A Dream Deferred

After a decade in office, Carlton Moore hasn't done much for Fort Lauderdale's poorest residents. But he has helped himself.

Moore's attempts at amassing a fortune -- including running an office-supply company, a window-cleaning service, an insurance business (he became a licensed insurance broker after taking classes at Broward Community College), and a nightclub -- fell flat. By the time he'd become a city commissioner -- a part-time position for which he earns $14,000 a year -- his business ventures seemed driven by desperation. When his last big project, a Blockbuster Video franchise, went belly-up in 1996, Moore's business frustrations had reached critical mass. "I will not go into business again," he told the Miami Herald in 1997. "It's rough if one is operating a business; he should only do that one task." So far Moore has kept his word, and, citing a similar claim of overextending himself, he recently quit a $35,000-a-year, part-time job as an investigator with the Broward County Public Defender's Office. "He has too many eggs in too many baskets," says his first wife, Valerie Jones. "He spreads himself a little thin."

Juggling his political and professional lives, Moore found that his political clout was in fact the most useful moneymaking tool at his disposal. Among the more questionable business ventures his office helped him secure was his involvement with Blockbuster, a company then owned by one of Fort Lauderdale's most heavy-hitting developers (and a contributor to Moore's political campaigns), Wayne Huizenga. In 1993 Moore and his two partners, George Myles and Fred Platt, threw open the doors on Florida's first black-owned Blockbuster franchise, a retail showpiece in a rundown shopping center on Sunrise Boulevard. At the opening, heralded with great fanfare and attended by Huizenga himself, Moore said that his venture would be the first of many new enterprises to reinvigorate the black community and pledged to invest 5 percent of his proceeds back into the neighborhood. That turned out to be 5 percent of nothing, because three years later the struggling franchise entered the annals of Blockbuster history as one of a tiny fraction of the company's 800 franchises to go broke. (The rest of the company's 4000 stores are company-owned.) Moore blames poor financial planning and a paucity of customers for his franchise failure. "We didn't have an adequate amount of money to support us through the lean startup years," he says.

Even though Moore's Blockbuster deal was a failure, its timing set off alarms among his critics. He secured the franchise shortly before a 1993 commission vote on a hotly disputed Huizenga development in Fort Lauderdale's Smoker Park, a $34 million project that would replace the park with apartments and a shopping center. At the time the proposal polarized residents along pro-environment and pro-development lines and even inspired a group of protesting Seminoles, claiming the site to be a sacred burial ground, to camp out in the park. Mayor Naugle first opposed the development plan, but when Huizenga agreed to set aside a stretch of land for park use, he changed his mind and joined three of the four commissioners in approving the project. (Despite the approval it has yet to get off the ground). Moore, fearful the public might perceive a conflict of interest with his new Blockbuster deal, abstained from voting.

Economic failure and ethical questions were not the only problems to afflict Moore's Blockbuster venture. In 1995, after the video store had begun to flounder, George Myles, Moore's business partner and a popular Lauderhill city commissioner, got into legal trouble. He was accused of writing bad checks and defaulting on a mass of debts, including $8000 still owed to a Miami law firm by the company he co-owned with Moore and another $15,000 also still owed to the Broward Sheriff's Office for an educational video the company had been contracted to produce but never did. For his part Moore, who has not been named in the lawsuits, denies any connection to his former partner's legal entanglements.

He does admit, however, to using the clout afforded by his position to secure business opportunities beyond the Blockbuster deal, actions that, while they may be legal, are ethically questionable. "Political people have to eat too," Moore says in his own defense. "We are volunteering our time as elected officials, and we have a right to an income. There are not many elected posts in our form of government that allow you to have a decent lifestyle by being a public servant alone, and I don't think our society or our community expects their officials to be impoverished because they wish to serve."

State ethics regulations prohibit elected officials from going into business with companies they are charged with regulating. But because, as Moore points out, part-time commissioners need an alternative source of income, many, like his colleagues -- lawyers and businessman -- enter elected office with well-established professional careers they are not expected to abandon. Moore's case was different, however. He was a part-time insurance salesman with a string of failed businesses under his belt, and, less than a year after he was elected, he landed himself a government-related job. In 1989 Broward County's elected public defender, Alan Schreiber, hired Moore as an investigator, a job that requires tracking down witnesses for the county's publicly appointed lawyers. Although he had none of the usual qualifications for the position -- a four-year college degree in criminal justice or equivalent law-enforcement experience -- Moore was hired because of his specific expertise. "We needed a black investigator who was knowledgeable in the black community," explains Schreiber. "Carlton was a good match."

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