By: Si Liberman
New monthly newspaper, run by a retired teacher, is airing
the ritzy Florida resort town’s dirty linens and attempting
to hold public officials and merchants more accountable sp.
ALL’S NOT PEACHES and cream in sunny Florida this winter, if you can believe the Palm Beach Observer.
Zacharias Rosner, a retired teacher-turned-editor, is spending a small fortune to air some of the ritzy Florida resort’s dirty linens and make public officials and merchants more accountable.
His monthly muckraking Palm Beach Observer, a 12-page free distribution tabloid that takes no advertising, has raised eyebrows in the 3.7-square-mile isle of 9,000 mostly well-heeled residents. It regularly lambastes public officials, civic organization leaders and society sacred cows.
The Rosner-owned Observer debuted in October and is mailed to 14,000 residences, businesses and post-office box numbers in town. Viewed as a passionate workaholic with a short fuse, the editor writes most of the stories himself.
Among other things, the newspaper has focused on the questionable multimillion-dollar dealings of a local real estate agency, whereby deeds were not transferred. Such transactions, the Observer noted, “could provide an opportunity for illegal money to be laundered.”
Each issue features a full page of pictures of neglected and unsightly private and public properties and follows up with updates on each property in subsequent issues. Upcoming are expos?s of poorly managed local charities and repair shops that prey on unwary owners of Rolls Royces, Mercedes and other luxury cars, the Observer notes.
Strategically placed boxes promote the future investigative reports, and invite readers to tell about some of their regrettable experiences.
Rosner has also taken potshots at expensive trendy restaurants for poor service and quality, accused the mayor of “grandstanding” and ignoring problems, cited inconsistencies in the former council president’s financial and residence reports, and described the 97-year-old Palm Beach Daily News as “vanilla-flavored journalism” in a critique, calling for more investigative reporting and editorials.
“In all the years I’ve been here ? since 1929, anyway ? there’s never been anything like it,” says Paul R. Ilyinsky, the town’s 71-year-old mayor who has a law degree but never practiced, preferring instead to dabble in real estate and photography. “The paper shocked some people, and as one person told me, ‘It’s the greatest abuse of the First Amendment.’ From reading it, you’d never know that this town is as close to paradise as you can get.”
For a little more than a year now, Rosner has been showing up at Town Council and Palm Beach Civic Association meetings as an interested observer. However, few townspeople really know the man.
He says he’s a native Floridian, longtime Palm Beach homeowner and retired CEO of the Grammar Group, a company that trained corporate employees in the proper use of grammar and English.
The original intention, he explained, was to publish only seven monthly issues between October and April, but he’s now considering continuing publication “because of the enormous response and encouragement.”
Rosner then abruptly terminated the interview, refusing further discussion about the newspaper, his plans and background.
“I don’t need or want any publicity,” he insisted. “It’s my newspaper, and I don’t need any support or money. The newspaper speaks for itself.”
The Observer’s masthead lists Rosner as editor, John Charles Grabow as publisher, a box number for mailing, and an 800 telephone number. Grabow could not be reached for comment.
Mark Easton, president of the Lake Worth Herald that prints the paper, said he is barely acquainted with Rosner and Grabow:
“All I know is they usually arrive in a nice car ? a Rolls Royce or Cadillac ? give us copy to be set and printed, have signed an indemnity clause, and they pay their bills.”
Accused in a recent issue of “passing the buck,” apple-polishing the council president, and failing to enforce local codes, Robert Moore, director of the Planning, Zoning and Building Department, acknowledged the newspaper’s impact.
“We sent a letter of notification, citing a property owner for an illegally parked truck trailer behind some bushes after it was pictured in the Observer,” he said.
“Some of the violations they claim, though, are not really violations.”
Moore said he and co-workers have been interviewed by Rosner and routinely answer his queries.
“The man’s certainly tenacious ? a man with a mission,” Moore added.
Hermine Wiener, who resigned her council president seat last fall in a failed attempt to run for Congress as a Democrat, is again seeking election to the Town Council and is a frequent target of Rosner’s wrath.
In a page one story, the Observer accused her of being rude to the public at Town Hall meetings and raised questions about her and her husband’s financial dealings, and the couple’s legal status as residents of Palm Beach.
Citing Wiener’s financial disclosure statement and tax records, the newspaper noted that her husband reported 1993 personal income of only $6,600, although his Canadian food service company distributed dividends exceeding $1 million to shareholders, and the Wieners listed Montreal as their address.
Hermine Wiener believes a confrontation with Rosner at a Palm Beach Civic Association meeting a year ago aroused his ire.
“He became infuriated when I said that a point about religion he was trying to make had no relevance with what was being discussed,” she said. “I don’t consider the Observer a bona fide newspaper, and his criticism of me and my husband is simply a vendetta.”
An influential member of the 1,020-member Palm Beach Civic Association, who asked not to be identified, says the Observer serves a useful purpose.
“I think 85 to 90 percent of the criticism you see is valid,” he said. “The paper is provocative, well researched. It’s not like the Shiny Sheet, the Palm Beach Daily News.”
Asked for comment about the Observer’s criticism of her paper, Joyce Harr, publisher of the 9,000-circulation Cox chain daily, replied, “I wouldn’t choose to dignify their comments.
“Of course,” she continued, “we do a lot of society, fashion and art stories. That’s what Palm Beach is known for. But we also cover all the town public meetings, and we’ve won three public service awards in recent years from the Florida Newspaper Group for investigative stories.”
So far, Police Chief J.L. Terlizzese and his 65-member department haven’t drawn fire from the Observer, but the chief says he expects his turn will come.
“Either we’re doing something right, or he just hasn’t gotten to the T’s yet,” Terlizzese joked.
Cathleen McFarlane, an active civic citizen who was supported by Rosner in her unsuccessful bid for one of the five nonsalaried Town Council seats last winter, credits him with “getting a lot of unpleasant things out in the open and providing the community a tremendous service.
“He’s willing to spend his own money to do it. He’s one of the nicest and most intelligent persons I know,” said McFarlane.
?( Palm Beach Observer) [Photo & Caption]
?(Liberman, who winters in Palm Beach, is the retired editor of the Asbury Park (N.J.) Sunday Press) [Caption]
?(The Observer has taken heat from some of its readers for exposing Pal Beach’s “dirty little secrets.” On the above pages, what the newspaper discribes as unsightly properties are pictured, and the newspaper is calling ofr a strict property maintenance code.) [Photo & Caption]