By Larry Blustein
Last Thursday night, the spotlight was directly on Hallandale Beach - and things couldn't have gone any better.
In what was billed as Town Hall 2015, it truly lived up to what many had hoped for as police officials, attorneys and regional leaders joined an impressive crowd that lined the Hallandale Beach Cultural Center to "collaborate, communicate and connect" with those who filled out a quality panel.
While Willard Shepard from NBC 6 was to have moderated the event, his work extended him and he found his way late, but the City really found a very capable fill-in for the popular TV anchor/reporter - when Deputy City Manager Daniel Rosemond grabbed the microphone and never stopped until the 2-hour event was concluded.
"He did a great job," said Shepard, who arrived late and watched Town Hall 2015 along with so many others. "If I would have cut in, I am sure it would have ruined such a great flow he had going."
To say that the event was a success would be an understatement - as real feelings began to fill the room - and those questions that were always tough to ask police and city officials - were finally aired.
As Mayor Joy Cooper, Vice Mayor Bull Julian, Commissioner Michele Lazarow, Commissioner Keith London and Commissioner Anthony Sanders watched on with City Manager Renee Miller, the questions were to the point and often brought a difference of opinion.
When you have such strong views and opinions with a panel that included Hallandale Beach Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy, Broward County Public Defender and TV analyst Howard Finkelstein, Pastor Michael Anderson (Chaplain, Hollywood Police Department), Attorney Brian Stewart (Legal Mechanics), Mildred Duprey de Robles (Conciliation Specialist, U.S. Department of Justice), Chief Cecil Smith (Sanford, Fl.), Dr. Lance deHaven-Smith and Florida State Rep. - District 101, Shevrin Jones.
"Nobody was going to hold back here," said Estella Lopez of Hallandale Beach. "This was a chance to ask those questions that make you have to tell the truth - in front of so many people. Be accountable and stop hiding things from the residents."
While he put this entire event together, bringing in someone like Chief Cecil, who has had to help rebuild so much community trust, Chief Flournoy was really under microscope all evening - with questions coming at him in every direction, but he is tough and met all the criticisms head on.
"Are we perfect," Chief Flournoy asked of his own force. "No. But we are moving forward and correcting things when needed."
That response - while it won't change things that have happened in the past - is a signal that in these toughest of times - with Ferguson, New York and countless other communities going through this race issue.
For Hallandale Beach residents as Stewart, who has lived in the area for a year, he was a good choice to be on the panel because he represents so much of what this community now stands for. He certainly brought up several key issues that many agreed with.
He also came on behalf of local businessman Howard Bowe, who was fatally shot during a pre-dawn SWAT raid on his home because of suspected drug possession. The homeowner succumbed to his wounds after 11 days of struggling for his life. SWAT also killed his dog and beat up his son.
"Nobody ever spoke up for Howard Bowe," Stewart said. "That is one of the things that I saw firsthand and it was disturbing."
Having Finkelstein and Chief Smith, who have lived the aftermath of the George Zimmerman saga, were essential to have those who deal in this reality every day.
"They think this is such a great event to have a few times a year - to address issues and get a two-way dialogue going," Mayor Cooper said. "You have to figure that by addressing the concerns the citizens have, it is a win/win."
As each and every resident filed out of the building, with nearly three hours devoted to making Hallandale Beach a better place, they were satisfied that at least this was a start - and no longer were things going to be swept under the rug.
"For a first time to do this and for it to come off so good - with refreshments, top guests and great questions, you have to be impressed," Lopez pointed out. "I agree with the Chief, they should host these more often."