Cash Cow

A group of political opportunists is cashing in on the rural town of Southwest Ranches

"John Canada is a liar," Maines says. "The truth has never come out about the deal that John and Alyn Kay had."

Fisikelli, who still considers Canada a strange kind of friend, says the town administrator is unlike anyone he's ever met. "You cannot understand this man -- he will tell you a bold-faced lie to your face and shake your hand when he's through," Fisikelli says. "I have never met a man like that. I guess he thinks telling lies is OK."

Fisikelli was basically the lone man on the council fighting Canada (though sympathetic, Maines usually voted with the majority). And the farmer realized he wasn't doing much good being on the losing end of 4-1 votes. So prior to the 2004 election, he made a bold move: He gave up his council seat and decided to run against Fink for mayor. It was the only way to fight the clique, Fisikelli decided.

Alfred Fisikelli (pictured) says the town of Southwest Ranches is being ruined by the unethical and reckless government run by John Canada (following picture).
Colby Katz
Alfred Fisikelli (pictured) says the town of Southwest Ranches is being ruined by the unethical and reckless government run by John Canada (following picture).
John Canada
Colby Katz
John Canada

Hugdahl also jumped into the fray, running for commission against rookie candidate Jeff Nelson, who was backed by the political machine (the Becker & Poliakoff firm contributed $500 to his campaign). Rounding out their unofficial ticket was Maines, an incumbent running for reelection. All three won Sun-Sentinel endorsements, but only Maines survived the March election, during which Fink and company trumpeted the town's acquisition of grant money. An example from Fink's campaign brochures: "She has added 173 acres of public green space at no cost to town taxpayers."

Even if you forget about the payouts to Rubin to obtain the grants (a definite "cost to town taxpayers"), Fink also overlooked the $5 million loan, which the town will be paying off for another 26 years.

Nelson, who handily beat Hugdahl, has since become Canada's most vocal critic on the council. He says the town's fiscal policies are almost impossible to decipher, and he believes Rubin has been grossly overpaid. When asked if it's been tough to criticize the people who supported his candidacy, he said simply, "I have to sleep at night."

The 2004 electoral defeat slowed down the Ranchers for a Better Government, but it hasn't stopped the group. "There is nothing they can do to make us roll over," Hugdahl says. "We don't need them for anything. They can't buy us. We're not for sale."

The question now is whether the newest city in Broward County, West Park, will be bought. Because that's where the whole gang that runs Southwest Ranches is planning to go next.

Call it Government Inc.

Mayor Fink tells New Times that she plans to retire from her $78,000-a-year job as the Broward County clerk of court, where she runs its public-access Internet site, to become the administrator of West Park, a south Broward town of about 13,000 that was incorporated in November. She admits that sitting on the Ranches council hasn't taught her everything about managing a town, so she's going to hire John Canada & Associates as a subcontractor. "We will not be partners," she says of Canada. "I will only subcontract work to Canada. I want control -- I want that professional level of control. I am doing this to earn a living for my family."

For the past several months, she has been campaigning for the job in West Park. She promoted the idea to commission candidates, and Canada has already begun "volunteering" for West Park. He worked up a feasibility study showing that the cost of an administration contract would be a mere $775,000 a year in West Park, about $100,000 cheaper than Canada charges in Southwest Ranches, which has about half the population of West Park.

The father-and-son Poliakoff team is also getting in on the action. Keith Poliakoff confirms that his firm, which has given thousands of dollars to West Park campaigns, is vying to become the city's official attorney at a yearly rate of $200,000.

The problems with the scheme are obvious. For one, as mayor of the Ranches, Fink is charged with evaluating Canada's proposals and job performance. If she is in business with Canada, her independence, such as it is, would become extremely dubious. It's also legally problematic because state law forbids a person from signing checks for two different towns because of the obvious conflict of interest.

"It's disgraceful," Maines says of the plan. "You can't serve two masters. She can't even run a Town Council meeting, so I don't know how she's going to run a city. She's been giving [West Park leaders] a good snow job, but all she'll be doing is riding on the coattails of John Canada."

West Park officials say they are considering Fink as city manager and Becker & Poliakoff as town attorney but won't make a final decision for at least a couple of months.

A fitting symbol of Fink's growing conflict between the Ranches and West Park came in the form of an empty chair. It was the mayor's seat at the March 10 Southwest Ranches Town Council meeting. Instead of doing her job for the town, she opted to go that night to West Park, where the new City Commission was being sworn in by none other than her friend, Diana Wasserman-Rubin. Keith Poliakoff, whose father was on vacation, had an attorney from his firm sit in on the meeting.

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