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Members try to keep animosity at bay and get on with business.
The Friday plotting, planning, and career-risking become serious in January, one year after the fight began and only eight weeks before the public vote. Committee members still express a grudging admiration for the way Ken Jenne manipulated the Broward legislative delegation to recommend the referendum to the state legislature. Florida's lawmakers then agreed to put a referendum on the county ballot.
"I can't prove it, but I think Jenne helped author the referendum; I completely believe that," says Klenet, a fast-talking veteran lobbyist. "Jenne's been after this for his entire career, and the language reads like he wrote it."
The proposal Jenne wants voters to accept is breathtaking in the scope of powers and privileges it assigns to a strong mayor. A Broward mayor would earn $131,000 per year for "part-time" work. He or she would have the freedom to pursue outside income -- in Jenne's case that would allow him to practice law and also to hire lawyers of his choosing for the costly legal work done each year by consultants to the county attorney's office. In the minds of his critics, that would be an obvious conflict of interest mandated by a Jenne-authored law.
A strong mayor, Jenne-style, would also be able to hand out contracts for as much as $100,000 without seeking the approval of county commissioners and hire and fire at will most of the 700 or so key administrators in the county, and in theory all 7000 county employees (although many are protected by unions).
If a strong mayor decided to veto actions of the commission, a two-thirds majority of the seven commissioners would be required to kill the veto.
"That means," says Dan Lewis, "that Jenne could control the commission with only three votes, and he'd have those, at least."
Three votes if there are seven commissioners. But control of the commission would take four votes if there are nine commissioners elected from single-member districts in 2002, which is a part of the strong-mayor proposal. Voters also will have the option of creating nine commissioners who take office after the November election, with no strong mayor. That alternative is being proposed by the county commission and is set to appear on the March ballot.
Klenet claims that Jenne's friends in the Florida legislature, where he spent almost 20 years, helped create the strong-mayor referendum without much public debate. "Those who wanted this saw an opportunity," he says. "They had a young legislative delegation from Broward."
And they had Democratic senators Jim Scott and Skip Campbell. "The Tripp-Scott law firm here, Norman Tripp and Sen. Jim Scott, lost a huge income from Broward's biggest business, the Alamo Rent-a-Car. All of a sudden that business was sold to Wayne Huizenga, and Tripp-Scott was without any business." At that point, says Klenet, the sheriff bailed out the firm by hiring it to do legal work for his office, securing Scott's obligation to him.
"Then Scott puts forward a bill to the Broward delegation that had to have been written by Jenne and company. So the deal had to have been, Campbell will muscle through Jenne, and Jenne will help Campbell be [Florida] attorney general, which he has wanted for some time."
Campbell strongly denies that version of events. "As far as Jim Scott and me doing something like that, it didn't happen," he says. "They can say what they want, but that's pure fiction." Campbell admits, however, that he has not counted out the idea of becoming attorney general.
Klenet, watching the legislative action the day it happened, says he was stunned by the quickness with which the Broward delegation secured a referendum that could radically alter the 26-year-old Broward County charter.
"I'm sitting there, and all of a sudden I realize what's happening. So I call to [Sen.] Howard Foreman and [Rep.] Steve Effman, who were behind this thing, and I say, 'What are you guys doing out there?'"
Foreman, a Pembroke Pines Democrat, and Sunrise Democrat Effman assured him "it's no big deal," he recalls. "And Sen. Campbell assures me we'll put all the amendments on the next bill next year -- term limits and so on. What promise is there of that, though? So they go through this, and there's really no debate. Only a few members of the public showed up to discuss it, which means it was advertised quietly. Then they pass the bill, and guess what happens? The first thing that happens is Skip adjourns the meeting." Creating a coup for Jenne, in Klenet's view.
Campbell laughs off that version, insisting that the meeting proceeded fairly, by due process. "Klenet would lose a lot of money if the county had a strong mayor, because he wants the county as a client. That's why he's doing this. His reputation is that of a weasel."
Both sides agree, however, that Jenne has long sought to lead Broward as its mayor.
Although it took him years to act on that urge, he had the mayoral job in mind even when he helped fashion the original Broward County charter in 1974, say those who have known him longest. That charter called for seven commissioners and a county manager, not a mayor. And it ended fair representation in the county, Bucknam contends, because the county's commissioners were to be elected at large rather than from the districts where they lived. "That allowed a huge influx of liberals from the northeast to take over the county," Bucknam says.