BY BUDDY NEVINS
(The always controversial Commissioner Sheila Alu of Sunrise has resigned effective January 1. She was first elected in 2001.)
Sheila Alu and I are old drinking buddies.
As we sat in some tavern after work a decade ago, the intense, tall blonde would riff on what’s wrong with Sunrise where she was a newly elected commissioner.
What was wrong usually came down to two words – Pat Salarno.
Salarno was the secretive but successful city manager. He was a control freak who resented commissioners interfering with his city.
Sheila didn’t like Salarno.
She felt he cut inside deals. She thought he filled city hall with flunkies. There is no doubt he rode roughshod over staff.
Alu spent years fighting the Salarno-supported no-bid waste contract. She was fiercely single-minded about putting that contract out to bid to save residents money.
She eventually pried open the waste contract despite resistance among her fellow commissioners. She bravely fought shady waste lobbyists and stood up to industry thugs who threated her.
The savings to Sunrise residents – millions.
It was her shining moment.
She went on to change the face of Sunrise government.
Eventually engineering Salarno’s departure, she opened up other contracts. She worked to defeat commissioners she believed were working against the people.
She was a hard worker, tackling insiders deeply entrenched in Sunrise City Hall while going to law school..
All this was great for me. She was a great source.
Alu had that one quality political columnists love – she was a gossip.
To reporters, that’s a good thing.
She would drop a dime on anybody she thought was doing wrong…and she was almost always right.
We had the symbiotic relationship every reporter has with a good source: She got to expose her enemies as bad guys and I got many inches to fill my columns in the Sun-Sentinel.
Sheila No Saint
But after awhile, I started noticing chinks in the armor of Saint Sheila.
Once married to a cop, I saw she had a cop’s view of the world. She saw the world in black and white.
The world, especially the political world, is often shades of grey.
She saw conspiracies everywhere. Sometimes she was right. Often she was wrong.
She became fixated on cleaning up everything she thought was wrong with Broward’s political structure…and she didn’t see much that was right.
Long-time friends didn’t live up to her sense of right and wrong.
Alu volunteered to wear a wire for the FBI when she circulated through Broward’s political world.
Her big score: Bev Gallagher, a School Board member who sometimes had drinks with us after Sunrise commission meetings.
She helped hire as city attorney in a no-bid deal her long-time consigliore and friend, Stuart Michelson.
In the end, she was even suggesting the city rehire her nemesis Salarno. I almost fell off my chair when I read that!
With all her flaws – who isn’t flawed? – I believe Alu remained dedicated to helping the people of Sunrise.
She always seemed – and I can’t say this about every politician – 100 percent honest. She would angrily reject any opportunities to benefit from her role as commissioner.
Recently, Alu was working her traditional long hours as a sex crimes prosecutor, while helping raise her two-month old granddaughter and be a commissioner.
Something had to give, so she wisely gave up being a commissioner.
“Work is kicking my butt,” she messaged me Friday. “This is what’s its all about now.”
Asked how she can afford to give up a big chunk of her salary, Alu wrote, “I’ll be fine, but thanks for your concern.”
At the bottom of the message was a picture of her with her granddaughter.
It’s good to see that she has her priorities right.
Good luck, Sheila.