medians into parking
areas or travel lanes be approved by the City Engineer, only after review by
the City's Property and Right-of-Way Committee (PROW) at a meeting for which
the public is given notice and an opportunity to comment." In addition to
posting signs identifying the PROW agenda - including the meeting time,
place and subject - notices will be mailed to the relevant
Homeowner/Business Association and to property owners within 300 feet of the
intended alteration. After eliciting public input, the
http://www.fortlauderdale.gov/commission/index.htm> City Commission would
be afforded the opportunity to adjudicate the desirability of the project
and, if found worthy, issue a permit.
Unlike most stories that reflect a failure of our laws to protect us, this
anecdote carries a message of hope. The system failed miserably. The
victimized community that lost an irreplaceable asset will receive neither
justice, restitution nor an apology. What, then, can be considered
"positive" about this municipal molestation? Instead of quietly sweeping
this nasty mess under a rug, the
http://www.fortlauderdale.gov/commission/index.htm> City Commission acted
to prevent it from happening again. They reacted consistently with the
rhetoric supporting their "ballot question" - to prevent our parks from
being bargained away as political fodder. New City Manager
http://www.fortlauderdale.gov/manager/manager.htm> George Gretsas could
have pleaded "unfamiliarity" with the political food chain. Instead, he
worked with the injured community in a sincere but futile effort to undo
what was unjustly, yet legally, perpetrated. By enacting this ordinance,
they've admitted that the City, not only the community, was victimized. On
one side was an angry community that will be slow to forgive city officials
for this legal manipulation on their watch. On the other was a cornucopia of
political resources that could prove extremely useful on Election Day. Our
municipal guardians opted to side with those they've sworn to protect, not
with a re-election insurance policy. When our elected officials remind us
why we elected them, we all get to share a warm fuzzy feeling.
Here are some more links regarding the beloved Forman family and their
contributions to South Florida, which apparently they have sufficiently
despoiled and are looking for fertile ground where I think they believe no
one is wise to them and their methods.
From Page 3 of The Dirty Dozen of 2008
Miles Austin Forman This wealthy Broward power player triggered the biggest
mass eviction in the county's history this year when he told more than 900
families to move out of a trailer park he owns in Davie. Some Palma Nova
residents had been in the park for decades. Amid the panic, Forman offered
to "help" his tenants by giving them $1,000 to $1,500 for each trailer that
left the premises in a timely manner. At first, park managers said this
"generous" deal would only be good for a few weeks. The promise of a small
payout created a frenzy. There was just one catch: Those taking the cash had
to sign waivers saying they, and their descendants, would never sue Forman.
We should mention that Forman also owns Ferncrest, a small utility that
provides the park with "potable" water. Ferncrest drinking water was found
in 2004 to have exceeded legal limits for cancer-causing chemicals by nearly
threefold. The contamination dates back several decades. And, yes, Forman
knew all that time that the Ferncrest water wasn't pure. Residents got their
first official warning from the utility in June 2006. Some blame Ferncrest
water for their ailments; almost all fear health problems down the road.
Dirty Meter reading: 10 (A healthy body is priceless. When you're poor, it's
all you've got.)
A seemingly endless set of stories on the Forman dealings in S. Florida can
be found by pasting the following link into your browser. Admittedly some
are more relevant than others.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.