Osama bin Duck

Our quack investigative team tests Broward County governmentís security

Drive through South Florida any morning and you'll see long lines. You'll find 'em at courthouses, city halls, county halls, most any public building.

Sometimes, it seems that Osama-inspired paranoia has turned our subtropical home into a box office when tickets for Britney or Madonna go on sale. For consumers, this requires patience. For guards, vigilance. Unfortunately, both are in short supply these days.

For the past two weeks, famously tendentious residents of Hollywood have had to show their drivers licenses, then pin on security tags if they wish to see bureaucrats. When we called City Hall to check on the measures' effect on public discourse, we reached a guard named Phil. He didn't have time for us. "I have to sign five people in... can you call back in five minutes?" We waited, then dialed again. "No credit cards, sir," he said to another visitor after picking up the receiver.

"Any conflicts with the public?" we asked. "Any questions about free access to information?"

"Other guys have had problems," he said. "Not me."

"What if a visitor has no ID?" we queried.

"I ask for another ID," he deadpanned.

"But say they're in beach clothes and have nothing?"

"Sir, could you call back? I have ten people waiting here."

Click.

We moved on to the federal courthouse on Broward Boulevard. U.S. marshals there demand a picture ID and check the info against what a visitor writes on a sign-in sheet. Then guards subject visitors to a metal-detector scan. No hay problema.

Next, it was on to the county courthouse, where Wackenhut guards hustle the citizenry through a metal detector. No change there: The bored workers have been doing the same thing for as long as Undercurrents can recall.

The Broward County Governmental Center on Andrews Avenue provided our favorite security breaches. County officers were stationed at all entrances. As in other locations, they require IDs before admitting anyone. "The reason for it is, ever since 9-11 ... they wanted to tighten up security here," says Herb Stouffer, chief of security. "Everyone that comes in the building now must get a pass."

Indeed, county rules have long required visitors to this bunkerlike downtown Fort Lauderdale landmark to sign in at the front desk when they drop by offices on the upper floors. But when Undercurrents arrived last Thursday, we trotted right up the front staircase without attracting so much as an arresting glance from the security desk.

Next door at the governmental center annex -- where you can apply for hunting and fishing or business licenses and pay property taxes -- the officer stationed in the entrance hall is supposed to search packages and bags and check visitors' picture IDs against what they write on a sign-in sheet, Stouffer says.

As Undercurrents waited in line, a woman complained that she couldn't read her drivers license number. One wag's response: "Just make one up and I'll swear to it. No one will ever know." Eventually, the woman handed over her ID.

When our turn arrived, we signed Donald Duck. The guard didn't even look up. He handed us a visitors pass and waved us on.

The next day, we phoned Stouffer and described our dastardly deed. "Well, I'm sorry to hear that, and I'm not happy about it," he said. "And I certainly will be talking to all of these people today."

But Stouffer's chastisement must not have been too harsh. Hours later, businessman Matt Dunham ripped off his visitors sticker after he and his brother passed through the same county-run noninspection. "They didn't even check our IDs," Dunham said. "I think it's a waste of time."


One of the most ballyhooed South Florida tugs of war this year has involved the International Swimming Hall of Fame, which wants a new home. Thirty-two articles in the Herald and twenty-two in the Sun-Sentinel have chronicled debates in Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, and Pompano Beach over the size of the welcome mat. No one knows what the cities might receive courtesy of developer Michael Swerdlow's voodoo economics, but many people apparently pine for the pride and prestige that comes from hosting such a world-class facility.

Undercurrents wonders: Why bother? The place is a dump.

Oh sure, there are some decent pools and grandstands but nothing better than what a third-rate college has. Then there's the museum itself, which consists primarily of several hundred small, black-and-white pictures of people in grandma-style bathing suits accompanied by old medals and trophies.

Fascinating family fun is provided by the "History of Water Polo" exhibit, the "Second Generation of Colorado Time Systems' Control Unit" exhibit, and the "Evolution of the Platform" exhibit. And don't miss the framed "Olympic swimsuit worn by Leonard Spence, Bermuda." Ewwwww.

But the pièces de résistance are undoubtedly the mannequins: a big goofy one of Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller draped in what appears to be a $10 plush throw from Bed, Bath & Beyond (he was indeed a swimming champion, but here he's presented in Tarzan mode and surrounded by movie publicity stills) and another of Olympic multimedalist Mark Spitz, clad in a red-white-and-blue leisure suit, a wild and crazy disco dude.

Finally, there's the gift shop. It generally contains the same selection of T-shirts, swimsuits, and other beach fare available at two dozen other establishments up the block. Unfortunately, this one doesn't offer beer and cigarettes.

 
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