Committee Formed To Sell School Bond Includes Lobbyists





Citizens for Safe & Modern Schools.

Doesn’t that just role off your tongue?

According to a social media report, Citizens for Safe & Modern Schools is the new political action committee that will try to sell the public on $800 million in new school bonds.

Can’t you already smell the stench of special interests and lobbyists?

To make a difference, the committee will need at least $750k to $1 million in a countywide campaign, according to numerous political experts.

I fear the money will come from the same old group of insiders that will benefit from more school construction.  Such money will taint the whole effort.

Not that you can’t win with insider money.

Miami Dade’s Building for Tomorrow Committee had a war chest of more than $1 million when it passed $1.2 billion in new bonds two years ago. Most of the money came from engineers, contractors and developers.

But Miami-Dade does not have a history of Grand Jury reports denouncing the influence of lobbyists’ money on School Board decisions.  Broward has such a history.

The bond referendum’s biggest obstacle is the fear among voters that nothing has changed at The School Board.

There is a fear that the School Board remains puppets of lobbyists,  special interests and their own entrenched staff.

There is a fear that insiders will syphon off a good share of the $800 million.

This PAC  will fuel that fear.

Broward’s committee will consist of supposed “opinion makers,” i.e., community leaders who can raise money and build support for the bonds.

Some of those already aboard are Bob Swindell, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. That’s the taxpayer supported group that encourages new businesses to move to Broward.

Swindell hosted a meeting of the new committee last week, according to reports on social media.

Others are lobbyists and insiders. I’ve seen some of the names, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy for now by the two local political figures have shared them with me.

Being considered as front men for the bond effort are Bob Butterworth and George LeMieux.  Both are problematic.


Bob Butterworth

Bob Butterworth


Butteworth, 71, is the Walking Dead of the Florida Democratic Party. He is dragged out of his Hollywood grave any time Democrats want to remember that they once could win statewide races.

But the last tough statewide race Butterworth won was 1986. He was Florida Attorney General from 1987 to 2002.

The General’s Last Hurrah was in 2002 when he lost a campaign for state Senate.

At least Butterworth has won.

LeMieux, the former U. S. Senator and once chair of the Broward Republican Party, is a generation younger than Butterworth at 45. Yet his role as a political guru was a decade ago when he managed then-Republican Charlie Crist’s 2006 victorious governor’s race.

Before that, LeMieux lost his only campaign as a candidate – a 1998 Broward race for the Florida House.

As a reward for helping him win, Crist appointed LeMieux to an open U. S. Senate seat. LeMieux tried and failed to win the seat on his own in 2012.

When Crist shed his Republican skin, LeMieux very publicly broke with his former mentor.

LeMieux is expected to round up Republican support for the bonds. He may do some good,  but he is far from a Republican icon.  Some believe he is out of step with the Tea Party and the sharp swing to the right in his own party.


George LeMieux 1

George LeMieux


Butterworth and LeMieux may be good guys. Maybe they don’t beat their wives and they love children and puppy dogs.

But they do have one big problem: Both are members of law firms with very active lobbying practices.

Butterworth was accused of using his influence and skirting state lobbying laws to win a $44 million contract in Broward two years ago.

LeMieux’s clients have largely been confined to Tallahassee, like Florida Power & Light, which he helped with a rate hike.  He lives in Fort Lauderdale and is Chairman of the Board of Gunster Yoakley, which does lobby locally.

Are Citizens for Safe & Modern Schools tone deaf? Don’t they realize that intertwining lobbying and spending has gotten the school system in trouble in the past.

Grand Jury investigations. Indictments and convictions.

But most of all, Butterworth and LeMieux are sooooo yesterday.

The Gucci-clad guys in the boardrooms of downtown Fort Lauderdale who are behind the PAC know their names.

I know their names.

Most voters don’t.

Butterworth and LeMieux are nothing to the public.  They are politically dead.

But what’s wrong with that?   Why not use politically dead pols to sell the soon-to-be dead bonds?




18 Responses to “Committee Formed To Sell School Bond Includes Lobbyists”

  1. Ghost of McLovin says:

    vote no to increase taxes upon yourselves

  2. Vice Mayor Pembroke Pines Jay Schwartz says:

    Let’s have the conversation.

    August 6th Item:

  3. Hey Commish! says:

    Hasn’t the school board had a couple of these with you? I know that the charter schools in Pines mandate that parents do “volunteer hours” but can’t you find something for them to do to earn those volunteer hours besides go to meetings so you can politic? I am fine with the groups meeting but incentivizing parents to go because they are mandated to earn volunteer hours is slimy. We know this is an election year for you but wouldn’t the Pines Charter Schools be better served by parents reading to children, helping to remediate a child with special needs? Oh what, kids that struggle are the ones your schools kick out. My bad. How do your schools get away it? Thank God for good lawyers and lobbyists I guess.

  4. Sto says:

    I am voting NO on this bond issue I do not trust this corrupt school board and it’s inefficient chancellor

  5. Sam Fields says:

    I chaired the successful 1987 school bond drive; so I have a bit more familiarity with these things than most. At the time I was an Assistant Public Defender.

    There are two predictable clichés that are raised by opponents. You have already done the first which is that people with some sort of interest will lead the charge. Has it ever been any other way in the history of the world?

    For example, the folks leading the charge for The Charlotte’s Web legislation had kids with epilepsy. They were probably working with some folks out of the agriculture community who saw a chance to make a buck.

    The NRA shows up on gun issues.
    The FMA shows up on medical issues. The NAACP shows up on civil rights issues.

    Who else is going to lead the charge?

    Don’t blame an idea for the people who support it.

    The second column that we can look forward to is will be a litany of construction defects in past projects. In most cases it is a cheap shot by people who don’t know or don’t care about the realities of construction.


    I recently spent $125,000 rehabbing a home in Baltimore that was built in 1900. I was about $15,000 over the original budget because “shit happens” that no one could have known about. For example, when the walls were opened, we found out that some trusses were not attached to the brick wall when the house was built 114 years ago! $$$$

    After the job was completed, and the tenants moved in, (2 doctors from Johns Hopkins) we experienced some leaks around the sun roof and the upstairs shower had tile problems. All fixed. We also had to do change orders on plans. It happens.

    Now project this out to a billion dollar project done in a couple of hundred locations. If 95% of the project goes as expected they did pretty damn good. Nevertheless, 95% means there is about $50 million in disputes with the School Board, contractors, sub contractors and architects all pointing fingers at each other. Sometimes they settle, sometimes the go to arbitration and sometimes they end up in court.
    That’s the way it goes in construction especially when the law requires awarding the job to the low bidder. [I did not use the low bidder on my job because I did not think he was the best one.]

    $50 million is a couple of hundred disputes. Write a story about one of those every week and it creates an impression that the whole thing is a one giant clusterf**k.

    If there corruption or gross negligence, that is what the Inspector General and the State Attorney are there for.

    Having to spend an additional $25k because they opened a wall in a fifty year old school and found mold requiring remediation is not corruption. It’s the way things goes.

    Making it sound like Watergate is the way to sell newspapers.


    First of all, the School Board by its own design and the connivance of then-state Senator Nan Rich excluded itself from any scrutiny by the Inspector General.

    Sam Fields was atrocious during his involvement in the penny sales tax issue.

    First of all, Fields wanted to run the campaign out of the Sunshine and even suggested throwing a reporter out the window when he showed up at the pro-sales tax committee.

    Second of all, Fields advocated holding the referendum for the extra penny as a special election when the least possible people could vote, saying that would suppress the anti-tax vote.

    Florida Trend magazine and the Sun-Sentinel covered some of this outrageous behavior.

    It was not only construction defects that have damaged the School Board’s reputation and caused two Grand Juries to to blast the management of the school system.

    It was:

    *Steering contracts to insiders;

    *Decisions made to solely enrich political supporters;

    *Repeated broke promises made to eastern Broward communities to fix deteriorating schools. Meanwhile, western Broward schools were built to enhance the development projects of campaign contributors;

    *The staff ramrodding decisions against the wishes of parents, and

    *Downright money-in-an envelope corruption.

    I mention only one eye opener: Swamp land unsuitable for a school bought for millions in Southwest Broward at the behest of political supporters and insiders, one who went to jail for income tax charges in a related matter.

    Basically using your terminology, the school system was “one giant cluster fuck” of greedy insiders grabbing everything they could snatch with the complicity of the Board and staff.

    That’s why the one key question concerning this referendum is whether the voters believe the new Board has changed. Has it?

  6. What about the other group says:

    How about the independent expenditure group in support of the bond called BUILD run by Mr. Haag and Mary Fertig? Where is their money coming from?

    How is any group supporting the bond issue, whether this group or Mary Fertig’s group expected to get the word out if they don’t raise money from whomever may be willing to donate?

  7. Former School Board Insider says:

    “That’s why the one key question concerning this referendum is whether the voters believe the new Board has changed. Has it?”

    Nope. No. Nein. Non. No way Jose.

    The Board is still rubber stamping and congratulating the Superintendent, who is still making bad decisions (the 22.5% raise for a few select administrators didn’t fly the first time so he brought it back a second time); still wasting money (see above); and still not asking the difficult questions (just how is the $$ going to be spent?) (what about all the valid projects that were approved years ago, that disappeared off the books due to the previous administration’s fiscal mismanagement?).

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    The voters will answer the “one key question” you ask with the same answer they will have to the bond issue on the ballot.

    Nope. No. Nein. Non. No way Jose. NOOOOOO!!

  8. Sam Fields says:


    Nice bit of demagoguery.

    For example, by using a capital “S” in “sunshine”, you make it seem as if this group was subject to The Florida Sunshine Law and that people who wanted to keep the meetings closed were attempting to break that law.

    It was a political action committee which is private and not a government agency. It is no different than a campaign committee.

    In this case, someone (whose name I will not mention) got the bright idea that every candid idea should be public.

    Good or bad, those were my ideas. Making what should have been private conversations public was about the stupidest thing anyone could suggest. You ask me to speak my mind, I speak my mind. That’s what they wanted and that’s what they got.

    Now the readers need to understand that, unlike the other 6,999,999,999 people on the planet Earth, if you listened to every word Mr. Nevins said, it would all be G-Rated peaches and cream nothing offensive of controversial. Hell, the man farts Chanel #5.

    Was and is there some incompetence and corruption in the school system. Sure. Most definitely a damn site less then, say Sam Zell and his takeover of the Tribune papers in including the Sun-Sentinel which ended up in bankruptcy.

    If you were to look at the $$$ value of the gross incompetence and corruption down at the school board it would amount to less than .1% of what they have spent over the last decade. Which was my point.

    Now that does not justify ignoring that kind of conduct. It might not be a bad idea to permanently mount a poster of Bev Gallagher’s Booking Photo in the room where the School Board meets.


    Of course, the meeting was not covered by the Sunshine Law. But the media was invited, something Mr. Fields did not like.

    Fields writes: “The $$$ value of the gross incompetence and corruption down at the school board it would amount to less than .1% of what they have spent over the last decade.”

    How do you, Fields, explain not one, but two highly critical Grand Jury reports?

    How do you explain the staff frittering away a decade of planning on relieving overcrowding in Weston and eventually doing nothing?

    What about the high school promised Sunrise?

    What about the Fort Lauderdale High project that took more than a decade to complete (Compare that with I-595’s widening.)?

    How do you explain a generation of inner-city schools neglected so that new schools could be built where they weren’t needed?

    How do you explain the situation in the public schools getting so bad that more than 40,000 students now attend charter schools?

    But why don’t I let the Feb. 18, 2011 Tampa Bay Times speak about the second Grand Jury’s findings:

    In a scathing 51-page report released late Friday, the statewide grand jury blasted the management of the Broward County School District for a culture of corruption, malfeasance and “reckless spending of taxpayer money” and called for the abolishment of the board that runs it.

    “We cannot imagine any level of incompetence that would explain what we have seen,’’ reads a report compiled by the Grand Jury. “Therefore we are reluctantly compelled to conclude that at least some of this behavior can best be explained by corruption of our officials by contractors, vendors and their lobbyists.’’

    The report also criticized Superintendent Jim Notter, saying he was not strong enough in leading the nation’s sixth largest school district and suggested that the organization is so riddled with problems, the only solution is to appoint an outside monitor to watch all dealings of the district for the foreseeable future. Read full report here.

    The report submitted to Judge Victor Tobin on Jan. 21.concludes:

    “The corruptive influence here is most often campaign contributions from individuals with a financial stake in how Board members vote. Long ago the Board should have recognized the risk that putting themselves in the center of handing out hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars would
    inevitably drawn attention and undue influence from moneyed interests…Only now, years later and with pressure from all sides, have they begun to take steps to resolve this and other issues.

    “Unfortunately based on the history of this Board as an institution, we have no confIdence in their ability to make meaningful changes and to adhere to them. The solutions we see, at least short term, are to remove as much power and influence from the Board as possible and to have an independent outside authority monitor their dealings closely.”

    The report blasts the board for “an appalling lack of both leadership and awareness. Rather than focusing on the big picture and looking to the challenges of the future, they have mired themselves in the day to day running of the District, a task for which they are singularly unqualified.”

    Among the criticisms, the report says the school board ‘”seems to be more comfortable with opening unfInished schools than angering the contractors that fund their campaigns through political contributions and fundraisers.”

    The list of findings is extensive: incomplete and inadequate construction records, untrained inspectors, “wasteful and dubious spending on ill conceived ideas,” and board members who “direct that spending towards friends, acquaintances or supporters of Board members without any accountability.”

  9. Vice Mayor Pembroke Pines Jay Schwartz says:

    Hey Commish!…

    Meeting with the BCSB over the Pines Charter System is something done in the past. This item is different. It involves the entire community.

    It’s not an election year for any of my colleagues. I am placing the item on the agenda for public consumption. Come on down and express your displeasure, the mic is open at 6:30pm on Wednesday. I look forward to hearing from you.

  10. The real story says:

    Maybe someone should ask Mary Fertig, Katie Leach or Heather Brinkworth, if the rumors are true that Leach’s former campaign manager and your pal Mike Ahern paid Sam ‘ s filing fee to split the Democrat vote in the primary to help Brinkworth….

  11. Uh-oh! says:

    They will be reviewing the audit tomorrow for the Ft. Lauderdale High project. It looks like a lot of the issues deal with how well the contract terms are followed (prohibited payments, bond riders, understated monetary commitments, risk insurance).

    They will also be discussing the additional $912,000 cost of adding 19 routes for the 30 low performing elementary schools. It doesn’t detail any costs other than transportation.

  12. Chuckles says:

    How fitting that this shakedown of the public by corporate interests is endorsed by a guy named Swindell.

  13. Hey Commish! says:

    Thanks for the invite but I am otherwise engaged. I have seen your dog and pony show one too many times. Quite frankly, I am one of your constituents whose children attend tradition public schools that is tired of hearing you whine.

  14. Not A Chance says:

    Anything that’s mentions that Mike Ahole is worth voting against it. I would never support anything Mike A. Supports. Dirty behind the sciences scammer. Mr. I’m full of myself.

  15. frank white says:

    It’s a sad day in their career when a former US Senator and a has been cabinet member stoop to the level of shilling for a school board bond issue. Look in the mirror and have some self respect.

  16. Becky Blackwood says:

    I started working for Broward County Public Schools as a project manager in July 1996, after all of the project managers, construction managers had been fired as a result of the Grand Jury Report of 1995 which concerned the construction program of 1985 and 1987. Many of the Grand Jury recommendations (because that is all a Grand Jury can do is recommend) were initiated and then promptly discarded as each new Superintendent came into office after one was temporarily appointed until a new Superintendent was appointed. Upper management responded to each of the Grand Jury inquiries that they were complying with their recommendations when they were not. If you reviewed the past Grand Jury reports, you will find many of the same comments from those of the 1995 Grand Jury, which indicates very little, if any, changes occurred.

    Efforts are being made to provide a documented comprehensive Needs Assessment for each school and administrative site in the District, which will be available for public view on the District’s website.

    This is the first time this has occurred at Broward County Schools. Miami Dade County Public Schools provided this type of Needs Assessment in 1993 when I was a project manager there. I, on many occasions, spoke to many administrators about how efficient and informational this system would be, but was ignored. It was necessary anytime you wanted information to go to each department to get the information and departments did not communicate with one another. Time and money were spent doing Needs Assessments,without any previous information, every five years. As many of you know; in one year, it was just repeated from the previous five year Needs Assessment resulting in 22,000 vacant seats.

    Providing this type of Needs Assessment should create a database which should reduce costs and provide accurate information regarding the facilities construction conditions.

    It’s a good start but now work needs to be done to perfect the professionals of records (Architects/Engineers) contracts to provide a contractual schedule to keep them on time, training for project managers who do not understand what constitutes a change order which is not the responsibility of the District but an error or omission to the contractor or A/E; training for the inspectors (who were previous project managers who did not enforce building inspectors failed inspections but were laid off). There should be no influence over the inspectors by political forces and lastly, but most importantly, ACCOUNTABILITY for all personnel who do not perform and supervisors who will supervise and evaluate their staff who commit incompetent errors.

    I have continuously recommended and supported appointing the Inspector General to oversee this bond. I believe it will instill some degree of trust in the public to vote for it; if only those in charge would see its importance. If everything is transparent, what’s the problem in having an Inspector General be the overseer?

  17. Daniel Reynolds says:

    OK I get it. Buddy and most of the posters here don’t support the bond issue because at some point there was corruption or incompetence in the system.
    Any bright ideas for funding the capital needs of the School system that still serves the vast majority of students in Broward County that the legislature has ignored?

  18. To Dan Reynolds says:

    Dan, I have a lot of respect for you and your organization, the Broward Count AFL-CIO.

    Your question is a serious one that should be treated seriously, but I think you discount the many reasons that people oppose the bond issue.

    I do not question that there is a great capital need for repairs, renovation and the construction of school facilities. I think that the first step in addressing this should be a county-wide review of all facilities to determine which are not being utilized fully to determine whether there are offices, schools and other facilities that should be consolidated, closed and sold. There are many schools near to one another that are operating at approximately 50% capacity. Some of these schools are in the greatest need of significant capital repairs (bad roof, HVAC, etc.). Does it make sense to keep multiple half-empty schools open in an area that there is no expectation of planned student growth or is it better to consolidate those schools into 1 or 2 fewer, not maintain the closed facilities and sell them off — recouping millions of dollars from the sale as well as saving millions in operational and repair expenses?

    I for one don’t want to spend millions of dollars of tax money repairing dead schools that will never be coming back into real use.

    Similarly, it is ridiculous to take a 30 year bond and pay 30 years of interest for technology products that may be obsolete before they are received by the schools. There are reports of school districts throwing away hundreds of laptop computers recently ordered as part of a technology upgrade when the systems that were to be implemented in the district changed. It’s crazy enough to do the 3-years same as cash financing on a best buy credit card for a laptop you’ll not be using in 2 years — but 30 years of debt service? NO WAY does that make sense.

    To get to your underlying criticism — I am one of the people that doesn’t support the bond issue because I don’t trust the school board to spend the money wisely. Yes, there was corruption on the school board and 2 grand jury reports about it — but is 2-3 years enough time to really say that the district has gotten over not just the corruption issues, but the incompetence and misfeasance that the grand jury reports described?

    What has the District done since 2011 that gives this County faith in its ability to spend $800 million wisely? I haven’t seen it yet.

    And until I see that (more than anything else), I can’t support the bond.

    Again, I say this as a progressive and a union supporter. But the opening of the purse to the tune of $800 million (when the ultimate goal is $2.5 billion) at this point just seems premature and unwise.