Another Browardbeat First: Key Lobbyists Drop School Board Registration


 Two of the school system’s leading lobbyists, both connected to disgraced School Board member Bev Gallagher, are no  longer registered  to work at the school system.

It’s the end of an era.

Not able to represent clients at the School Board because they are not registered are Barbara Miller and Neil Sterling who once were the go-to lobbyists at the school system.

No one had more clout than Miller and Sterling at the Crystal Palace, the towering School Board HQ on Southeast Third Avenue in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Also missing from the School Board website on Thursday were many of the pair’s old clients, such as educational software company Riverdeep, the architect firm of Zyscovich, school builder Pirtle.

School Board staff say the Miller and Sterling’s lobbyist registration was cancelled when they didn’t respond to a renewal letter mailed four months ago in December.

Both lobbyists have deep ties with Gallagher.

Miller was Gallagher’s campaign manager.  Sterling was often Miller’s lobbying partner and a major contributor to Gallagher’s campaigns. 

Sterling also helped get Gallagher a job at the Community Blood Center, a firm that had a contract with the School Board to collect blood from students and employees.

I still have my notes from a Sun-Sentinel interview I did with Sterling in 2003. I asked him about his role in getting Gallagher her job. Sterling was the blood bank’s lobbyist at the Board.

“They came to me and said they needed a person (to administer the scholarship program), Sterling told me. “She was looking for a part-time job.

Sterling recommended to his client that they hire Gallagher.  

He quickly added in his interview: “I didn’t create the job. I had nothing to do with the actual hiring.  It was beyond my role.

No, he just recommended she get the job which paid her $53,000 annually! 

Sterling and Miller supported Gallagher politically.  She supported them with her votes.

The two lobbyists threw a fund raiser for Gallagher’s re-election at Sterling’s east Fort Lauderdale house on September 27, 2007.  The FBI probe of Gallagher started in November of that year, according to federal documents.

Miller has been a leading campaign consultant in Broward for at least three decades. She has also been a fixture at the School Board. 

Sterling is a former clothing store owner in downtown Fort Lauderdale from a Broward pioneer family. He is also a former School Board member.

When he closed Sterling’s clothing store in the 1990s, he turned to lobbying. He tried to convince many of the same politicians who bought clothes from him to buy from his clients.

Stirling was the lobbyist for James B. Pirtle Construction, which was scheduled to build renovations at Hollywood Hills High.  Almost all the construction work in recent years, including almost every project in Gallagher’s southwest Broward district, has gone to Sterling’s client Pirtle.

Gallagher was accused of accepting bribes to steer some of the renovation business to undercover agents pretending to be subcontractors. She pleaded guilty to bribery in federal court this week and faces around three years in a federal pen.

15 Responses to “Another Browardbeat First: Key Lobbyists Drop School Board Registration”

  1. Gee Wiz says:

    Very interesting. I don’t think it will make a difference since slime like George Platt and Judy Stern are still around. The School Board members are too weak minded to make decisions on their own and they need a lobbyist to keep them in office and hold their hands.

  2. The Truth About Lobbyists says:

    Government lobbyists are also known as government consultants. These professionals are hired by companies seeking a competitive edge in securing government contracts or legislation.

    Lobbyists develop access to elected officials and are judged on the basis of how effective they can persuade officials to vote for their clients interests or causes. Lobbyists are not the only people that have access to elected officials, but they generally have more contact with them regarding purchasing and legislative decisions than non-lobbyists generally do.

    Some lobbyists are lawyers, others are former government workers, some come from all walks of life. Some work for large firms and companies, some for small firms, some for themselves. Most are very skilled at government procedure, they are personable, and often offer officials very good viewpoints and insights about government and poltics.

    Some officials choose to meet with many lobbyists while others meet with just a few. Very rarely, an official will only meet with clients of just one lobbyist. Elected officials that refuse to meet with lobbyists altogether generally do not last long in office. They tend to be poorly informed and are considered distant and unhelpful by the business community.

    Lobbyists introduce their clients to officials making purchasing decisions and help them explain why they would be the best choice for available contracts, or why their legislation of choice should be adopted.

    Some lobbyists help raise campaign funds for candidates running for office and some of them also specialize running campaigns. None of this activity is illegal per se and rarely results in any criminal activity, much less prosecutions. This is not to say that lobbyists never go to jail, however those cases are very rare.

    Sterling and Miller are well connected to Gallagher and many other school board members. They have been nurturing those relationships for years. Their clients did very well at the school board, enjoying the assistance of those board members. No crime there, per se.

    Sterling introduced Gallagher to an employer that chose to hire her. No crime there. Sterling and Miller helped get Gallagher elected by raising funds and running her campaign. Same is true for many of the school board members over the years and presently. No crime there.

    Neither had anything to do with Gallagher taking bribes. She did that crime all by herself. There is no proof whatsoever that Sterling or Miller ever offered or were in any way involved in Gallagher’s bribe taking. It is highly doubtful that either would ever be that stupid.

    At the end of the day it is not the lobbyist that can be held to blame for the corruption in government. The problem is with the official that feels they cannot vote in accordance with their best judgment that is the problem. The problem is the official that fails to uphold their oath of office.

    Proper character in a person holding public office means upholding one’s integrity at all times, listening to all interested parties, and then casting their vote in accordance with what they think is best and right for their constiuency.

    An official that does not have that strength of character does not belong in public office, is wise to not seek it, is wise to get out if they have it, and should be hunted down if they hold public office but will not exercise it well and faithfully.

    You cannot get rid of lobbyists in a free society. You can get rid of weak elected leaders that lack the backbone to vote their conscience.

    This is not to put Sterling or Miller up for sainthood. The business they are in is not the most wholesome of careers.

    Nevertheless, we should separate fact from fiction. Their day at the Broward School Board may be over. It was a great ride for them while it lasted. But there is no sense that either ever broke the law.

    As to some of the officials that helped their clients? We’re already starting to see what they were really made of.

    I agree that the real problem is weak elected officials. Most of them are so driven by the desire to stay in office that they will do anything for the lobbyist who helps keep them there.

    Another problem is the perception in some cases, and the reality in others, that a business can’t get access to their public officials without hiring a lobbyist.

    Business people can’t get into some county commissioners’ offices without hiring the “right” lobbyist, i.e., the one that backed the commissioner in the past election.

    It’s pay-for-play…and it is wrong.

    How can anyone compete with a lobbyist who not only ran an office holder’s campaign, but also raised them lots of campaign cash?

    The downside for elected officials is lobbyists sometimes lie to win a vote. I’ve seen it many times.

    I saw a lobbyist in the mid-1990s tell the School Board that a piece of land he represented could be easily rezoned for its use. After tentatively buying the land, they couldn’t get the proper zoning and had to call off the deal. The project was delayed years and the price increased.

    Other lobbyists may over promise. The elected official may end up paying the price of a bad vote. For instance:

    Two county commissioners who voted in 1997 for the infamous $120 million Swerdlow land purchase pushed heavily by lobbyists like Ron Book got defeated at their next election — Sylvia Poitier and Norman Abramowitz. The deal never developed into the huge commerce center that was envisioned and is a disappointment.

  3. School Employee says:

    You forgot to mention Robin Bartleman was put in office by Barbara Miller. Without Miller, she won’t know how to vote.

  4. School Employee Also says:

    Jennifer Gottlieb also.

  5. Robert Sherwood says:

    Buddy, this is very enlightening discussion. Following your thought it is campaign finance that appears to be at the heart of the lobbyist/politician issue.

    Can the campaign financing rules be amended somehow to correct that problem or are we doomed to live with this issue forever?

    Robert Sherwood

    FROM BUDDY: In my opinion, the way to improve the campaign finance system is to make is totally transparent.

    Contributions should be reported more often and should be filed in a form to make their display on the Internet easy. The final report should be required to be filed on the Internet by the Friday before the election.

    Supervisors should be required to operate a user-friendly Internet site with a link visibly displayed on the home page to the easily reached and understandable campaign contributions.

    In return for this transparency, the campaign contribution limit should be lifted to a more realistic level…maybe $1,000.

    The laws governing committees, PACs, etc. should also be amended to be more transparent.

    Penalties for non-compliance should be increase, including criminal penalties.

    What do you think?

  6. Know It All says:

    I can’t imagine anyone hiring Sterling in this climate. They would have the FBI all over them, wouldn’t they?

    I hope he saved his money.

  7. Robert Sherwood says:

    Campaign finance rule making is not simple. Suspicion is always there that anyone giving to a candidate expects something of value in return.

    Most people don’t like the idea of public financing of campaigns. So going there has limited viability.
    Lawyers say that prohibiting people from contributing to the campaigns is not legal in a free society. So this becomes a difficult nut to crack.

    My impression was that the campaign limit for local officials was $500. Some cities only allow $250. You are suggesting $1,000. The amount shouldn’t make any difference. How the official votes is what matters.

    Ultimately, it is the official that has to make a cast votes. Examining how votes are cast offers hints into the motivation behind that vote. This is what newspapers are supposed to be doing on behalf of the people. But now the newspapers are going out of business.

    So I am not sure what can be done to fix the problem or even if it can be fixed.

  8. Mr.Jay says:

    Maybe they are running scared? Maybe finally the feds and state are going to walk in and clean this mess up from Notter down to the site level.
    I think they know something!

  9. Out with the old! says:

    Isn’t Barbara Miller Sue Gonesburger’s campaign manager? According to the Gonesburger people, Steve Geller is corrupt due to the fact that Joel Steinberg lived in his district while he served in the legislature. Using that same guilty by association, then Sue Gonesburger must be connected to Barbara Miller and Niel Sterling!

  10. Beth The Bounty Hunter says:

    I think the School Board needs term limits like everyone else, they have a bunch of sleeping old farts who may have in the beginning took office for the right reason…Israel the go boy needs to order some no doze and depends, if the old members continue to stay or return like Samuels (the double dipping boot licker). A little humor there.
    Sterling and Miller are both millionaires, not to worry…

  11. Tarnished Sterling says:

    The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Many talked and more listened. Words meant for few were heard by many. Sterling can no longer be polished and sterling can no longer be made into gold, no matter who does the alchemy. The line is forming, and lemmings will soon be marching. The world is changing.

  12. Katie Leach says:

    I believe that our elected officials have entered an era of accountability. Whether they are a school board member or county commissioners, the time of them having access to an endless stream of tax dollars has ended. As belts are tightened business as usual will end. Tax payers are holding them accountable for every dollar they spend and every decision they make. Fiscal responsibility is a very good thing.

  13. broward reader says:

    The School Board members better make sure the lobbyist they are talking to is really a lobbyist and not wearing a wire.

  14. Dan Reynolds says:


    To your list of reforms please add a firewall between lobbying and campaign consulting. It is an inherent conflict of interest. if I just ran your campaign and now bring a client before you how does anyone else get a fair hearing.

    Pet peeve of mine.

  15. Nana says:

    I have known Barbara Miller for more than 40 years.

    I have never known her to make a decision in politics that didn’t put the best interests of the people of Broward County, or of
    Florida, first and foremost, even to her own detriment, sometimes.

    We desperately need public financing of campaigns–YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.