No gliding into office for Dennis Beach. In just the second month since he was hired, the Pompano Beach city manager has a started a wrestling match with one of South Florida's political behemoths: the Broward Sheriff's Office, which is desperate to hold on to its $38.5 million contract to serve as the city's police force.
Beach issued a memo late last month in which he recommended that city commissioners not renew the contract and instead launch a city police department. According to reports, Sheriff Al Lamberti was "shocked" by the decision, and he was joined by hundreds of deputies at Tuesday's commission meeting.
But despite that show of force, Beach is showing no signs of backing down. In an interview yesterday afternoon, I asked him whether he'd learned anything new from the meeting that might cause him to change his mind about the BSO contract. "No, not really," he said.
Beach was quick to point out that his recommendation does not reflect dissatisfaction with the law enforcement job that BSO has done in his city. "There have not been reports to me of service delivery problems," he said. "The whole issue revolves around the question of cost."
According to Beach's analysis, the city could save $2.7 million per year by starting its own police department. He acknowledged that BSO has challenged him on this point. "They've provided analysis of their current costs, and they've said that the cost estimates we've developed are wrong."
On the sidewalk outside of City Hall, BSO supporters carried signs claiming that Beach's move would cause taxes to go up. It's evident that Beach regards those signs as political misinformation. "If we do discontinue working with BSO, we're doing it for financial reasons," he says. "So to say taxes will go up is completely to the contrary. I can tell you that taxes will not go up as they relate to law enforcement."
For a relative newcomer (he moved here from Fort Pierce), Beach has shown a remarkable awareness of recent Broward County political history. He based much of his recommendation on what he has learned about last year's budget showdown between Lamberti and the Broward County Commission.
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As an example, Beach described how commissioners' desperation to cut Lamberti's budget led to BSO's having to abandon a service that had previously been covered by its contract: school resource officers. The county funds BSO, and when it stripped the funding for school resource officers, Pompano Beach had to either give them up or find $600,000 with which to pay the officers. (They did the latter.)
With declining property values in Broward, this next budget cycle promises to be even more vicious than last year's. "They're looking for methods to pass these [service] costs to contract cities in Broward County," Beach said of the commissioners. By scrapping the BSO contract, Pompano would be free to adjust its police resources according to needs identified by the city commissioners and staff without being at the mercy of county politicians.
But Beach acknowledges that this is not a decision that can be made in a political vacuum. BSO is a strong political force, with a slew of contractors who give max campaign contributions and hire lobbyists to lean on the commissioners to whom Beach owes his job. As we mentioned on Wednesday, there's reason to believe Pompano could start a domino effect in other contract cities where BSO acts as the police department.
"I am confident that the commissioners will make a decision they believe is in the best interest of the community," says Beach.