Best Of :: People & Places
You curse the devilish traffic and the paucity of open space, but these signs of overcrowding mean money in your pocket the day you sign on the dotted line of a warranty deed. Soaring land values mean money for nothin'. According to a recent Sun-Sentinel article, the median sales price for homes in the Fort Lauderdale area grew by 12 percent compared to last year, a jump from $161,200 to $179,800. The West Palm Beach-Boca Raton area saw a median sales-price increase of 14 percent, from $139,200 to $158,300. Why the upsurge? As Manhattanites learned long ago, when you're surrounded by water, you run out of anywhere to build but upward. New Yorkers built in that direction, but down here, single-family homes with a patch of backyard are all the rage. And you don't have to have a beautiful mind to realize there are only so many lots to go around.
In Broward County, at least, all politicians lie about annexation. They say they want to grow their city. They say they want to be inclusive. But the fact of the matter is that none of 'em want to touch the county's poorest unincorporated areas, which include less than 6 percent of the 1.7 million population. The so-called "Area A" west of Fort Lauderdale is particularly unwanted. This year, State Rep. Stacy Ritter, a Coral Springs Democrat, tried to change the way things are done. She wanted to transfer power to approve annexations from the state legislature to the counties. But heck, commissioners -- including new chairwoman Lori Parrish -- as well as Swap Shop owner and political heavyweight Preston Henn didn't want that hot potato. So Democratic Sen. Mandy Dawson of Fort Lauderdale killed the plan. And though a self-imposed deadline of 2005 is fast approaching, no one's in a hurry to take on any of these areas. Meanwhile, area residents' taxes are going through the roof. So if you like wonk politics -- or if you just enjoy seeing politicians walk all over one another -- ask about this and watch 'em squirm.
Back in 1999, this newspaper discovered a startling fact about Josephus Eggelletion, who was then a state representative. Eggelletion had a cushy little job at the Broward County School Board, which paid him nearly $48,000 a year. The problem: He worked only 18 weeks but still collected his full paycheck. For the remaining 21 weeks of the school year, he was paid by both the school board, where he wasn't, and by the state in Tallahassee, where he presumably was. When we interviewed him, he was busy on a weekday afternoon -- lounging at the Inverrary Golf Club. So it didn't surprise us when it broke that he'd been caught flaunting his credit card at his new job on the Broward County Commission. On our credit, Eggelletion charged lavish meals, drinks, a $659 leather briefcase, hundreds in dry-cleaning bills, and, of course, golf games. Then it was discovered that while he was in Brazil on county business (where he spent plenty of our money in a putative attempt to lure the Black Film Festival to Broward), he was listed as "sick" at his old job at the school board, which now pays him $58,000 (in addition to the commission salary of $80,000). It may be time to send him to the links full-time, where his heart is. It obviously isn't with the public.
Lois Frankel is a Democrat, pro-choice, a feminist, and Jewish; she supports gay rights and affirmative action, questions the efficiency of the FCAT, has tenaciously fought the tobacco industry, speaks her mind, and frequently criticizes Gov. Jeb Bush -- the man she called a "thief" repeatedly on national television during the 2000 presidential election. It only makes sense (ideologically if not practically) that Frankel, the Minority leader of the Florida House of Representatives, would file as a candidate for the highest public seat in the state. So what if Janet Reno crushes her in notoriety and fundraising potential? So what if attorney Bill McBride is regarded as the moderate-to-conservative "safe" vote? So what if the current governor's brother is George W., an American president with higher approval ratings than anyone in history? Lois Frankel believes that she's the capable one. Well, as they say, more power to her. She's gonna need it.
Progressive isn't a word often associated with South Florida, but the area certainly qualifies in one way: Wilton Manors is one of only two cities in the country to have an (openly) gay mayor and a gay-majority city council. (The other is West Hollywood, California.) And as far as anyone can tell, when Jim Stork succeeded John Fiore on March 12, he became the first gay mayor to assume office from another gay mayor -- ever. Chalk it up to the diminutive size of the "Island City" (about 13,000 in population) and the relatively high percentage of gays (about a third by some estimates). Can't we all just get along? Maybe here, we can. Better still, Stork promises to practice the politics of inclusiveness, reaching out not only to gays but to Haitians and other minority groups that call Wilton Manors home. Now let's just hope Stork delivers.
When it comes to longevity, Palm Beach County Administrator Bob Weisman has beaten all the odds. Having served as the county's top dog for ten years, he's not only survived far longer than the average four- to five-year tenure of most county administrators but is one of the longest-serving county chiefs in the state, according to Ken Small, who tracks such things for the Florida League of Cities. Weisman, 50, owes his longevity to no one but himself. The key to the one-time utility chief's success may be that he never wanted the job in the first place. He accepted it in the wake of the nasty ouster of his predecessor only on the condition that he could return to his deputy administrator post if he didn't like the rarified air at the top. With the goal only of being a good administrator, he's been able to resist the seductive urge to become involved in the always-petty and always-dangerous world of politics. He gives his publicity-conscious bosses straight answers -- whether they want to hear them or not. Wearing his trademark short-sleeve dress shirts, he was a calm voice during last year's post 9/11 anthrax scare, during the 2000 election debacle that put Palm Beach County on the national map, and during courthouse construction snafus, budget cuts, and lesser crises that erupt regularly in the county governmental center. Never heard of him? Don't worry. Bob likes it that way.
Greed is both America's driving force and its incurable sickness. One particularly egregious symptom: the obsession with property values. The lust for high-end real estate reinforces old prejudices, creates paranoiac provincialism, and often leads to a stifling conformity that strangles the imagination -- but hey, it fattens the wallet. (Yes, Weston, we're talking about you). All of these facts conspire to make the property appraiser's Website a most delectable pleasure of the guilty variety. The site feeds that unhealthy instinct Veblen called "pecuniary emulation." You usually can't find out your coworkers' salaries, but, on Bill Markham's database, you can damn well learn how much they paid for their houses. Look up your boss and confirm once and for all that the nincompoop is making way too much money. Look up politicians, pastors, friends, neighbors. Find out their square footage and what they pay in taxes. You know you want to know, so get down off your high horse and log on. On a more practical note, somebody told us it can also help gauge the value of a home you are buying or selling. Just remember to follow the instructions: last name-comma-no space-first name, like say, Rodstrom,John (who has a house assessed at more than $700,000 on Nurmi Drive in Fort Lauderdale, if you're curious).