Chaz Stevens isn't shy about stirring up trouble. His most recent target has been the wild financial mismanagement of the City of Lauderdale Lakes, which in recent days has been revealed to have used all kinds of crazy, stupid accounting techniques to balance a budget that was, in reality, about as balanced as Lindsay Lohan.
Stevens has been requesting (and analyzing) public documents from the city for months -- in his own spastic way, he's called the city out on his MAOS blog numerous times for busted budget numbers, sloppy spreadsheets, and failing to fulfill records requests. He then released a draft of a report from the Broward inspector general that outlines findings that make the Lauderdale Lakes financial situation look even worse than Stevens' posts did.
And now the city manager has had his lawyer (and father) send a cease-and-desist letter to the blogger.
In a letter dated February 23, Fort Lauderdale lawyer W. George Allen says he is taking action on behalf of Lauderdale Lakes City Manager Jonathan Allen "for civil damages growing out of your collective repeated false allegations, threats, attempted extortion, slander, libel, defamation, and invasion of privacy."
The letter demands that both Stevens and former Lauderdale Lakes Finance Director Larry Tibbs "must cease, desist, and stop your collective efforts, or face suit for damages individually and collectively."
It concludes with "PLEASE GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY," which looks less like a legal notice and more like what would happen if old people learned how to use internet comment sections.
Stevens and Tibbs are lumped together because city commissioners believe that the two have been working together on Stevens' blog posts; the posts have been based on public records, but it's not clear how Stevens got hold of things like that OIG report, which the inspector general's office said isn't technically a public record that can be requested until the parties named have a chance to respond.
But while Stevens has been blogging away, city commissioners said Tibbs has been text-messaging them asking for money he's owed and threatening to leak information to Stevens.
At a City Commission meeting February 14, Lauderdale Lakes City Commissioner Eric Haynes classified the maneuvers as "treasonous-type activity," which he said he hates because of his two-year stint in the military and which he is completely wrong about. Treason, as defined in the bestseller commonly referred to as the U.S. Constitution, is defined pretty clearly:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.
"I mean when you go against your country," Haynes said. "And this regards, I mean going against your city with the intent to intentionally hurt and harm. And I believe some of that's happening around here."
Whether Haynes gets to make up definitions of capital crimes, a state hasn't successfully tried someone for treason since John Brown went nuts and raided the armory at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. But the commissioners do make it sound like Tibbs has been trying to pull some shady dealings.
"It's getting to the point where there's almost outright extortion taking place," Haynes said. "It's regarding money. He wants to get paid money. And he's saying, 'If you don't give me my money, this is what I'm going to do.' And, personally, I don't think we should give him anything."
The commissioners said they wanted to pursue criminal action against Tibbs, and we'll have to wait to see what he's actually accused of. But if Tibbs' maneuvers "to hurt this city," as Haynes characterized it, were just giving people documents that should be available to every member of the public, then it sure says something about the state of that city.
When it comes to the threatened lawsuit against Stevens, it's not really clear where Allen's case is: Stevens has been blogging about public documents, and all indications so far make it look like he's been right. The first OIG report tore Tibbs and Lauderdale Lakes to pieces over their finances, and a second report of more recent allegations seems to be on the way.
"Are they inventing the iPhone 6? It's all public information," Stevens said in an interview last week. "This information, again, is not ill-begotten."
Still, Stevens is a hard puppy to love: He's submitted complaints to the Broward County State Attorney's Office and Broward County Office of Inspector General about Lauderdale Lakes, and his correspondence with the city's records department includes nuggets like this:
Do you folks have one of those Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville margarita makers over in Finance? If that is the case, can you kindly ask that they don't start whipping up some strawberry frothy delights until after, say 3pm? ... Kindly have someone put down the Ronrico, step away from the blender (carefully avoiding stepping on a pop top), and get me my data.
He also has a history of referring to city officials in emails as "Fucktard," "Shitbird," and "Anus T. AnalGlands."
But Stevens said he's not extorting anybody, just "doing my goddamn job as a blogger... This is preposterous. This is outlandish. This is a clear violation of my constitutional rights."
He also said he was hoping the case would go to court to get testimony about the subjects he's been writing about. His official response to the letter?
"Here's my response. Can I get a quote?" he said. "'Bite me.'"