Animal Farm

At the Broward County School Board, the chickens cry foul

That finally killed the idea. When Rhodes began his investigation, he said he soon realized that the project had "gone haywire." Sterling met with Rhodes and Reilly to try to quash the investigation, but they pushed forward.

Just before the scathing report was issued in February 2005, Martin resigned. But things were just starting to get complicated. A few months later, Rhodes followed up his investigation to determine whether Zyscovich actually paid the $186,900 to the School Board.

What he found was that the construction department, rather than make him pay, arbitrarily reduced the fine to $150,000 and tucked it into another school project as "good-will credit."

On top of that, there were hundreds of thousands of fees in the contract for designing things that weren't even going to be built, including an auditorium.

The showdown came April 7 at a School Board meeting. On one side were Reilly and Rhodes and a few community activists who had been watching the saga unfold.

On the other... just about everybody else at the School Board, including the superintendent, Jim Notter, and the board attorney, Ed Marko. In what can be described only as voodoo economics, they tried to explain away the fact that Zyscovich wasn't reimbursing a dime to the board.

Activist Ruth Lynch, of the Broward Coalition, wasn't buying it. "This isn't as complicated as it appears," she told the board. "It's basic good business practice to follow the direction of the district auditors... Your attorney [Marko] has already stated that he doesn't check numbers; he checks for legal form. Your auditors, however, do get paid for checking the numbers, and they're telling you the numbers on the $1.8 million contract were inflated. You can... get the 150,000 tax dollars back, or you can decide to let it go. If it were your personal money, would you let it go?"

The board, led by the pro-Zysco­vich Gallagher, let it go. It voted 6-1 to approve the contract. Board member Phyllis Hope, who isn't in the Sterling camp, cast the lone nay (two other board members were absent).

It was all in a day's work for Rhodes.

"Not only was Zyscovich given a pass on what he owed; he's been overly compensated by getting all the big work that the School Board is giving out," he says. "The high-powered lobbyists are running the show. But hey, what does that matter? It's just us chickens."

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