Monday, September 30, 2013

October 1 City Council Meeting Agenda

Just wanted to make sure readers are aware that the October City Council meeting will place this Tuesday, October 1 at 5:30 p.m. in Belle Isle City Hall. Here's a copy of the agenda:

October 1 City Council Meeting Agenda

Hope to see you there, and don't forget about the Lake Conway East pancake dinner fundraiser!

Celebrating Doctor Bernstein

Belle Isle will soon be sending out its first candidate qualification announcement under the new "Bernstein Ordinance." It is a simple postcard containing candidate qualification info, but it represents a big change in our City.

As you may be aware, Belle Isle has not had an contested election since 2006. While this would be a shocking revelation in most other cities of our size, it has become the status quo here in Belle Isle. We seem to have forgotten that contested elections are necessary and healthy for our City. Just as competition in business promotes better products and services, so do contested elections promote better ideas and representation of the people.

The Bernstein Ordinance, originally proposed by Belle Isle resident Dr. Stuart Bernstein and voted into law on September 3, is intended as a first step in changing that status quo. It ensures that all residents are made aware of the candidate qualification requirements and registration dates. But it is only a first step.

Not satisfied with a mere postcard, Doctor B and his lovely assistants set up at the Lake Conway Estates annual meeting to pass out election qualification info for the upcoming election in districts 1 and 7. And on his birthday, no less. Here's to your dedication, Doctor B!

Do you live in districts 1 or 7 or know anyone in those districts who may be interested in running for commissioner? If so, here's some important information to save or print:

2013 Candidate Qualification Info

Not sure which district you're in? Click here to view the district map.

Don't forget, candidate registration for districts 1 and 7 takes place from noon on November 11 through noon on November 15. If you have any questions or need any assistance, feel free to contact Stuart Bernstein at or by phone at (407) 851-1142.

Friday, September 27, 2013

More Upcoming Belle Isle Events

Hot on the heels of Commissioner Clarke's well-attended "coffee connection" event this morning, here are some more upcoming events in our City:

Lake Conway East Pancake Dinner Fundraiser

Lake Conway East is holding a pancake dinner fundraiser on Tuesday, October 1 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Conway Cafe. Whether or not you live in Lake Conway East, come to meet some of your Belle Isle neighbors and help them build their playground. If you can't make it, but would like to donate to the playground fundraiser, please email HOA president Sarah Goodwin at

Click here to see a copy of the event flyer.

Cornerstone Charter Academy Ducktoberfest

Cornerstone Charter Academy is holding its annual Ducktoberfest event on Saturday, October 12 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Click here to learn more about Ducktoberfest.

October City Council Meeting

With everything else going on, don't forget that there is a City Council meeting this Tuesday, October 1 at 5:30 p.m. And don't worry, you should be out in plenty of time for pancakes.

Click here for a copy of the meeting agenda.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

An Opportunity for Change

by Sue Nielsen

Yesterday's City Council workshop meeting began without Mayor Brooks, who had an appointment that delayed his arrival. In the Mayor's absence, there was significant Council discussion regarding Keith Severns' vacated position on the Cornerstone Charter Academy governing board. Several commissioners discussed the possible appointment of Edgewood Mayor Ray Bagshaw as Mr. Severns' replacement.

Upon Mayor Brooks arrival at the meeting, these commissioners expressed to him their desire to be included in the candidate selection process. In response, Mayor Brooks flatly stated that he would be nominating Dr. Torres, a Nemours emergency room doctor and a Belle Isle resident, because there were no other candidates as qualified for the position. While no one doubts Dr. Torres' significant medical credentials, is he really the best choice for this position? Mayor Bagshaw is not only a seasoned and respected community leader who represents the numerous Cornerstone students hailing from Edgewood, but has also personally requested appointment to the CCA governing board.

To really grasp the significance and importance of this board appointment, you have to go back to the beginning of the charter school. Cornerstone was conceived in 2009 as a joint venture between Belle Isle and Edgewood. The original board of the charter school corporation was Mayor Brooks and the members of the Belle Isle City Council. But the intent, as stated in the bylaws and applications for a school charter, was to form an interlocal agreement with the City of Edgewood which would ensure representation from both cities on the school governing board. When these negotiations broke down, the school governing board was formed according to the alternative spelled out in the bylaws - consisting entirely of Belle Isle city officials as it does to this day.

With the resignation of Keith Severns, we now we have the first-ever vacancy on the CCA governing board. This is a perfect opportunity to finally begin including members from Edgewood on the governing board, beginning with Mayor Bagshaw. With our City's financial security on the line, we all need the school to be successful. And Cornerstone Charter Academy can only achieve its highest possible degree of success if all of its stakeholders become involved.

With at least three Belle Isle commissioners expressing interest in evaluating both potential candidates for the school governing board position, it is disappointing to see Mayor Brooks continuing to make unilateral decisions and ignoring the will of our City Council.

Ready for a change in the way our City does business? Be sure to contact Mayor Brooks ( to express your thoughts on this issue.

Breakfast with Commissioner Pete Clarke

Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke will be hosting a Belle Isle "Coffee Connection" event this Friday, September 27 at 8:00 a.m. Interested residents should stop by to discuss local issues in our City, or just to say "hello" to our Orange County representative.

The event will be held at Dixie Belle's Cafe, located at 7125 S Orange Avenue (just south of Nela on Orange). I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wednesday Meetings & Agendas [UPDATE]

There are two upcoming meetings scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, September 25:

Belle Isle City Council Workshop Meeting

The first is the monthly Council Workshop meeting that begins at 8:30 a.m. in City Hall. You can find a copy of the agenda here:

City Council Workshop Meeting Agenda - September 25, 2013

Attached to the agenda, you will find the City's proposed postcard to be sent out under the newly-ratified Bernstein Ordinance which requires the City to inform residents of upcoming election qualification periods. You will also find the curriculum vita of Dr. Adalberto Torres, for reasons discussed below.

Cornerstone Charter Academy (CCA) Board Meeting

Cornerstone Charter Academy's governing board is holding a meeting tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. at Belle Isle City Hall. These CCA governing board meetings are open to the public. Regardless of whether you have a child at Cornerstone, it is important to attend these meetings because our City's financial well-being is directly tied to the school's success. You can find a copy of the CCA meeting agenda here:

Cornerstone Charter Academy Board Meeting Agenda - September 25, 2013

The CCA governing board plans to appoint a new governing board member at the meeting. Presently, the board consists primarily of Belle Isle's mayor and commissioners. Edgewood Mayor Ray Bagshaw personally requested appointment to the CCA governing board, even going so far as to offer funds to support the school. Mayor Bagshaw would be a logical appointment since many Cornerstone students live in Edgewood and are presently unrepresented on the governing board.

However, the City Clerk has confirmed that Mayor Brooks has no intention of appointing Mr. Bagshaw, but will instead appoint Belle Isle resident Adalberto Torres, Jr. MD. You can find Dr. Torres' curriculum vitae attached to the Council Workshop minutes linked above. While Dr. Torres appears to an extremely qualified doctor, and would surely do his best for Cornerstone, it is hard to imagine why Mayor Brooks would prefer to appoint a busy ER doctor from Belle Isle instead of a seasoned mayor from Edgewood who represents many of the students at Cornerstone.

Also of interest on the CCA agenda is the apparent intention of the CCA governing  board to appoint itself as the school's Audit Committee. The Audit Committee's function is to ensure that school funds are being utilized for legitimate school purposes. With our charter school run by Academica, a private for-profit company and Florida's richest charter school management company, it is vitally important to ensure that the board appoints an impartial Audit Committee that has no ties to the school's management.

Again, both meetings will be held at Belle Isle City Hall on Wednesday, September 25. The Council Workshop meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. and the CCA meeting begins at 2:00 p.m. I hope to see you there!

UPDATE 9/25/13:

The City Clerk, Yolanda Quiceno, has requested clarification on her above-referenced statement regarding the nomination of Dr. Torres to the CCA board. She correctly points out that she made no comment regarding whether Mayor Brooks intends to nominate Mayor Bagshaw of Edgewood for the CCA board position. To be more precise, Yolanda only stated that Mayor Brooks intended to nominate Dr. Torres for the board position, but provided no information regarding whether Mayor Bagshaw would be nominated for the position.

Regardless, Mayor Brooks personally confirmed at this morning's workshop meeting that he indeed will not be nominating Mayor Bagshaw for the open CCA board position. Despite requests from multiple City Council members that both candidates be brought in front of the Council for their review, Mayor Brooks refused these requests and reiterated that he will only be nominating his preferred candidate, Dr. Torres, for the CCA governing board position.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Notice of Proposed Tax Increase

The below Notice of Proposed Tax Increase and Budget Summary are reposted from the Sunday, September 15 edition of the Orlando Sentinel (page J7 of the Orange Extra section).

Click the below documents to open larger versions.

Please be sure to attend the upcoming final budget hearing at City Hall this Friday, September 20 at 5:30 p.m.!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Belle Isle Financial Trends - Part II

by Sue Nielsen

The 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), compiled by our City's new finance manager, reflects a major change in the way our City accounts for its available funds and outstanding debt. In the 2012 CAFR, many items were adjusted and figures were restated, meaning that the 2012 CAFR cannot be compared to prior CAFRs to determine changes in the way our City spends and saves.

Despite the fact that our City has used the same CAFR structure for at least the last ten years, the accounting firm employed by the City did not find fault with this sudden change in the 2012 CAFR. At this point, it may be relevant to note that this review work performed by the accounting firm is not a substitute for an internal audit; as clearly stated by the accounting firm in its reports.

If a public entity like Belle Isle plans to completely revamp its method of accounting for the flow of public funds, a comprehensive internal audit should be performed by an independent CPA firm to ensure that the new reporting method is accurate and reasonable. In Florida, public entities are allowed request a state audit, which can be substituted for the lesser review usually done by the local accounting firm.

A state audit would presumably be a thorough investigation of all the money trails in our City's finances, providing an open and forthcoming assessment of Belle Isle's financial management through the years. As such, it would certainly inspire more public confidence in our City's accounting and reporting methods than the sudden and unexplained changes in the 2012 CAFR made by a new finance manager with unknown credentials.

Regardless, it is clear that information from the 2012 CAFR cannot be compared to the CAFRs from prior years. For example, the term "unrestricted reserve" from prior years is not used in the 2012 CAFR. Instead, the amount reported as "reserve" includes capital assets, which we all know cannot be spent in case of emergencies or other City needs. So when Mayor Brooks speaks of Belle Isle's "million dollar reserve," it is important to remember that the term "reserve" is being defined differently than it was in 2011 and earlier years. Not to mention the fact that Belle Isle's unrestricted reserves were over $3 million just before the beginning of Mayor Brooks tenure, as discussed in part 1 of this article.

Another noteworthy change in the new CAFR is a completely revamped method of reporting our City's total revenues and expenditures. The 2011 CAFR revenue and expenditure amounts were retroactively modified to match the new 2012 reporting system. The following table is an attempt to present this modification visually:

Year                         Total Revenues      Total Expenditures

2011  (per 2011 CAFR)        4,890,835                4,926,956
2011  (per 2012 CAFR)      11,506,878              11,281,079   
2012  (per 2012 CAFR)      11,328,676              10,772,768

Note that under the new system of reporting, our City's 2011 expenditures are made to appear as though they were less than the total revenues for that year, in stark contrast to the prior 2011 CAFR which accurately reflected the fact that our City is spent more than it took in.
Now try to compare the above figures to the revenue summary on page 2-2 of the 2012-13 Annual Budget. In the Annual Budget, our City's "total revenues" for 2012-13 are $5,656,406. I have no explanation for how $11,328,676 in total City revenues (from the CAFR for fiscal year ending September 30, 2012) became $5,656,406 in the Annual Budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2012. By any logical standard, these figures should be identical, not $5-6 million dollars apart!

Finally, there is the matter of the Cornerstone Charter School bond issue in October 2012, which added $9,625,000 to our City's outstanding debt. Residents have been repeatedly reassured by Mayor Brooks and the City Manager that this debt will be paid entirely out of rent paid by the school to the City over the next 30 years. However, this debt belongs solely to our City, and City Hall has admitted that it has no contingency plan if the school should close or become unprofitable.

Considering that our City's financial condition has steadily worsened over the past decade, it is troubling to see City Hall adopting new financial reporting methods designed obscure the important figures and make our City's financial condition appear better than it really is. Is this change in reporting methods an attempt to make residents feel financial secure while the Mayor and City Manager continue Belle Isle's recent spending spree?

If you have questions or want to learn more, please attend the upcoming budget hearings. The first is scheduled to take place at tonight's Council meeting on Tuesday, September 3 at 5:30 p.m. (agenda linked here). The second budget hearing is scheduled for Friday, September 20 at 5:30 p.m. Hope to see you all there!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Belle Isle Financial Trends - Part I

by Sue Nielsen

With budget hearings beginning at the Council meeting scheduled for this Tuesday, September 3, this is probably a good time to publish some information about how Belle Isle has received, spent, reserved, and borrowed money over the last decade. The below figures date back to the year 2000, just before the start of Mayor Brooks'  tenure in Belle Isle.

This table provides an overview of our City's recent financial history and it is a good place to start if you are curious about our City's financial condition. This information was obtained from Belle Isle's Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) from 2009 and 2011. The 2012 CAFR can't be compared to the below figures, for reasons to be discussed in part 2 of this article.
Year              Total                Total                       Total               Unrestricted 
                      Revenue          Expenditures         Debt                Reserve

2000              2,400,261          2,421,456                   -0-                 3,131,762
2001              2,537,509          2,481,850                   -0-                 3,137,421
2002              2,428,016          2,590,415                 107,616           3,084,293
2003              2,556,887          3,185,486              1,042,958           2,785,501
2004              2,925,472          6,589,318              1,927,217           1,741,059
2005              6,528,001          4,076,926              1,786,256           1,713,140
2006              5,122,393          4,533,751              1,576,425           2,097,127
2007              5,731,990          7,805,724              2,841,771           3,287,910
2008              4,366,959          5,005,441              2,586,587           1,979,832
2009              3,981,663          5,615,854              2,472,220              911,654
2010              4,408,210          4,711,729              2,208,896              770,409
2011              4,890,835          4,926,956              1,893,769              807,189

Here are some brief observations about the above figures:
  • Since 2002, Belle Isle has regularly spent significantly more than its yearly revenue, as evidenced by the revenue and expenditures described in the above table.
  • The 2004-07 revenues were greatly supplemented by FEMA grants to deal with hurricane destruction. These grants do not have to be repaid, but should have replaced some of our City's money that was spent on hurricane-related projects.
  • Belle Isle had no debt before the election of Mayor Brooks. Since that time, our City's has been required to pay interest and principal on its loans as a regular budget item, further reducing the available revenue every year to meet our City's basic needs. The above debt also does not include the City's charter school bond (to be discussed in part 2 of this article).
  • Unrestricted reserves are the funds not designated for any particular purpose, but are instead available to meet emergency needs that may unexpectedly arise in our City. They are an important indicator of our City's financial security. This reserve was over $3 million before the election of Mayor Brooks, but were well under $1 million by the end of 2009. In order to rebuild our City's reserves to their prior level, our City would have to significantly temper its present spending and borrowing habits.

If any of these observations concern you, please be sure to attend our City's upcoming budget hearings which will take place on Tuesday, September 3 at 5:30 p.m. and on Friday, September 20 at 5:30 p.m. The budget hearings will be held at City Hall located at 1600 Nela Avenue.