-as told to Tom Walsh
Here's a new theme song for downtown Fort Lauderdale: "Where have all the homeless gone? Gone to the bushes, every one. When will the cops everlearn?"
We hear that harassment, in the form of rousting, is continuing, and the police are confronting the homeless with limited choices. "Homeless people are told to move on, get help, or get in the cruiser," according to Marti Forman of the Cooperative Feeding Program. So it's into the bush they go, to come out only when necessary.
Last week we spotted a more subtle example of the harassment used to force them out of sight. A man with a backpack and a garbage bag had plopped down on the grass of Stranahan Park. Obviously not a Fort Lauderdale Woman's Club member, he was enjoying what the park had to offer: a shady place to sit. A police officer pulled his cruiser onto the sidewalk nearby, turned on his cop-car lights, and gave a couple of blasts from the siren. A greeting from Officer Friendly perhaps? Nope. This is the signal that unless the allegedly homeless person moves on, an old-fashioned rousting will occur. That's where the cop stops someone not suspected of a crime, asks for ID, runs a warrant check, and then searches through the person's belongings for contraband. So of course the person will give up the right to sit in a park to avoid this. And the mandid.
The result: no scraggly person in sight to upset tourists or downtown power brokers. Get that same guy a haircut and a pair of Dockers, and suddenly the police have no urge to push him around or search his briefcase.
Ironically, many of the homeless who used to hang out downtown had moved toward the police headquarters building on Broward Boulevard and the nearby Salvation Army. Now those homeless are being pushed away from there too, and many are hiding behind the police building in the bushes and woods near the river.
We hope a homeless person driven off the streets doesn't get shot as an intruder in someone's backyard.
It didn't take long -- after a New Times article last week revealed that Frank Veltri took $44,000 in city money -- for the apologists to line up with an explanation for the former Plantation mayor's shenanigans: Veltri took sick and annual leave pay because he believed he was a full-time employee and was entitled to it. It was an honest mistake, and he may eventually pay it back. No harm, nofoul.
Unfortunately, circumstantial evidence points to a willful and arrogant misuse of power. Veltri, as mayor, was a public officer and not a city employee entitled to benefits. What veteran public officer elected to office doesn't know his or her status? If Veltri somehow believed he was entitled to those payments all along, why did he wait until 1990 -- 16 years after he became mayor -- to start taking payments for sick leave? It also wasn't until 1997 that it suddenly dawned on him that he was due big checks for the nonexistent vacationleave.
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If Veltri didn't know the law, he damn well should have. He'd been arguing with Councilman Ralph Merritt about the distinction between an employee and an elected official for years. Merritt knew Veltri's money-grab was wrong. Why didn't Veltri?
The most serious question is why Veltri kept the payments a secret. Could it have been because he was getting clobbered politically at the time for engineering an obscenely generous pension from the city, which pays him $62,500 a year and free medical insurance for life?
It doesn't add up -- and we cry foul. With no apology.
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