Hidden deep in the Broward County Lobbyist Registration Act, which commissioners passed last month, is a requirement that all visitors sign into county departments and the commission office. Big Brother wants your name, employer, whom you're calling upon, and the reason for your visit.
Reporters who keep tabs on government won't be bothered by this; they're cocksure and obnoxious anyway. Undercurrents is more concerned for the everyday Joes and Janes who want to be heard. "It would have a severe, chilling effect on the average citizen who might want to come in and... make a complaint," comments Barbara Peterson from the First Amendment Foundation, which monitors compliance with Florida's government-in-the-sunshine laws. "If everybody who walks into the office has to do this, then that's a problem."
It may even be illegal, says Sandy Bohrer, a media-law specialist with Holland & Knight (whose clients include New Times). "I'm stunned; I'm just stunned," he says. "They're going to have to take that back. It's insane. I believe there is no reasonable basis for it. I believe that it's beyond the power of the government to do this, to no purpose."
This being Broward County, the very people charged with enforcing the rule don't really seem to understand it. Moreover it's being enforced unevenly. The requisite sign-in sheets were posted last week in the county administration, county attorney's, and purchasing offices. In other places there was nothing. Some employees think commissioners' approval of the rule might have been motivated by security concerns. Others believe it is a way for the big cheese to keep an eye on departments that spend public money. In fact, when commissioners crafted this Soviet-style rule, they reasoned that even "lobbying" efforts by ordinary citizens should be tracked.
Believe it or not, this nonsense passed unanimously. At least one commissioner has since changed his mind. "I have people in my district I've known for 20, 30 years, and they might be coming down here to see me about a problem," says Josephus Eggelletion. "Why should they have to sign in?" Good question.
That raises another question: Whose idea was this? At whom should the commissioner direct his wrath? Eggelletion couldn't recall the origin of the "track everybody" wording in the rule, which is odd, considering commission documents show it was his idea.
By the way, we'd be remiss if we failed to point out the Sun-Sentinel published a story about passage of the measure, noting that it applies not only to lobbyists but also to "... any other citizen."
If a riot erupts in Pompano Beach and the Sun-Sentinel ignores it, did anyone really get a face full of pepper spray?
Your philosophy teacher might argue the point, but those involved in the May 27 melee in Liberty Park probably wouldn't. Four people were arrested, several bystanders ate pepper spray, and the window of a Broward Sheriff's Office cruiser was broken. But unless you read The Herald'scoverage ten days later or are one of the "eight subscribers to [The Pompano Ledger], including my mother" (Ledger publisher Ed Foley's words, not ours), you probably didn't know anything about it.
According to BSO reports, the trouble started about 9 p.m. when a man rolled a basketball in front of a moving cruiser, and the deputy at the wheel had to swerve to miss it. The officer stopped, got out of the car, and confronted the man, who began yelling obscenities. A crowd quickly gathered, and the deputy called for backup. At least three more people tried to stir things up by yelling obscenities; others pelted the cops with mangoes and hurled a rock through a BSO window.
People in the neighborhood complained to Pompano Beach NAACP president Willie Lawson that police employed excessive force. Lawson contends deputies used pepper spray on at least four people in the crowd. The NAACP, along with the Northwest Pompano Civic Association, called for the BSO to investigate the incident. The sheriff's department confirms a probe is ongoing.
Foley has come to expect poor coverage of Pompano from the dailies, particularly the Sun-Sentinel. "They don't cover anything," he says. "It's sad what's left out."
Almost as sad as what goes in. In a scoop too good to be true, Undercurrents has obtained a top-secret internal memo from deep within the bowels of the Sun-Sentinel that seems to explain the paper's predilection for prominently publishing even the most picayune of animal stories. An excerpt from said memo:
To: Newsroom staff
From: Editor Earl Maucker
Folks: Survey after survey indicates our readers love animals. All animals. And as Tribune Company journalists, we're here to give readers what they want. Otherwise, why waste money on focus groups?
I've seen some dynamite animal coverage in our pages lately: a topnotch eulogy for Boynton Beach canine officer Zeus plus team coverage of the dog's funeral; two stories on Boomer the grouper's move to Orlando and a 1A photo above the fold; a piece on kids pooling their pennies to buy bulletproof doggy vests; three stories chronicling the indomitable spirit of Faith, the bouncy golden retriever rescued from death's door after an acid attack; an explanatory piece on the secret sex lives of anoles. Gut-wrenching tales all, and I applaud your journalistic prowess in finding and developing them.
But we've got to do better. You'll note, as I did, that we haven't had a single good cat story in our pages of late. Ferrets? Turtles? Snakes? All unaccounted for. I shouldn't have to remind you that, at the Tribune Company, "diversity" applies to more than people.
We need to dig. The animal stories are out there, our readers demand them, and therefore so do I....