BY BUDDY NEVINS
Sunrise City Attorney Stuart Michelson has a problem.
Its not the generous salary that was handed him last June. That contact is worth up to $432,000 annually, minus his expenses and the salary of an assistant city attorney Michelson hired to help him.
It’s the way Michelson was hired — a classic no-bid deal.
It didn’t need to be that way.
Michelson is a fine lawyer. I spent many lunches with him, munching Sushi and marveling at the lightning quick mind of this litigator.
He will be a good city attorney.
Sadly, his actions will always be overshadowed by his hiring.
Future Michelson opinions will be called “payback to the commissioners who hired him.
Commissioners Roger Wishner, Sheila Alu and Don Rosen voted to hand Michelson the job. They didn’t consider any other lawyers.
Commissioner Joey Scuotto voted “no.”
The Miami Herald’s Dan Christensen pulled back the curtain and exposed the grubby little story.
Michelson was the campaign treasurer for Sunrise Mayor Steve Feren, who was running for judge at the time. Feren supported Michelson’s bid to be city attorney, but abstained from the final vote after the Herald story.
Michelson also did legal work for Wishner and Alu, according to The Herald.
Just a cozy little club in Sunrise.
Now opinions that Michelson gives will be examined through a political lens.
Is he twisting the opinion to cater favor with the commissioners who hired him?
That’s what it looked like to some this week, when Michelson said the city didn’t have to hold a mayor’s election in March. His interpretation of city law means Wisher is mayor until 2010 without having to run in an election.
Critics called it a payback to Wishner for the no-bid hiring.
Or payback to Scuotto, who voted against hiring Michelson and wanted to run for mayor.
This all could have been solved if the four Sunrise commissioners were a little savvier and a little less arrogant.
For the taxpayers sake they should have honestly considered other attorneys and picked the best one.
But if they wanted to steer the deal to Michelson, Sunrise should have followed the example of the Broward County Commission. The county commission has a long history of steering deals to a favored few.
Here is what the county commission would have done to steer the deal to Michelson:
They would have taken applications from every lawyer and firm seeking the attorney’s job. They would have sat through formal presentations from a short list of these lawyers, including Michelson.
This would have all been pretence. In the end they would have hired Michelson anyway.
But county commissioners know enough to go through the motions. They know enough to make it look like they are doing a real search for an attorney.
If Sunrise had followed that time-honored political slight of hand, it would have eliminated much of the criticism about the no-bid Michelson deal.
Then every opinion by Michelson would carry more weight in the future.
There is at least one person in Sunrise who should have known how the county commission works: Stuart Michelson.
Michelson’s wife is County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman.