BY BUDDY NEVINS
Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan asked that City Attorney Stuart Michelson be fired for billing the city $45,000 that was not authorized under his contract and other legal mistakes.
The accusation came after midnight Wednesday in the waning moments of a six-hour long Sunrise City Commission meeting.
Is this the final nail in Michelson’s coffin? Criticism of his no-bid hiring, which looked like an inside deal because his wife is County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, hasn’t let up since he became city attorney two years ago.
The mayor leveled grave charges at Michelson, saying he misled commissioners, overcharged the city and gave mistaken legal advice.
Ryan accused Michelson of deception about the reasons for needing the $45,000. Michelson allegedly said that the $45,000 was for malpractice insurance, but he was already covered by a city policy.
Michelson received money for simply signing a letter as part of a bond issue, according to Ryan. The extra money was not part of his contract with the city.
Commissioners approved the $45,000 expense, apparently before Ryan was elected in August. Ryan is familar with legal billing because he is also an attorney.
“There was no justification for the $45,000. That decision by Mr. Michelson to obtain money that he wasn’t entitled to has undermined my confidence, charged Ryan.
No vote was taken on Ryan’s move to fire Michelson. It was put off until next month.
Michelson argued that he was entitled to the extra money due to his liability if the bond issue ever failed.
“I had to sign an opinion on a bond deal on a $120 million bond deal, Michelson said. “The bonds are outstanding for 30 years…I have liability…This is a risk.”
Ryan was not convinced. He charged that Michelson had made other mistakes as city attorney.
A Michelson opinion on a zoning issue ended up harming the city and benefitting a developer, Ryan said.
The mayor said he also had problems with Michelson’s billings in another law suit.
Michelson has a contract which gives him $432,000 annually, plus $225-an-hour for any extra work he did.
Ryan said the bond letter was part of Michelson’s city work which should have been covered by his $432,000 contract.
“The letter had to be signed by the city attorney. It was a city attorney function, Ryan said.
Commissioner Sheila Alu was Michelson’s biggest cheerleader at the meeting, but the other commissioners also supported him.
This despite the fact that Michelson allegedly violated his own contract? Give me a break!
The job was handed to Michelson two years ago without commissioners taking any applications from other attorneys. Three of the commissioners supporting his no-bid hiring — Alu, Roger Wishner and then-Mayor Steve Feren — had been defended by Michelson in private law suits.
Critics of Michelson’s hiring noted his wife is Lieberman, who has influence over the money the city received from Broward County.
“Hiring you had absolutely nothing to do with your wife being (County Commissioner) Ilene Lieberman, Alu said.
Commissioners admitted Tuesday they were still being criticized by the public for the no-bid hiring of Michelson.
In response, they agreed to have Michelson reapply for his job and take applications from other attorneys, opening the process up to competition for the first time in decades.
But with Alu praising Michelson upfront, the bidding process is starting to look like a charade.
That’s too bad. Taxpayers deserve more from Sunrise than another inside deal.
At least this time it looks like taxpayers have Ryan watching out for them. From the sound of the mayor Tuesday, he clearly is not going to accept business as usual.