Grand Jury Report Another Exercise in Futility | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Bob Norman's Pulp

Grand Jury Report Another Exercise in Futility

When ineffective governments lack the strength or wherewithal to act, there is only one thing left for them to do.

They issue reports.

I can't say that the statewide grand jury that has been investigating the Broward County School Board's construction department will fail to make cases, but the fact that it issued a big fat report over the holidays is not a good sign.

Last Wednesday, the grand jury called together to fight corruption by outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist and headed by Chief Broward Judge Victor Tobin put out a 127-page report titled "A Study of Public Corruption in Florida and Recommended Solutions." You can read it here if you have a good part of your day to kill. Listed at the bottom of the title page, as if to eliminate any doubt about where ground zero for corruption in the state resides, is the city where the study was written, Fort Lauderdale.

The report begins with gobbledygook about corruption being an "enormous issue that is broad in scope and long in history." It talks about the theft of "vital public funds" and, in a flush of creativity, coins the term "Florida Corruption Tax" (italics are theirs). Before listing the recommendations, the grand jury writes that they are "as valid now as they were a decade ago."

Perhaps that is a faint echo to the last report issued by a grand jury that looked into Broward County School Board corruption. That grand jury was called by Michael Satz and headed by John Countryman and produced a 77-page report in 1997. Seventy-seven pages and no arrests. Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm noted at the time that the report failed to "indict a single miscreant" and landed the "largest thud imaginable." He noted that it was a reminder that the board had "wasted millions upon millions in an incredibly shabby construction program."

"Thanks, Your Grand Jury," wrote Grimm, "but we already knew that."

Ditto on this new report. Look, people don't want reports from grand juries. We in the media can handle the reports. People want the crooks who have stolen our vital public funds to go to jail.

OK, so what were its recommendations? The usual. Stiffen penalties for corruption, toughen laws, count private contractors that do business with governments as public officials under the law, stop bid-rigging, etc.

Perfectly fine suggestions. Just wish it would come after some arrests rather than in lieu of them.

After the current report was released December 29, newspapers dutifully splashed it on the front pages. That doesn't mean there won't be headlines to come of actual arrests made by this grand jury, but it does look a little grim right now.

The good news is that Satz's public corruption unit has been making cases, including the arrest of the Mr. and Mrs. Stephanie Kraft. I recently wrote about the fact that the Coral Springs Commission has in its wisdom decided to keep Mitch Kraft, who is charged with bribery and unlawful compensation along with his wife, on its planning and zoning board. Inside, see a photographic clue as to why that small outrage is occurring.

Here's the picture: