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UPDATED: Stephanie Kraft Was Behind the Dr. Bill Boondoggle

You may remember the post about Bill Mathis, the psychologist hired by the board four years ago after it was discovered during the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that the board was "dysfunctional." He was also contracted to help the School Board do its dog-and-pony-show evaluation of Supt. Jim Notter.

Well, Mathis, who calls himself "Dr. Bill," got a good gig. The Statewide Grand Jury found that the board paid Mathis, who lives in California, a whopping $325 an hour. The board also paid Mathis' associate, who also happened to have been his wife, $160 an hour. For his travel time to and from California, the board gave him another $85 an hour. That wasn't all. From the grand jury report:

In addition he was driven to and from the hotel, meetings and the airport by a District employee and provided with complimentary luxury skybox seats to a Dolphin football game. A series of contract renewals were placed on the consent agenda over the next three years, ultimately paying the consultant $331,000.

So Mathis was hosted like royalty, made a killing, and for what? Well, the whole of his work amounted to providing glowing recommendations of Notter and the board. Here's what he wrote at the top of Notter's evaluation:

"We have seen a School Board move forward while continuing to provide leadership in a chaotic financial time. I acknowledge and salute the current and past Board Chairs who played phenomenal leadership roles in a highly functioning and effective School Board... Keep up the good work for Broward County's children."

What, you expected him to bite the hand that was sending him to the Dolphins skybox and making him rich? It's the oldest story in the book: Government hires "consultant" with big dollars and consultant says exactly what government wants him to say.  

So who was really behind the Dr. Bill boondoggle? It was Stephanie Kraft. See how she pulled it off inside. 

The grand jury discovered that Mathis was hired at the behest of the chairwoman of the School board at the time. Here's how the grand jury explains it:

Before the deputy superintendent who was tasked with finding/screening candidates could finish, she met with the former Board chair who told her "we found someone we like". While the deputy assumed the "we" meant the Board as a whole, in fact the Board chair was simply passing on a name given to her by another Board member who in turn had met the consultant at dinner with her lobbyist husband. The consultant, we were told, had previously worked with the Board member's husband on a similar project. Neither the deputy, nor the superintendent questioned why a Board member would be hand picking a consultant; in fact this was just another example of a Board member butting into the day to day operations of the District, a practice that District officials were accustomed to at the time and a practice that would worsen dramatically in the coming years.

 

OK, let's break it down. Identifying the chairwoman of the board at the time is easy -- it was Beverly Gallagher, who is now in federal prison after her corruption conviction. But the real culprit here appears to be the board member and the lobbyist husband who pushed it in the first place. Who was that?

Why, the School Board's former first couple, Stephanie and Mitch Kraft, who are both now facing bribery charges for their involvement with dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait. The grand jury found that the Krafts and the Mathises continued a "social relationship" through the time of the contract that was never disclosed publicly.

Silly grand jury. Didn't they know that politicians around here always become good buddies with the lobbyists and government vendors they're supposed to keep at arm's length?  

The grand jury wasn't pleased with the incestuous nature of the contract or the steep price paid by taxpayers, especially since the Mathis contracts were put on the consent agenda without any discussion or bids. And also because the board could have easily gotten the same ridiculous service from a local psychologist for a hundred bucks an hour. From the grand jury report:

As the Board would soon find out, they could have hired similarly qualified local consultants for far less. In 2009, the District sought out alternatives and was quoted $100 per hour, not the combined $485 charged by the previous consultant. ... When it comes to spending taxpayer's money the Board is reckless. ... This process raises a whole host of questions, none of which were answered to our satisfaction. Why should taxpayers have to pay to train elected officials on how to behave appropriately and professionally on a board? Why do nine elected officials need anyone to help them evaluate the Superintendent they work with on a weekly, if not daily basis? Why are individual Board members directing the District on who to hire? Why are decisions to expand the scope of the consultant's work being made at training sessions with the consultant himself, rather than at a Board workshop or regular meeting in view of the public?

We believe these are all valid questions but by having this "non-controversial" item on the agenda these questions were never asked let alone answered.

This is not the biggest waste of money. Some might even say that this a mere drop in the bucket compared to the overall District budget. But to quote the late Senator Everett Dirksen, "A million here, a million there, pretty soon you're talking about real money."

 

-- I might have been a little harsh on the American Greed program last night in the comments. No, it wasn't groundbreaking news entertainment. No, it didn't have any big interviews or give any real insight into Scott Rothstein. But it did competently communicate the broad sweep of the crime, which I suppose is exactly what it set out to do. I just wanted more.

By far the best part of the show was the new footage from Rothstein's "American Pie" night at a 2006 RRA Christmas party, where we see an obviously intoxicated Rothstein in full life-of-the-party mode, planting kisses on Stuart Rosenfeldt and Ted Morse. "That's right, we're breaking the fucking law," he says at one point. "We're lawyers; if we're not going to break the law, who is?"

Here's a chat with a very friendly interviewer from that night provided by CNBC:


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