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Update: Senator Jeffrey Atwater
Florida State Senator Jeffrey Atwater addressed a September 18, 2003 Advisory Board meeting of the Galt Mile Community Association at Nick's Italian Restaurant. The Thursday afternoon luncheon meeting afforded members the opportunity to query the Senator about a variety of issues that affect our neighborhood, City and State. The Senator, accompanied by Legislative Assistant Michelle Mattox, fielded questions about shore preservation, fire safety, insurance and the political process.
|Senator Jeffrey (Jeff) H. Atwater|
Robert Rozema, GMCA President, alerted the Senator to our concern stemming from the severe tidal erosion that plagues our beaches. The GMCA played an integral part in the Florida State Cabinet's decision to include Fort Lauderdale in the permit sought by the Broward County Department of Environmental Protection to renourish the beaches from the Dade County line to Pompano Beach. A contingent of Galt Mile residents staged a successful demonstration at the May 13th Cabinet meeting to refocus the Cabinet's attention on the critical part that our beaches play in the State's economy and the lives of all Floridians (CLICK HERE for full story). Unfortunately, the Senator was in Rome at the time and unavailable to join the other Broward County, Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale representatives that lent staunch support to the beach renourishment project. The Senator expressed regret at having missed the opportunity to support the project at the critical Cabinet vote. He explained that politics demands a clear vision of all sides of every issue. He recounted that Deerfield Beach, one of the offshore donation sites for the sand, has raised concerns about being left with a shortage of sand once the dredging operation is complete. It was pointed out to Senator Atwater that every environmental study precluded any possibility of damage to the Deerfield Shoreline and Broward County has guaranteed Deerfield that they would assume all responsibility for any possible adverse reaction suffered from the donation. The Senator also acknowledged that while the vast majority of environmental groups (including every major one) were clearly in favor of the beach renourishment, politicians generally retreat from involvement in any environmental controversy. The Senator agreed that there was no rational justification to allow the beaches that protect our infrastructure and underwrite the already shaky Florida economy to quietly disappear.
Senator Atwater identified the "Fire Safety Amendment" controversy as "an ongoing struggle that is far from settled". Referring to the secretive statute sponsored by the National Fire Sprinkler Association and the Plumbers and Pipe fitters Union that slipped through the legislature a few years ago, the Senator explained that two elements would conspire to perpetuate the controversy. One element is the media-fed scare tactics that the Senator called the "Towering Inferno Scenario". The second element is the huge amount of money at stake for the industries (and their lobbyists) that sponsored the original legislation. Again, the Senator exclaimed that the issue was a political mine field that intimidated any politician with a survival instinct. Howard Goldstein, president of Plaza East, asked the Senator how Condominium Associations should respond to the contradictory interpretations of both the legislation and the subsequent amendment. The Senator, a co-sponsor of Senator Geller's Amendment S 592 that supports the right to "opt out" of certain exigencies created in the original legislation, advised the attendees to "do nothing!" Senator Atwater was alluding to a recent Public Meeting conducted by State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher's office wherein the State Fire Marshal's staffers admitted that "This law is in a state of flux. The Fire Marshal�s office, along with most local fire authorities, is awaiting clarification from the legislature." Politicians are aware that the media-driven scare tactics exploited by the sponsoring lobbyists bear little relation to reality. While our representatives support a more moderate "owner determined" engineered fire safety system (Geller's Amendment passed the House - 114 YEAS, 0 NAYS - and the Senate - 36 YEAS, 2 NAYS (Campbell and Dawson), and 2 Abstentions), they dread being painted as "soft on fire safety."
The Senator also spoke to the insurance industry's highly unstable approach to Florida underwritings. The industry is attempting to justify its volatile behavior as simply a reaction to topsy turvy actuarial fundamentals drawn from the unusual claims patterns that are supposedly unique to the State of Florida. Many insurance companies have recently declined to continue servicing certain key categories, opting instead to forego offering competitive coverage and sacrificing their "admitted" status. There is, for instance, a dearth of admitted carriers for such industry cornerstones as automobile insurance and malpractice coverage. If not for the State of Florida's self-directed disaster insurance (a seven-member Board of Governors and a technical advisory board ALL appointed by the State Treasurer (Tom Gallagher) for three-year terms, representing geographically diverse regions of the state), there would be NONE. It appears as if this threadbare system is one disaster away from non-existence. This issue was first tackled by Senator Atwater while serving in the Florida House in 2002. He successfully sponsored a bill designed to merge the Florida Windstorm Underwriting Association (FWUA) and the Residential Property and Casualty Joint Underwriting Association -- the insurers of last resort for residents in hurricane-prone regions of the state -- into a new entity, the federally tax-exempt Citizens Property Insurance Corp. The industry is claiming that they need statutory protection from "frivolous litigation". The insurance industry has uniformly bemoaned having to survive in a "litigious" environment across the country. Not surprisingly, the industry feels that they could prosper if claims payments weren't judicially enforced. The obvious problem with this solution is that claims would be paid based upon the carrier�s ability to afford them, not on their merit. Who wouldn't enjoy a similar arrangement with FP&L, BellSouth, Visa and our friendly mortgage holder. Taking a stand on this dogmatic dilemma represents another recurrent nightmare to our elected "voices" in Tallahassee, squeezing them between the rock hard Insurance and Trial Lawyers' Lobbies.
|Treasurer Tom Gallagher|
The Senator deftly rewrote the meeting's agenda. In addition to exhorting his position on a variety of ongoing struggles, he took the opportunity to clarify the perplexing paralysis that seems to continually afflict Tallahassee. There was some confusion surrounding the Senator's purpose for responding in this manner. While some of us interpreted the Senator's message as �be patient�, others framed it as an admonition to �get use to it!� In any event, it appears as if the problems of shore preservation, fire safety and insurance instability are dwarfed by the psychological battering that our representatives are forced to endure. A simple solution for our legislators' job-related stress would be to allow them to vote yea AND nay on each issue. Perhaps a third voting option labeled "sometimes" could be affixed to a yellow light on the electronic voting apparatus.
Florida State Senator Jeffrey (Jeff) H. Atwater, a first term Republican representing District 25, staged an upset during his struggle for the Senate seat also sought by Bob Butterworth, the high profile Democratic candidate who resigned as Florida State Attorney General in a futile effort to fill the seat vacated by Debby Sanderson. Senator Atwater's Capitol office is located in the Senate Office Building (Room 212) at 404 South Monroe Street in Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1100. His Tallahassee telephone no. is (850) 487-5100, SunCom: 277-5100 and FAX no. is (850) 487-5296. His local District Office is at the Oakland Park City Hall on 3650 N.E. 12th Avenue in Oakland Park, Florida 33334. Local Contact numbers are Phone: (954) 847-3518, Fax: (954) 847-3519. The Senator's official Florida Senate web address is accessible by CLICKING HERE. Senator Atwater's E-mail address is [email protected]. Michelle Mattox, Senator Atwater's Legislative Assistant serving the Galt Mile Community, can be reached at (954) 847-3518 or Click Here to E-mail.
For complete contact information, go to Report Card.
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The Select Committee on
Condominium Association Governance
The Florida Legislature recently gave birth to a new committee. The Select Committee on Condominium Association Governance has that �double-edged sword quality� that earmarks many Tallahassee creations. Actions implemented by this committee stand to influence various levels of, as the name implies, Condominium Association governance. Any committee is capable of producing positive or negative results depending on the committee composition, the input sources utilized by the committee and the political pressures and incentives manufactured by vested interests (lobbyists) and the media. Their focus could range from requiring greater transparency from Board Members (financial disclosure, term limits, etc.) to micro-management of the daily administration of private Associations (Big Brother).
|Chair - Rep. Julio Robaina|
The key in this case is input. Any actions taken by the Select Committee need to be grounded in data collected in a fair and balanced format. A credible cross section of anecdotal evidence will support a useful set of recommendations. If the venues chosen by the Committee invite disproportionate testimony from vested interests, pro or con, the decisions they ultimately arrive at will be, in turn, unbalanced. Unfortunately, it appears as if this is what�s happening.
The Select Committee has arranged a series of public hearings throughout the state to accumulate testimony relevant to Association governance. The first meeting was held in Miami-Dade County on September 24th with extremely short notice. The meeting was heavily attended by disgruntled unit owners complaining about �out of control� boards. The next meeting was conducted on October 28th in Bailey Hall/Broward Community College with only 7 days prior notice. Several building managers, condominium attorneys and Board members attended this meeting. When they attempted to voice support for well-administered Associations and point out that statutory controls for most of the complainants� problems already existed, they were summarily shouted down. It�s beginning to appear as if the Committee is primarily interested in accumulating the foundation they would need to justify micro-managing Condominium Associations. If the Committee concludes that the best way to reign in �condo board abuses� is to disenfranchise condo owners, the effects will be disastrous.
|Vice - Chair|
Rep. Kenneth Allan Gottlieb