Undercurrents

If eyes are indeed windows to the soul, Websites are becoming windows to a politician's personality.

As Broward County taxpayers seek Internet insight from their elected officials -- and watch their tax money at work in cyberspace -- they might start with the County Commission.

Predictably, Scott Cowan offers nothing but brusque biographical summary, with no public input permitted, perhaps because it's still difficult to send campaign contributions over the Internet.

Chairwoman Lori Parrish, on the other hand, welcomes voters with her own "hot list," an opinion page for e-mail comments from ordinary folks, and best of all, not one but two official Lori Nance Parrish biographies. There is first the analytical overview, revealing that "her straight-talking, 'tell-it-like-it-is' style was one of the refreshing changes she brought to county government." Citizens hungering for more can click on "The Complete Biography," consuming at last count NINE FULL PAGES.

Parrish is but a slender profile in humility, however, compared with the wired world of Alan Schreiber.

In keeping with the stature and dignity of Broward's governmental leaders, the Website of the public defender opens with a full-color photo of a boisterous Schreiber, arm propped on a table like a good-ol'-boy at a bar, posing with a shit-eating grin next to a large ceramic marlin. Clearly this ain't Jane Carroll's home page.

There is so much more. A click on "Barrister" offers Schreiber's political wisdom ("campaigns may be sleazy, depressing, and degrading, but they are also humbling and humiliating"). A click on "Finkelstein" opens the wonderful world of Chief Assistant/Media Giant Howard Finkelstein, complete with breathtaking action photos of him before the cameras of WSVN-TV (Channel 7) News, as well as insights into the inner Howard (who apparently is a yoga-practicing vegetarian who reads a lot.)

But to experience the real future of Internet power in Broward politics, click on public defender "Events," and behold, under red, blue, and green stars, concerned citizens can explore their legal system in action -- page after page of colorful, historic photos: "President Clinton arrives for Buddy MacKay Fundraiser," "Al Schreiber 'ROASTED,'" and "Alan Schreiber receives Public Service Award from Tamarac Democratic Club."

The keys to the public defender's Internet kingdom are held by Chief Assistant Catherine Keuthan, who designed the site and decides what goes out for the world to see. She noted the site does have such useful features as information on mental health programs and drug court, as well as a page for each staff member, complete with photo. This also serves a useful purpose, Keuthan said: "Most of them like being able to show their relatives they're on the Web."

She was then asked what policy considerations went into the decision to have all those photos of Public Defender Schreiber and Chief Assistant Finkelstein.

Of her boss: "He likes to have his picture up."
Of Howard: "It makes him feel good. He thinks he's important that way."

Undercurrents wants to know about any and all political deals, media screwups, and particularly dumb memos from bureaucrats. Let us know. Call 954-233-1572, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail undercurrents@newtimesbroward.com.

 
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