By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
It was a damning letter for URS — and Ritter acted quickly. Thirty-eight minutes after Masoero's letter was sent, she e-mailed it to Klenet, according to e-mail records obtained from the same confidential source. Eight minutes later, Klenet apparently sent the letter to URS' McClendon and lobbyists Platt and Friedman with the notation "Check this out."
The Ritter-URS pipeline was revealed, with lobbyist-husband Klenet as the middleman. And it only got worse. The next day, at the commission meeting, Ritter claimed the letter was based on faulty estimations.
"It's important when you read Delta's letter to understand that... [it's] based on one year...," she said on the dais. "I've been taught by not only our own staff but everybody I've spoken with, with respect to the expansion project, that you don't look at airlines in one-year snapshots... Delta is apparently looking at this particular agenda item in one-year snapshots, and it's the impression that the cost is much higher based on that than if you spread it out over a much longer period of time."
Commissioner Ilene Lieberman immediately corrected Ritter, telling her, "I believe they looked at the long term."
In fact, the numbers in the Delta letter were conservative. According to Broward County Auditor Evan Lukic, URS has been paid nearly 11 percent of the total construction cost at the airport during the term of its contract. At that rate, the $97,600,000 figure Masoero said would be paid to URS would actually rise to more like $107 million.
So Ritter, while defending a company tied to her husband, appears to have misled the commission and the people.
It was just a month later that her husband's name showed up in McClendon's notes as a member of the company's "posse."
A review of commission meeting minutes shows that Ritter often acted in URS' best interests, if not taxpayers'. During that same March 6 meeting, for instance, she said that because the money the county allocates to URS is "factored into the contract," they will "not actually increase the cost of doing business at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International."
That's nonsensical bureaucratic babble. It sounds like it came from the mouths of URS officials — whom Ritter said she spent "hours" with.
Ritter also has helped URS keep its controversial contract. After the audit of URS was issued, county staff tried to end URS' monopoly, saying it would likely save many millions of dollars. One idea was to hire new staffers full-time to manage the construction — which might seem a better idea than paying $10 million a year or more to a company that doesn't supply so much as a single brick.
But Ritter and other commissioners, many of whom were heavily lobbied by the URS posse, pooh-poohed that idea. It was instead decided that the county would put the work out to bid and hire multiple companies to oversee airport projects.
Although she initially seemed to support that plan, Ritter ultimately helped kill it. During the March 20 commission meeting, she repeatedly said she wasn't prepared to vote on it, thereby helping to delay the process. "I don't believe that this board should vote for things that are in concept only," she said. "On something of this magnitude, I would need to see exact language... specific language."
At the following week's meeting, she announced that she had turned "180 degrees" on the issue and didn't want to start the bidding process at all, at least not until an aviation director was hired.
The commission agreed, and the process was stopped, ensuring that URS would be the only game in town again when its contract expires in September. The county will then be forced to deal with URS on a month-to-month basis, wasting more money along the way.
The married couple's entanglements with URS might have seemed inevitable back in November, when Ritter was elected. Klenet, who also represents numerous cities in Broward, has been an infamous wheeler-dealer in county business. He and his wife have apparently done very well financially with their government work.
In 2003, they bought a house in upscale Parkland for $925,000. Just last week, they returned from a long European vacation, and they are regulars on the Democratic political circuit, where they've hobnobbed with leading Democrats like Al Gore and Bill Clinton.
But the URS revelations could slow them down considerably. It's illegal in Florida for a politician to profit from public service, even if the money is coming to his or her spouse.
Still, there is no proof that Klenet received remuneration from URS for his work on the "posse" since his wife's election, and there is no known criminal investigation into the couple's actions at this time.
Several political insiders, however, tell me they knew controversy was on the way the instant Ritter was elected, if only because of her husband's work.
"It was trouble waiting to happen," said one.
Now it's here.