Ch-a-a-rge It!

You thought there was a problem with Broward credit cards? Get this.

Joe Eggelletion is a man who likes his green.

He likes it well-cut and smooth, all laid out crisp and unsoiled. And he knows it feels really good when you can walk around like it's yours, like you own it. When the green is going Joe Eggelletion's way, he sometimes thinks he can get away with just about anything.

So it seemed to make sense that the Broward County commissioner would make his way to Woodlands Country Club, a Tamarac golfing oasis. Any player worth his handicap has putted around on it. And of all days to hit the links, a recent windless, sunny day was perfect. The tall, lean 53-year-old would look awfully sharp out there in the hip, Tiger Woods-inspired sportswear he's known to favor. Better yet, Josephus Eggelletion Jr. would be sinking one for the kids. The Boys and Girls Club had asked him to tee off to help raise money for the organization at its annual fundraiser.

The day before, during a phone call with New Times, he had said, "That's what I'm about. I come back to that very basic thing. It's giving back. I really believe that children are our future."

Mark Poutenis
Mark Poutenis

Great. We were working on a story that included the commissioner. That was fine with him. "My life is an open book," he said. "I love my family the most. I go to church. I love God, and I love what I do. I'm about as open a guy as they come."

If the commissioner loves his $80,000-per-year commission post and $58,000-per-year job in Broward County Schools Diversity Department, you have to wonder about his actions in recent months. In more than a dozen articles since March, the Sun-Sentinel and the Herald have described Eggelletion's spending of more than 2500 taxpayer dollars using a county credit card on golf games, expensive meals, music, and movies.

Though a recent recall effort sputtered, Eggelletion has done a distinctly ham-handed job at public relations. Not only has it been disclosed that he took paid sick leave from his county job to go on a trip to Brazil but the Sun-Sentinel recently described how he lobbied for a company (Waste Management) around the time he voted on contracts related to the firm.

He again showed his lack of public-relations acumen by backing out of the golf tournament after speaking with New Times. "Bad publicity" about his actions might affect the people he cared about the most, he said.

"I made a mistake," Eggelletion says. "I will admit that I should not have charged what I charged, but I think also that I was being made an example of." He declined to comment further.

A New Times investigation of county spending, however, has shown not only that Eggelletion's bookkeeping problems are deeper than previously thought but also that Broward County's accounting oversight system is plagued by miscommunication. Moreover, rules on credit-card use are haphazard and sometimes weakly enforced.

Documentation obtained by New Times details the abuse of county-issued cards by 26 public employees from June 18, 1999, to May 20, 2002. Some used their taxpayer-funded plastic to redecorate their offices. Others purchased unnecessary computer equipment. County credit cards were also employed to buy concert tickets, pay off late charges at Blockbuster Video, expense parking around the city, and buy hundreds of dollars in groceries at Publix supermarkets. One county employee even used his county credit card to pay off his personal-property tax bill.

Those employees apparently reimbursed the county for that money. Cards were revoked from all but were reinstated to eight employees last May.

"The idea was to give people more power to buy what they needed to buy to make their day run smoother," says Broward County Accounts Payable Manager Henry Bean. "It seemed ideal for people in, say, Parks and Recreation and the Public Works Department. If they needed a spark plug or something, they could just go get it without having to fill out forms beforehand explaining why they needed it.

"It didn't always work out that way," he admits.

It sounded like a good idea in the beginning: Cut down on paperwork. Make everyone's jobs easier. Simplify bookkeeping. So in 1999, Bean and Purchasing Director Glenn Cummings issued 700 county credit cards to directors of 76 county agencies. Those directors would then decide, on a case-by-case basis, who among their employees would get the plastic.

The cards were supposed to be used to buy office supplies or other items approved as necessary by a supervisor, who would then turn the receipt over to Bean by the end of each month. The system seemed long overdue for Broward County; Miami-Dade had been giving its employees credit cards for almost two decades.

Bean is a tall man. But as he speaks, sitting behind his wooden desk in his windowless office in the cavernous, musty Broward County Government Center, he is dwarfed by paperwork. The former private CPA, who went to work for the county five years ago, now says the credit-card program is the source of most of his job stress. Reviewing documentation that dates back to June 1999, the accounts payable manager says he has had his hands full trying to police abuse of the cards by sometimes-charge-happy county employees.

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