by Dennis Reeves Cooper…….

We here at The Blue Paper wanted to know what kind of city commissioner newly-elected Sam Kaufman is going to be. So, armed with questions ranging from affordable housing and homelessness to marijuana and the opening of Cuba, I made an appointment with Commissioner Kaufman and drove out to his law office in the Northside Office Center for an early morning meeting. As it turned out, I learned just about everything about what kind of city commissioner Attorney Kaufman is going to be when he answered my first and most mundane question: “Why did you run for city commission?

“I was chairman of the board of the Florida Keys Outreach Coalition for 15 years,” he said. “That’s the organization that had been managing the homeless shelter out on Stock Island for the city for seven years. And we had been asking the city for $20,000 to retrofit a new shower trailer that had been available for donation to the city. The trailer had been in need of replacement for a long time. But we were repeatedly told that the city didn’t have the money. But then I read in the paper that the new City Hall out on White Street was going to exceed the original budget by a couple of million dollars– but that city staff had “found” the money to cover the overrun. And then there was another overrun of a million dollars or so– and city staff found the money to cover that, too. Now, I am perfectly aware that it takes money to run a city,” Kaufman said. “But I also think that it is reasonable to expect the people who run the city to be able to set reasonable budgets and, then, to operate within those budgets.”

At that time, it was common knowledge that then-Commissioner Mark Rossi might not be running for re-election. “So I called him and asked for a meeting,” Kaufman said. “He invited me to meet with him at his bar.”

NOTE: Rightly or wrongly, I have to insert a little Blue Paper history here. After Rossi had first been elected, I called him for an interview. He invited me to meet with him at his bar. I was surprised to see posted on the wall of his office the headline of a story we had published on page one right after the election: “Finally! A City Commissioner Who Owns a Titty Bar!”

“At my meeting with Rossi,” Kaufman said, he confirmed that he would probably not be running. So I began to research issues and attend city commission meetings on a regular basis.” Since last month’s election, Kaufman has been meeting with selected department heads and other members of city staff to ask questions and get their input. He attended his first city commission meeting as a commissioner October 20. It is already clear what his “theme” as a commissioner is going to be: “Why isn’t it reasonable to assume that city staff can get the work done within existing budgets?”

For example, he pointed out that the budget for phase one of the Truman Waterfront park project– for infrastructure like water and electricity– is $17.4 million. “I want to know if that is ‘capped.’ Or if we should expect a series of cost overruns, like the new City Hall.”

Speaking of parks, Kaufman says he supports allowing the Boys & Girls Club to once again use the city-owned building in Bayview Park for club activities. In fact, he says, maybe this could be the beginning of a new program of city-sponsored after-school activities for young people. Kaufman strongly believes that is important for the City to support affordable after school and summer programs like the Boys and Girls Club for kids. He also said that programs are needed that target pre-teens and teenagers in the city.

Other issues that interest and/or concern Commissioner Kaufman:

– Affordable Housing. He says that there is room at Poinciana Plaza for more affordable housing units and that funding is available via bed tax dollars. He also wants to ensure that privately-owned property deed restrictions that require affordable rents are being enforced.

– Assisted Living. He supports the planned development of a 108-unit assisted living facility at Poinciana Plaza.

– Garrison Bight Marina. He is pushing for improvements at City Marina– but without rent increases for tenants.

– Homeless Shelter. He recognizes the need for a new homeless shelter– but he has questions about the proposed design and budget at the new location at the old Easter Seals building on Stock Island.

– Anti-discrimination. He wants to beef up the city’s anti-discrimination law concerning housing and employment.

– Marijuana. He has questions about the newly-approved city policy that gives police officers, when stopping individuals with small quantities of marijuana, the discretion of issuing a “civil citation,” rather than hauling them off to jail.

– Cuba. “The city needs a plan to take advantage of the opening of Cuba.”

Stay tuned.


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