Houston Astros, Washington Nationals win site-plan approval for WPB spring training complex

WPB STADIUM WESTThe West Palm Beach City Commission tonight unanimously approved the site plan for the $135 million spring training complex that will be shared by the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros.

The commission also agreed to remove three conditions that city staff had wanted from the teams: pedestrian lighting on Haverhill Road, an annual study for the need of a traffic light on Haverhill and withholding the stadium’s certificate of occupancy until two new bus shelters are installed on Military Trail.

Tom McNicholas, a representative for the teams, told the city commission the teams could not accept the conditions that city staff wanted.

He said it will cost the teams $20 million to clear and prepare the 160-acre site, a former landfill south of 45th Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail.

“When we tell you we are having budget issues and we are running into problems, we really mean it,’’ he said.

City Commissioner Keith James apologized for using a football metaphor to urge his colleagues to approve the project without the conditions.

We are right at the goal line. I don’t want to fumble the ball before cross and score,” said James, whose district includes the ballpark. 

Next up: The Palm Beach County Commission on Sept. 22 will consider voting to issue construction bonds.

The teams hope to break ground next month and open the facility by January 2017.

 

West Palm mayor: I’m to blame for sensitive emails posted online

(L-R) West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio, city administrator Jeff Green, and city spokesperson/media contact Elliot Cohen hold press conference Tuesday afternoon to respond to the recent confidential information leak through the city's public record requests site, September 15, 2015. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)
(L-R) West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio, city administrator Jeff Green, and city spokesperson/media contact Elliot Cohen hold press conference Tuesday afternoon to respond to the recent confidential information leak through the city’s public record requests site, September 15, 2015. (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said in a press conference today that it was her idea to post records requests online, which resulted in the disclosure of sensitive police emails.

“All of us here in city hall … are very upset that these emails were out in the public,” she said. “They should not have been.”

Muoio said no one, including her spokesman, Elliot Cohen, who posted them online, was to blame for the mistake. Instead, the “process” failed.

The result was the release of closely guarded police secrets, including the names of targets in ongoing criminal investigations, the names of undercover officers and the identities of undercover informants.

Multiple investigations have been compromised, and the disclosures put multiple people’s lives at risk. Some of the investigations involved the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

City Administrator Jeff Green said city police have reached out to the other agencies to try to contain the damage from the release.

“(Police Chief Bryan Kummerlen) did say it was certainly something that hurt us in some respects and that they are working with the other agencies to try to limit whatever damage was done,” Green said.

As Muoio and Green explained, nearly all public records requests are handled by the city clerk.

But records requests from the media were handled by Cohen, per “policy,” Muoio said. That included a WPTV NewsChannel 5’s request for emails about the city’s faulty surveillance cameras.

Cohen asked the department’s embattled Information Technology department to carry out the request.

The IT department did the request, but it “wasn’t clear” what the next step was, she said. Someone should have sent the records to each department, such as the police department, to redact the records, she said.

“It’s not IT’s job to sort out the departments, and that’s where the breakdown was,” Muoio said.

Instead, IT gave the records, which disclosed the names of confidential informants and undercover officers – some of the department’s most closely guarded secrets – to Cohen, who posted them online, under the heading “transparency.”

That was a departure from normal policy, which is to give public records to the requester alone. Muoio said it was her idea to post them on the city’s website – an idea that she said she’s reconsidering.

“It was something that I thought about and discussed with Elliot and Mr. Green, and we just decided to move forward with it,” she said. “Apparently that may not be the best idea for our community.”

She said the move was to provide the public more information about the problem camera system – not an act of retribution against reporters. That’s how many in the media perceived it, however, since by publishing the records requests for all, including competitors, to see, it effectively eliminated any chance that reporters could generate scoops from the requests.

She said that to prevent future mistakes, the city clerk will handle all records requests from the media. The department will also store all police emails on a separate server that only they have access to.

She stood by Cohen, who also made the news last week after he blamed police for problems with the city’s surveillance cameras. Muoio had to hold a press conference last week to correct the record and say that the city, not police, were responsible for the problems.

“Elliot continues to be a valued member of our leadership team and will continue to be,” she said.

Spring training site plan goes for vote tonight by WPB City Commission

The West Palm Beach City Commission today is scheduled to vote on the site plan for the $135 million spring training complex that will be shared by the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

home plateThe meeting starts at 5 p.m. at City Hall, 401 Clematis St.

Among the issues to be debated are pedestrian access and traffic.

The teams hope to break ground next month and open the facility by January 2017.

 

 

City spokesman exposes sensitive police records, informants

City of West Palm Beach Communications Director Eliot Cohen stands in front of electronic equipment in TV control room of city hall auditorium on December 13, 2013. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)
City of West Palm Beach Communications Director Elliot Cohen stands in front of electronic equipment in TV control room of city hall auditorium on December 13, 2013. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

For three days last week, sensitive emails into local and federal criminal investigations were posted on the City of West Palm Beach’s website, exposing the targets of drug stings, the identities of detectives’ confidential informants and undercover officers.

The emails were taken down Friday, but they’ve left police scrambling to repair the damage.

On Monday, Mayor Jeri Muoio released a vague statement implying that her spokesman, Elliot Cohen, released the emails before they had a chance to be redacted. He wasn’t responsible for redacting them, she said.

“Elliott simply passes on the documents he receives from the departments,” she wrote in an email. “In this case, it appears the departments did not have the opportunity to review the information before it was released, as a result it is essential that we review our process to see if any changes need to be made.

 

The records, which were posted on a link from the city’s home page, included explosive details that seldom see the light of day.

Read the whole story

 

West Palm Beach camera unhelpful during August double-murder

A city surveillance camera was transmitting a shaky, blurry and unintelligible image to West Palm Beach police when two teens were shot and killed three blocks away late last month, video reviewed by The Palm Beach Post reveals.

The camera, at the corner of Tamarind Avenue and Lincoln Road, wasn’t useful during the five minutes before and after the moment Johnny Davis, 19, and Jernale Turner, 17, were shot and killed during a brazen, middle-of-the-day drive-by shooting Aug. 26.

Its black-and-white footage, seen in the video above, is so blurry and shaky that it’s unclear where the camera was pointing. No people, vehicles or any other moving objects are seen in the 10 minutes of footage The Palm Beach Post obtained through a records request.

 

Police haven’t made an arrest in the shooting, which left two other people wounded.

Even if it was working, it’s unclear whether the camera would have helped detectives. The camera is about three blocks from where Davis and Turner were killed, on 19th Street and Tamarind. If the shooter didn’t drive by the camera before or after the shooting, it’s unlikely it would have been useful.

But it was the first visible example of problems with the city’s roughly 30 surveillance cameras scattered throughout the city – a system that Mayor Jeri Muoio has vowed to fix and expand.

In May, the camera in the Dunbar Village complex was found to be faulty, too, when it failed to save any footage. Police haven’t made an arrest in that case, either.

That camera is about a block away from where Davis and Turner were killed, and it was working when the shooting occurred. But it was pointing east, away from the scene, and doesn’t appear to have recorded anything useful.

News that the camera wasn’t working during the May shooting sparked a war of words between West Palm Beach police and city spokesman Elliot Cohen over who was responsible for the cameras.

The city is responsible for maintaining the cameras, while police are responsible for where the cameras are placed and pointed.

The city has acknowledged that the cameras haven’t been maintained over the years, and some are blurry or haven’t worked.

“We will continue to be up front about the camera troubles and how the mayor has made it a priority to fix,” Cohen said Thursday, “and I’m sure moving forward it will be easy to find numerous examples across the board where they weren’t pointed in the right direction, were too dirty to be useful, or simply didn’t work.”

To get an idea of the quality of the surveillance system, The Post requested random footage from six cameras located in the Northwest Neighborhood and Coleman Park, where 28 people have been shot, 10 fatally, since May.

All but the camera at Tamarind and Lincoln appeared to be working and recording color images, but two didn’t appear to be useful.

One camera, atop the Salvation Army building at 600 Rosemary Ave., was pointing into a tree. And the Dunbar Village camera was dark and blurry.

Mayor Muoio backtracks, says police not to blame for cameras

West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio today backtracked from statements her spokesman made about the city’s surveillance cameras, saying that police were not to blame for problems with the system.

Since The Palm Beach Post broke the story Saturday about problems with the city’s camera system, Muoio’s spokesman, Elliot Cohen, has tried to shift blame to the police department.

Cohen said the cameras only saved the last 23 hours of footage, when in reality, the video stores for 23 days.

He said in one of the murders, the detective in the case didn’t consult the city’s camera until after the footage expired.

In a press conference with police Chief Bryan Kummerlen and two of the city’s IT managers, Muoio said that neither were true.

Rather, the detective reviewed the footage in time, but the system failed to save it at all, she said. The problem was fixed afterward. It’s unknown what, if anything, the camera might have witnessed in the shooting.

Muoio also said Tuesday that she has $200,000 in funding already set up to install more cameras in one section of the northwest area and is reviewing bids for cameras in the surrounding area.

WPB gives final blessing to land swap for new spring training home for Houston Astros, Washington Nationals

The West Palm Beach City Commission gave final approvals Monday night to two key components of The Ballpark at the Palm Beaches, the new spring training complex that will be shared by the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

home plateThe commission signed off on a land swap that gives the 160-acre site to Palm Beach County and water agreements to irrigate the 13 baseball fields at the complex.

While the land deal closes over the next 30 days, the county will continue preparing the next key step – documents authorizing the issuance of construction bonds to pay for the $135 million complex.

A County Commission vote to issue the bonds, which will be financed over the next 30 years with $108 million in revenue from a county tax on hotels and motels, is scheduled for Sept. 22.

The teams hope to break ground in October and open the complex in January 2017.

The land deal gives the city 1.8 acres of previously-owned county land downtown between Fern and Evernia streets. The deal also includes a new 12-acre city park to be built by the teams on the southwest corner of the baseball complex.