By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
No More SoFla Shenanigans
County Commissioner John E. Rodstrom Jr.'s extraordinarily lucrative day job may be changing, this smoke-belching conduit has learned. The commish, who earned more than $420,000for brokering multimillion-dollar bond deals for financial giant CitiGroup in 2003 -- on top of his $87,000-per-year commission salary -- no longer does business in Florida, say four sources close to the commission.
Whether his corporate bosses forced the decision is unclear. Danielle Romero-Apsilos, a CitiGroup spokesperson in New York City, initially offered to ask her bosses about the change. The next day, she did not return calls. When the 'Pipe spit some smoke at the Rodstrom, he replied: "I can't talk about my business. You know that. I'll lose my job."
Colleagues say he's been traveling more often lately. For the moment, it seems he's concentrating on work in North Carolina, where he has a second home. The apparent wing-clipping follows a year for Rodstrom that culminated in an ethics complaint alleging that he opposed airport expansion at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport after underwriting a $500 million bond deal for Miami International, a competitor to Broward's facility.
The Florida Commission on Ethics cleared him of wrongdoing, but CitiGroup must not have appreciated the publicity. Things could be worse for the ethically conflicted Rodstrom (though the same can't be said for his constituents). On Tuesday, Rodstrom was re-elected to the County Commission after sailing past Republican write-in candidate Robert J. Trafford.
The Rewards of Breathing
Fort Lauderdale, as everyone knows by now, is in a financial morass. Residents are facing a hefty increase in real estate taxes, and a recent audit of the city's pension fund found that taxpayer dollars were spent on liquor and food for city staff and more than $17,000 in benefits were paid to dead people. But for retirees from the city, the future's so bright they gotta wear shades. It's the next best thing to being dead. Take former Finance Director Damon Adams, one of the department heads who led the city into the quagmire. In 2002, Adams received a "longevity" check for $16,274 from the City Commission, a payout that required only that its recipient have breath in his lungs.
Adams hit the real bonanza, though, with retirement last year. His annual pension of $101,592 is the highest paid out to a retired city employee, excluding cops and firefighters.
Mayor Jim Naugleconcedes that taxpayers are paying a lot of cash for virtually nada. "We have a spending problem, and most of it is wrapped up in the benefits -- health and pensions," Naugle says. "People are retiring at age 47 in public safety and age 55 for general employees. Their standard of living is so much higher than the people they serve that it's upside down. We're establishing a privileged class, and that's the people who are working for the government."
The city no longer gives those longevity payouts, of course. City managers now have to bear the onerous burden of a merit-based system for bonuses. But there's no way out of paying big pensions. "Contractually, you can't strip someone of their pension unless they've committed a crime," Naugle says. "Pensions aren't doled out on merit; maybe they should be."
Speaking of gold-plated benefits, how about the annual salary of Tri-Rail Executive Director Joseph Giulietti? The public board that oversees the taxpayer-subsidized commuter line that runs from West Palm Beach to Miami recently increased Giulietti's annual salary by $13,000 to $203,076 a year. Such a robust raise was warranted, gushed board member Lori Parrish to the Miami Herald, because no matter what task Giulietti was assigned, "he's taken it, run with it, and gotten it done."
You remember Tri-Rail (or do you?). For the past 15 years, it has been operating on the CSX tracks, west of I-95. Giulietti and his board are in the midst of a $340 million improvement program (putting in a second track and a new bridge over the New River) even as they continue to muse longingly about switching the whole operation to another track -- which might even attract some commuters. For the moment, though, Tri-Rail continues operations out on the fringe with taxpayer subsidies of $9 for each rider who climbs aboard.
The 'Pipe bounced Giulietti's salary numbers off Steve Polzin, director of public transit research at the University of Florida, Tampa. An audible gasp at the other end of the line. "Wow!" Polzin said. "That's high. That's phenomenal. That's just, whoa!" The rail system in Tampa, for instance, which moves about three times as many people a day as Tri-Rail, pays its director about $125,000 -- about the same annual salary received by the secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, Polzin said.
Regaining his composure, Polzin offered this conclusion: "If you look at other properties across the country, that's a high salary."
Pop Goes the Weirdness
If one measure of literary greatness is unintelligibility (read a few pages of James Joyce's final opus Finnegan's Wake), Fort Lauderdale might be harboring another literary genius: City Commissioner Dean Trantalis. Not! "Death by Taxes," his missive in the latest issue of the Lake Ridge News, the newsletter of the northwest Fort Lauderdale neighborhood's civic association, has a high unintelligibility quotient. Could we say it's a study in how to fail the writing section of the fourth-grade FCAT?