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 UPDATE: May 19: Fort Lauderdale’s zoning board voted this evening to hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. on May 27 to decide whether to approve  First Presbyterian Church’s controversial expansion plans.   

UPDATE, MAY 18: Wednesday’s expected vote by the Fort Lauderdale zoning board on First Presbyterian Church’s controversial expansion plans has been delayed. The reason: city officials have learned there won’t be enough board members on hand to make a quorum. The board’s next regular meeting is June 16, but a special meeting could be convened before then, said city spokesman Chaz Adams. Broward Bulldog will post the date and time when it’s announced.

 

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

 Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Romney Rogers has been on the job little more than a year, but today he’s the man to watch in a high-profile zoning fight between expansion-minded First Presbyterian Church and its angry neighbors.

Romney Rogers

Romney Rogers

Rogers’s district includes historic Colee Hammock – home to the church and hundreds of nearby homeowners.

Church leaders argue $20 million in new buildings are desperately needed to fulfill the church’s ministry. The Colee Hammock Homeowners Association says the buildings are too massive and will disrupt the neighborhood and depress property values. They also fear that the church wants to use the buildings to open a school – something the church has denied.

The zoning board is expected to decide whether to recommend the project to the commission at its May 19 meeting. The board postponed a decision last month when an overflow crowd of speakers for and against caused a meeting to run past 1 a.m.

People on both sides want to know whose side Rogers is on. That’s because he’ll likely account for two of the five votes that will ultimately decide who wins — his own and Mayor Jack Seiler’s. Seiler’s general policy is to follow the lead of district commissioners on votes in their backyard.

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

NASA

NASA

As oil continues to gush from a severed pipeline on the Gulf of Mexico seabed, a consortium of law firms stretching from Fort Lauderdale to Texas is preparing for its own kind of cleanup.

The first wave of more than a half-dozen lawsuits landed in federal court in New Orleans last week – one week after the disaster began with an explosion and fire aboard the oil rig Deepwater Horizon 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The rig sank two days later.

“I suspect there will be thousands of lawsuits,” said Broward lawyer Walter G. “Skip” Campbell, who plans to file suit this week in New Orleans on behalf of gulf shrimp and oyster farmers.

To date, authorities have said they can’t choke off the flow of an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil a day that’s pouring from the damaged pipe and rising nearly a mile to the surface. An enormous, still-growing oil slick threatens economic interests and wildlife habitat for hundreds of miles of coastline from Louisiana to Florida.

Charles T. Wells

Charles T. Wells

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

When former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Wells retired in March 2009 he did not file final financial disclosure forms required by state law and judicial canons.

He belatedly did so this week after Broward Bulldog inquired about that omission.

Supreme Court justices, like lower court judges and other officeholders, must annually disclose for public inspection their sources of income, business interests, assets, liabilities and net worth.

Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct, the ethical standard for the state’s judges, says judges “shall file a final disclosure statement within 60 days after leaving office.”

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Charles T. Wells

Charles T. Wells

Weeks after casting the deciding vote to approve a controversial ballot petition in December 2008, former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Wells joined a law firm aligned with the petition’s sponsor.

The high court’s 4-3 ruling gave life to a push by developers and statewide business interests – led by the Florida Chamber of Commerce – to blunt a possible change in the state constitution to greatly expand citizen powers over local development.

Wells landed a senior job at GrayRobinson, an influential Orlando-based corporate firm allied with the petition’s sponsor, a political action committee called Floridians for Smarter Growth. He says he got the job because of his six decade old friendship with the firm’s co-founder, J. Charles Gray.

GrayRobinson announced Wells’ hiring on March 3, 2009. But in an interview with Broward Bulldog, Wells said he might have accepted the job in January 2009, while the case was still before the court for a possible rehearing.

“I don’t really remember. I may have,” Wells said. “As I say, I was wrapping things up at this point.”

Gray did not respond to a request for comment.

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

As Broward’s courthouse task force steamrolls ahead with its $328 million building plan for a new downtown government high-rise, it will have to do so without Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.stackingdiagram3

Finkelstein has resigned, claiming the task force established to assess the need for a new courthouse has morphed into a body that’s now looking to decide “who gets contracts and for how much.”

“I also find it distressing that members, myself included, are now being approached by lobbyists and companies who want a ‘piece of the pie’ dollars for construction issues,” Finkelstein said in a March 26 letter to task force chairwoman, County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman.

The letter was posted on JAABlog, an online source of Broward courthouse coverage run by local lawyers.

The task force is made up of a dozen lawyers, judges and elected officials who came up with plans for a new courthouse that were approved by the county commission last summer.