Richard Valdez answers questions from the Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
2012 City Candidate Questionnaire
1. What previous actions by you demonstrate that you have the honesty, integrity, ethics and personal character to be an elected official?
I have a strong theological base. For the past two years I've been studying the Bible. Close to the end, I'm now reading Timothy. My favorite Book is Daniel, because he was the first geek, "at home in all branches of knowledge, well-informed, intelligent." [Daniel 1:4]. My moral framework has a firm grounding from which to make sound, ethical decisions.
I have a employment history of working for the most recognized companies in America. I have worked for 7 years for one of the world's leading advertising agencies. The company presents mock Boy Scout shirts to those that make it to the third year; the work ethic is that challenging. I create digital campaigns for the largest brands in history. My position gives me root access to the websites of the Fortune 50. This is the technical equivalent to having keys to the store. It is a position of trust and value to which I am deeply honored and committed.
I declared my intent to run for City Commission. I met with local civic leaders. They asked what was my plan to reduce crime in the area? I knew from years of reading the Sun-Sentinel that the top crime in my district was women's purses being stolen from cars. My first act as a candidate was to start a public awareness campaign: "Safety First, Mind Your Purse -- Love Hollywood". Stickers were produced with this statement with the "Love" represented as a heart. Local businesses could post these and gently remind guests to watch their valuables. At the same time, the stickers promoted Hollywood in as a friendly and caring city.
A commissioner for the city of Hollywood is a public servant. When I wake each morning, and with each person I meet, I ask, "How may I be of service today?"
2. What are your top priorities if elected, including your long-term vision for the city?
Not raising taxes is my top priority. I am pro-business. Hollywood has the highest property taxes in Broward county. This will not help encourage businesses to relocate or set up shop in Hollywood. A fair tax rate is what I promise the voters and promise the business leaders of our city.
My second priority is to improve labor relations. Hollywood needs the best workers. Competitive wages and fair benefits will ensure the best candidates apply. A respectful working environment will ensure that they stay and give 110% of their ability to the city.
My long-term vision for Hollywood is to be recognized as the Silicon Beach of Florida. The economy is on the rebound. Technology startups are flowering. We want them here. Hollywood offers it all. A ten minute drive from an international airport. One of the nation's largest sea ports. An inviting and vibrant downtown. And a ten minute bike ride from downtown to the most beautiful beach in Florida. New businesses only need to know that we are here, and are inviting them in. One of my top goals as commissioner is to get the message out.
3. Do you have any city ordinances, policies, regulations or charter amendments to suggest?
A review of the Code of Ordinances. The number one complaint from business owners in District 1 is code enforcement issues. Let's encourage economic growth by clarifying meaning within the Code of Ordinance.
For Example this rule is completely arbitrary and subject to misunderstanding:
124.05(G): Tables, chairs, umbrellas... Design, materials and colors shall be sympathetic and harmonious with the urban environment and complement the design and paint colors of the building.
If it can't be measured, it should not be in the Code. Everyone wants to be in compliance. Removing ambiguity ensures equality for all and reduces the burden of government from our local economy.
4. What specifically in your background has best prepared you for this job?
I am a seventh generation American. Civic duty has been passed down the family tree. As a civic-minded American, I consider it an honor and duty to offer service to the voters. I love Hollywood and will never leave. Therefore Hollywood is where I serve.
5. What changes would you propose in the city budget and why?
Unfreeze police and city positions. Employee positions are frozen due to budget constraints. The city is growing and needs those people. Hollywood needs it's 911 staffed. It's water systems maintained. And police on the street. People are the most expensive part of the budget for an organization, corporate or government. They are worth it. We can not outsource our safety or our security to China. Hollywood needs it's workers.
Fund sidewalk repair. Hollywood does not fund sidewalk repair adequately. Sidewalks make a city walkable. They increase safety. The status of a sidewalk publicly makes a statement about the neighborhood that surrounds it. Sidewalks are one of the cheapest ways to improve a neighborhood, increase property values and make Hollywood inviting.
6. Briefly discuss your views on these issues:
a.) The performance of the city manager and how it could be improved.
The city manager is performing an exemplarily job. She has hired three top directors to assist her. I could not make one recommendation for an improvement that the city manager has probably not already considered.
b.) The best and worst decisions by the City Commission and how its performance could be improved.
The best decision that the City Commission has made is to fund Margaritaville. The project will bring in millions of dollars a year into the general fund of the city. Tourism on the beach will take a huge leap forward. The beach businesses already there are excited about the new development. It's a huge win for all of the city of Hollywood.
The worst decision that the City Commission has made is to not anticipate, plan and budget for new beach parking. The Johnson St. Garage will be torn down to make way for Margaritaville leading to an immediately loss of 900 parking spaces. There is no solid plan today to replace and increase this parking. Lack of parking is a loss of income. Hollywood can not earn a reputation for no parking on the beach. 1000 new parking spaces are needed on the beach and it is one priority as commissioner of district 1.
c.) Fighting blight and problems stemming from foreclosed properties.
To fight blight I will continue working with neighborhood associations to identify blighted properties. We need to work diligently and forcefully to bring the full force of the law, both civil and criminal, against owners of abandoned properties. If banks are the lien-holders, hold the banks accountable, early and often.
d.) Cooperation with surrounding cities and county government.
Please see item 9.
e.) Affordable and workforce housing needs
Over 40% of Hollywood residents are renters. We need to work with property owners to ensure that their rental units are clean, maintained and up to code. Each house, from the smallest studio on up is a reflection of the neighborhood and of Hollywood. The best I can do for renters of affordable housing units is to ensure that where they live is clean, safe and up to code.
f.) Projects that would call for higher tax rates.
Unacceptable. There is no project in the City of Hollywood that calls for higher tax rates. My job is first to the voters, the tax payers of the city. My number one promise is not to raise their taxes.
7. Please detail your ideas on your city's ability to meet its pension obligations.
Hollywood held a special election to reform the pension plans. I feel that the actions taken as part of the reform were not in the best interest of the city and will be exceptionally costly for future tax payers. I would recommend that the city renegotiate and return the DROP program. It's good for the tax payers for three main reasons.
1. Once in the DROP program, the city doesn't contribute to an employee's retirement program for the final 8 years of their 30 year obligation.
2. The DROP freezes the pension of the worker at their current position's salary. For example, a police officer enters the DROP as a lieutenant. In the following 8 years they are promoted to captain. The pension obligation is still based on the pay-grade of a lieutenant. A significant savings to the tax payer over the life of the retirement.
3. The DROP encourages older worker turnover, reducing top-heavy management and decreasing insurance costs.
Returning a DROP program to the pension system will save tax payers millions of dollars.
8. How can city government become more responsive, accountable, streamlined, efficient, productive and user-friendly?
Hollywood can train each of it's employees to be a champion, a voice, for the city. Every person is a touch-point for the public. Create a mindset in every employee of "How may I help you?", rather than "It's not my job." Empower the employees all with the same form. Provide a handout with a web link, a phone number and a place to write down the concerns of the citizen. Reward the employees for collecting them. And then respond to each issue with a return call or an email. The city of Hollywood hears you, and we are here to serve.
9. Where do you see greater collaboration between the city, school board or county to benefit the needs of your city?
All three entities are tax collecting bodies. The city of Hollywood must seek greater collaboration with the county and the school board to keep voter taxes competitive with the rest of Florida. Our number 1 goal is to create a employer-friendly environment. Companies must move here, and a fair tax base is pro-business.
10. What edge do you have over your opponents?
I have 25 years experience in technology and advertising. My LinkedIn connections are replete with matching technologists from PBS, the New York Times, Wired magazine. As commissioner, I will reach out to the press to get the message out that Hollywood is the Silicon Beach of Florida, and we are open for business.
We live in a digital world. Hollywood deserves representation at the top to make informed decisions about the technology that drive city government. The Mayor of Hollywood strongly supported an ordinance for 4:00 am licenses to increase the nightlife of downtown Hollywood. Equally as strongly, I propose advertising-supported free wi-fi to increase the day life of downtown Hollywood.
Thank you for your time and consideration.