Sources: County Commissioners Trying To Block Ethics Rules


Some Broward County commissioners are apoplectic over what’s happening at the Ethics Commission.

And it is causing them to act, well, downright unethical. 

Some County Commissioners are accused by sources of applying pressure to reign in the ethics group.  The group was created by voters to draft new ethics rules for the county. 

“We’re having trouble and it’s coming from the Fourth Floor, said one ethics commission member.  

The Fourth Floor of the Government Center is where commissioners are cloistered behind two sets of receptionists.

Commissioner Ilene Lieberman appears to be openly cool to new regulation in her comments in the ethics group’s minutes.

Several others are said to be working behind-the-scenes to kill elements of the ethics group’s plans.

Despite the opposition, the ethics group is plowing ahead.

They are working towards:

*Requiring disclosure of all contacts between commissioners and lobbyists.

This includes requiring commissioners and lobbyists to reveal any business conducted outside the Government Center and to make public any e-mail or text messages they exchange.

It is common practice for some lobbyists to sit in the commission audience and text commissioners on the dais.

I personally saw lobbyists do this. So has Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, who told the ethics group:

“I have watched lobbyists sit in the audience in the Broward County Commission chambers, during hotly debated items, that will pick up their cell phones and text Commissioners, I’ve watched Commissioners get the messages, I watched them take phone calls from lobbyists in the audience, then walked out of the room, called them, and the Commissioner left the dais. To me that’s completely inappropriate behavior.

*Banning commissioners and their spouses from lobbying in front of cities or other government bodies in Broward

That’s called “lobbying down and it has been practiced by Lieberman, Commissioner Stacy Ritter’s husband Russ Klenet and others. 

For instance, Lieberman has lobbied in cities for developers who also appear at the county commission.

*Forbidding commissioners from being members of the selection committees which make recommendations on large purchases. 

The recommendations would be made by staff and then voted up-or-down by commissioners.

Most commissioners are hostile to this idea.

*Beefing up the penalties for violating the new rules.

Tough penalties are needed because commissioners have refused to punish lobbyists who flaunt the existing weak ethics laws.

Nothing has happened when certain lobbyists didn’t publicly reveal their clients although required to do so.   

It is no surprise to me that some commissioners are unwilling to discipline lobbyists. Commissioners depend on lobbyists to fund their re-election campaigns. 

Since there has been no vote of the ethics group on these items, it is not known if any will pass. 

Several ethics group members have ties to the commission or their families, leading to questions whether they can vote independently.

They include:

*Lawyer Bill Scherer is a member. He is one of those seeking to build a $25 million parking garage at the courthouse, a job that requires approval of the commission.

*Political consultant Robin Rorapaugh is earning $2,500-a-month from Jacobs re-election campaign.

*Member Bob Wolfe works for Ron Gunzburger, son of Commissioner Sue Gunzburger, at the property appraiser’s office.

*Three of the eleven members are city commissioners Carl Shecter, Neal de Jesus and Felicia Brunson.  City commissioners always need the good will of the county commission on a wide range of items.

Earlier this month, the County Attorney’s Office ruled that the group can’t make rules that apply to staff.  This has prompted the group to suggest asking the Broward Legislative Delegation to pass a state law which would mandate tough ethics rules for county employees.

All this and more will all be discussed next month. Whether members can muster the votes to put new ethics rules on the 2010 ballot for approval by voters remains to be seen.

12 Responses to “Sources: County Commissioners Trying To Block Ethics Rules”

  1. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:

    Dear Buddy:

    I first recommended ethics reform in Broward County as a member of the county’s Charter Revision Commission in 2000. I had just finished serving two years as a Broward County department head, and understood something about how government operated there. Voters were wise to put those reforms into their charter in 2002.

    The Broward Ethics Commission has done tough work under difficult circumstances and should be thanked for their service. Crafting ethics rules is never an easy task. But in the end, ethics rules have to be reasonable and workable. There’s no point to having highbrowed rules that are impossible to follow. They have to be practical in a real world context.

    Broward Commissioners are to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in the performance of their duties – that’s basically what the charter says. It goes beyond actual conflicts of interests or violations of law, quid pro quo, or financial gain. State law covers all that. To pass muster in Broward, it also has to pass “the sniff test.”

    I picked that language very carefully because I knew, even back in 2000, that the time might come when we would need that level of protection.

    With respect to asking Commissioners to write down every contact they make, however well intended, this simply not a workable rule. That is NOT what the charter requires. Everybody speaking to a commissioner wants to influence their vote somehow or change how they see an issue. That fact alone makes them all lobbyists — whether registered or not. The burden of the suggested rule is impossible to implement.

    What matters isn’t who speaks to commissioners or what texts they get and where. What matters is how Commissioners vote, why they voted that way, and is the public trust being upheld in the process.

    There is no escaping an appearance problem if you’re a County Commissioner who is also a lobbyist. While there is nothing illegal or unethical about lobbying per se, being a lobbyist/commissioner creates an apprearance problem that has to be avoided. Unfortunately, spouses fall into that same appearance problem. A ton of lawyers will line up when the question comes up as to whether government can restrict what a Commissioner’s spouse does for a living. That will be great sport to watch. But having some sort of rule in that regard makes sense, at least it does to me. It should be avoided.

    The proper job of County Commissioners in the government procurement process is to serve as reviewers of staff recommendations, approvers of contract awards, and guardians of fairness in the government procurement process.

    They should not be judge and jury — they should not be rating vendors that they are later later asked to vote upon and approve, except in the unavoidable case of certain professional services (year end auditor, law firms, independent commission consultants).

    Except in those few cases, selecting the best vendor should become professional staff work. They should ramp their recommendations to the County Commission for review and approval. Commissioners should also entertain any appeals to the procurement process.

    Commissioner involvement in rating vendors creates a significant appearance of impropriety problem especially when the companies involved, or their lobbyists, give campaign funds to the commissioner. It doesn’t matter if that practice is legal (and it is). Our charter says “avoid even the appearance” of impropriety.”

    And so, in Broward, it has to be more than legal. Here it also has to pass the sniff test.

    Broward County’s campaign financing rules may very well need to be reconsidered in order to address this ethical concern. It is entirely possible that public financing of campaigns may need to happen. This may be the cost we have to pay for avoiding even the appearance of impropriety and, if so, in my humble opinion, so be it.

    As to penalties, I’d have to see more to comment. The goal of well crafted ethics rules is to curb behavior to where violations very rarely occur.

    Hope this helps. Sorry it is so long but nothing is more important in government than maintaining the public’s trust.

    I will have more to say on this subject this weekend in the Outlook section of the Sun Sentinel. They asked me to write a feature article regarding public trust in government. Enjoy.



  2. GOPapa says:

    Angelo Castillo give a very reasoned analysis of the ethics situation at the county. The problem is that county commissioners have repeatedly ignored the “sniff test” and the appearance of a conflict. One county commissioner believes it is proper to lobby a city for a client that appears before her at the county commission. Another votes to give money for a park while her husband is getting a bonus under the table. Another lobbies for a garbage company. The mayor’s husband lobbies for cities. The county commission is a bunch of influence peddlers with the a few exceptions like Gunzburger and Jacobs. Now Steve Geller, the developer’s lobbyist, is running to get rid of Gunzburger. That’s a big step backward.

  3. Blue Man Scoop says:

    Kristen’s problem could be solved by banning cell phone usage during meetings. Commissioners have staff. If it’s important their staff can bring them a note.

    Banning spouses probably would be challenged on first amendment grounds

  4. Ronny G is a good son says:

    Ron, just to cover another of your endless attacks on Steve Geller, you trashed most of the other Commissioners your “mom” serves with. Obviously “mom” will attack the reputation of anyone who can be use to help make her appear to be conflict free and get her re-elected. How many millions did she and her husband make selling plastic decking to the county and broward cities? How many of her immediate family have jobs in county government?

    “Mom’s” continuing attempts to cast blame and conflicts away from herself merely magnifies the lack of accomplishments she has to show for her 18 years on the commission.

    How is it, by the way, that commissioners are limited to 12 years of service and after 18 years “mom” can still run for another 4 year term?

  5. Kwitcherbelyaken says:

    No more lobbying down? How can someone be expected to live on only a $92,000 part time job?

  6. Term Limits says:

    Term limits were adopted for Broward County commissioners by the voters in 2002. Three terms of four years each, that’s twelve years. It didn’t matter how many years any existing commissioner had previsouly served. It was written from then forward no more than three consecutive terms.

    So Sue has one four year term left that starts in November 2010 and expires in 2014. But because of staggering of terms, some commissioners ended up getting two more years I believe. None got less than 12 total years.

    There’s now reason to believe that term limits, as established in the Broward charter, may be unconstitutional. Legal challenges elsewhere in the state have been successful and it’s only a matter of time before it gets challenged in Broward. Several government lawyers I’ve spoken to agree. All that has to happen is for one plaintiff with standing to come forward and file a case and the Broward County term limits go away.

    Tallahassee is very much aware of this fact and, as a counter measure, a bill is now floating around in Tallahassee, interestingly enough, that would expand term limits for State Legislators (chutzpah) and establish term limits on all local officials (double chutzpah).

    This bill is a shameless partisan attempt by the majority party to stay in power no matter if voter mood statewide is shifting to the left.

    Make no mistake. They might as well call it the “Keep Republicans in Office” bill.

    When it suited Republican interests, they were the darlings of term limits. Now that it works against them, they want to undo term limits for themselves while imposing it on others whether those voters want local term limits or not. It is shameless.

    That bill, and any attempt like it, should sink back to the bottom of the pit from which it came. If local officials are to be given term limits, that’s a matter for local voters to decide, not some partisan statutory political maneuver.

    Broward, of all places statewise, was able to put term limits on the ballot eight years ago for county officials. That proves that no Florida locality needs a patronizing state telling them by statute how to handle local affairs. What the hell ever become of local home rule in the constitution?

    The State of Florida has become one of the worst run states in America under the leadership of this group. Instead of constantly trying to mess with cities and counties, they should do their own job and pay attention to statewide issues. That should keep them plenty busy.

  7. Karnack and Scorekeeper says:

    The methods have been well documented between the lobbyists and the electeds. The relationship between the electeds and staff has also been revealed. Time and time again it has been exposed that the “Machine” is the driving force behind the whole “loose” and “sloppy” mess. The electeds job is to ensure that words like “loose” and “sloppy” are part of the county’s political lexicon to keep words like “criminality” and “intent” out of such discussions. That is where the incestuous relationship between the legislative and judicial branches of government are simply too close for comfort. Nothing is broken while the taxes are transformed into ill-gotten gains and harvested by the “takers.”

    Kristin Jacobs has the courage to state the truth and to her I applaud such guts. Surely she is and will continue to be deemed a pariah. Good for you Kristin, you are far from a pariah in my book. I believe you are one of the only electeds on that board with a pure mission. Keep up the good work and shine light in the darkest corners of the commission.

    Now that the methods and the language have been decoded, the only thing left for the “Machine” is angst and arrogance. Now they will use both on a scale unseen to date to attempt to re-disguise the status quo with some very heavily wordsmithed policy rewrites, but missing the all-important teeth of enforcement. And that will suit the local judicial just fine. They like “loose” and “sloppy” business practices because it keeps them from pursuing “criminality.”

    I truly hope that, in the words of Jesus Jones, “right here, right now…watching the world wake up from history.”

    There are two choices right here, right now…people re-establish an interest and control of the government we freely choose or watch Rome burn again. The moon already knows how this will end, it has seen this repeatedly. Will we respect or ignore history. Yes, it is that deep and wide for us to consider.

    I believe those pillaging the system for their own gain are committing treason. They are contributing to the downfall of a great social experiment that has survived far longer than its earliest critics. Now we have to prove those critics wrong. Are we up to the task???

  8. Out With the Old! says:

    How many times have we seen Sue Gonesburger speak to a lobbyist (or her son) right before a vote? It seems like every time! Get rid of the lobbyist puppet named Sue!

  9. Scott Cowan Taught Me says:

    Everybody knew that Cowan worked for a certain law firm and that we had to throw that law firm business to get Cowan’s vote. Ilene Lieberman plays the same games. Will she be allowed to vote on issues affecting Sunrise with these new laws, since she got her husband a job as Sunrise city attorney?

  10. Tommy the Fry Cook says:

    GOPapa (aka Ron GONESburger?) is being ridiculous to cast his mother as one of two “angels” on the county commission.

    If my job and income was dependent upon political favors to my mom, I’d consider it a “step backward” to have her replaced by Steve Geller as well. If it wasn’t for political cronyism, NONE of the GONESburger children would have jobs, but there they are (or in sis’s case “were”), feeding off the taxpayers and then you have the nerve to accuse the other commissioners of being “influence peddlers”??? Sue’s been the most blatent influence peddler of them all! At least the others go through a pretense but Sue just says “Hire my son…pay my daughter a salary while she calls in sick and parties on the beach…give a gazillion dollar plastics contract to my husband…”

    That’s like dropping a big stinky duece on our kitchen table, then rubbing our faces in it to boot!

    If the GONESburger family doesn’t fail GOPapa’s “sniff test”, it’s only because they walk around with their noses stuck so high in the hair. Sue has NOTHING in common with average people and never will.

    I welcome a tight ethical scrutiny in that commission race because she’ll be the one being exposed as a fraud. Then she and the kids can go find REAL jobs, but out in the private sector.

  11. Ha Ha ... Not says:

    David/Steve (and all the other names you post under): Your “GONESburger” joke was cute the first maybe 734 times you used it. If this is the best Geller has got, a bit of third-rate humor repeated ad nauseum, Gunzburger has got nothing to worry about.

    And, while we’re at it, why don’t we get to the real lesson of the Scott Rothstein/RRA ponzi scheme scandal. Rothstein donated maybe $7,500 to Gunzburger …… and it apparently had zero effect on her votes on the commission. So, pissed off at Gunzburger for actually being un-buyable, he dumps $50,000 into Steve Geller’s campaign knowing this is a guy who once you buy, he stays bought for you. In fact, Geller got the tainted ponzi money, dropped to his knees and puckered up, and loudly declared Rothstein to be his “Jewish Avenger” superhero. Add to that Geller’s close ties to other ponzi pal Joel Steigner/Mutual Benefits, and Geller’s endorsements from Joe Eggelletion and Bev Gallagher, and you know what you’re getting if you Geller is elected: one big fat scandal in the making. Just you wait!!!!

  12. look at the facts says:

    Geller is scum. Why put him in there? What does he have to offer? As far as the Ethics Commission, They were hand picked by the Commission to do their bidding. Sh!t, just look at that Chair…The most unethical Commissioner in a municipality, and a RINO…Just look at his voting record. He never seems to do the right thing for The People…