There's Something About Jerry

Plantation councilman Jerry Fadgen's management of a little strip mall has led to big conflicts of interest and even bigger lies

Because the strip mall has failed to comply, the $1.4 million fine should have been reapplied, according to city rules. But city officials have taken no action against the plaza. And oddly enough, no one in the city seems to want to enforce the penalty or to take responsibility for addressing the broken settlement agreement.

Jeff Sabouri, the new building director, is the man charged with directly overseeing the strip mall's progress. But he says enforcement is not his responsibility. City attorney Lunny, who is another contributor to Fadgen's political campaigns -- wrote a letter to Sabouri last year in which he defended the strip mall's progress. Lunny says he thinks the strip mall has "substantially performed the settlement agreement." But he wouldn't respond to questions about how he could come to that conclusion when the deadline has long since passed and the majority of the work hasn't been done. As for Fadgen's conflict of interest, Lunny is almost defiant. "I didn't think it was a conflict then, and I don't think it is one now," he says.

In the end, enforcement of the agreement appears to fall to Armstrong. Serving as the city's "strong" mayor, she is also the city's top administrator and is in charge of every department. But she's been silent on the issue.

Garbage piles up outside the strip mall every week. The store's façade seems ready to collapse. And no, it's not legal.
photos/Preston
Garbage piles up outside the strip mall every week. The store's façade seems ready to collapse. And no, it's not legal.

Fadgen and Demeo contend that the city has held up the process by failing to OK the building permit for their proposed $130,000 facelift. But city records show that the permit wasn't even submitted until January 11 of this year -- ten months after the work was supposed to be completed.

It did take a month for building officials to approve the project, however. Why? Because the plans lacked dumpsters. They still do, but the city approved the permit anyway.

The dumpsters, in fact, are another example of creative management at the strip mall. Instead of spending $20,500 to enclose the dumpsters, as promised, someone at the strip mall decided to get rid of the dumpsters altogether. The logic being: no dumpster, no code violation.

Only one problem: By Plantation law, businesses must have dumpsters. Instead the businesses at the plaza -- which include a Food Spot convenience store and a liquor store -- have been using special residential "blue bags," which are piled high on the sidewalk on garbage days. It's saving the strip mall thousands, both in not building the enclosures and in dumpster fees to the city and its garbage company, Waste Management.

"If they are doing that, it's illegal," says Carolyn Johnson, the city's zoning coordinator. "They aren't supposed to have blue bags. That is terrible."

Waste Management operations director Ken Rivera said he would have to "investigate" the matter.

Elliott Deutsch, an executive with Food Spot, says the city is allowing the store to use residential bags. "I don't know if Jerry worked out a deal with the city or what," Deutsch says. "I really don't know."

Though the strip mall is woefully in violation of city laws to this day, Fadgen continues to sit in judgment of other code violators in his city. During a May 1999 council meeting, Fadgen complained publicly that the city's code enforcement process in general is too slow, saying, "The fact is that things do not seem to get done quick enough after someone is cited."

And how.


Jeb Bush called it a top priority: Make corrupt politicians pay. The governor formed a special task force to figure out how to keep the oft-ridiculed Commission on Ethics, which is charged with enforcing ethics laws, from continuing to be a statewide embarrassment. Bush said he wanted to see influence peddlers and crooked politicians do time in jail.

The tangle of conflicts in which Fadgen had himself wrapped up might have made him an ideal candidate for the crackdown, but that's not the way it worked out this past January 27, when the commission made a ruling on Fadgen's conflict of interest case.

Fadgen did have some things going for him on judgment day. For one, Malone's investigation didn't uncover the Armstrong contracts, and Fadgen's hiring of political allies was never made an issue in the complaint. All the "discrepancies" that Malone uncovered were politely never mentioned at the hearing, either. In short, it wasn't exactly a hard-hitting affair.

Given Fadgen's loyal service to the Republican Party, this shouldn't come as a shock. The commission chairman is a Republican lobbyist in Tallahassee named Peter Dunbar. All nine commissioners were appointed by Republicans, five of them by Bush himself. And there were Fadgen's ties to Bush, as well. At the time of the hearing of his case, Fadgen's name was on Bush's short list to become Broward's Clerk of the Courts. No surprise there. Fadgen worked on the governor's campaign in 1998 and personally contributed to Bush's coffers.

Based on Malone's investigation, the Attorney General's Office recommended that the commission find that Fadgen had violated ethics laws. The commission had the power to recommend that Fadgen be censured, fined, or forced to pay back the money he received from Vanella Enterprises. It could even have recommended that Fadgen be suspended or removed from office. These are only recommendations, however, which would be forwarded to the governor. Rather convenient for Fadgen, considering that it would have been his ally Bush who would have had to decide whether or not to punish him.

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