Whopping Legal Bills Rock Plantation City Hall

 

BY BUDDY NEVINS

 

 

 

Broward County Commissioners last week stopped the sheriff’s purchase of a $10 million helicopter because they didn’t have enough information on why it was needed.

“I want to see more details,” Commissioner Michael Udine said. His fellow commissioners agreed.

Meanwhile, over in Plantation the atmosphere was different. Mayor Diane Veltri Bendekovic opposed any questioning of a whopping $450,000 legal bill from City Attorney Donald Lunny Jr.

For years Bendekovic has been bizarrely glued to Lunny. She rebukes anyone who dares question his work.

 

Donald Lunny Jr.: Legal bills under fire

 

The Lunny family’s 42-year hold on the Plantation City Attorney’s job is unique.

Donald Lunny was named city attorney in 1975. Lunny Jr. became City Attorney when his father retired in 1992.

That’s more than four decades of Lunnys!

The city hasn’t even considered another attorney since Lunny Jr. took over from his father 25 years ago. For some reason, Bendekovic defends the lucrative monopoly the Lunny family has held over Plantation’s legal work.

How does Bendekovic know that another lawyer couldn’t do a better job? Maybe another lawyer could represent Plantation for less?

Plantation Council member Lynn Stoner pegged it last week.

Calling the Lunny family’s long hold the City Attorney’s job “a 40-year joke,” she said, “It’s time to put the job of city attorney on the street.”

Bendekovic has blocked any effort by the Council to take competitive bids. She contends that the City Attorney reports only to her, thus insisting that Council members have no role in hiring or firing the attorney.

And last week the mayor argued that the Council shouldn’t even question his legal bills.

That didn’t stop Council member Jerry Fadgen from proposing the city hire an outside attorney to review the bills from Lunny and his firm, Brinkley Morgan. The bills being questioned stem from the city’s losing attempt to shut down a massive Christmas display at a Plantation Acres home.

 

 

Jerry Fadgen: Wants accountability 

 

Fadgen believes some of Lunny’s bills are vague. He was spurred to dispute the bills by Plantation resident and attorney Sam Fields. Fields took it upon himself to review some of Lunny’s bills after reading about the city’s move against the Christmas display of lights.

A Browardbeat.com writer, Fields is also a long-time Broward political activist.

“On a scale of one-to-ten  –-  one being a traffic ticket and 10 being a homicide case  –-  this was a two,” Fields told the Council. “How they reached a legal bill that large is beyond me…If you read a bill and can’t figure out what work was done, the bill is questionable.”

Bendekovic last week wasn’t accepting any of the criticism of her pet attorney.

“The case was closed (last year),” she bristled. “I don’t support this because its over with. It’s in the past.”

What did Bendekovic tell Council members she was really worried about?

 

Diane Veltri Bendekovic: Defends whopping legal bills

 

Newspaper stories about Lunny’s $450,000 bill.

Questioning Lunny’s fees were “giving fodder to Miz Lisa,” the mayor said. “That’s what you are doing. You’re giving fodder to Miz Lisa and…a lot of things will come out that possibly you don’t want to come out.”

“Miz Lisa” is Bendekovic’s demeaning name for Sun-Sentinel reporter Lisa Huriash, who covers Plantation and was in the Council audience.

Nothing was resolved last week.

Fadgen vows to press on. He will continue to argue for a forensic audit of Lunny’s legal bills.

Stoner wants a state opinion on whether Lunny works for the City Council or just the mayor. She will persist in pushing the city to take bids from other attorneys in the future.

Over at the Broward Government Center, the debate was calmer.  Commissioners demanded a full explanation of the sheriff’s $10 million helicopter purchase with little debate and no disagreements.

After all, Commissioner Udine noted to Browardbeat.com: “Its our job to spend money wisely.”

While in Plantation City Hall, the mayor worked to block inquiries into a $450,000 legal bill.

Plantation taxpayers should be happy that Mayor Bendekovic hasn’t suggested that the city to have its own helicopter….yet.

Or sad that Fadgen and Stoner don’t have a third vote to demand accountability from Lunny and Bendekovic…yet

 

 

 

 

 



18 Responses to “Whopping Legal Bills Rock Plantation City Hall”

  1. Adriana Alcalde says:

    As a Plantation resident I am upset that our Mayor is refusing a review of these legal bills. I am not commenting on their accuracy- but rather the refusal to even question it. Also-the fact that our city attorney basically inherited his position is concerning. Thanks for the good work reporting on these local issues.

  2. B. Hinds says:

    The attitude of Bendekovic is very familiar to any one who had the displease of watching a Plantation meeting. She would make a good dictator. Luckily the Council is there.

  3. CHARLIE says:

    don is a super nice guy, but his lawyering for plantation is “so so.” i have seen him in action. Also, he is an outside attorney, which inevitably ends up costing any local government more money because there is little to no oversight of their bills and lawyering skills. Also, when your city atty is from a law firm, it is so easy to generate “busy work” for your firm. Little things become HUGE IMPORTANT CASES. Because, duh, that makes the law firm money. The city should get an inhouse attorney.

  4. Rico Petrocelli says:

    Buddy, this has been long overdue. While on the council this came up, and was immediately squashed by Rae Carol. That council did not have the votes (4-1) to remove Lunny. Remember, I was of the dias with this group of “Good Ol Boys” I was there……

    This time, before the council questioned or asked for the job to be out on the street, the Mayor sent a memo, written from Lunny, giving her sole authority to hire or fire Lunny. That letter was a shot across the bow, not to mess with the Family friend of 40+ years.

    The contract should be put out, plain & simple. Councilmembers Stoner, Hyatt & Fadgen will vote for the Audit because its the right thing to do, especially politically, for perception from the public) Problem is for Tingom & Jacobs. If they vote YES they upset the Queen who put them in office, if they vote NO, Public opinion will be against them, and it creates a Re-Election issue for Tingom, who is being groomed to replace Diane, who wants another 2 year term so she has 20 years in, and gets the $60+ yearly pension & Medical like Rae Carol.

    40+ years is a pretty good gig if you can get it, no fear of oversight, fear of being fired,no billing questions, 3 Mayors to protect you, everybody has been cozy for 40+ years…Mmmmmmmmm?

    Rico Petrocelli
    Plantation Councilman
    2005-2009

  5. tired teacher says:

    We have lived in this beautiful little city for 2 decades. The light display was ridiculous and a nuisance to the neighbors. I was shocked that Hyatt won that election. Anyway, that’s nearly half a million dollars that won’t go for parks, CRA projects, etc. When is the mayor up for election again?

  6. S. Ahringer says:

    Who else has the sitting Mayor hired to do her job If one wants a job and or a title, then do it Don’t sub it out, especially if it’s at my expense And if you want to spend my money, your not doing it without me verifying what your buying The attentive and popular Plantation Councilman Jerry Fadgen is spot on as usual for being brave enough to stand up to this dictatorship (note The Hyatt Family) and recommend a forensic accountability for a 450,000.00 invoice As an esteemed and talented CPA, we should all encourage Jerry Fadgen to run for and become the next Mayor of Plantation Who’s with me ?

  7. Leonard Giamanco says:

    Time to clean the swamp and get a new mayor

  8. Mary Hopping says:

    Diane Veltri Bendekovic has also been riding on the tail of her father who was Mayor for years. I think the Veltri name is why she was elected and Yes, it is time for her to go!!!

  9. Mike Schunk says:

    They both need to go.

  10. Terry says:

    I have lived in Plantation since 1990 and every year I get more discouraged. It is always a bad sign when an elected official forgets who they works for.

  11. Lunny Legacy says:

    I lived in Plantation for a number of years but long since moved on. It’s a great city and I think that Plantation is what it is because of its leadership and Diane Veltri Bendekovic and Frank Veltri as well as Rae Carol Armstrong. Of course there have been some notable exceptions to that rule, but no matter. There has always been a strong throw the bums out mentality over there and I see it in these posts. Saw the same thing in Davie. I have some familiarity with Mayor Veltri’s decision to hire Don Lunny, Jr. and I completely understood that decision. There is something to be said about hiring an attorney you are comfortable with and who knows the players and the lay of the land. The length of Mr. Lunny’s tenure should be completely irrelevant to this issue if he is doing a good job. The aspect of this situation that I find troubling, however, is the fact that the sum that is being presented for approval is so high. I would have thought that there would have been interim billing that would have had to be approved so that the City could have kept tabs on the total sum being expended for legal fees. That is how it usually done. Presenting a client with a $450K bill doesn’t make a lot of sense. Maybe there is a reason for this due to the Sunshine or privilege considerations as I assume that the bill had descriptive entries about work as it was being performed which might be public record during the pendency of litigation, but otherwise it made little sense to me otherwise. Being less than transparent creates the appearance of impropriety. That is unnecessary here. The bill should be audited and Mr. Lunny should accept the results of the audit and move on.

  12. Michael Mooney says:

    Plantation resident. 2 property’s in city. My opinion is the lawyers should make their bills understood by everyone on the council. Review and make sure it’s does not become something that occurs again.

  13. Plantation Working Mom says:

    I’ve lived in Plantation for 22 years and am so disappointed by the leadership. It’s a total joke. We have ridiculously high millage rates compared to other areas with not very good amenities. They continue to lose businesses to neighboring cities. Personally, I’d much rather live in Sunrise. They need to do an audit of these legal bills and find the best solution for the residents because we are the ones paying these bills! We need to clean house at City Hall and get some young new blood in there. Plantation will continue on the decline until we change City Hall!

  14. richard flusberg says:

    Folks, when someone tells you that you do not need to see the bills just pay them, IT IS TIME TO SEE THE BILLS!

  15. Carl Buehler says:

    ANYONE who has been involved in litigation will complain about how costly it is. Legal fees are more shocking than hospital bills. That’s why the smart person/agency AVOIDS litigation, at all costs, so you don’t end up suffering legal bill shock. I do agree there should be oversight of the Lunny billing by the city council if the city is footing the bill. Is Don Lunny the city attorney or outside hire? I think the Sunrise city (or it might have been Davie) attorney charges $28,000 a month on retainer. Sounds like a lot but that’s how it works.
    An underlying consideration here is WHY this costly litigation came to be. If ANYONE were to put displays on their property anytime during the year to the extent of disturbing their neighborhood similar to the Mark and Kathy Hyatt’s holiday display, then I believe that homeowner should justly be fined and forced to reduce the display so as not to be disruptive to the neighborhood. The City of Plantation acted to prevent such disruption to the community. There were huge legal costs incurred, after City Councilman Jerry Fadgen fiercely defended the Hyatts and opposed enforcement of restrictions on their Christmas display, as a right of free speech.
    Councilman Jerry Fadgen did go to great lengths to support the expression of religious freedom in the UNLIMITED holiday display by the Hyatts, and therein precipitated this litigation as a result. It is unfortunate the City of Plantation spent even 10 cents on litigation, a cost that would have been entirely eliminated had Mr. Fadgen and other council members, as well as Mark and Kathy Hyatt, acted REASONABLY to begin with. Given Fadgen and the Hyatts made their point, we the taxpayers are on the hook for it. You can complain all you want about how unreasonable is the bill, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The council should be more concerned with establishing a city ordinance limiting the extent of “displays” of any sort on private property so as not to be disruptive to the community. Then you will not have this problem.
    PS> The premise of a display being “religious” should have no bearing on city ordinance limitation, as religion has nothing to do with the matter of creating a disturbance or running a carnival on your property. How ironic people claim religious freedom but put up Ferris wheels and Santa Claus sleds to celebrate “Christmas” as a religious holiday. Just to be clear, there is no right of exclusion for regulation of religious displays as opposed to secular displays. I could put up a month long holiday display celebrating Marin Luther King and Black History Month, or an Islamic display to celebrate the month long Ramadan holiday. Both would be subject to appropriate display rules to avoid the kind of disruption the Hyatts willingly committed. So unless you want another half-million dollar legal expense, treat the cause, not the symptom!

  16. Overtaxed Plantation resident says:

    Let’s see the bills.

  17. SAM FIELDS says:

    AN OBSERVATION

    Between building the display, paying to assemble and disassemble it each year not to mention the electric bill we can now add $450k for the city’s legal bill and maybe half that for the Hyatt legal bills.

    All in all it’s got to be a $1,000,000 to throw a birthday party for Jesus Christ whose invitation must have gotten lost in the mail.

    But if it turns out that my atheism is wrong, and Jesus shows up in the Second Coming, I guess the players in this very expensive soap opera are counting on Christ proclaiming:

    “I’M GLAD TO SEE THAT YOU FOLKS DIDN’T PISS AWAY THE MILLION FEEDING THE POOR”.

    A RIDDLE

    What is it that a swan can do easily,

    That a goose can do with some difficulty,

    That a duck cannot do at all,

    And the people of Plantation want Don Lunny to do????

    FROM BUDDY:
    An old lawyer joke. The answer is, Stick you bill up your ass.

  18. Howard Cohen says:

    The City Attorney should be elected, not inherited and should be held accountable for clear and accurate billing. The case in question was ridiculous to begin with.

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