This should have been a piece of cake for County Commissioner Jim Scott. It was candidates' night last Thursday at a meeting of the Coral Ridge Association, and Scott, who has represented the area for 30 years in one capacity or another, appeared to be chillin' with his Republican homies.
Scott, a thin, leathery man with pumpkin-colored hair, gave a breezy account of his political career 24 years in the State Senate, including two years as its president; county commissioner since 2002; a "lonely" voice for fiscal austerity and lower property taxes on the commission. He finished with a recital of a poem by G.K. Chesterton ("Chester-on," Scott called him), suggesting that Jim Scott, for one, would never be "a wrecker who roams the town, content with the labor of tearing down."
Then Scott's Democratic opponent, Ken Keechl, got up and, in the parlance of one audience member, "tore him a new one."
In an election season which has focused largely on national issues, Keechl and his allies in District 4 of the County Commission are using a controversial Coral Ridge development plan to make an unexpected horserace out of this local campaign. The thing that appears to have Scott sweating bullets is the publicity about his involvement in the Coral Ridge Country Club Development Plan.
As Tailpipe reported two months ago, there's a plan to restore the country club golf course to its former glory, updating its clubhouse, giving it new trees and extended fairways, taking it back to the days when Sam Snead and Ben Hogan played there. This would be accomplished partially with revenues from the conversion of the American Golfers Club the Country Club's low-rent twin to the west to an upscale housing development. A group of investors (or "a bunch of speculators," as some characterize them) who bought the two golf courses two years ago wants to turn the public course, where duffers without piles of money could flail away at reasonable prices, into a site for 61 new homes, each going for about $1 million.
The idea upset a lot of the country club's neighbors, worried about new traffic from all those homes and the loss of green space in their community. Then they learned that the investors included not only auto-dealer Phil Smith, prominent lawyers Norman Tripp and Matt Morrall, builder Terry Stiles, businessman Mike Dayhoff, and managing partner J.J. Sehlke. They also included Commissioner Scott. That upset the neighbors even more and got Keechl into the race.
It's all private money they're talking about here, of course. The golf courses are privately-owned, and the investors are asking for no public funds. But they do need the approval of both the Fort Lauderdale City Commission and the County Commission in order to change the site's zoning from "green/park space" to residential.
According to Keechl, even if Scott recuses himself on that issue, his mere presence on the County Commission represents an "unfavorable advantage" for the plan's opponents.
"It's not appropriate to say you're going to recuse yourself when you're looking at eight colleagues [voting on an issue that Scott has a financial interest in]," he said.
Scott describes his investment as, well, a public-spirited one. "This is the story of 'no good deed goes unpunished,' " Scott said. He got involved at the behest of the former owners the heirs of the late golfing architect Robert Trent Jones, who designed the Country Club course. "I live 50 yards from the golf course," Scott said. "They were telling me that they couldn't find a local owner to preserve this crown jewel." He invested "several hundred thousand," he told the 'Pipe after the meeting after the country club was "devastated" by Hurricane Wilma.
But Keechl notes that, while the country club has been returned to normal since then, the more pedestrian American Golfers Club has been abandoned by its owners.
"All of a sudden, the water didn't work," Keechl said, explaining how the public course has turned brown with neglect.
A woman asked Scott if he was prepared to divest himself of his investment as an ethical gesture? Scott seemed uncertain. "I would consider it if I thought I had any role in it [the development] that would make a difference," said Scott, who is listed in state filings as the investment group's vice-president.
This battered cylinder is taking no sides here; he just notes a surprising depth of emotion at a time when most local issues are about as compelling as discussions of water treatment and waste removal contracts. There was a visceral reaction from the 100 or so people at the meeting to Keechl's blunt attack ("You're wrong, you shouldn't have done this"). Supporters of Keechl (who had to handle an ethical question of their own regarding the candidate's law firm's involvement in a securities fraud) say that he's getting vocal support from Oakland Park, Wilton Manors, and other communities within District 4.
Will it be enough to topple a long-term incumbent? We'll see next week.
Frog in Winter
A local neighborhood publication recently divulged the secret to humane removal of the toxic Bufo marinus toad. In its "Nursery Notes" gardening column, September's Lake Ridge News, with a circulation of 1,500, suggested that readers rid themselves of the warty pad-crashers "...by placing them in a plastic container or bag in the freezer for three days and then burying the carcasses."
Tailpipe never saw a frog he couldn't, well, relate to, though he draws the line at inviting them home to stay. The non-native Bufo marinus (also known as the giant, marine, or cane toad) are said to be unwelcome house guests. When their highly toxic secretions are consumed by household pets, the animals frequently experience noxious poisoning or even death.
Still, is such a harsh approach to toad-a-cide both necessary and humane? The 'Pipe consulted Steve Johnson, University of Florida's Amphibian Education Specialist, to get the scoop.
"Yeah, I would encourage people to do it," responded Johnson, who says that stricter bio-control methods are needed to tackle the rapidly multiplying, non-native population. But is it the most humane approach? "Well, if you had a small guillotine, or a .22 and put a bullet through their heads..." Johnson mused. He concluded: "To be practical, more people would be willing to freeze them."
Freezing the cold-blooded amphibians causes them to slip into a torpid state, slowing their metabolism until they, well, die an artificial re-creation of the way toad populations are controlled in regions with a strong winter season. The winter freeze... It's all natural.
The toads were unreachable for comment. Busy? No, just chillin'.
Old Guys With Spray Cans?
A burglary ring is terrorizing the used car lots of Hollywood. The ring attacks at night and, judging by the sheer volume of stolen merchandise, it's a big, ambitious crew with a penchant for vandalism. Vicious vandalism.
On October 10, Amir Azarpad, owner of Florida Fine Cars on South State Road 7, opened up his lot to find six cars with shattered windows, missing stereos and CD and DVD players. That burglary was pulled off the same night as raids on Car Club USA on Funston Street and AmeriCars USA on Rodman Street.
Florida Fine Cars was hit again on the night of October 18, marking the third visit in 20 days, according to the lot's manager (he didn't give the date of the secret incident). He added that he had no idea who the thieves were. The lot doesn't have working surveillance cameras.
Clues may be found in the thieves' graffiti, though. During the October 10 raid of the lot, the thieves left a maroon Mercedes in the lot covered in taunts "How do you like them apples suck my dick," said a message along the car's passenger side. Close by, there was a "Fuck you," a "HA HA," and an "LMAO."
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That stands for "Laughing my ass off," but another acronym holds greater intrigue: "HWDBC." Could it be this crew has its own name?
"It doesn't ring a bell with our graffiti people just yet," says Police spokesman Capt. Tony Rode, who says that the suspects are still at large.
How do you like them apples? Just a guess, but Tailpipe thinks these guys are feral senior citizens who've been listening to too many N.W.A. records.
As told to Edmund Newton