Outside groups dwarf candidate spending in Florida special election

By Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity 

Democrat Alex Sink, left, and Republican David Jolly

Democrat Alex Sink, left, and Republican David Jolly

The campaign money machines of Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly have not just been matched by outside forces, they’ve been lapped.

Roughly $12.5 million has flooded the heated special election in Pinellas County on central Florida’s gulf coast, but less than one-third of that sum was controlled by the candidates’ own campaigns, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal records. (more…)

As Broward commission races take shape, LaMarca, Keechl fear nasty re-run

By Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org 

Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca, left, and challenger Ken Keechl

Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca, left, and challenger Ken Keechl

Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca and former Commissioner Ken Keechl approach their upcoming race for the commission like a child approaches the first day of school — with anxiety and trepidation.

Both fear a re-run of their slash-and-burn campaign of four years ago when the upstart LaMarca, a Republican, toppled Keechl, a Democrat, from his District 4 commission seat. Now Keechl wants the seat back.

The two spent a combined $763,106 during the 2010 campaign as they tried to drown their opponent in a flood of negative ads. A third candidate, Chris Chiari, spent roughly $65,000, mostly his own money and was not considered by either LaMarca or Keechl a serious challenger.

LaMarca blasted Keechl in a mailed ad emblazoned with a newspaper headline reading: “FBI Arrests Broward County Public Officials.” Keechl was attacked for his role as a “Ponzi scheme attorney” for having a client who was later found to be operating a fraud.

Keechl branded LaMarca a “criminal” for his drunk driving arrest in college and for being the target of an investigation into a political complaint by the State Attorney’s Office while he was a Lighthouse Point city commissioner. The probe ended without charges.

“I don’t want it to happen again. It wasn’t right. I feel sorry for my wife. She didn’t like the person they painted me to be,” LaMarca said.

“I anticipate he will come after me,” Keechl said. “He has surrounded himself with people who play hardball politics, people who believe politics is a contact sport.”


Negative advertising could be expected in races like the county commission, according to Jim Kane, an adjunct political science professor at the University of Florida who has both held office and worked as a lobbyist in Broward during the past four decades.

“They are used because they work, especially in down-ballot races like county commission where many voters have little knowledge of the candidates. They are a way to define a candidate before the voter has any way to define the candidate themselves,” said Kane, a contributor to Browardbeat.com, a political website owned by the author of this story.

On Tuesday, a third candidate entered the District 4 race. Ben Lap is best known as a Democratic fundraiser, but neither LaMarca nor Keechl consider him a major factor at this point.

As of Dec. 31, 2013, incumbent LaMarca had more than triple the money to run ads than challenger Keechl. Including personal loans and in-kind contributions, LaMarca had $131,343 compared to $41,773 for Keechl.

That’s a stark reversal from the race four years ago when Keechl was the incumbent. He raised $614,801 that year, compared to LaMarca’s $148,305.

“Incumbents get more money because they have a vote on the commission,” Kane said.

Keechl isn’t worried about lagging in contributions.

“I am fortunate that I can always put in my own money,” he said.

Keechl contributed roughly $180,000 to his victorious commission campaign in 2006, when he was the challenger. He spent only $500 of his own money in 2010, when he was an incumbent. For an open seat in 2012 in a different commission district, Keechl spent about $1,500 of his own money on a losing campaign in a race where there was no incumbent.

“An incumbent always has access to a lot more money. I will have six figures to spend in this race and will be competitive,” Keechl said.


While most of those doing business with the county and their lobbyists are funneling money to incumbent LaMarca, Keechl is getting help from one special interest – the bail bonds industry.

Keechl’s connections include Wayne Spath, the president of Brandy Bail Bonds in downtown Fort Lauderdale and a long-time leader in Broward’s bail bonds industry.

Wayne Spath   Photo: brandybailbonds.com

Wayne Spath
Photo: brandybailbonds.com

The bail bonds industry has been a major supporter of Keechl since January 2009, when he backed a move by the County Commission that curtailed the county’s pre-trial release program.

Although the vote was 7-2, Keechl was an influential voice on the subject because he is an attorney and because of his membership on the Broward Public Safety Coordinating Council. The result of cutting back the county’s pre-trial release program meant a larger number of defendants are held in jail to await trial and must use bail bonds to be released.

Spath’s $500 donation was the first contribution to Keechl’s current campaign. Spath also held a fundraiser for Keechl in September.

In an e-mailed invitation addressed “Dear Colleague,” Spath wrote members of the bail bond industry to say, “I had the opportunity of working with Ken on the Public Safety Coordinating Council on jail overcrowding along with other issues. Ken understands the criminal justice system and we need your help in order to get Ken elected on the Broward County Commission.”

In an interview, Spath denied his support for Keechl hinged on his past vote, although he said he had a problem with the way the pre-trial detention program was being operated before it was changed by the County Commission with the help of Keechl.

“People were getting out (of jail) who had no business getting out,” Spath said.

Keechl reported $7,225 in contributions the day after the fundraiser. To date, he has received $2,100 from contributors who identify themselves as part of the bail bonds industry.

Keechl described the bail bonds industry as “friends,” but LaMarca has another take on the contributions.

“He supported an issue that the bail bondsmen wanted,” LaMarca said. “That is the only reason they have supported him now.”


LaMarca refused to comment on his own contributors, who include dozens of people who do business at the county. They include lobbyists Stephanie Toothaker, Robert Lochrie III and John Milledge; groups like the Broward Builders Political Action Committee; and companies like Weekley Asphalt.

As if to highlight that contributions to the GOP commissioner are about business rather than partisan politics, several of his contributions come from lobbyists with weighty Democratic credentials – former College Democrats of America national president Bernie Friedman and former Broward Democratic Chair George Platt.

Lobbyists George Platt, left, and Bernie Friedman

Lobbyists George Platt, left, and Bernie Friedman

Besides District 4, three other seats on the county commission are also being contested this year.

The qualifying period for candidates in each of those contests is from noon June 16 to noon June 20.

District 4, which was redrawn since the 2010 election when LaMarca won, contains roughly 8 percent more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district. The Democratic majority offsets the removal from the district of Wilton Manors, home to many gays, which could have hurt the openly-gay Keechl.

Keechl lives in Wilton Manors, but said he’s planning to move to a new location within District 4’s new boundaries.

It may appear that Democrat Keechl has a big advantage, but that’s not necessarily the way it will work out. Democrats tend to vote in lower numbers than Republicans.

Political science studies have “shown that Republicans are more likely to turn out and are more likely to stick with their party’s nominee, especially in down-ballot races where they know little else about the candidate other than the party label,” said Kane, the University of Florida professor. “Any down-ballot race where the advantage for Democrats is less than 10 percent, generally speaking, is competitive.”



Kane’s analysis reflects why the District 4 race, where Democrats have less of an advantage than in any of the eight other Broward commission districts, is shaping up to be the only real contest in the Nov. 4 general election. The reason: the county is so overwhelmingly Democratic that District 4 in northeastern Broward is the only place where there are enough Republicans in upper-income neighborhoods along the beachfront to comprise a voting bloc.

In contrast, this year’s races for a trio of other commission seats heavily favor Democrats, and are expected to be decided in the Aug. 26 primary.

Three candidates have announced so far for District 2, now held by term-limited Commissioner Kristin Jacobs. They are: Coconut Creek City Commissioner Lisa Kohner Aronson, lawyer Mark D. Bogen and former Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Charlotte Elizabeth Rodstrom.

In that North Broward district, Democrats hold a 31 percent advantage, so most political observers believe the race will be decided in the primary.

District 6, where Commissioner Sue Gunzburger is also being forced out by term limits, the announced candidates are former Hollywood City Commissioner Quentin “Beam” Furr and State Rep. Joseph “Joe” Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach. Democrats have a 32 percent advantage over Republicans in the southeast Broward district.

Democrats’ advantage is even higher in District 8 – which stretches from Miramar and Pembroke Pines to West Park and western Hallandale Beach along Broward County’s southern border – where there are 38 percent more registered Democrats than Republicans.

The two announced candidates, both Democrats, are incumbent Barbara Sharief, who now has the title of county mayor, and Alexandra P. Davis, a West park city commissioner.

Meanwhile, despite their concerns, the District 4 race between LaMarca and Keechl is moving towards a negative campaign.

Keechl vowed to “tell voters who their county commissioner is.”

In turn, LaMarca said he will “not sit back” quietly and “let him pound me.”

Said Kane said, “One person’s ‘defining their opponent’ is another person’s negative advertising.” 

How Washington starves its election watchdog; Bickering, backlogs – even Chinese hackers

By Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity fecbuilding

Just after the federal government shut down Oct. 1, and one of the government’s more dysfunctional agencies stopped functioning altogether, Chinese hackers picked their moment to attack.

They waylaid the Federal Election Commission’s networks. They crashed computer systems that publicly disclose how billions of dollars are raised and spent each election cycle by candidates, parties and political action committees. (more…)

Koch-backed nonprofit spent record cash in 2012

By Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity 

Billionaire David Koch speaks at a 2013 Americans for Prosperity Foundation event.

Billionaire David Koch speaks at a 2013 Americans for Prosperity Foundation event.

Americans for Prosperity — the main political arm of billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch — spent a staggering $122 million last year as it unsuccessfully attempted to defeat President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of documents filed in Colorado. (more…)

The governor and the felon: the profitable, private partnership of Rick Scott and Ken Jenne

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

Before he was governor, Rick Scott, left, funneled stock options worth $375,000 to then Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne

Before he was governor, Rick Scott, left, funneled stock options worth $375,000 to then Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne

Kimberly Kisslan’s sudden resignation from Broward Health’s governing board two weeks ago followed news of her immunized testimony in the 2007 corruption case that brought down Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne.

Since then, Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed Kisslan in July, has refused to answer questions about the matter or explain why a state background check failed to uncover Kisslan’s involvement in Jenne’s criminal scheme. Kisslan was BSO legal counsel under Sheriff Jenne.

Scott, however, has a little-known reason for not wanting to talk about Jenne. The governor and the convicted felon are old friends and business associates.

“I’ve just known (Scott) for years and years and years,” Jenne told this reporter in 2005.

Scott was a wealthy private investor in April 2003 when he funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars Sheriff Jenne’s way by recommending him for a lucrative seat on the board of directors of CyberGuard, a Deerfield Beach computer security company. At the time, Scott owned nearly 40 percent of CyberGuard’s stock.

cyberguardlogoLess than three years later, California-based Secure Computing bought CyberGuard for $295 million in stock and cash. Cyberguard’s annual report made public a few weeks after the announcement listed Jenne as the beneficial owner of 42,555 CyberGuard shares valued at $375,000 under the terms of the deal.

Jenne acquired most, if not all of those shares via stock options he received for serving on CyberGuard’s board.

CyberGuard’s core business was building and selling digital firewalls to shield computer networks from intruders. Its “target customers,” according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission records, were “companies, major financial institutions and government entities.” Cyberguard did not identify specific clients.

Why Scott wanted Jenne on CyberGuard’s board is not known, and neither the governor nor Jenne would comment for this story. Jenne, who went to prison for mail fraud and not disclosing benefits he received from BSO vendors on his income tax returns, previously said CyberGuard was not a BSO vendor.


Richard L. Scott, as the governor was known before he ran for office, made his initial investment in Cyberguard in August 1999 via Fernwood Partners II, which acquired $3.7 million in company debt, according to SEC and other records. Fernwood was a Delaware firm that bought, sold and invested in the stock and debt of other companies. Scott and his wife, Annette, were major equity shareholders in Fernwood.

As part of the deal, CyberGuard added Scott’s brother, William Scott, and former Columbia/HCA Healthcare executive David Manning to its board of directors. Gov. Scott was Columbia/HCA’s chief executive until 1997 when he resigned amid a federal Medicare fraud investigation.

Fernwood went on to acquire nearly 50 percent of CyberGuard before it was dissolved and its holdings distributed to its members in March 2003, SEC records say.

With that, Scott became CyberGuard’s largest individual shareholder. By August 2005, when Secure Computing announced it would acquire all of Cyberguard’s shares, Scott owned 8,249,597 shares worth $72,356,000 in cash and Secure Computing shares, according to SEC records.

Scott’s total investment in Cyberguard: about $10 million, the records indicate.

“When I initially made my investments in Cyberguard, I felt Cyberguard had superior products in the firewall industry,” Scott said in the press release that announced approval of the takeover by Cyberguard’s shareholders. “What was accomplished over the last five years is a testament to the management team we put in place and their commitment and focus.”

Scott kept nearly 4 million Secure shares when he joined Secure’s board after the transaction was completed in January 2006. He was briefly chairman before computer giant McAfee bought Secure in a $462 million cash deal in 2008. Scott walked away with $23 million.


SEC records identify Scott crony Alan L. Bazaar as another member of Fernwood Partners in the CyberGuard investment.

For a decade before Scott was elected governor, Bazaar helped manage his portfolio at the better-known Richard L. Scott Investments LLC. Today, as co-CEO of New York’s Hollow Brook Wealth Management, Bazaar oversees the “blind trust” established by the governor in 2011 to avoid conflicts of interest and manage much of his large personal investment portfolio.

Lobbyist William Rubin with Gov. Rick Scott Photo: Tampa Bay Times

Lobbyist William Rubin with Gov. Rick Scott Photo: Tampa Bay Times

Serving with Scott and Jenne on Cyberguard’s board was Fort Lauderdale lobbyist William D. Rubin, a longtime friend and political supporter of both men. Rubin was listed in SEC records as having 58,000 CyberGuard shares worth $510,000 in cash and stock.

In 2003, while together on CyberGuard’s board, Sheriff Jenne made Rubin an “honorary deputy sheriff.” He also bestowed a BSO “Friend of Children Award” on a lobbyist in Rubin’s firm, Noreen Reboso.

The Tampa Bay Times quoted Rubin about his friendship with Scott on the day of Scott’s election in November 2010.

“I got to know Rick in 1991 when he started his hospital company, and we’ve stayed close ever since. I love him,” said Rubin, who in 2009 lobbied in Tallahassee on behalf of Solantic, Scott’s walk-in clinic company. “He’s a very good friend. We’ve stayed in touch ever since.”

Rubin added that he would not benefit from Scott being in the Governor’s office. “I won’t be. I’ll quickly dispel that perception.”

Nevertheless, Rubin is today registered to lobby Scott and the Executive Branch on behalf of nearly 60 corporate and government clients, including Scott’s old firm, now called HCA Healthcare, and BSO under Sheriff Scott Israel.

Rubin did not respond to a request for comment.

Knowledgeable sources have said privately that they believe Rubin and/or Jenne prevailed upon Scott to appoint Sunrise City Attorney Kimberly Kisslan to the board of the North Broward Hospital District, also known as Broward Health, but there is no evidence to support it.


Kisslan resigned Oct. 18 – three months into her four-year term and two days after BrowardBulldog.org reported about her grand jury appearance under a grant of immunity.

Kisslan got into trouble with federal prosecutors due to personal legal work she did for Jenne while he was sheriff. Specifically, she and a BSO vendor coordinated the demolition of an old house with code compliance issues that Jenne owned in Lake Worth.

At the same time, Kisslan was negotiating a BSO lease extension with the vendor – quickly signed by Jenne – that called for the police agency to lease additional office space from him at a cost of $348,000.

The vendor, developer Philip Procacci, later paid the $8,130 demolition cost for Jenne and the matter became part of the corruption charges to which the sheriff pleaded guilty in September 2007.

Kisslan’s role in Jenne’s scheme is spelled out in public court documents filed at the time of his plea. Yet despite a background check, Gov. Scott was unaware of that damaging information when he installed Kisslan on Broward Health’s board, said spokesman John Tupps.

The governor’s office declined to discuss the vetting process for gubernatorial appointees.

There is, however, an intriguing Broward connection inside Scott’s Executive Appointments Office that dovetails back to both Jenne and Rubin.

Former Fort Lauderdale resident Carrie O’Rourke is the governor’s $116,000-a-year Director of External Affairs. Her duties include oversight of gubernatorial appointments.

From 2007-2009, O’Rourke was director of organizational development in Fort Lauderdale for Edify, LLC. That’s the health benefits consulting firm whose owners included convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.

Jenne worked at Rothstein’s law firm after his release from prison in 2008. And in September 2009, New Times reported that Edify paid Jenne’s son, former State Rep. Evan Jenne, $30,000 as a consultant.

As finance director for Scott’s inaugural committee, O’Rourke worked with Rubin and his lobbying firm, The Rubin Group, to select candidates for the governor’s transition healthcare team.

In December 2011, as the governor’s deputy chief of staff, O’Rourke traveled to Israel with Rubin and his wife Lys as part of a 48-member trade mission delegation led by Gov. Scott, according to Sunshine State News.

Obama bundlers nominated for diplomatic posts; Boca’s Mark Gilbert for ambassador to New Zealand

By Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity 

Mark Gilbert, right, and wife Nancy flank former Pinecrest School head Robert Goldberg

Mark Gilbert, right, and wife Nancy flank former Pinecrest School head Robert Goldberg

President Barack Obama has named two more of his top campaign fundraisers for plumb diplomatic posts, nominating Boca Raton’s Mark Gilbert to be U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Rob Barber to the same position in Iceland.

With the choices, Obama continues his aggressive push to elevate major bundlers and loyalists to top diplomatic jobs. (more…)

Cooper City shrinks official minutes: “Details you really don’t want the public to know about”

By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org 

A Broward Sheriff's captain intervenes to calm overheated Cooper City politicians last year.

A Broward Sheriff’s captain intervenes to calm overheated Cooper City politicians last year.

Emotions boiled as the Cooper City commissioners talked angrily over each other.

“You do this crap all the time,” Commissioner John Sims shouted at then-Mayor Debby Eisinger, accusing her of trying to ram through a commission vote to spend money to send flyers to residents about an upcoming city vote to change the town charter. “I’ve had it up to here.”

“You are extremely disruptive,” Eisinger fired back during that Aug. 12, 2012 commission meeting.

“No, you are extremely dumb…,” Sims replied.

A video of the meeting shows that at one point Sims stood and leaned toward the mayor. Another commissioner, sitting between them, rose to separate them. A woman shouted, “Stop it! Stop it!” The sheriff’s captain, responsible for Cooper City law enforcement, approached the dais to calm the politicians.

Yet Cooper City’s official minutes of that meeting make no mention of the 12-minute donnybrook.

Why? City Clerk Susan Poling offered an answer at a commission meeting one month later.

“Sometimes it’s a little embarrassing to put in details you really don’t want the public to know about,” Poling said.


The record does not establish the basis for change, but since the latter half of 2008 the minutes of Cooper City commission meetings have been shrinking. Or as local political activist Skip Klauber puts it, “scrubbed.”

Cooper City Commissioner John Sims and former Mayor Debby Eisinger

Cooper City Commissioner John Sims and former Mayor Debby Eisinger

Sims complained to Poling at the Sept. 12, 2012 meeting after seeing no mention of the angry encounter the month before in the official minutes.

“You really got to be kidding me, Ms. Poling,” said Sims. “Who is telling you to manipulate the minutes, Ms. Poling?”

Poling denied manipulating the minutes and explained that commission minutes had been reduced to “action minutes” which only record official actions or commission votes and do not summarize discussions.

Commissioner Lisa Mallozzi said action minutes were instituted to save staff time and resources. “Nothing is being hidden, nothing is being thrown under a carpet. This is a more effective way to use our staff time,” she said.

Cooper City commission minutes were not always brief. Based on information Sims provided the Florida Attorney General, the minutes in 2007 averaged more than 18 pages and in the first half of 2008 averaged more than 13 pages.


But the political winds in Cooper City shifted in 2008. Bruce D. Loucks replaced long-time City Manager Christopher Farrell after the commission voted Farrell out. Thirty-year City Clerk Susan Bernard retired. City Attorney Alan F. Ruf was fired and replaced by David Wolphin.

During the second half of 2008 commission meeting minutes averaged about 8 pages. In 2012, the average had dipped to fewer than 6 pages.

In an interview, Greg Ross, who took over as mayor last November, noted that video recordings of commission meetings supplement the minutes. The videos are available on demand on the city’s web site and because of the videos, there was no reason for lengthening minutes, he said.

Carla Miller, founder of City Ethics, a non-profit organization that provides local governments with ethics training and programs, agreed with Ross that supplementing minutes with videos is good practice.

“If you have a video tape of it, to have 10 pages (of minutes) and not 16 pages is sufficient,” Miller said, adding that state law does not require “verbatim notes”.

But Daniel Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida a non-profit that promotes integrity in government, was critical of Cooper City’s practice. He said recording thorough accounts of commission deliberations in the minutes “would save Cooper City residents the hassle of going through hours of videos.”

“It is important for the public to be able to understand their officials…and their decision making,”
Krassner added. “More detailed minutes offer greater public understanding of how decisions are debated and decided.”

Commissioner Sims made a similar argument in lengthy complaints to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2012 and to Broward Inspector General John Scott in 2013 where he argued that Cooper City was violating the state’s Sunshine Law.

“Trying to find what you want to watch on a three-plus hour video is a frustrating and highly imperfect process,” Sims wrote. “Unless someone tells you where to look, the Internet (video of commission meetings) in no way makes up for the bare, unlawfully taken minutes.”


Neither Bondi nor Scott, however, would investigate Sims’ allegations.

Florida Assistant Attorney General Lagran Saunders’s two-page response to Sims noted that the Sunshine Law does not define “minutes.” He added that his office could not investigate unless a majority of the Cooper City Commission requested an inquiry.

Broward Inspector General Scott did not reply to him in writing, Sims said. Instead, a staffer telephoned him to report that his request for an inquiry had been rejected.

Nevertheless, Sims continues to accuse “the commission, the city manager and the city attorney” of “washing the minutes” because they “do not want the public to know what is going on.”

That includes the scrubbing of other official minutes, Sims said.

In his complaint to Bondi, Sims noted that the minutes of Cooper City’s Charter Review Board meetings also have fallen. Charter Review Boards meet every five years to consider changes in the city charter. In 2006, the average length of the boards minutes was eight pages; last year, about 3 ½ pages.

Klauber, a member of the 2012 Charter Review Board, said the board’s minutes were “dumbed down…to the point of uselessness.”

Klauber said minutes of the Planning and Zoning Board are now “garbage.” Under Ro Woodward, a city administrative coordinator who prepared them, the minutes were detailed. But after she retired this year, he said, quality departed with her.

A records review revealed that the four 2012 Planning and Zoning Board meetings Woodward attended produced minutes that averaged 16 pages. The four 2013 meeting minutes posted thus far on line average less five pages.

Michelle Alvarez is the administrative assistant to Cooper City manager Loucks, who was unavailable for comment.

Alvarez said in an email that the city’s advisory boards have the “option” of audio recording their meetings to help prepare minutes. She said the city’s Planning and Zoning and Pension boards do audio record their meetings. Audio recordings are retained for two years but are not posted online.

Official minutes are permanent, she added.

Goldman Sachs exec is 20th elite Obama fundraiser nominated for diplomatic post this term

By Michael Beckel, Center for Public Integrity 

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, May 13, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House, May 13, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

A veteran Goldman Sachs & Co. executive and major fundraiser for President Barack Obama has been nominated as the next ambassador to Canada — the latest in a parade of big-dollar campaign backers slated to represent U.S. interests abroad.

Chicago-based Bruce Heyman raised more than $750,000 for Obama’s committees since 2007, along with his wife, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of records.

Heyman’s nomination is a sort of milestone for the White House: During his second term, Obama has now tapped 20 campaign bundlers for ambassadorships. (more…)

Broward commission looks to defy Gov. Scott on access for Obamacare ‘navigators’

By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org 

Protestors from the Broward Democratic Party, Service Employees International Union, the Broward AFL-CIO and the “online action hub” Fight for Florida outside the office of State Representative George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, on Thursday. The activists support Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Photo: William Hladky

Protestors from the Broward Democratic Party, Service Employees International Union, the Broward AFL-CIO and the “online action hub” Fight for Florida outside the office of State Representative George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, on Thursday. The activists support Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. Photo: William Hladky

Heavily Democratic Broward County is expected to join Pinellas County in resisting Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to bar Obamacare enrollment advisors from state health department facilities.

Broward Mayor Kristin Jacobs will offer a resolution at Tuesday’s county commission meeting that would allow Affordable Care Act “navigators” and counselors at Florida Department of Health facilities in Broward County. The commission, which is dominated by Democrats, is expected to approve the proposal.

Jacobs has scheduled a news conference after the vote where Obamacare outreach efforts will be publicized.

In her resolution, Jacobs adopted Pinellas County’s argument that the state cannot prevent Obamacare advisors from health department buildings because the county owns most of those facilities.

Of the eight Florida health offices in Broward, the county owns seven of the buildings and leases them to the state Health Department.

The state health department notified its county health field offices two weeks ago that Obamacare navigators, federal employees trained to help people obtain health insurance under the new system, would be barred from “the grounds of the health departments.” That notice caused several Pinellas County commissioners in that mostly Democratic county to protest.

The protest apparently forced state health officials there to backtrack. The Tampa Bay Times reported last week that Obamacare enrollment navigators would be allowed into health department buildings in Pinellas County.

“It is criminal that anyone would put their foot out to trip up that process for sharing (Affordable Care Act) information,” Broward Mayor Jacobs said in an interview. “You can’t tell us that we can’t do that in our own facility.”

“Reaching out to the public and letting them know what their options are for health care is an important mission for government…for the little guy,” she added. Jacobs, a Democrat who cannot run for re-election as a county commissioner because of term limits, will run for a Florida House seat next year.

The signature achievement of President Obama’s first term, the Affordable Care Act is under attack by Republicans across the country who are determined to undermine it. One tactic has been to head off people from enrolling for health coverage when the program kicks in Oct. 1.

Scott opposes the federal Affordable Care Act. Florida has declined $51 billion in federal money to expand Medicaid to help cover 3.8 million uninsured for the next ten years.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, another Republican, has expressed worry that any personal information navigators collect may not stay private.

Jacobs labeled Bondi’s claim “not true” and a “smoke screen” to taint Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act kicks in October 1. Navigators and “certified application counselors” will be at various locations throughout the county to help uninsured persons enroll in a health plan.

Navigators are paid by federal grant dollars. Certified application counselors receive no federal money. They work for private organizations that requested Obamacare training to certify their staff.

Jacobs said that only seven navigators have been assigned to Broward County, which has one of the largest uninsured and underinsured populations in the state.  “That alone makes outreach difficult,” said Jacobs.

The mayor added that Obamacare counselors are needed at county health department buildings because that’s where persons who lack adequate health insurance regularly go.

Federal money to train and hire navigators in Broward went to the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida and Advanced Patient Advocacy. Unlike in Pinellas County, Broward government received no federal money for navigators.

Jacobs expects more counties to push back against the state’s restriction on Obamacare counselors. She said that at last week’s meeting of the Florida Association of Counties, “Everybody was having the same conversation. ‘What were they thinking? Why are they doing this?’” Jacobs said. “So I expect this (resistance) will continue to happen county by county.”

Jacobs’ resolution calls for the county administrator to notify the Florida Health Department director that Broward will “provide access to all appropriate county facilities and property for navigators and other lawfully authorized personnel to carry out the advisory mandates of the (Affordable Care Act), including facilities leased by from the county by the Florida Department of Health…”

William Hladky can be reached at whladky@browardbulldog.org




“Raw nerves” in push to improve Dixie Highway in Fort Lauderdale neighborhood

By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org 

Dixie Highway in the Middle River Terrace neighborhood Photo: Laura Croscenco

Dixie Highway in the Middle River Terrace neighborhood Photo: Laura Croscenco

Bitter disagreement over a proposed Dixie Highway improvement project is pitting neighbor against neighbor in Fort Lauderdale’s Middle River Terrace neighborhood.

The fight is between former city commissioner Tim Smith and Laura Croscenco, president of the neighborhood association, and their minions, with recently elected Commissioner Dean Trantalis trying not to get hit in the crossfire.

The rift has “exposed raw nerves that (have been) festering beneath the surface,” said Trantalis, who represents the area. What’s happening is a “total personality conflict,” he said.

The debate is about how best to improve a 1.2-mile stretch of Dixie Highway that winds through a mostly residential neighborhood of single-family houses and small apartment buildings from NE 13 Street north to Wilton Manors.

Two years ago, the Middle River Terrace Neighborhood Association appointed Croscenco to research how to improve roadway safety for pedestrians, slow down traffic, reduce traffic crashes and improve drainage. Croscenco continued with the project after she was elected to president of the association last August.


The Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has agreed to contribute $2.3 million for part of the project that would add four-foot wide bicycle lanes to each side of a 20-foot wide road. Dixie Highway currently is 24 feet wide.

An additional $2.1 million for landscaping and other needs would be sought from grants.

The bicycle lanes proposal is similar to the MPO’s plans for Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors, according to MPO director Greg Stuart. Wilton Manors has approved its upgrade.

The MPO, with a board of Broward elected officials and community leaders, funnels federal transportation monies to local projects. If Fort Lauderdale accepts the bike lanes proposal, construction on Dixie Highway in both cities would begin in about two years, Stuart said.

Opposition erupted to the Middle River Terrace proposal after an Oct. 14, 2012 vote by the association to support the bike lanes concept. middlerivermap

Four days later, Tim Smith, an ex-commissioner who resides in the area, sent out an email against the bike lanes plan. He claimed mature trees would be cut down and that the project would make Dixie “a large boulevard.”

Croscenco argued back, claiming in emails that the MPO had refused to fund Smith’s preference for a single shared-use path on the east side of Dixie for cyclists and pedestrians because cyclists would be endangered from vehicles quickly backing out of driveways onto the pathway.

In an interview, Smith said he does not think the shared-use path idea is unsafe.

“How come (motorists) haven’t run into people in the last 15 years when bicycles use the current sidewalks?” he said. “That is where everybody’s been riding and walking and nobody has been hit.”


The personal nature of the dispute is evident in mass emails sent by both sides.

“The neighborhood has been fractured since you became president,” Smith told Croscenco on Dec. 12. “We always worked as a team before, but meetings are now contentious and unnerving, and the neighborhood is losing a lot of respect with the city…I too hope you will resign and will support any move to impeach you.”

Smith is a founding member of the Middle River Terrace Neighborhood Association and a voting president emeritus.

On Feb. 7, past association president Randall Klett emailed Croscenco with a similar sentiment: “I suggest you resign as president…to save yourself the embarrassment of being voted out of office.”

Tim Smith, left, and Laura Croscenco

Tim Smith, left, and Laura Croscenco

Croscenco fired back the same day, accusing Smith and Klett of bullying her and others. “Dixie Highway (does) not belong to Smith/Randall (Klett),” she said.

Croscenco’s opponents failed to oust her during a Feb. 10 association meeting.

The hostilities have seeped into city electoral politics. Smith supported Trantalis and Croscenco supported his opponent Charlotte Rodstrom in last March’s election to fill Fort Lauderdale’s District Two commission seat. Trantalis beat Rodstrom by 18 votes.

Croscenco had told Trantalis that as association president she would remain neutral in the election. So Trantalis became upset when he spotted a Rodstrom sign in her front yard.

“Have your ethics…changed recently?” Trantalis asked in a Feb. 23 email. Croscenco replied that her husband planted the sign.

In a Feb. 5 email, Klett implied that Rodstrom was helping Croscenco. “Shame on Laura Croscenco and Rodstrom,” Klett wrote.


The animosities reached a crescendo May 25 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Fort Lauderdale beach when Croscenco confronted Trantalis. Both were attending a party to celebrate inductees into the city’s Hall of Fame.

Croscenco said she approached Trantalis and asked, “Do you really want to lose $2.3 million for the Dixie Highway project?”

“Stop nagging me. I’m here to have a good time…I’m working to put people together,” she said Trantalis replied, while pointing his finger at Croscenco.

Croscenco, a native of Italy, said the commissioner later lectured her about democracy and said the neighborhood should vote on which project to adopt “because that’s how we do it here.”

Croscenco shot back that Trantalis wanted the neighborhood to vote for a project that will not be funded and “never can be built.”

Trantalis confirmed that Croscenco approached him at the hotel. She “launches into it…She wouldn’t stop,” he said, following him as he attempted to walk away. Trantalis said her “passion doesn’t have to morph into… (being) condescending.”

The acrimonies have continued. In a May 30 email, association secretary Domingo Cid asked, “Should the influence of Tim Smith…be allowed to put the lives of the residents…in harm’s way for his own gains?”

“My wife just told me that you have accused me…of some sort of unspecified corruption,” Smith replied the following week. “If you ever do that again…we will follow through with unrelenting legal action to make you prove it or pay dearly for your folly.”


Trantalis said in an interview that although he “sympathizes” with the shared-use path proposal, he wants to put a straw vote to Middle River Terrace residents and/or property owners to determine which plan has the most support.

Other city commissioners shot down that idea at a June 18 meeting.

Mayor John P. “Jack” Seiler called it “expensive” and told Trantalis the commission would support whatever proposal he endorses because he represents the neighborhood. Commissioner Romney Rogers quipped, “Do you want us to vote to where you will be going on vacation?”

“You are elected to make a decision,” City Attorney Harry Stewart reminded Trantalis.

“It is some type of Greek tragedy I’m dealing with,” said Trantalis, referring to the animosities in an interview after the meeting. “I need a chorus to tell me what to do.”

Recently, Trantalis said he’s leaning toward the plan that’s got the MPO funding if traffic-calming devices like speed humps are added.

William Hladky can be reached at whladky@browardbulldog.org


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