Cooper City shrinks official minutes: “Details you really don’t want the public to know about”

By William Hladky, 

A Broward Sheriff's captain intervenes to calm overheated Cooper City politicians last year.

A Broward Sheriff’s captain intervenes to calm overheated Cooper City politicians last year.

Emotions boiled as the Cooper City commissioners talked angrily over each other.

“You do this crap all the time,” Commissioner John Sims shouted at then-Mayor Debby Eisinger, accusing her of trying to ram through a commission vote to spend money to send flyers to residents about an upcoming city vote to change the town charter. “I’ve had it up to here.”

“You are extremely disruptive,” Eisinger fired back during that Aug. 12, 2012 commission meeting.

“No, you are extremely dumb…,” Sims replied.

A video of the meeting shows that at one point Sims stood and leaned toward the mayor. Another commissioner, sitting between them, rose to separate them. A woman shouted, “Stop it! Stop it!” The sheriff’s captain, responsible for Cooper City law enforcement, approached the dais to calm the politicians.

Yet Cooper City’s official minutes of that meeting make no mention of the 12-minute donnybrook.

Why? City Clerk Susan Poling offered an answer at a commission meeting one month later.

“Sometimes it’s a little embarrassing to put in details you really don’t want the public to know about,” Poling said.


The record does not establish the basis for change, but since the latter half of 2008 the minutes of Cooper City commission meetings have been shrinking. Or as local political activist Skip Klauber puts it, “scrubbed.”

Cooper City Commissioner John Sims and former Mayor Debby Eisinger

Cooper City Commissioner John Sims and former Mayor Debby Eisinger

Sims complained to Poling at the Sept. 12, 2012 meeting after seeing no mention of the angry encounter the month before in the official minutes.

“You really got to be kidding me, Ms. Poling,” said Sims. “Who is telling you to manipulate the minutes, Ms. Poling?”

Poling denied manipulating the minutes and explained that commission minutes had been reduced to “action minutes” which only record official actions or commission votes and do not summarize discussions.

Commissioner Lisa Mallozzi said action minutes were instituted to save staff time and resources. “Nothing is being hidden, nothing is being thrown under a carpet. This is a more effective way to use our staff time,” she said.

Cooper City commission minutes were not always brief. Based on information Sims provided the Florida Attorney General, the minutes in 2007 averaged more than 18 pages and in the first half of 2008 averaged more than 13 pages.


But the political winds in Cooper City shifted in 2008. Bruce D. Loucks replaced long-time City Manager Christopher Farrell after the commission voted Farrell out. Thirty-year City Clerk Susan Bernard retired. City Attorney Alan F. Ruf was fired and replaced by David Wolphin.

During the second half of 2008 commission meeting minutes averaged about 8 pages. In 2012, the average had dipped to fewer than 6 pages.

In an interview, Greg Ross, who took over as mayor last November, noted that video recordings of commission meetings supplement the minutes. The videos are available on demand on the city’s web site and because of the videos, there was no reason for lengthening minutes, he said.

Carla Miller, founder of City Ethics, a non-profit organization that provides local governments with ethics training and programs, agreed with Ross that supplementing minutes with videos is good practice.

“If you have a video tape of it, to have 10 pages (of minutes) and not 16 pages is sufficient,” Miller said, adding that state law does not require “verbatim notes”.

But Daniel Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida a non-profit that promotes integrity in government, was critical of Cooper City’s practice. He said recording thorough accounts of commission deliberations in the minutes “would save Cooper City residents the hassle of going through hours of videos.”

“It is important for the public to be able to understand their officials…and their decision making,”
Krassner added. “More detailed minutes offer greater public understanding of how decisions are debated and decided.”

Commissioner Sims made a similar argument in lengthy complaints to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2012 and to Broward Inspector General John Scott in 2013 where he argued that Cooper City was violating the state’s Sunshine Law.

“Trying to find what you want to watch on a three-plus hour video is a frustrating and highly imperfect process,” Sims wrote. “Unless someone tells you where to look, the Internet (video of commission meetings) in no way makes up for the bare, unlawfully taken minutes.”


Neither Bondi nor Scott, however, would investigate Sims’ allegations.

Florida Assistant Attorney General Lagran Saunders’s two-page response to Sims noted that the Sunshine Law does not define “minutes.” He added that his office could not investigate unless a majority of the Cooper City Commission requested an inquiry.

Broward Inspector General Scott did not reply to him in writing, Sims said. Instead, a staffer telephoned him to report that his request for an inquiry had been rejected.

Nevertheless, Sims continues to accuse “the commission, the city manager and the city attorney” of “washing the minutes” because they “do not want the public to know what is going on.”

That includes the scrubbing of other official minutes, Sims said.

In his complaint to Bondi, Sims noted that the minutes of Cooper City’s Charter Review Board meetings also have fallen. Charter Review Boards meet every five years to consider changes in the city charter. In 2006, the average length of the boards minutes was eight pages; last year, about 3 ½ pages.

Klauber, a member of the 2012 Charter Review Board, said the board’s minutes were “dumbed down…to the point of uselessness.”

Klauber said minutes of the Planning and Zoning Board are now “garbage.” Under Ro Woodward, a city administrative coordinator who prepared them, the minutes were detailed. But after she retired this year, he said, quality departed with her.

A records review revealed that the four 2012 Planning and Zoning Board meetings Woodward attended produced minutes that averaged 16 pages. The four 2013 meeting minutes posted thus far on line average less five pages.

Michelle Alvarez is the administrative assistant to Cooper City manager Loucks, who was unavailable for comment.

Alvarez said in an email that the city’s advisory boards have the “option” of audio recording their meetings to help prepare minutes. She said the city’s Planning and Zoning and Pension boards do audio record their meetings. Audio recordings are retained for two years but are not posted online.

Official minutes are permanent, she added.

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Latest comments

  • It’s real simple…the minutes are indeed ‘scrubbed’…Debby Eisinger, Neal de Jesus, David Wolpin, and Bruce Loucks (among others on both the commission and staff) had yet another secret meeting where the now defunct Mayor would not be politically embarrassed anymore, so David Wolpin and Co., devised a way to keep embarrassment of the illustrious ex-Mayor out of the public record and public eye by directing the Manager to scrub the minutes in that secret meeting. In doing so, they denied the inalienable right of the public to honesty of it’s public servants, transparency and open government…and the AG and Broward OIG apparently think it is OK to do so because of the most imperfect statute on record. Yes, commission minutes had been reduced to “action minutes” without any direction by the commission (at least publicly) of a long standing practice of virtually verbatim minutes. Mallozzi’s comment is pure rubbish, especially when she was the one originally and vehemently opposed to such changes in the minutes from verbatim to ‘just the vote’. In addition, Ross is pretty much clueless on the minutes issue or maybe doesn’t realize that video is not a substitute for official minutes. At least we have proof of prior criminal activity by Debby Eisinger and her cohorts in crime. And, it’s pretty detailed! One more observation…Yes Mrs. Alvarez, the ‘official minutes’ are permanently useless.

  • What puzzles me about this issue is the statement by Ms. Alvarez that stated the Advisory Boards have the option for recording the minutes, and that the “tapes” are kept for two years although the public doesn’t know they exist. What is the point of keeping this is no one knows they may or may not exist! As a former member of an Advisory Board, this problem is a violation of Florida’s Sunshine Laws by scrubbing the Commission minutes and giving the volunteers on the advisory boards permission to scrub their minutes as well!

  • I am glad to see the issue of the City’s misuse and outright perversion of “minutes” under the Sunshine Law has again appeared, this time via the Fourth Estate. Thank G-d for that First Amendment, right? I know you guys are BIG supporters.

    The purpose of the Sunshine Law is to provide the public with certain protections against those covered by the Law. As all of you should be aware, one of the greatest weapons available to guarantee protection of the public in the context of the Sunshine Law is “transparency”. Actions by a governmental body cannot be taken in secrecy, or virtual secrecy. There must be proper notice of meetings and key events. Proper minutes must be recorded and made available to the public. Disclosure and truth are of paramount importance.

    There are four members of the present Commission who fail to understand that minutes taken pursuant a policy of purposefully excluding events “embarrassing” to the City do not comply with either the letter or spirit of the Sunshine Law. It makes little difference if you have ten different video feeds of an open public meeting recorded and available via video on demand, if the minutes required by the Sunshine Law are deliberately meant to defeat transparency. How exactly does the “supplement” of a video cure this problem? By allowing anyone with an interest to watch entire Commission meetings, right. Except, if the minutes purposely leave out events, how are you going to know to watch the video to see what occurred regarding that event?

    The intended answer to the above is, of course, you won’t know. You will have no reason to watch several hours of video if you do not see in the minutes anything of interest having occurred. And the policy is quite effective in making sure you will not be going through a few hours of video because you know via the minutes something occurred that made, e.g., the Mayor look bad. Nope. That is kept out of the minutes so as to be hush-hush. Actually, pretty close to secret. Its there on the video, but almost nobody knows to look at the video because the event is scrubbed from the minutes.

    Even a non-lawyer such as myself can read the brief Sunshine Law and understand what is necessary in minutes: Neutrality and Accuracy. The policy in effect in this City ensures that neither is met.

    The above is so easy to understand that, and let’s be candid, you folks must have a pretty good idea you are acting in derogation of “transparency in governance”. One would have to be an imbecile to miss it. With that in mind, I note:

    1) The Commission has never requested a written legal opinion from the Weiss Serota firm on whether the policy for taking minutes complies with the Sunshine Law. All you have is a sort of oral opinion from David Wolpin, Esq., citing no law, and without the full question even being stated. No responsible fiduciaries would be satisfied by that;

    2) Because of his conflict of interest, you have never considered having Mr. Loucks employ outside counsel solely for the purpose of providing a written legal opinion, or even simply requesting the written opinion from one of Mr. Wolpin’s Partners;

    3) The Commission will never consider requesting an Advisory Opinion from the Attorney General’s Office. And I do not mean this as an obvious “throw-away” point. Both Mayor Ross and Commissioner Mallozzi would appear to have good reason to join with Commissioner Sims and request an Advisory Opinion from the A.G. As an attorney, Mayor Ross’ should have a genuine interest in the bona fides of a City policy that purposefully excludes from minutes notice of information or events embarrassing to the City (i.e., to certain elected officials?). And during 2008, it was Commissioner Mallozzi who was the most forceful advocate against the abbreviation of Commission minutes.

    While it may make very good sense that Mayor Ross and Commissioner Mallozzi would seek an Advisory Opinion, they will do nothing. For personal or political reasons they have chosen to adopt a policy quite close to outright censorship, and each properly fears the consequences of the City’s “scrubbing of minutes” policy being scrutinized.

  • David Wolputz, the lackey city attorney, must be discharged from his duties! he was hired behind closed doors by none other than Neal de Jesus and corrupt Mayor Debby Eisinger. He is the ‘rainmaker’ for his firm on the backs of cooper city residents. He is a dumb attorney too.

  • “As an attorney, Mayor Ross’ should have a genuine interest in the bona fides of a City policy that purposefully excludes from minutes notice of information or events embarrassing to the City (i.e., to certain elected officials?).”

    Really?, Let’s suffice to say that all Ross has done (and likely will do i.e., nothing at all) is change the seating arrangements, much like Eisinger did, to make him / her look good. He simply cast Sims outside of his three stooges domain!

    As far a MaLousy, “And during 2008, it was Commissioner Mallozzi who was the most forceful advocate against the abbreviation of Commission minutes.” she is now a Debby Eisinger wanna be and not part of the Cooper City ‘Boyz Klub’…

  • Ross is another political hack of the CC establishment. He acts like an ambulance chaser defense attorney rather than a Mayor.

  • Technically, if they’re following RRNR, the only things that need to be in the minutes are quorum established and actions taken. And I don’t mean the physical kind. It may be that more is required, RRNR notwithstanding, but the City won’t ask for a legal opinion. They should.

    If an elected group wants to gain and keep the respect and trust of the public they serve, they’ll go further and at least include subjects of discussions.

    They could also notate the time that actions/discussions took place so that anyone who wants to see or hear info wouldn’t have to scan through the whole meeting.

  • Keep it up. I am watching. Neal needs a job.

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