There is no bigger believer in the power of activists in Broward County than the Pulp. When watchdogs in the media fail (which happens more frequently than you can imagine), their hard work and perseverance have helped to bring one scandal after another to light.
Russell Rand speaks at a recent county commission meeting (that's lobbyist George Platt behind him)
Activists and their less-influential and often more superfluous cousins, gadflies, spend the time at the meetings, pull the public records, and hold our elected officials' feet to the fire. They are often insulted by elected officials who are adverse to the scrutiny.
Many of them are true heroes of democracy.
But when does a gadfly go too far?
Right now, the Broward County Commission's chief gadfly is a former county employee named Russell Rand, who was fired from his job in 2003
. He goes to every meeting and speaks at each one of them.
And speaks. And speaks. And speaks.
He has several doomsday scenarios that he brings up with regularity, and often the speeches circle back to his firing, which he claims was due to his whistleblowing. County commissioners, too often, are up to their eyeballs in all things Rand rather than getting the county business done, and they are now trying to figure out what to do to get the guy to shut up.
Just to give you an idea, Rand's name comes up in the transcript of Tuesday's commission meeting 51 times. For comparison, Commissioner John Rodstrom's name gets 47 hits. The recently AWOL Ilene Lieberman, who has been extremely passive but sparked up a bit more at Tuesday's meeting, gets just 37 mentions.
Here's a part of the transcript where Rand pulled agenda items that he wanted to talk about:
Mayor Gunzburger: From the audience we have Mr. Rand. Which item do you want? Which item?
Rand: 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, 20 --
Gunzburger: Just a minute.
Rand: 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, 20, 23, 25 [inaudible].
Gunzburger: Excuse me, 20, 24,wait, I'll listen to that in a minute. Let me get all the numbers. I was up to 23, 24. What else?
Rand: 3 -- 4, 5, 6, 8, 12, 20, 23, 25.
Gunzburger: Wait, I can't go that fast.
Rand: I know. 28. Then 31 and 32 combined kind of. 33 and 34 is on the public right?
Gunzburger: OK, I have them all.
That was just the beginning of the Rand sideshow. Some of the commissioners began talking about how Rand was taking over the meetings and wondered how to get all his comments out of the way so he wouldn't be gumming up the works throughout. Rodstrom got it started.
"You've got a person who is dominating the
meetings, and you know, there's no problem with that," Rodstrom said, clearly indicating that he indeed had a problem with that. "But I think in order to give his due, what we should do is those items that he is addressing, we should let him speak on all those items at one time and take those items at one time and see how it goes."
The idea was that the commission would give Rand the floor for three minutes per agenda item he pulled -- which for 14 items adds up to 42 minutes (three minutes per item). Assistant County Attorney Drew Meyers said that it would be permissible for the items that Rand alone had pulled to discuss. That's when Commissioner Kristin Jacobs balked:
"In a perfect world, that might make sense, but I think that we are setting a dangerous precedent to do that," she said. "You could have multiple people come up, pull the same shenanigans, and the County Commission meeting would shut down... So I would go back to our original rules and hopefully Mr. Rand understands that there is important business here at the county and that while we encourage public participation... I would ask that the mayor be very -- I hate to use the word forceful -- but very strict in assuring that the speaker's language is direct to the item."
Then, as so often happens at these meetings, there was a period of chaos where no one seemed to know what to do. "Madam Mayor, I would suggest that we've wasted as much time suggesting what we ought to do than we are doing it and we ought to move forward with the regular agenda."
The board then let Rand address some of his issues in bulk beginning with the Port Everglades master plan.
"Obviously the topic is free speech, and that is what people are dying for," Rand began. "You know, this is a participatory democracy, not a dictatorship... I represent a lot of people that want to speak."
Then he started talking about the danger of a hurricane sweeping the oil ships onto shore.
"The ship will go right through your office here on the second floor," he said. "That's what's going to happen... Forget the BP oil spill. When that Category 3 or 4 comes in and, again, that master plan, you should be memorizing this. Again, it should be on the front page of the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald. This is brilliant stuff. I waited 37 years. I already figured it out, but the common people need to know that oil is going to rise up. It's black gold, Texas tea. It's going to spread through Weston, Plantation Acres, Tamarac, you name it. It'll be the high-water mark in your house, see, that petroleum, and you'll be swimming in it. That's my point again, because I saw it 55 years ago. As always, thank you. I'm in on time."
Then it was onto the public art issue. And more. The amazing Mr. Rand would not be stopped. Next came a discussion on the nomination of Dania Beach Vice Mayor to the county's Climate Change Task Force. Rand began by saying that he would stick to the point and that he thought Castro would be a good addition to the board, a "pistol," as he put it. Then he continued:
"I've known about climate change for 50 years or so, and it's been going on for billions of years and significantly here in within the last 11,000 years or so from the end of the Ice Age, and that's why we have civilization. And at the height of the Ice Age, the sea level was like 550 feet lower than it is. Ann Castro, as vice mayor of Dania, which, you know, look at that map again. It's the oldest city in the county for a reason. It's sitting on a ledge. It's on the Miami Ridge as it's called and east of U.S. 1 and all. It steeps off quick, and there's houses right there, and across the street is the mangrove. So there's no barriers and that. So Dania will be among the first cities impacted by climate change, and coincidentally because it's so high sitting on the ridge, it will be among the last also. But again, it's a slow process. Nobody has an exact answer. Some people think that it's fuzzy science and all, or fuzzy math or whatever, but five to 12 inches per hundreds years, so it's going to take several hundred years to actually significantly start wearing away some of the properties in Broward County... Commissioner Ritter's descendants will still be above water hopefully in the future or whatever, but this will become clearly oceanfront property in Coral Springs and all. It will be right on the ocean."
Gunzburger interrupted at this point.
"It's supposed to just be speaking to the nomination of Anne Castro," she said.
"I support, and I'm speaking to it," said Rand.
"We don't want to hear all the other stuff," said a perturbed Rodstrom.
"I'm talking about Dania and all," Rand returned.
"Stick to the topic," Rodstrom demanded.
"Thank you," said Gunzburger. "We all have places to go, and we've got things to do here. We have three workshops -- "
"You're holding us from doing our job," said Rodstrom.
"This is your job," said Rand.
"No, I don't get paid enough to have to listen to everything you say."
"I don't get paid; you took my money, half a million dollars," said Rand, referring to his firing.
"And that's the point I'm really troubled about," said Rodstrom. "There's a lot of animosity."
"Motion to move," interjected Commissioner Dale Holness.
"When are we getting our metal detectors?" asked Rodstrom.
"I'm unarmed except for the [inaudible]," said Rand.
Then it was immediately onto the next item.
"It's you again, Mr. Rand," said Gunzburger.
This was about Rodstrom's idea to delay red lights for two seconds.
"Red lights? OK, two seconds, it's a separate thing," Rand began. "It's a separate matter. It's physics again. Increase the duration of all red cameras or lights or whatever by two seconds, it's physics again and, you know..."
And on and on he went.