This past week left me pondering what role our elected officials and community non-profits should be fulfilling here in our Island City. This quandary is complicated by the circumstance of having a mayor who vociferously proclaims himself as the “People’s Mayor” and a non-profit that touts itself as the LGBT community center here in Wilton Manors.
If one looks at the seven revolving pictures on the homepage of the Pride Center’s website, none really show an engaged community center. The first picture is an advertisement for office space with Robert Boo’s name listed as if he were a commercial real estate agent working on commission instead of the director of a community center.
The next photo is that of a real estate development, followed by a corporate advertisement for Amazon, then a list of businesses that have paid for the right to solicit LGBT customers from our community, and then a picture of the Pride Center’s newsletter. The cover of the newsletter offers no comfort, with pictures of two well-dressed gentlemen who paid far more than most people in our community could afford for the privilege of attending an exclusive soiree co-hosted by the Pride Center.
In comparison, if one looks at the website of Palm Beach County’s LGBT Community Center, “The Compass,” one is welcomed by a collage of photos of a vibrant community working and celebrating together. Looking past this welcoming introduction, one is quickly informed of the great work being done in the community and shown a running total of counseling hours provided, of a free and safe space given to the youth of the community, of lives saved, of HIV testing, and much more.
The Pride Center looks like a commercial website selling office space, advertising local business, and providing a directory of those paying for access to our community. Compass’ website portrays a community coming together offering services, safe space, and resources for those in the LGBT community.
A very telling comparison.
Now on to our elected officials. This past week Mayor Justin Flippen acted more like the Pride Center’s mayor than the “People’s Mayor.” When one proclaims the title of “People’s Mayor,” one must accept being held to a much higher standard by residents who seek the advocacy of such a representative. Being a proclaimed Flippenite, my words are not adversarial in nature, but of a colleague delivering an honest observation.
Commissioners Gary Resnick and Paul Rolli were ready to hold the Pride Center’s feet to the fire over the continuing failure of the Pride Center’s management to appropriately deal with the surrounding community’s concerns.
However, Mayor Flippen and Commissioner Julie Carson were verbally tripping over each other in their rush to defend the interest of the Pride Center. The people’s advocate should be more attentive to the concerns of the surrounding community, a community whose residents have had their lives disrupted for years due to issues stemming from the operations of the Pride Center.
To make matters worse, the rest of us tax-paying, law-abiding citizens have been totally marginalized by the Pride Center, who so boldly allows and continues to collect rent from an illegal commercial business operating on their campus, while at the same time the Pride Center comes before our elected officials looking for our Affordable Housing funds and other benefits with all the chutzpah of someone deserving of royal treatment.
Our city staff knows how to get someone to pay their bills. Those who have neglected to pay past due utility bills have their water turned off. When this happens, one can watch the rush of people descend upon City Hall ready to pay their delinquent bills and get their water turned back on.
Commissioner Resnick and Rolli were ready to use this same tactic on the Pride Center at our last commission meeting: place a hold on all the requests by the Pride Center needed for their real estate development plans and see how quickly the issue of the illegal business and the complaints of neighbors would be dealt with.
Unfortunately, our City Commission by a 3 to 2 vote decided to continue giving candy to a bully instead of drawing a line in the sand and taking the side of the residents of our Island City.
These actions leave me wondering the meaning behind community advocacy and serving the people of the community. The Board of Directors of the Pride Center might want to learn from our community partner to the north on how a community-based organization should operate.
We have been insulted and treated badly by the Pride Center. They have allowed an illegal business to operate on their campus. They have turned a blind eye to the concerns of their neighbors for years over parking issues, noise issues, code violations and much more. If not now, then when do we ask our leaders to hold this community partner responsible for their actions?
Only when our elected officials and community partners truly advocate for residents’ concerns will life be just better here.