Broward Commissioners: Give Us Freebees Again







Dragged squirming and kicking into accepting an ethics law just five years ago, Broward County Commissioners now want to relax the rules.

It appears the law is hampering their social lives, poor babies.

Okay, the rules may be ridiculously tough in some cases. Maybe the prohibition against accepting anything from lobbyists under $10 or $25 should be relaxed, as long as any gifts be disclosed.

But the idea that commissioners (and their partners?) again be allowed to accept free tickets to charity events is problematic. These events cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars per ticket.

Why should commissioners get a free ticket worth a lot of money?

They want to go? Pay up like everybody else.

Electeds like former Commissioner Sue Gunzburger never accepted free tickets and got along just fine.

There is only one reason that charities offer free tickets to commissioners (Hint: It is not because the electeds are charitable.):

When Electeds attend, so do lobbyists, who buy tickets. And that’s another problem.

Lobbyists who attend get an added opportunity to hobnob with commissioners. They often sit together through the whole affair.

Allowing lobbyists another opportunity to have unrestrained access to electeds is a step backward.

The average Joe may or may not be able to get an appointment to see a commissioner. At charity events, lobbyists are allowed to buy access.

When will some commissioners get it? They represent residents, not the lobbying community.

More than a decade ago, a Miami Herald editorial blasted Broward commissioners for allowing lobbyists to become “the equivalent of Third World fixers, a necessary and expensive link between the business world and local government. . . “

I would like to say everything has changed….but really, nothing has changed.

Broward’s cabal of lobbyists remain a corrosive blot on Broward government, forcing businesses to hire them just to get work done in the county.

Lobbyists, of course, see the situation differently. Below is veteran lobbyist Bernie Friedman speaking to commissioner when the ethics law was first considered in 2001 (it was finally passed in 2010 and 2011):

FRIEDMAN:  My name is Bernie Freidman.

Every morning my 11 year-old daughter, Elana and I read the newspapers together.  As Elana munches on her Cherrios and I munch on my bagels, together we discuss world and local news in between Y-100, of course.

Lately, Elana, like many of you, have been subjected to many derogatory, demeaning and down right dastardly articles on the influence of lobbyists over each and every one of you.  By a bunch of new arch, voyeuristic, demagogic reporters and editors, all, of course, with preconceived points of views in desperate search of something juicy to sell to their papers and fiercely jealous of everyone daring to compete with influence with the fourth estate.

And, some — so, one recent morning my daughter Elana popped the question.  Daddy, is there something wrong with what you do for a living and with our elected officials?  Well, it’s for my 11-year-old Elana that I rise today to say a resounding no.

I have lived in Broward all my life and, like you, care deeply and passionately about the well-being of our community.  I love Broward’s magnificent parks, libraries, beaches, airports and arenas, and yes, I’m really proud of the excellent job that many of my clients have done in providing these services.

And, you see, Elana, lobbyists and elected officials are human.  Most are good, kind, thoughtful and honorable.  Lobbyists and elected officials spend thousands of hours in our local charities and non-profits.

So, is there something wrong?  I have never been prouder of what I do for a living.  In so many countries around the globe you get thrown in jail, killed or tortured for trying to exercise the free speech rights we have.  The free press tries to influence you everyday with their point of view.  So, what is wrong when I try to influence you.

Lobbying or no lobbying, each one of you are assertive, independent, smart, vocal, opinionated, strong-willed and, all things considered, including lobbying by me, the public, the press, invariably each one of you does what you believe is the right thing to do.  And, that is what happens.  To believe otherwise is unadulterated fantasy.

There are literally thousands of items that are voted on each month and less than a handful of lobbyists.  I beg to disagree with anyone who believes that we are so powerful that we control what goes on.  Yes, we’re hired to provide information on a few items.

But, we are not elected like you to make the very tough decisions, weigh the evidence, do the independent research, speak with all sides, and in the final analysis, do what you are elected to do, the right thing.

Quite honestly, to think otherwise would question your very own integrity.

Thank you.



Note, Friedman told commissioners, “I beg to disagree with anyone who believes that we are so powerful that we control what goes on.

Yet just last week, Friedman sent an e-mail blast that could be interpreted as taking credit for the victory over Uber at the commission. At the top of the e-mail was a big picture of Friedman.

So what is it, Bernie?

Either you are “powerful” or you aren’t?

And if you are powerful, do you need to shower commissioners with gifts and sit with them are charities to get your point across?

Commissioner Marty Kiar understands the issue. He is quoted in the Sun-Sentinel, “I just believe the public doesn’t want us to accept anything for free. I believe it looks bad.”

Kiar’s right. It looks bad.

Some of Kiar’s colleagues have forgotten they were elected commissioners. They were not elected moochers, spongers or schnorrers, although that’s what some have appeared to become.




25 Responses to “Broward Commissioners: Give Us Freebees Again”

  1. Ethics is important says:

    The other commissioner that ran on ethics was the repub Lamarca and he seemed to be stunned when Comm Sharief said that lobbyists should be able to serve as commissioners and mayors. He argued that people should pick one or ther ore reserves in their careers and I agree. I’m a democrat, but he gets this part of what we want. He also seems to understand that we want Uber, and not smelly cabs!

  2. Balancing Act says:

    Buddy, while I can appreciate and understand the point of a gift ban/lobbying ban, there is a point where things hit the “silly level”.

    If a commissioner goes to an event/grand opening put on by a business that has dealings with the County, should s/he be prohibited from accepting a bottle of water, a can of Diet Coke, or a Coffee? Should the commissioner be allowed to accept only if they disclose this “gift” afterwards?

    Why not something that is reasonable that allows de minimus gifts with an individual value less than $5.00 if the aggregate amount in a year is less than $25 or $50 without the need for disclosure?

    I don’t want commissioners taking meals or substantial gifts from lobbyists or vendors, event tickets, etc., but if the only thing they’ve “gotten” over the course of a year is a handful of bottled waters or coffees, do you really think there is a legitimate harm to the public?

    I’d rather have a reasonable rule that everyone has the legitimate ability to follow versus something so completely restrictive that it just becomes ludicrous.


    I keep hearing about that bottle of water, but it is really that bottle of wine or lunch that they want.

    When I covered the county before the ethics law, right before Christmas was a revelation. The halls of the Government Center were filled with lobbyists, business types and delivery folks, their arms filled with gifts. There were bags of nuts, boxes of chocolates, bottles of wine, tickets to events, etc. Each was probably under $25 and surely little was over $50. But in the aggregate, there was a lot of swag for each commissioner.

    Every gift from a lobbyist or someone doing business with the county — except other governments — should be disclosed. What’s wrong with transparency? They meet once a week for about half the weeks every year. I think they have time to fill out a disclosure form.

  3. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Here we go again what part do these county comm. not realize we the residents voted overwhelmingly to pass these ethic laws and changes. Come on, is it that important you get your free gifts etc.from these lobbyist. I mean run on your merit, your balls not some free ticket to some sports game or concert(you make almost 100g a year -like you need air for free.) You state no one ha s left in cuffs lately,…No free stuff…..(PS. to those that it pertains to I made my move(since you wouldn’t, and its working.. as if it would not (-smartest one out of the bunch is the old lady(she gets it)…

  4. JS says:

    Who in the good name of Josephus Eggelletion could Bernie be referring too when he said MOST and NOT ALL lobbyists are good, kind, thoughtful and honorable.

  5. Richard J Kaplan says:


    Every time this comes up, people comment on the extremes. Strangely, I don’t think elected officials have a problem with agreeing with you on many points. We don’t or shouldn’t expect freebies despite what might be passed (or at least a de minimis rule makes better sense). If we want to go, we should pay like everyone else. Like everyone else is the key. There is so much I agree with the law and believe it should continue.

    What the problem is if you actually read the law, it is so badly worded you can’t figure out what it is trying to say. That is why there are so many attorney opinions on it, and sometimes they conflict.

    Example, there is no definition of Gift. You’d think there would be. It defines Immediate Family but instead uses an undefined term of Relative. You ever try to control your Relatives outside your household? Inside is enough to deal with. These are just a few problems.

    It makes elected officials probably pay to go to events that are free to everyone else, or actually we don’t go so we avoid the problem. And whose money pays it, taxpayers.

    It also creates absurd results and results that actually are contrary to the interest of those that elected us.

    So why can’t we have a meaningful attempt to fix these problems and write a law that guides us and doesn’t confuse us.

    Ethics in this case should be a method of giving direction on how your life should be led for the betterment of whom you serve. Not a system to constantly being second guessed if what you do is right or wrong and never knowing which is correct.


    By all means, clean up some of the language. But don’t destroy the intent. The intent was to forbid the appearance of wrongdoing and favoritism and to have full transparency.

    If the Sun-Sentinel’s Brittany Wallman is to be believed, Commissioners want to change some of the intent of the law. For instance, the free tickets to charity was debated thoroughly and over many years and then decided by the commission.

    Every commissioner elected in the past five years knows the rules. If they don’t want to live by those rules, don’t run.

    It is no wonder that Commissioner Lois Wexler is so vocal about this subject, which was approved by voters. She doesn’t have to run again. She is termed out.

    (Richard J. Kaplan is the mayor of Lauderhill.)

  6. Richard J Kaplan says:

    I completely agree about addressing the appearance, etc.

    I don’t agree with the county about free tickets to charity events unless it is being sponsored by their own city or approved by your Commission as in the interest of the city (some charities are vital to the health of some cities).

    What the public needs to know is those tickets, when purchased are paid for by taxpayer dollars. After all, by definition they are going in their official capacity which is the problem under the code and therefore the government they serve pays for it.

    I myself don’t normally go to these events since I don’t want to spend taxpayers dollars. If I go, I go in my private capacity and not as Mayor and I would pay for it out of my own pocket. My city then doesn’t receive anything from it and I don’t want to be recognized as holding any office.

  7. calfloridia says:

    I was a proud member of the Broward County Ethics Commission. We did include a de minimis rule within the code relative to the gift ban. I find it funny when I hear the complaints and concerns over the poorly worded ordinance the COUNTY ATTORNEY staff wrote for us? However, I’m sure certain aspects of the code where left available for future complaints. Allowing lobbying by electeds is wrong and the gift ban is proper. I buy my own gifts and so should you. Public service is not public entitlement to freebies and unrestricted compensation – BW

  8. I M Corrupt says:

    Let me clarify the gift [bribe] policy in plain English.

    You want water – buy it or bring it with you from home.

    You want breakfast, lunch or dinner – buy it or brown bag it from home.

    You want clothes – buy them or bring them from your lovers home.

    You want booze – buy it or bring it from home.

    You want an escort – buy and pay for it out of your own pocket or bring it from home.

    If you don’t understand that become a lobbyist.

  9. count l f chodkiewicz chudikiewicz says:

    With only a cellphone as we sail in the Keys on my cousins’ yacht I await budget n ethics maven miss greenbarg or your or even counselor Sam fields explanations that none of our county commissioners are homeless needy n don’t need a free coke, cheeseburger or the odd steak dinner with jumbo shrimp at cris’ or the free shirt or pair of socks. I mean isn’t there any limit to the GREED of Broward county commissioners? I’m glad I don’t have my computer to tell you what the county commissioners are.

  10. Ha Ha Ha says:

    Some of Kiar’s colleagues have forgotten they were elected commissioners. They were not elected moochers, spongers or schnorrers, although that’s what some have appeared to become.

    And then there are the ones who are literally married to lobbyists and who are notorious for their disingenuous attempts to weaken and eviscerate ethics laws as well as for their luxurious lifestyles and their penchants for constantly receiving pricey gifts for very well-hidden reasons…

  11. Talks like a politician says:

    Lobbyists rule the governmental bodies in Broward. We, the people, elect politicians to represent us. Then, we, the people, go about our daily activities: work, family, recreation, work, chores, responsibilities, work, and the lobbyists seek favors of the politicians. Guess who wins?? The lobbyists and those businesses represented by the lobbyists.
    By the way, so many former commissioners turn magically into lobbyists. Anne Castro from Dania Beach is the latest former Mayor and Commissioner to form a for profit company to represent businesses and government. We, the people, are too busy trying to keep our heads above water to keep up with the inner circle that rules Broward. We pay high taxes for lack of representation.

  12. Sleezebags R Us says:

    My heart weeps for the influence pedlars whose feelings have been hurt.Nobody ever went broke underestimating the venality and sheer greed of a lobbyist.

  13. Dadtothree says:

    “The average Joe may or may not be able to get an appointment to see a commissioner.”

    If the average Joe can’t get an appointment to speak with his County Commissioner than something is very wrong. I don’t expect Bill or Marco to take a meeting with me without much wrangling, but City, County and State Representatives jobs involve meeting with their constituents.

  14. Lori Parrish says:

    The bottle of water story is simply not true. I attended the Inspector General’s ethics seminar and asked the question.

    John Scott said you cannot take a bottle of water, cup of coffee, Diet Coke, etc. from three groups only. They are PACs, vendors, and lobbyists.

    This is much ado about nothing. It’s easy enough to comply. You simply bring your own water.

  15. Wayne Arnold says:

    Isn’t this strange all this talk and yet the public continue’s to get the wrong end of the stick. In politics talk is cheap about giving the folks the best bang for their tax dollars. The lobbying community definitely has the power to make things happen and naturally those things that often are voted for by an elected body will benefit special interest. The answer is simply to prohibit excessive campaign contributions. Example the late Florida Governor Chiles refused donations in his campaign in excess $100.00. He walked the line that represented the best in his administration as the Chief Executive of our great state. He was HONEST. Too bad the Supreme Court has allowed “money speech”. And, make no mistake about it that speech buys access. That being said money is the milk of politics and all of us should prevail upon those who serve in elected office or appointed to various offices commit themselves to the concept of Ethics in government. I hope that ethical requirements will represent the pledge to serve and do NO HARM to the people they represent. We are imperfect people in an imperfect world but our leaders must always try to do better.

  16. SAM FIELDS says:

    During my first 15 years at the Ruden law firm we all had a gift budget for politicians and upper level bureaucrats.

    About six weeks before Christmas we would get a list of gifts to which we responded by checking off who got what.

    But for their positions, not one of these people would have otherwise gotten a Christmas card from me.

    When all this was made illegal there was a sigh of relief about the tens of thousands we saved.

    At some point, to get around the law, we started sending them Christmas cards announcing that we had made a contribution to a charity in their name! [One year I suggested “The Human Fund” run by George Costanza]

    All this was because we had to “keep up with the Jones”. Or more accurately we had to keep up with the “Beckers”, “Greenbergs”, “Platts”, etc.

    With over 500 employees, we had folks who did our buying of everything from office supplies to health insurance. If it was learned that they were taking gifts from vendors I am pretty sure they would have been shown the door!

    Gifts for pols is not any different.

    Is it possible to write an ethics law that always makes sense?


    A former County Commissioner and I have been close friends since high school. When he got married he had to publically report my wedding gift. Under the current law I am not sure he would have been able to accept any gift. But am pretty sure our friendship would have survived…which is more than the marriage did!

    If a lobbyist has bought a table for a breast cancer charity, let them give the extra seats to breast cancer survivors.

    Folks who point to these anomalies, along with the “bottle of water” conundrum, are just using the inability to achieve the “perfect” as an excuse to kill the “good”.

    P.S. Buddy, tell us who on the County Commission is trying to weaken the standards.

    P.P.S Lobbying is just a business. Notwithstanding his daughter speech, if the money was right, Bernie Friedman would represent HAMAS!

  17. joeshmoe says:

    Here is the story.
    I believe that commissioners benefit from some lobbyists with exchange and sharing of clients in this venue and others throughout Florida, including the State.
    So when a lobbyist hires the husband of a Broward County commissioner to co-lobby issues in other venues, I believe the commissioner should be required to disclose that connection.

    It happens and it should be revealed. That way when that particular lobbyist makes things happen in Broward (which are questionable things), then we can all connect the dots.

  18. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    #3-Why do you censure me Buddy?? everything I state I can back up. I am certainly not afraid of anybody in this town etc so why censure me. Your readers have every right to know whats going on. Again, everything I report in the truth and you know it….


    Send me any proof you have that backs up your allegations. Then I will consider not censuring your remarks.

  19. Lamberti is a Criminal says:

    If it ain’t free for me, it should,’t be free for thee (Commishs). Your bosses (Taxpayers) voted overwhelmingly for ethics reform since you electeds were so ethically challenged. I guess you elected still are since you are trying to erase what your bosses demanded.

  20. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:


    The appearance of impropriety language was borrowed from the federal ethics rules and it applies solely to conflicts of interests. It came out of the 2000 Broward Charter Review Commission of which I was a member. I was the member who suggested using this language.

    It was introduced as a standard applicable to conflicts of interest. We were suffering through a crisis in public trust at the time with regard to selection negotiation committees. This provision was inserted to stop that problem. It was inserted for no other purpose and the minutes from those discussions will verify that fact.

    Ethics problems are magnified in number and character when a commission is entrusted with legislative AND executive powers. This arrangement can be tolerated when the organization is small, but when it grows into the multi-billions and does many different things, that structure no longer works well. We have seen that reality play out over and over again throughout the history of the US. Ethics violations become a symptom of that problem. They arise when communities like ours refuse to evolve beyond the limits of their obsolete governing structures as Broward has.

    Notice tha when we segregate legislative and executive duties, which today are handled simultaneously by the commissions, and give those to different elected officials (legislative to the commission, executive to the elected mayor) the ethics issues narrow substantially. Indeed, the opportunity for conflicts of interest virtually disappear.

    Our ethics issues arise as a symptom of our unwillingness to evolve governmentally.

    At any rate, “avoiding even the appearance of impropriety” is a federal ethics term of art and it relates to conflict of interests. This is easily verifiable and cannot be disputed. The phrase should NOT be misapplied in any other context.

    As to gifts, the state has a gift law as part of their ethics lasws that can be strengthened locally. Most elected officials, including me, couldn’t care one way or the other. We accommodate our behaviors to what the laws allow.

    However, officials who are invited to attend charitable events are doing so in their official capacity and are specifically invited to lend the seriousness of their office to the event. It helps the charity — not the official — to show their potential donors that the elected leaders of that jurisdiction believe in them as a charity. It also underscores that the charity’s work promotes and advances legitimate governmental and public interests. When that’s not the case, the official should pay. When it is the case, the official’s presence is work and should not be considered a gift.

    It is the height of good ethical behavior for elected leaders to help support charitable events and lend gravitas to philanthropy and the good work of charities. That is good ethical behavior and it is bad ethics to discourage that.

    Officials asked to be guests of a charity promoting legitimate public purposes should be allowed to attend by way of honorarium, I underscore, if the charity invites them. Clearly they are being invited in an official capacity and that means it’s work if they accept to be there.

    Only in the case where someone other than the charity pays for the official’s presence might that situation begin to be considered a gift. There should be rules in place to govern these situations and best practices to look at nationally abound. We simply need to stop being lazy and look at the body of work that exists on these subjects to find the best answers for Broward.

    The point is their presence is about helping the charity not getting a free chicken dinner. Another consideration is whether that charity is sponsored by or recognized by the official’s government as a contributor to the public interest. If so, the presence of an elected official at these events is even mor clearly in furtherance of public duty and not a gift.

    To my way of thinking it is more fitting to look at this as an honorarium, consistent with common ethics practice and custom throughout US jurisdictions, rather than a gift, intended to benefit the official. Assisting a charity to continue doing work that benefits the community is an ethical job function of elected public officials.

    The current ethics ordinance is in this and many other respects childishly written.

    Confusion about gifts only scratches the surface of how poorly this ordinance is crafted. In fact, as an ordinance, it borders on legal malpractice. Any judge would laugh at these words if the ordinance was ever challenged.

    A re-write of a proper ethics ordinance is necessary to ensure it only contains legally enforceable and ethically consistent provisions. That work should be done by ethicists and lawyers familiar with national best practices. It should not be driven by any other consideration — as that would be unethical. Such was the intent of the 2000 Charter Commissison when we created the ethics of the charter and such was the overwhelming vote of approval given to our item by voters.

    Ethics promotes good behavior, first and foremost, while discouraging bad behavior. It is not there to punish charities and provisions such as “avoid even the appearance of impropriety” need to be understood in the proper and realistic context, not some imagined context.

    Let’s stop the nonsense and get the ethics rules right for the sake of all involved. At long last, let’s get this right.



  21. count l f chodkiewicz chudzikiewicz says:

    No 20 is plain wrong! Any private person like myself who attends charity functions sees every single elected official working the room to help their political career or law practice or both! Double talk and out and out lies from elected public officials who line their pockets as lobbyists, questionable employees of either government or non profits funded by the taxpayers are a plague so bad it wasn’t even used to free the Jews from Pharaoh in Exodus.

  22. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:

    Dear Count Cheesewhiz:

    I do not know you, sir.

    We have never met, not even once, I would have remembered, even though I’ve lived in Broward County for many years, all of it working closely with governments, charities and leaders in the business and public sectors. I’ve made my bones here. People know me for the life I’ve lived and the person I’ve been.

    I don’t dwell on this detail often but I’m a poorer man in my grey hairs than my talents would have carried me because I chose a life in public service. I don’t regret that choice by the way and wipe my ass with your reaction to it.

    I’ve been in public life now for 30 years. I’ve learned a thing or two and have done my fair share. I’ve given back to the nation that took me and my family in when we had nowhere else to turn. It’s a debt repaid with interest, but without so much as a blemish on my name or reputation.

    If God wills it I’ll continue doing the work I love for 30 years more. But I digress.

    Your filthy comments attacking my character may apply to your skunk ape of a mother, the Dutchess of Dogshit, or possibly to your sister the Countess of Cornhole. More than likely to you. But make no mistake, those comments do not apply to me.

    Here on Buddy’s blog I expressed an honest opinion about a complex public policy matter just as I have done before and just as will continue to do in the future.

    I did so in a sincere, thoughtful and respectful way. I did it purely for the benefit of what thoughts it might provoke in others.

    Now, certainly you’re free to disagree with those views. I might even discuss those disagreements with you. But I think civilized people do well to preserve the distinction between disagreements they may have with somebody — disagreements they are entitled to assert — and falsely attacking a man’s character because they disagree — the act of a poorly bred worm — which demands proof or an apology.

    Furthermore, allowing said false tirade to wonder into Biblical references adds a heavy dose of disgrace and together serves only one clear purpose. To illuminate your character, sir. Not mine.

    Whatever imaginary royalty you claim possess you are no gentleman.

    Years ago, when your grandfather the Duke of Batshit was emptying bed pans for Queen Victoria, a comment like that would have earned you a pointy blade straight up your make-believe royal arse.
    Such satisfaction would have been due and owing. But thankfully we live in diffrent times. Times that afford me the simpler pleasure of just saying go fuck yourself.

    You are well out of your depth disparaging my character falsely simply for sharing a honest viewpoint about a subject — ethics — that’s clearly beyond your comprehension. Jerk.

    Best wishes,


  23. count l f chodkiewicz chudzikiewicz says:

    Mr I live off cash from taxpayers in a place I moved to from somewhere else, as a NATIVE FLORIDAN whose family has lived, INVESTED, and owned TAX PAYING business over a 100 years here in South Florida I am SICK and TIRED of seeing FAiLED politicians and wannabees dumped in my NATIVE State

  24. PandaBear says:

    “Count”: Thank God your opinions don’t count for much. You say you are a “NATIVE FLORIDAN”, but obviously your English needs much improvement. You state that you live in a place where you moved to and live off the taxpayers cash. So let me guess…you are an illiterate descendant of Julia Tuttle, and presently living in a homeless shelter. So, bud, how come you don’t own business?

  25. Tamarac Voter says:

    That was the most delightfully written bitch slap I’ve read in a long time. I haven’t had that much fun in a while. Well done Castillo! He absolutely had it coming.