Seeing Red

Some Pompano Beachers want to put a stop to Mayor Griffin's reign of greed

Since obtaining the new construction job, Griffin has voted to change the designation on two public parking lots so they could be sold to Swerdlow. The vote also allowed the commission to avoid a referendum on the project.

Obviously, this is some sleazy stuff. A responsible elected official would never have taken the job. An ethically compromised politician might have taken it, then declared publicly that he had a potential conflict and refrained from voting on matters concerning the swimming hall. Griffin, of course, did none of these things.

It was only after his new day job was made public that Griffin went to City Attorney Gordon Linn and asked if there was a conflict. Linn did what any good lawyer does: He found a legal argument that favored his client. "As long as there is no agreement that Turner will do any of the construction work which Mayor Griffin approves, there is no voting conflict," Linn says.

Linn is basing his decision on one paragraph of the Florida Code of Ethics, which states that elected officers are forbidden to vote on any issue they "know would inure to the special private gain" of their employer. Without an agreement between Turner and Swerdlow, Linn argues, Griffin couldn't have knownthat his vote wouldhave inured to Turner's gain.

We're slipping into a Clintonian game here (I can see the deposition: "Well, that depends on what would would mean"). Now, I'm going to play prosecutor and tell you the violations of which I believe Griffin is guilty, and the first thing is a voting conflict. The salient fact: Turner officials would cheer any vote affirming the swimming-hall project. Why? Because the firm stands to gain from it. If the project is shot down, Turner stops doing work and loses what company officials considered a great opportunity for business. Turner has already started to work on the project, at Swerdlow's behest. Though Turner and Swerdlow both contend that no money changed hands, Skidelsky told me that his company expects to finish the job.

In addition to committing a voting conflict, Griffin misused his position. The Code of Ethics dictates that "No public officer... shall corruptly use or attempt to use his or her official position... to secure a special privilege [or] benefit."

Well, Griffin, in his official position, hobnobbed and dealt with big-money Broward County players like Keith and Swerdlow. Then he turned around and used the engineer to help him find a job. Griffin admits that Keith "may" have mentioned it to Swerdlow, who then helped him get a job with Turner. The misuse of his position goes hand in hand with another violation: The mayor accepted unauthorized compensation. No public officer, according to the code, can accept anything of value when he "knows, or, with the exercise of reasonable care, should know, that it was given to influence a vote or other [official] action."

Why would a multibillion-dollar company like Turner suddenly hire a small-time contractor like Griffin? Shouldn't the mayor have known that his auspicious hiring might have had something to do with the fact that he's a development-hungry mayor who is pulling the strings on the coveted swimming-hall project? Of course he should have.

The Commission on Ethics should investigate the mayor on these points; at least one Pompano Beach commissioner, Kay McGinn, agrees with me. "I would like an investigation to see if he is guilty," says McGinn, who represents the beach area, opposes the swimming hall, and wore a bright red suit to last week's commission meeting. "Let's get the truth out. Is it a conflict, or is it not?"

But don't expect much from the ethics commission. The last time Griffin was involved in an apparent conflict of interest (remember John Knox Village?), the commission let him skate.

Another lax ethical watchdog is the State Attorney's Office, but still, it should investigate the mayor for possibly receiving unlawful compensation. Unfortunately, a nefarious politician practically has to throttle one of our assistant state attorneys and shout "Quid pro quo!" before they'll lift a finger. Former County Commissioner Scott Cowan, who never met a developer he didn't want to hug, had to steal from his own, easily traceable campaign account before anyone noticed he was crooked. There is no real ethical vigilance in Broward County, which is what emboldens the Swerdlows and Griffins among us. No wonder the swimming-hall/condo deal is going forward in Pompano. It's one of the last great jackpots -- and Griffin is giving it to Swerdlow for a steal.

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