From Ethics Chairman to... Broward Fire Chief? | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

From Ethics Chairman to... Broward Fire Chief?

Recently posted a photograph of Cooper City Commissioner Neal DeJesus, who also serves as chairman of the Broward Ethics Commission, on a prototype three-wheeled police vehicle that basically looks like a SkiDoo for land (it was actually a Can-Am Spyder, which you can read about here). We had fun with it, since DeJesus looked like the classic politician not only patronizing the police but trying to be one of them.

Well, I quickly learned a whole lot more about ol' Neal, who is viewed by activists as a part of dingbat Mayor Debbie Eisinger's posse in Cooper City. For one, he's hanging out a whole lot with Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti, to the point that he at times drives a BSO-issued Dodge Avenger and has been paid by taxpayers in his city for traveling to meet with the sheriff.

DeJesus, a former firefighter and current preacher, says he helped negotiate new terms in an impasse between Lamberti and Broward firefighters.

"I helped [Lamberti] with some union negotiations with the fire union just on a pro bono basis just because of my history as a fire chief," DeJesus told me. "They have a contract before the body right now. It was absolutely voluntary; I was never compensated."

He says he drove the Avenger only while doing the "volunteer work" for BSO.

"That was strictly to drive from point A to point B," DeJesus told me. "It was never a take-home vehicle."

What about the mileage? City records show that DeJesus last August charged his city mileage for visits to the sheriff, to Lamberti's Executive Officer Don Prichard, and to attend a memorial for slain BSO Sgt. Chris Reyka. He was reimbursed that month more than $100.

Critics allege that DeJesus, a former deputy fire chief in Coral Gables, charged the city for what amounted to personal travel. Many sources inside the city and within BSO itself say that Lamberti's plan is to make DeJesus the next fire chief of Broward County.

Inside, you can see what DeJesus says about that.   

DeJesus said he charged the city for mileage for the sheriff visits because he was representing the city during the trips in negotiations for its own contracts with BSO. When asked if he expects to be made fire chief of Broward County, he made it clear that he would entertain the idea.

"To date, the sheriff and I have not talked about the fire chief position because he has a fire chief," DeJesus said. "Joe Lello is his fire chief. The day I met with the fire chief's staff, I said, 'I'm not here because the sheriff has offered me the chief's position.' ... If the sheriff was to talk about the opportunity, I would have to decide if it was the right fit for he and I."

He said he's already considered whether he would keep his position as city commissioner should the offer be extended.

"Regardless of the legal answer, I don't think [keeping both positions] would pass the smell test," DeJesus said. "If the offer was made -- and there's a lot of presumption here, because he has a fire chief -- but if I was the right guy and it was the right position for me, I don't believe it would be appropriate for me to remain as a city official because [Cooper City] has a contract with BSO. It doesn't pass the smell test, and it wouldn't be the right thing to do. I would have to step down."

Maybe he and Lamberti haven't spoken about it, but it's clear from his responses that DeJesus has done a lot of thinking about it. In return, sources say Lamberti is leaning on him for political help. It's ironic, because one of the great selling points for Lamberti when he was appointed the position to replace the disgraced Ken Jenne was that, unlike his indicted predecessor, he was a veteran lawman instead of a politician. But it's become increasingly clear that Lamberti has become consumed by politics of late, perhaps to the detriment of his agency.

But DeJesus says he hasn't given the sheriff any political juice in Cooper City.

"He'd be leaning on the wrong person because I'm green to politics," said DeJesus. "I grew up in a career in public service. And I had a calling to the ministry."