The New Pistolero in Town

On the dusty, Old West streets of Davie, a political hotshot takes aim

All of this dovetailed neatly with Caletka's claims that Starkey's "one big Davie family" was riddled with corruption and cronyism. It didn't hurt his reputation as a maverick when, in January 2006, after one of Caletka's Town Council speeches, Martin Kiar (Monroe's son) and Andre Parke, both assistant town attorneys, followed Caletka into the parking lot and allegedly called him a "son of a bitch" and a "piece of shit" while also making a thinly veiled threat of violence.

Caletka (momentarily relinquishing his pistolero image) says he feared for his life. "Last year, the town paid [Monroe Kiar's] firm $389,000," he says with a touch of hyperbole. "That's a lot of money, maybe enough where [a critic] ends up in a ditch." He filed a police report, but Caletka only once heard back from an investigator, months after the incident, and he doubts charges will ever be filed. Martin Kiar, who has since won election to the State Legislature, was traveling and could not be reached for comment.

Kovanes was fired last January, but the case had already inflicted terminal injuries to Hubert's reelection bid. She lost to Caletka by a 3-to-1 margin.

Bryan Caletka took out Davie's town attorney, and that's just his opening act.
C. STILES
Bryan Caletka took out Davie's town attorney, and that's just his opening act.

Since the issue of runaway spending catapulted him into office, Caletka has brought a missionary's zeal to budget-cutting. He began by making forceful arguments about how the town paid a hefty price to the town attorney's firm for legal advice that, as history proved, turned out to be faulty or incomplete. Still, it took until last week before Caletka could win the council majority he needed to fire Kiar. In the intervening months, he went after other parts of the town budget, like the take-home cars Davie gives to its officials. "[The town clerk] sits in his office and takes public records requests. Why does he need a take-home car?"

It surprised Caletka when, after being elected to office, the town gave him a credit card to be used for expenses incurred in conducting town business. As the champion of fiscal conservatism, he resolved not to use it, but he wondered if his colleagues on the Town Council had the same discipline, so he made a public records request.

"And I wasn't exactly happy with what I saw," Caletka says. "It looked like meals were being purchased, and in the case of Susan Starkey, she did quite a lot of traveling around Florida on the taxpayers' dime."

A study of Starkey's expenses found that they were all legitimate costs she encountered in her role as a board member on Broward County's League of Cities, plus traveling expenses that came through her interest in environmental issues.

"He was way off-base on that one," says Mayor Tom Truex, who takes an avuncular tone on the dais but speaks tersely when the subject is Caletka. Truex believes him to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. "It's a good soundbite to say 'I'm watching out for people's nickels,'" Truex says, "but you can't be distracted from the big-ticket items."

Truex cites Caletka's interest in annexing the unincorporated neighborhood of Broadview Park and in the town's paying for the relocation of mobile home residents displaced by developers (positions that Caletka denies taking).

Although Truex accuses Caletka of "micromanaging" town government, council member Judy Paul — the only other Democrat on the dais — says that's exactly what's been missing. "Had we 'micromanaged' the budget three years ago," Paul says, "we probably would have found the companies that Kovanes started." The former town administrator is accused of funneling town funds through shell companies and into his own pocket.

Paul, whose nine years on the council make her the body's most experienced member, is retiring in March, a fact that gives even more urgency to Caletka's fledgling, anti-incumbent PAC.

Even as he seems to have been winning battles on the Davie Town Council, though, Caletka's opponents look better-equipped to win a war of attrition. Caletka admits he's already exhausted.

"I never promised anybody I was going to run for reelection," he says. "It sucks your life; it really does. I've had council meetings go to 3 in the morning. I've had to go home just to go to bed for a few hours before waking up to teach class. I'm still in my 20s, but two hours of sleep doesn't cut it anymore."

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