The City of Pompano Beach thundered last week, and thousands of miles away, Joyce Tarnow picked up the faint murmurings of her old adversaries.
On Tuesday, January 26 the Pompano City Commission unanimously voted for a resolution to oppose Amendment 4. Vice Mayor George Brummer led the charge against the citizens initiative, alternately known as the "Hometown Democracy" movement, that has knotted the knickers of so many cities across the state.
What's so important the Pompano commission felt compelled to make a public protest?
The Amendment is one of those pesky "citizens initiatives" that lets voters take "direct democracy" into their own hands. Rather than wait around for their local governments to do the right thing, mad as hell citizens can just say no. In this case, citizens would be saying no to the rampant out-of-control growth that supporters of the amendment claim has made Florida just about unlivable.
The Constitutional Amendment 4 was first envisioned by Palm Beach lawyer and environmental activist Lesley Blackner. Under the amendment, any time a city wants to revise its comprehensive land use plan, ordinary citizens will get to vote on the changes. That means city commissioners will have to sell the idea to a public increasingly sick of sprawl. The Amendment will be on the 2010 ballot in November.
When we talked to Brummer by phone, he admitted that the Pompano resolution was all but toothless. That is to say, symbolic. If Amendment 4 passes, he and his fellow commissioners would be legally bound to honor it. But the resolution did give the commission a chance to state their position: "We don't want it." It was a phrase that reverberated all the way up to north Florida, where former Pompano Beach gadfly Joyce Tarnow now lives. Tarnow, a vocal advocate for Amendment 4 and a supporter of Florida Hometown Democracy, wrote the Juice that she thought Pompano's argument against Amendment 4 was without merit.
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From the dais, Brummer argued that public votes are expensive: each referendum would cost the city of Pompano about $125,000. He said he believed Amendment 4 would discourage developers from developing and redeveloping ("Precisely!" we could almost hear Tarnow crowing.) "It's a lot easier to sway the half dozen people up here on the dais than it is to make your case to the public," he noted -- indicating that proponents of land use changes might have a tough time convincing Joe Sixpack that his neighborhood really ought to be zoned for WalMart.
Mostly, Brummer told the Juice by phone, he's worried about the effect of citizens initiatives like Amendment 4, and their potential to hogtie government and drain the coffers. "Look what's happened in California," Brummer said. "The limitations on the property tax have crippled California's school system. These amendments sound like good ideas at the time, but people don't always see around the corners."
As for Tarnow, Brummer remembers the lady well. As the founder of Floridians For a Sustainable Population, Tarnow was trying to limit growth in Broward as far back as 1999. "Joyce was a very intelligent individual with strong opinions, and she never hesitated to express them," Brummer says. "They reflected a conservative element in that she wanted to keep things the way they are and avoid or minimize change. It's not an outlook I necessarily agree with."
Has the commission breathed a little easier since Tarnow left Pompano? "I wouldn't say so," Brummer muses. "There were plenty to replace her. We have a whole new crop of gadflies."