Hallandale Mayor Knew of City's Controversial Contract With Real Estate Agent

Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper says she was aware that a real estate agent, Joe Kessel, had been contracted by the city manager as a consultant, but Cooper refused to answer a question about whether that consultant should have disclosed his contract before testifying in support of a massive condominium development.

According to sources present at the Hallandale Beach Commission meeting of December 16, Kessel made public remarks in favor of the commission's amending the city's master plan to accommodate the proposed 950-unit Diplomat Country Club. Kessel reportedly identified himself as a past president of the city's Chamber of Commerce but neglected to mention that since July 2008, he had been receiving $3,000 monthly payments through a consulting agreement he signed with City Manager Mike Good.

Good has not returned messages seeking information on that contract. In an interview with Juice on Monday, Kessel refused to describe what services he performed in fulfilling that contract. And Mayor Cooper couldn't offer many details either.

Cooper, who's in her 11th year on the commission, initially said that the language in the consulting contract was "quite clear," although it appears merely to say that Kessel will help Good to manage the city -- it skips over the specifics.

Pressed to give an example of one task Kessel performed through the contract, Cooper said, "We get approached by organizations that are interested in doing business with the city," and she said Kessel acts as a tour guide. Specifically, Cooper mentioned "a group from New York with clients coming in from South America. [Kessel] showed them around."

To Cooper's rival on the commission, Keith London, it seems like these are the kind of chores for which the city already pays a city manager's staff.

"This guy is making $200,000-plus and has seven people in his office that come at a total cost of $1 million," says London. "If [Good] is such a great city manager, why does he need Joe Kessel?"

London -- who has a gadfly's zeal for poring through city files -- only recently learned of Kessel's being paid by the city and was outraged that the city manager never bothered to inform the commission about the contract.

Cooper says she's known of it for some time. First she told me that she's known about it "since last year," but that would mean she didn't know about the contract for roughly its first six months. Faced with that question, she reversed course, saying, "I was aware Joe Kessel was consulting with the city. I don't remember the exact date I learned it."

I asked if she recalled how she learned about it. "Through communication with the city manager," Cooper said. But that leads to questions of why London was kept out of the loop. Cooper blamed it on London's not spending enough time in City Hall.

The mayor added that in her opinion, London's interest in the Kessel contract violated the city charter, which bars commissioners from interfering in the hiring and firing of employees. I told Cooper that Kessel was a contractor, which seems different from an employee. "He's a contract employee," she said.

I asked London the same question. He pulled out the Kessel contract. "If this is an employee, then why does this contract say he's vendor No. 8475?"

In my interview with the mayor, I tried to get more clarification on exactly what Kessel's duties were. But each time, she told me I should talk with the city manager. I told her that the city manager hadn't returned my calls -- and then I asked whether Good's unwillingness to talk about the Kessel contract gave Cooper cause for concern.

"I don't know whether he doesn't want to talk about it," said Cooper. "Maybe he just doesn't want to talk to you."

Fair point. Good probably wasn't very pleased a year ago when I reported about his having been paid $422,000 in 2008.

Still, there's something not quite right about that scene at the December 16 meeting, with Kessel giving testimony before Good and Cooper, who knew of his contract, at the same time as commissioner London had no reason to believe Kessel was anything but the former president of the Chamber of Commerce.

It's not clear yet whether other commissioners knew of Kessel's deal. Ultimately, they voted 3-2 in support of the development Kessel backed.

I asked Cooper whether Kessel, who is said to have made multiple speaking appearances at the commission, ought to have disclosed his contract with the city or whether that responsibility belonged to Good.

"I can't even recall the last time he spoke at a meeting," she told me.

But if he did speak at those meetings, should he or anyone have disclosed his contract?

"I'm sorry," said Cooper, who was on her cell phone. "I just parked and now I have to go into a meeting, so I can't talk anymore."

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