Don’t Bet On Ethics Laws For Ethically-Challenged County Commission


This is the sad story of arrogant, ethically-challenged Broward county commissioners thumbing their noses at voters for the last seven years.

I wish it were a fable.  Unfortunately, it’s true. 

In 2002, voters told the commissioners to enact an ethics law governing their own conduct.

Since then, nothing.

Commissioners ignored the voters. 

Flash forward to November, 2008. 

Voters again demanded an ethics law, this time creating an 11-member ethics panel to write the law. 

The problem is that the members to the ethics panel are hand-picked by the county commission. 

Call me cynical.  I find it hard to believe a panel chosen by the county commission is going to crack down on the county commission.

You judge.  Four members have been named to date and they are clearly political insiders:

  • Robin Rorapaugh, a political campaign consultant, was appointed by Commissioner Sue Gunzburger.  Rorapaugh has worked for many liberal Democratic candidates. My guess is that she won’t be working against Gunzburger’s re-election.
  • Bob Wolfe, a Republican activist and lobbyist for Property Appraiser Lori Parrish, was appointed by Commissioner Ken Keechl.  Keechl represents an East Broward district with a large number of Republicans. So Wolfe’s friendship can’t hurt.
  • Bill Scherer, the former general counsel of the North Broward Hospital District and a huge George W. Bush fund raiser, was appointed by Commissioner John Rodstrom.  Scherer has done a lot of legal work for the county, so will he be free to cast his vote as he wants to?
  • Kenneth Fink, a political activist in Coral Springs who helped on campaigns and served on city boards, was appointed by Mayor Stacy Ritter.  Ritter is Ground Zero for ethics questions in the media.  Will Fink be allowed to vote his conscious? 

In 2002, voters demanded that commissioners enact an ethics law “to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in the performance of their duties and responsibilities.

That means no more freebies from lobbyists.  Commissioners routinely eat and drink on lobbyists’ tabs.

They shouldn’t.

Ethical conduct means no more lobbying by county commissioners.  At least two members of the county commission Josephus Eggelletion and Ilene Lieberman have lobbied cities for clients that appear at the county commission.

Wrong!  Wrong!  Wrong!

An ethics law means no more voting on items that benefit them or their families.  It means their families would be prevented from doing business with the county  Gunzburger’s husband sold benches for county parks.

Really, a new ethics law is not hard for the new ethics panel to figure out.  The question is whether the commissioners will let them do their work? 

11 Responses to “Don’t Bet On Ethics Laws For Ethically-Challenged County Commission”

  1. District Ghost says:

    You’ve got it backwards, Buddy.
    Scherer is the one in the drivers’ seat. He has spent years accumulating dirt on every county commissioners. He also hands out work to some of them. Lieberman’s husband and Scherer worked together.

    FROM BUDDY: Interesting e-mail. However, I believe that Scherer and Lieberman’s husband, Stuart Michelson, have had a falling out and no longer work together.

  2. Kevin T says:

    It is interesting to note that not one person on this panel appears to have any background on government ethics. (Yes some of them have dealt with voting conflicts, but not ethics) There were clearly better choices if the purpose was true ethics reform. I tend to agree with you that we just get more window dressing, rather than (dare I say) – change.

  3. Questionable says:

    John Rodstrom is a Republican. He likes to parade as a Democrat because he knows he can’t get elected in Broward as a Republican, but come on man, just admit you’re one of us!

    We should have a coming out day. Rodstrom would come out as a Republican with a Bush hairstyle and Charlie Crist comes out as a Democrat….and out of the closet at the same time. Rainbow Room anyone?

  4. Weston Dreams says:

    Buddy, you are dead on target. Time to make real change and no more lobbying by these electeds. The Cities rely on the Counties for assistance, yet the County commissioners and families lobby the cities. That needs to stop. And the electeds to be held to the same standards as the employees and staff that work in those municipalities and governments.

  5. Solutions Not Easy says:

    To avoid even the appearance of improper behavior would require some significant changes. One would be that the Commissioners not be lobbyists, that’s a clear first step so that their votes can’t ever be traded or used to make them money. Elected officals have no business serving on selection panels for vendors and contractors. None of them are elected on the basis of their procurement acumen, and this is a cess pool of conflict for most of them. But they shouldn’t be hermits either. The law they did in Fort Lauderdale that prohibits elected officials from helping charties is actually unethical in my view. That goes too far and it does nothing to help people. A modest lunch, a cup of coffee is one thing if a lobbyist pays for it and business is conducted. There I really don’t see a problem and believe that the state officials go way overboard with this. Nobody sells their vote for a tuna sandwich and a Pepsi. Now, a week long trip to the Bahamas paid for by a lobbyist, that’s another matter entirely. I think there’s a $100 gift law now, that’s more than adequate to cover the situation. The charter was amended requiring a commissioner with a conflict to leave the room and not vote. That’s progress. A few more tweaks and we’re there without going overboard and making hermits out of elected officals.

    FROM BUDDY: County commissioners repeatedly accept gifts of expensive meals at charity events where the tickets cost $100s. They usually are not reported.

  6. Solutions Not Easy says:


    A good sense of ethics should compel elected officials to attend charity events. Their presence to support charity underscores the importance of what charities do and encourages others to attend the and make donations. In that sense there is public purpose to commissioners attending charitable events so long as they are invited by the charity itself. Private businesses should be prohibited from buying tickets for elected officials IF the cost of the ticket violates the $100 gift law. We do not want our elected officials to be hermits. Only a wealthy elected official can afford to pay for all the charitable events they are asked to attend. This robs our community of opportunities to mingle informally with our elected officials and to bring greater attention to the needs of our communities. It’s poor judgment to consider this kind of thing an ethics violation. What you want to do is eliminate the gross ethical violations — cash exchanges and expensive gifts, quid pro quo situations where votes are traded for value, re-occurring conflict problems that shock the senses of the ordinary citizen. Working hard to avoid conflict situations in the first place. That’s where the ethics difficulty happens. It does not happen in average local restaurants and certainly not at chicken dinner charity balls.

  7. Floridan says:

    “County commissioners repeatedly accept gifts of expensive meals at charity events where the tickets cost $100s. They usually are not reported.”

    This is a bit disingenuous:

    1) Rarely is the “expensive meal” more than hotel-kitchen chicken with a mystery sauce. You could get a much better meal at Outback Steakhouse.

    2) Most elected officials would much rather skip these cookie-cutter events, but often attend to support the charity.

    3) There are so many charity events in Broward County that few politicians cold afford to go to many if they had to pay out of pocket.

    4) Charities want the politicians to attend (and often comp them or get someone else to pay for their ticket) in order to attract other, paying, guests.

    FROM BUDDY: The meal might be greasy-spoon quality, but the value based on the ticket price is often more than $100.
    Inviting politicians to charity events is a way to shake down lobbyists, who are glad to give up the money to get some face time with the pols.
    Or as County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger put it three years ago in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
    “The lobbyist buys the dinner. The lobbyist doesn’t care diddly about the charity. What the lobbyist is buying is intimate access (to a commissioner sitting at their table).”

  8. Sunrise Voter says:

    This county government is totally corrupt and run by commissioners who are self-serving and out to make money and little else. We need an ethics law with teeth.

  9. Floridan says:

    FROM BUDDY: The meal might be greasy-spoon quality, but the value based on the ticket price is often more than $100.

    I’m not sure the ticket price is the significant factor. The IRS counts only the value received for tax purposes, not the price paid.

    Inviting politicians to charity events is a way to shake down lobbyists, who are glad to give up the money to get some face time with the pols.

    I’m not sure that “shake down” is an accurate description of a voluntary transaction, but in any case, so what? Any lobbyist can call the County Administration bldg and probably get a meeting with a Commissioner (as can any other person). Moreover, there events are rarely conducive to intimate conversations.

    Are you saying that lobbyists and commissioners should have no contacts at all?

  10. Weston Dreams says:

    I believe that Buddy is on the right path. Other States have it down to a science, simply stated that no lobbyist can buy or give anything to any elected official. If charities want to draw lobbyist, contractor and others looking to get face time with elected officials; then they can invite the elected officials free of charge or at a reduced ticket price.
    To be an Elected Official is an honor, not a way for them to make money. Elected Officials should allot a certain number of hours per week to meet with residents and company individuals IN THEIR OFFICES. All meetings should be recorded on an official log and turned in monthly to the appropriate departments. Under these rules, all appearrances of imporioties would go away. Absolutely no lobbying for business.

  11. Keep Dreaming says:

    If anybody thinks there will be an end to lobbying for business, keep dreaming. This has been going on since before the time of Julius Ceasar and it’s not going to end anytime soon. No representative democracy operates without advocates, lobbyists, special interest groups, legal representatives, educational specialists, whatever you want to call them — they are all lobbyists.