Swimming in Trouble

Pompano Beach Mayor Bill Griffin is, well, conflicted over the Swimming Hall of Fame deal

Congratulations are in order for Pompano Beach Mayor Bill Griffin, who recently landed a new job at a huge, Dallas-based firm called Turner Construction. You may not have heard about the new gig, since Griffin hasn't talked about it publicly, but it's a very big deal. Turner has offices in 42 cities, including Miami and Boca Raton, where Griffin has been reporting to work since March 1. The company boasts $6 billion in annual revenues and touts itself as the largest construction firm in the United States. Although Griffin is too modest to disclose his salary, he's surely making a pretty hefty paycheck. It's quite a step up from the mom-and-pop home-renovation business that he'd been running for the past 30 years or so.

So congratulations, Mr. Mayor.

His position is "business developer." He says that entails "cruising" newspaper stories and ads every morning to find big construction jobs for his boss, Scott Skidelsky, a Turner vice president. So far, the mayor hasn't drummed up any business, but he says it takes many months to develop good leads and contacts in the business.

Is Mayor Bill Griffin profiting from public service? You bet he is.
Michael McElroy
Is Mayor Bill Griffin profiting from public service? You bet he is.

Interesting how he got the job. Last November, he decided to up and shut down his old business. "I needed a change of pace," Griffin explains. As it happened, he also began talks in November with mega-developer Michael Swerdlow to bring the International Swimming Hall of Fame and two giant, high-rise condos to Pompano.

Swerdlow also happens to have a close relationship with Turner Construction -- $50 million close, in fact. That's the amount Swerdlow paid Turner for building two of his projects in Miami-Dade County last year.

While Griffin was trying to drum up support for the Swimming Hall of Fame, he found time to send out 40 or more résumés to all the big construction companies in the area. The mayor says that he sent one to Turner but that the company didn't seem interested at first.

Just about everyone in town, however, was intrigued by the Swimming Hall of Fame deal. Beach residents generally loathe the idea and have been protesting the project since it was announced. They were especially angry about the proposal to construct condos on prime, city-owned beachfront land, where there is now a public park and parking lots. That the city was going to use $31 million in Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds to finance the aquatic center didn't go over well either.

While the controversy simmered, Swerdlow found out that Griffin, whom he considers a friend, needed a job. Swerdlow says he doesn't remember whether it was Griffin or a mutual friend who told him that the mayor needed work, but the developer acknowledged that someone in his office -- he wouldn't say who -- gave Griffin employment assistance. "Griffin might have told 20, 30, 80 people that he needed a job and [asked], 'Did anybody know someone in the construction business?'" Swerdlow explains in a telephone interview from his office in Hollywood. "Over a period of months, it came to my attention... and someone here in the office might have introduced [Griffin] to Turner."

The mayor, however, professes ignorance about how he landed the Turner job. He says that as far as he knows, Swerdlow didn't help him get his new gig. "I'm not saying it didn't happen; I'm just saying I'm not knowledgeable about it," Griffin says. "I don't know how [the Turner job] came about. I sent out a lot of résumés."

Griffin says his friend Bill Keith -- who was helping him find work -- might have mentioned it to Swerdlow. Keith, by the way, owns a Pompano Beach engineering firm that contracts with several local governments. I asked Griffin if Keith has done any work for his city. "I don't think so," the mayor answers.

He thinks wrong. Keith has done work for the city, including a 2000 study that helped establish the very CRA that is generating the $31 million slated to pay for the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Just last year, Griffin voted to hire Keith and Associates for a city job worth nearly $300,000. In Pompano, it really is a small world after all.

The Swerdlow Hall of Fame deal, meanwhile, is on the fast track, thanks to Griffin's tenacity. Though the commission has so far cast three votes in support of the project, it is still months away from final approval.

Asked whether Turner Construction is interested in building the Hall of Fame and condos for Swerdlow, the mayor answers in the affirmative. "They asked me about it because they were looking at it," Griffin says. "They said, 'Do you know anything about this project?' I said, 'It's not a project yet because it hasn't been approved.'"

Good answer. But Griffin's boss, Skidelsky, has a different take. Skidelsky proudly tells me that Turner Construction is not only interested in building the hall but that his company has already begun preconstruction work, including setting up schedules, materials lists, and budgets. He says he expects that Swerdlow will ultimately choose Turner as the builder once Griffin and the rest of the commissioners approve the deal.

"We have a successful relationship with Michael [Swerdlow], and we're going to continue to have a successful relationship," Skidelsky says. "We believe we are slated to be the contractor for the International Swimming Hall of Fame. We're assisting him on the project right now."

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