The watchdog spirit of Helen Ferris is afire in Fort Lauderdale. In the two weeks since Undercurrents revealed the city's heavy-handed crackdown against her famous crime signs, Ferris commandos are counterattacking with examples of bureaucratic laxity, including "The Mystery Cars of Hardy Park."

According to a suspicious reader, the park's baseball field and open spaces are almost always empty, yet the parking lot is at times almost full. Is there something sinister going on?

Upon investigation Undercurrents discovered creative free enterprise at work: Across from the park, on Southwest Ninth Street just west of Andrews Avenue, stands bustling Layton's Garage and Auto Storage. On a sunny day last week, Undercurrents observed an empty Hardy Park, nineteen cars and trucks in its parking lot, and busy Layton employees moving vehicles from the park across the street -- to be worked on in the garage.

Apparently the city endorses this kind of business-government cooperation, because a city public-safety aide sat there for a time, watching over the empty park and crowded lot.

Then came a revelation: Among Layton's employees is Cindy Naugle, sister of Fort Lauderdale Lord Mayor Jim Naugle. Could the parking perk represent abuse of power or -- more accurately -- a sign the mayor has any power at all?

Contacting Ms. Naugle, Undercurrents demanded to know whether her brother had used his awesome influence to permit the garage free use of city property. The First Sister burst out laughing.

"We've always just parked across the street," she said. "We don't have any permission. In fact the police lady sometimes comes over and we move, especially when the baseball people come."

Did the mayor help arrange this sweetheart enforcement policy? Of course not, Ms. Naugle replied. "Jim never does things like that, especially for his sister or family."

How silly of us to suspect the mayor. After all, Jim Naugle never actually does anything.

Our "PR Angle of the Week" award goes to Chef Claude Millien, formerly of the posh Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach. He also wins the "Careening Career" award.

In a press release, Millien's bosses remember "a warmly cherished moment in America's history": That evening in 1962 when Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to John F. Kennedy as he received a seven-foot cake in Madison Square Garden.

Not bad for a PR hook. Unfortunately it was followed by: "Now, as JFK's May 29 birthday approaches, the chef who baked the cake and presented his creation at the birthday bash has taken a new direction in his career."

Oops. Like a dropped souffle, the paragraphs deflate, admitting first that Kennedy didn't actually eat any of Millien's seven-foot cake -- which was partly fake -- then announcing that the chef who once served the Shah of Iran and reigned at New York's Carlyle Hotel, will now oversee the cuisine at... two senior citizen retirement homes, one of which specializes in memory disorders.

Where Millien no doubt will be in charge of creating meals to remember.

Undercurrents wants to know about any and all political deals, media screwups, and particularly dumb memos from bureaucrats. Let us know. Call 954-233-1572, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail undercurrents@newtimesbroward.com.


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