Civics & Government Day Dispatch

Peter Brandt
September 14, 2012

Many long roads and different paths brought us all together on Wednesday, September 12th 

Discovery, meetings, the application process, the weekend retreat, and now we finally gather for Civics & Government Day. I know that everyone in the class was as eager and excited as I was to get started! Kurt Bressner and Oren Tasini kicked off the day while Hannah Sosa (Class of 2013) was snapping pictures. Kurt Bressner provided an overview of the day ahead and outline key objectives. He made a particular point of stating that we are “agents of democracy” and summed up his thoughts by telling us that as LPBC members we are “destined to success!” Kurt and Oren really energized the class and set a great tone for the day.
 

 

  • Kurt suggested the book America, the Owner's Manual by Bob Graham to our class. It is available in paperback for $20 and in audio format for $10 from Amazon. Link to Book

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photos from the day!

During the morning session I heard several people discussing the civic engagement projects. I know that we were all concerned about when and how we were to start working on them, but we were reassured that we should not “freak out”, but enjoy the process. Easier said than done!

Charles Frazier (Class of 2013)  introduced Shannon Ramsey-Chessman, our first speaker of the day. She is the Chief Operating Officer of Finance for the Clerk & Comptroller’s Office in Palm Beach County. She spoke in detail of the over 1,000 constitutional duties her office is responsible for and that they handle every single dollar taken in by the county. 

Next up was Robert Weisman, County Administrator. Mr. Weisman did a wonderful job describing his interaction with the Board of Commissioners and even spoke off the cuff a bit about his working relationship with the Ethics Board and the Inspector General’s office. He offered some practical advice on how to successfully navigate issues that may arise.


Don Scantlan (Class of 2013) introduced our next speaker, Mary Brandenburg, Florida House of Representatives, 2002-2010. A humorous take-away from her conversation was that we should definitely not take shopping bags for granted. She spoke about the enormous amount of thought and “legal wrangling” that is behind the use of these everyday items. Ms. Brandenburg left us with the thought that whether we are Democrat or Republican, and whether we agree or disagree; we should respect any opinion that is presented in a thoughtful and well reasoned manner. 
I think we can all agree with that.

 
   

Off to the Mandel Public Library’s 3rd floor auditorium.  Snacks, snacks, snacks... we were all thankful for them!  As a librarian I was pleased to see library taking advantage of LPBC as a captive audience for product placement. I not only saw traditional books on display, but CDs and DVDs as well as flyers advertising access to downloadable audio books, upcoming events, and the all important Friends of the Library. They had QR codes on everything for easy access to all of their materials. Nicely done.

Senator George LeMieux gave us all a wake-up call and reality check with his concise overview of the state of the economy, especially focused on Florida and Palm Beach County.
 

Image below is linked to Senator LeMieux's PowerPoint Presentation:
Senator LeMieux stated that we are currently in our 43rd month of unemployment over 8% and the worst GDP in the past 100 years. He also noted that 1 in 4 of all foreclosures in America occurred in Florida and that 44% of all homes here in Palm Beach County were “under water”. The news wasn’t all gloom and doom however – Senator LeMieux left off stating that he believed that we’re about 3-5 years away from getting our economy back on track. There is hope.


Senator LeMieux stated that we are currently in

Next was our Civic Engagement project selection activity and lunch. This was interesting and fun. How passionate we all are about out projects! Bari Goldstein and Gary Fechter laid down the rules and we all “used our feet to vote” for the project we wanted to be participate in.  At first no one was willing to budge from their first choice.  It was only after coaxing by Bari and Gary, and some group peer pressure that a few members decided to realign with other projects to better disperse the class.  In the end I think there was a very good distribution of talent among the five projects selected.

 

Next up was a Tale of Two Cities with Mayors Jeri Muoio and Susan Whelchel. Theirs was a general conversation of how they conduct business ranging from an overview of their jurisdiction down to the day-to-day scheduling and running of meetings. Both Mayors ran, and were elected due to their commitment of economic development. It was interesting to hear both Mayors speak of how the oversight and ethics boards had worked in a negative way to reduce interest in participation of some of the fund raising events they held.  No one wanted to do anything that would cause their name to be “dragged through the mud!”  Mayor Muoio went so far to say that ethics legislation can be seen as the “death of common sense”.

 
  

With our next speaker, Christine Thrower, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of West Pam Beach we were presented with a challenge to develop a budget that would cover 16 million dollars in project expenses with only 3.3 million dollars of revenue. I would have changed the name of the session from Putting 10 Pounds in a 5 Pound Sack to Getting 10 Pounds out of a 3 Pound Sack! Should we cut tennis court lights, fencing and carpet to pay for resurfacing and playgrounds?  Should we raise taxes with a new bond for Fire Rescue? Certainly 20 minutes was plenty of time to make all of these decisions – NOT!

P.S. Group 2; I still say that we should have funded the Library Mate project!

Off to the courthouse and Palm Beach County History Museum tour presented by Jeremy W. Johnson. It was nice to have time on our own to explore the Museum and speak to the docents about the exhibits.  Clearly one of the highlights was the preserved courtroom and balcony. There were some fun pictures taken – can’t wait to see them. Speaking of pictures - Kelly Rowland was very busy on our breaks and during lunch updating the LPBC social media site with images of the day. At 3:45, after a nice stroll down Clematis, we convened at the Lake Pavilion on Flagler for a history presentation by Harvey Oyer III, Esq

He clearly painted a picture of Palm Beach County’s history and culture as resulting from a melting pot of different cultures. This is well reflected in the members of the LPBC Class of 2013 which brings people from many backgrounds, ethnic, religious and national origins together for a single goal – to make Palm Beach County a better place to live today and for future generations.

While most of us cannot trace our families back five generations in Palm Beach County like Harvey can, the historical talk made me reflect onehow we do each bring our own unique talents, knowledge and abilities that we can use to accomplish great things. We have chosen to participate and do something for our community – I think it is obvious that the Class of 2013 will indeed be the best class ever!



To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. - Aristotle

Dispatch written by Peter Brandt, Information Technology Division Manager, Palm Beach County Library System

 

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