No More SoFla Shenanigans
County Commissioner John E. Rodstrom Jr. 's extraordinarily lucrative day job may be changing, this smoke-belching conduit has learned. The commish, who earned more than $420,000 for brokering multimillion-dollar bond deals for financial giant CitiGroup in 2003 -- on top of his $87,000-per-year commission salary -- no longer does business in Florida, say four sources close to the commission.
Whether his corporate bosses forced the decision is unclear. Danielle Romero-Apsilos, a CitiGroup spokesperson in New York City, initially offered to ask her bosses about the change. The next day, she did not return calls. When the 'Pipe spit some smoke at the Rodstrom, he replied: "I can't talk about my business. You know that. I'll lose my job."
Colleagues say he's been traveling more often lately. For the moment, it seems he's concentrating on work in North Carolina, where he has a second home. The apparent wing-clipping follows a year for Rodstrom that culminated in an ethics complaint alleging that he opposed airport expansion at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport after underwriting a $500 million bond deal for Miami International, a competitor to Broward's facility.
The Florida Commission on Ethics cleared him of wrongdoing, but CitiGroup must not have appreciated the publicity. Things could be worse for the ethically conflicted Rodstrom (though the same can't be said for his constituents). On Tuesday, Rodstrom was re-elected to the County Commission after sailing past Republican write-in candidate Robert J. Trafford.
The Rewards of Breathing
Fort Lauderdale, as everyone knows by now, is in a financial morass. Residents are facing a hefty increase in real estate taxes, and a recent audit of the city's pension fund found that taxpayer dollars were spent on liquor and food for city staff and more than $17,000 in benefits were paid to dead people. But for retirees from the city, the future's so bright they gotta wear shades. It's the next best thing to being dead. Take former Finance Director Damon Adams, one of the department heads who led the city into the quagmire. In 2002, Adams received a "longevity" check for $16,274 from the City Commission, a payout that required only that its recipient have breath in his lungs.
Adams hit the real bonanza, though, with retirement last year. His annual pension of $101,592 is the highest paid out to a retired city employee, excluding cops and firefighters.
Mayor Jim Naugle concedes that taxpayers are paying a lot of cash for virtually nada. "We have a spending problem, and most of it is wrapped up in the benefits -- health and pensions," Naugle says. "People are retiring at age 47 in public safety and age 55 for general employees. Their standard of living is so much higher than the people they serve that it's upside down. We're establishing a privileged class, and that's the people who are working for the government."
The city no longer gives those longevity payouts, of course. City managers now have to bear the onerous burden of a merit-based system for bonuses. But there's no way out of paying big pensions. "Contractually, you can't strip someone of their pension unless they've committed a crime," Naugle says. "Pensions aren't doled out on merit; maybe they should be."
Speaking of gold-plated benefits, how about the annual salary of Tri-Rail Executive Director Joseph Giulietti? The public board that oversees the taxpayer-subsidized commuter line that runs from West Palm Beach to Miami recently increased Giulietti's annual salary by $13,000 to $203,076 a year. Such a robust raise was warranted, gushed board member Lori Parrish to the Miami Herald, because no matter what task Giulietti was assigned, "he's taken it, run with it, and gotten it done."
You remember Tri-Rail (or do you?). For the past 15 years, it has been operating on the CSX tracks, west of I-95. Giulietti and his board are in the midst of a $340 million improvement program (putting in a second track and a new bridge over the New River) even as they continue to muse longingly about switching the whole operation to another track -- which might even attract some commuters. For the moment, though, Tri-Rail continues operations out on the fringe with taxpayer subsidies of $9 for each rider who climbs aboard.
The 'Pipe bounced Giulietti's salary numbers off Steve Polzin, director of public transit research at the University of Florida, Tampa. An audible gasp at the other end of the line. "Wow!" Polzin said. "That's high. That's phenomenal. That's just, whoa!" The rail system in Tampa, for instance, which moves about three times as many people a day as Tri-Rail, pays its director about $125,000 -- about the same annual salary received by the secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, Polzin said.
Regaining his composure, Polzin offered this conclusion: "If you look at other properties across the country, that's a high salary."
Pop Goes the Weirdness
If one measure of literary greatness is unintelligibility (read a few pages of James Joyce's final opus Finnegan's Wake), Fort Lauderdale might be harboring another literary genius: City Commissioner Dean Trantalis. Not! "Death by Taxes," his missive in the latest issue of the Lake Ridge News, the newsletter of the northwest Fort Lauderdale neighborhood's civic association, has a high unintelligibility quotient. Could we say it's a study in how to fail the writing section of the fourth-grade FCAT?
Trantalis' 2,000-word rant is more of a subversive assault on grammar and style than an attack on taxes. "How often have you heard the old adage that the most predictable aspects of life are death and taxes?" he asks at the beginning. (Tailpipe stopped counting at 10,000.) He concludes with a huge head scratcher: "Why stare down death when our future is our own to fulfill?"
The vice mayor describes tourists as "colorful and richly landscaped" (have you checked out the hills on that Canadian babe?) and laments that the city lacks the funds to "keep our mounties afoot" (does he want them mounted, or does he want them afoot?). One sentence leaps into unexplored territory like this: "As we continue to grow, and as the city continues to pursue the goal of continued growth..."
The 'Pipe's favorite is this weird testament to the need for police: "Let's face it, we live in a tense world, and tension makes people do weird things. We need to be protected from weirdness because it makes life easier to live, unless walking off the main path excites you a bit but that's ok because if everyone were the same, that would be too weird! I'm talking more about situations where people wish they had what you had and instead of earning the money to buy it they just take yours, or when it angers you to see someone's shoes not matching their purse and you pop them."
Buyer Be Wary
Got a phone? How about a credit card? Good -- you're in business. All you need to do now is call the Sun-Sentinel and place an ad hawking your services, say, Jim-Bob's Heating and Air Conditioning.
Safeguards to keep the public from being taken by unscrupulous opportunists are ignored by the daily paper, says Broward County Licensing investigator Tim Kuhlman, who complains that the Sentinel's open-door policy makes his job harder. "It's not a public service to let anyone who has the money put ads in there," he explains. Florida state law requires contractors to include their legal name, address, and license number in any printed advertisements, but the onus is on the contractor, not the paper. "They should require it," Kuhlman continues, referring to the Sentinel.
A cursory glance at the Sentinel's classified section revealed 11 ads for A/C repair services, nine of which contained nothing but a phone number. "Simply saying licensed and insured does not cut it," says state-certified contractor Bruce Wheatley, who's been working with Broward Licensing to shut down illegal contractors. "It's a moral issue," Kuhlman adds.
Kevin Courtney, a Sun-Sentinel spokesman, explains that the paper can't police every ad. "It's impossible," he says. "If we get complaints or authorities alert us that unlicensed contractors are advertising, we'll investigate and remove the ad."
Don Homer, chief investigator of the complaints division for Broward Licensing, tells Tailpipe a crackdown is coming. "We now have someone in research who will take the Sun-Sentinel, run the name, and if they're not licensed, we send 'em a $500 citation."
After WSVN-TV (Channel 7) weatherman Bill Kamal was arrested last week for trying to plug a 14-year-old and then fired from his job, this 'Pipe's memory started to backfire. Kamal, who's being held without bail in the St. Lucie County Jail on charges of child enticement and solicitation of a child under 16, just may have been the guy the 'Pipe recently turned up while, um, messing around in a chatroom called bringacondombyebye.com:
WhetherManGo: Actually, the weather can be quite exciting. Did you ever see that movie Twister?
AvrilRules90: i saw it w eric the carpet cleaner after school and eric put his tung in my ear. lol!!
WhetherManGo: Did you like it?
AvrilRules90: those storms r tooo scary.
WhetherManGo: I mean the tung. Eric's tongue.
AvrilRules90: a little ruffy. felt like my mom's loofa
WhetherManGo: You take my breath away like a Class 4 hurricane.
WhetherManGo: I'll say. You're 14? How old is Eric?
AvrilRules90: he's about 47. I like eric cuz he buys me cigs and knos how to mix marteenys.
WhetherManGo: Mine are strictly Bombay Sapphire. Dry as... as your mom's loofa.
AvrilRules90: lol!! twice.
WhetherManGo: You'll like marteenys in a smoking jacket. I'll bring my ylang ylang.
AvrilRules90: shh. mitr!!!
WhetherManGo: Mitr? What the hell is that?
AvrilRules90: gimme a chance stupid. It means mom's in the room. and she really was.
WhetherManGo: I'll pick you up at the 7-Eleven. 4 o'clock.
AvrilRules90: As long as you're not a cop.
WhetherManGo: Ha ha. I'm just a super-cool, super-toned dude who doesn't happen to think intergenerational intimacy is a bad thing. It's just a big word, like "cumulonimbus."
AvrilRules90: I'll bring cuffs.
WhetherManGo: YOU're not a cop, are you?
AvrilRules90: lol!! myob. :-)
-As told to Edmund Newton
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