BY BUDDY NEVINS
Over 25 years, lawyer Stuart Michelson has pulled $100,000s in legal fees out of the City of Sunrise.
That gravy train may be about to leave the station without Michelson aboard.
The Sunrise City Commission Tuesday is scheduled to ask Michelson to reapply for his job. Commissioners will also ask other attorneys for applications.
It means that Michelson is fighting to hold on to his very lucrative job.
This is a good for taxpayers. For the first time in 24 years, the ccommission will conduct a competitive process for hiring a city attorney.
Is Michelson getting a sweetheart deal? Taxpayers may soon know.
Michelson was handed his job two years ago without having to compete with other applicants the classic no bid deal.
The job is a big one Michelson’s current contract calls for $432,000 annually, but he got almost $100,000 in the past year for other work, according to commissioners.
Some of Michelson’s money goes to pay a second attorney, which has led to quips from critics that he needs a second attorney to ghost his city government work.
Some suspect that the cozy deal was steered to Michelson because he is the husband of County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman. Lieberman represents portions of Sunrise and has influence over any county money that flows to the city.
Michelson’s argument echoed by his vocal supporter Commissioner Sheila Alu is that he has long experience with Sunrise. He represented the city from 1985-2008 as an outside counsel.
Some of this work was defending Sunrise’s scandal stained commissioners against ethics complaints. The city, or should I say the taxpayers, picked up the tab.
Michelson was successful in defending the commissioners.
Among his first work for the city, according to the Sun-Sentinel, was to defend the city against an opponent of corrupt Sunrise Mayor John Lomelo. Lomelo later served federal time for extortion.
Bill Colon had alleged that Lomelo, Council President John Montgomery and the city had violated his civil rights.
The city lost the suit at the trial court level. A jury awarded $850,000, but I don’t know if the city ever paid a dimeexcept to Michelson. Knowing Stuart, I’m sure he got paid.
His work on ethics continued. At least one commissioner that Michelson defended Steve Feren, who is now a judge actively pushed for him to be hired as city attorney.
Here is Sunrise’s sorry record of no-bid city attorney deals as gleaned from the records of the city and the Sun-Sentinel:
- 1970s — Arthur Parkhurst hired as City Attorney by City Council controlled by the corrupt Lomelo. There was no bid.
- 1985 – When Lomelo gets indicted, Gov. Bob Graham appointed Bob Butterworth as Mayor. Butterworth engineered the firing of Parkhurst after discovering his firm earned $523,000 in 1984 — $424,000 over his contract, mostly for bond work.
- 1985 — Phil Montante is hired as City Attorney without taking any applications from others.
- 1985– Montante asked Stuart Michelson to do outside legal work, charging the city on a hourly basis.
- 1986 — Jon Henning was hired after a city search committee consisting of Montante and attorney Richard Weiss sifted through 10 applications. This is the only time Browardbeat.com could find that the city even bothered to look at applications. Henning was plugged-in politically his widow Patti Englander Henning was and remains a judge, while his sister-in-law Nicki Englander Grossman was a county commissioner at the time. Grossman’s husband is Broward Circuit Judge Mel Grossman.
- 1994 — Henning quit under pressure from then-Mayor Steve Effman.
- 1994 — Jeff Olson was hired without taking applications from others. Olson was Henning’s assistant attorney in Sunrise. The Sun-Sentinel writes that Olson was a former copy editor at the Miami Herald who started his law career as a clerk in Sunrise.
- 2003 — Olson was fired. The City Commission hired his assistant, Kim Register, without taking a bid.
- 2008– Register resigned. Michelson is handed the job.
Update: Questions I wish commissioners would ask Stuart Michelson Tuesday:
(1) Michelson received $45,000 extra within the last year for work on a utility bond issue. Why did this bond work not fall under his $432,000 annual contract with the city? The work was clearly city work?
(2) If it was decided the bond issue was not work for the city I can’t imagine this why didn’t he charge the per-hour rate called for in his contract for outside work? How did he decide on the figure of $45,000 and how is that allowed under his contract?
Michelson told me he could not comment for any story on Browardbeat.com. I can understand that position and it should not be held against him. His answers should come at the public city commission.