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Council Watch
Billy Manes pays attention to local government so you don't have to


There was a dewy suppleness about this week’s morning-after meeting, a palpable electrical charge accompanied by sly winks, sweet scents and creased mouth corners; tangles of figurative clothes – or tax dollars – may have been littered across broken civic champagne bottles, but in the end it was worth it. The city finally got some and it wasn’t afraid to giggle about it. 

“I really gotta say this before I jump up and shout!” Commissioner Daisy Lynum nearly exploded. 

Of course, the hangover hoopla was directly attributable to the city’s giant erection, the Amway Center, and its ballyhooed opening the weekend before. Everybody (save Commissioner Phil Diamond, who tried repeatedly to cock block the deal) was awash in spray-on self-congratulatory glory with just a hint of a brown on their noses for the mayor who made it all happen. Lynum declared her “blueprint” – the minority-equalizing employment measure tied to the arena’s construction – a “work of art,” if she did say so herself. There would be absolutely no regrets. No, not this time.

But there would be some sexy upstaging. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., popped up in a sparkly number to cryptically talk about a warm “slice of mama’s sweet potato pie.” Get a room. 

Item: The city adopts an ordinance amending Chapter 41 of the city code related to false fire alarms.

Translation: In order to cope with the sting of recent budget-gap closures – last month the city went hog wild on sundry fee increases for administrative miscellany, in addition to tightening its own staffing belt – the city is now tap dancing into the realm of the hypothetical, specifically raising fees on commercial properties whose fire alarms go off for no reason at all. Hooray for hysterical fires! Basically, city code has long mandated that excessive false alarms to the police department for fake burglaries (in 1996, the city claimed that 99.9 percent of all of its control-room bleeps were fake, costing taxpayers $216,000) come with an incrementally increasing punishment depending on the number of recurrences. Similarly, with fire alarms that just blare to be heard, the city has assessed fees equally on residential and commercial properties: your first three are free, the next two $100 apiece, then $200 each for the rest within a 12-month period. Now, that fee will increase for commercial businesses to $250 and to $300 respectively, with the addendum that if you can’t keep your errant fire alarm from squawking off at the mere mention of a cigarette, the city could saddle you with a fire watch – an officer trained in sussing out real fires, to be paid for out of your pocket. The city projects this hot little number will bring in $537,650 annually. 

Item: The city approves an extension of its annual contract with UnitedHealthcare for group health-plan coverage.

Translation: Not even the city is immune to the advancing fever of the healthcare crisis. When it signed its current contract with UnitedHealthcare back in 2007, the city’s group insurance plan came in at a mere $30 million a year. That contract was extended in 2008 (with Obamacare marching on the horizon) to the tune of $43 million annually. Last year, the hemorrhaging continued at a premium of $48.5 million. And now, with 2014 still a long way away, UnitedHealthcare – the recent subject of a bloody negotiating triage with Florida Hospital – will hike its rates another 4.9 percent to $50 million. In truth, it will only cost the city’s purse – or yours, depending on how you look at it – $38.5 million, because the rest is quietly being plucked from city staff salaries. You’re free to be sick now. 

Item: The city approves continued use of its contract with Sprint Solutions Inc. for cellular phone and wireless data service.

Translation: And you thought your cell bill was rough. Through some gambling magic show, the city is miraculously authorized to use a “cooperative contract” inked by the Western States Contracting Alliance (which lists Nevada as its fearless leader) to keep its cell phones on in a less expensive manner – but not really. The city currently uses 228 Blackberries, 576 cell phones and 1,018 wireless accounts all adding up to annual cost of $826,274. Through this new agreement, the city will upmarket itself with 270 Blackberries and 565 cell phones while maintaining 1,018 wireless accounts. The new fee will be $854,015 a year. So the city will actually spend nearly $28,000 on 42 Blackberries, or $660 each annually. Cheap.  

Item: The city approves its extension of engagement with Baker Hostetler for legal services related to the Creative Village redevelopment project. 

Translation: Drawing legal documents is hard, especially when there isn’t much there there. In order to maintain some kind of angular footing on its amorphous idea that somehow the old arena property will shoot futuristic laser beams from the ground thereby attracting rich people, the city employs its boilerplate experts from Baker Hostetler, the “counsel to market leaders.” The firm was “preliminarily” retained at the start of this mess – “here’s $70, tell my bill collectors to fuck off,” etc. – but now that nobody will even acknowledge the old Centroplex property (meaning nobody’s watching), the city wants to extend its “engagement.” The cost: $100,000 a year. You can’t buy a dream.
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