Vice Mayor Joshua Simmons at Wednesday’s commission meeting. “The President of Coral Springs Improvement District decided to falsely accuse me of violating a state law all because I dared to ask people to vote Yes on the November 8th ballot…”
By Kevin Deutsch
The Coral Springs Improvement District, a quasi-governmental agency providing water to thousands of city residents, used its official newsletter this month to attack Vice Mayor Joshua Simmons and publish what the city said were false statements that violated state law, according to the city attorney.
In a letter sent to the CSID Wednesday, Coral Springs City Attorney John Hearn said a full-page article in the district’s latest newsletter—authored by CSID Board of Supervisors President Dr. Martin Shank—made a false claim about Simmons.
According to Hearn, Shank also misled ratepayers about an upcoming referendum vote that could change the way the CSID’s leaders are elected.
“Those misleading statements violate…Florida Statutes which require factual information be posted on a website,” Hearn said in his letter sent on the city’s behalf.
The public dispute stems from a Nov. 8 referendum item that, if passed, will subject the CSID’s Board of Supervisors—and leaders of all special water districts in Florida—to election by popular vote among ratepayers.
District supervisors are elected solely by landowners in their coverage area, with larger landowners given outsized influence.
The election system, an exception to “one person, one vote,” is sometimes called “one acre, one vote.”
According to Hearn, Shank’s article wrongly claimed that Simmons violated state law when he sent an email from his private email address urging residents to vote “yes” on the referendum.
In his letter to the CSID, Hearn called Shank’s allegation about Simmons false, “irresponsible, and without basis.”
At a city commission meeting Wednesday, Simmons blasted Shank for the article and called the district election system a relic of the Jim Crow era.
“Dr. Martin Shank, you are a liar…and a coward,” said Simmons. “How dare you use my assessment money that I pay to the [CSID] to send out a mailer to 14,000 people saying I violated a law.”
“You may not agree that I’m telling people to vote “yes” on this ballot initiative, but I’m sorry, I don’t think there should be a problem asking people to go and vote for those who are taking in assessment monies. And I’m not talking about just the largest landowners, which…is a Jim Crow legacy.”
“If you pay anything into an organization, and it’s supposed to be a public body, you should have a vote regardless of how much land you own or how little land you own. And that is what this initiative is doing.”
Shank on Friday said he stood by his newsletter article and maintained Simmons had broken the law with his email message.
“I stand by what I wrote in the newsletter. You should read the statute. [Simmons’] use of the title vice mayor is a violation of the statute,” said Shank.
The CSID has a $20 million budget this year and, like its counterpart agencies across Florida, can levy taxes, special assessments, and fees.
The referendum vote is the result of a slate of bills sponsored by state Rep. Dan Daley (D-Coral Springs) and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. In addition to changing how supervisors are elected, it would add two members to the district board.
The local water districts impacted by the referendum serve over 40,000 residents in Coral Springs and Parkland. They include the CSID (HB 1495 ), Pine Tree Water Control District (HB 1499), Sunshine Drainage District (HB 1501 ), and North Springs Improvement District (HB 1503).
According to Hearn, the CSID also broke state law when it misled residents in a separate article published on its official website. “That article falsely claimed that “a NO vote on the amendment would mean our district will remain the same as it is now” and made several misleading claims about the referendum item, Hearn said.
According to the CSID, the agency is a public, community water agency that provides tap water to about 40,000 residents living within the 33071 ZIP code.
Formed in 1966 by the Florida State legislature as the Coral Springs Drainage District and established as the Coral Springs Improvement District in 1970, the purpose of CSID is to “provide drinking water production and distribution, wastewater collection and treatment, flood control and canal maintenance,” according to the agency.
The CSID’S Board of Supervisors consists of Shank, a doctor of podiatric medicine, Len Okyn, the board’s vice president, and Chuck Sierra, the board’s secretary, according to the CSID website.
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Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.