Access Hollywood

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Berman-Miller was supposed to help make up the shortfall. In September 2003, she became director of the city's newly created Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs. Earning $40,000 per year, Berman-Miller became partially responsible for raising money for the financially troubled ArtsPark.

In a letter dated November 17, 2004, City Manager Cameron Benson explained to a developer that Berman-Miller "committed to bring in $1.8 million through fundraising efforts."

She was unable to meet the commitment.

"I have to admit that I am not aware of her raising any money for ArtsPark [as a city employee]," Commissioner Sal Oliveri says.

"She didn't raise a dime," Commissioner Russo echoes.

Berman-Miller says she simply wasn't able to raise funds as a city employee. "The [$1.8 million] commitment you refer to was a pledge by the combined leadership of the Art and Culture Center," Berman-Miller says. "Everyone involved in that pledge decided we needed more than $1.8 million, and the best way to raise this private-sector money was through a separate foundation for which I continue to work as a volunteer with many other volunteers coordinating the efforts."

For Berman-Miller, getting money from Hollywood has proven as worthwhile a task as getting money for Hollywood. In 2005, her mother opened an office of NewStar Realty on the south side of Young Circle, in a two-story office building. On the first floor, Silverthorne opened NewStar Gallery. On the second, she housed her real estate office.

Silverthorne hoped to capitalize on the blending of art and business in Hollywood. And the city agreed to help finance those efforts. On June 21, 2005, the City Commission, acting as the CRA, voted 5-2 to award a $5,667 grant to NewStar, with Commissioners Peter Bober and Russo dissenting. The grant was for NewStar to build an art installation outside its two-story office building. As director of the city's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, Berman-Miller was responsible for Hollywood's marketing and development of the arts, though she says she did not play a role in NewStar's grant application and did not attend the CRA meeting.

"NewStar is very proud of the contribution it has made to the revitalization of Young Circle," Berman-Miller says. "My family and I are dedicated supporters of the arts. The $5,000 grant covered about 20 or 25 percent of what we personally spent on the installation of this public work of art."

Today, an intricate design of metal rods stands in front of NewStar. It looks like scaffolding, likely an accidental irony given the construction zone that has become Young Circle.

Shortly after NewStar Realty received the $5,667 grant from Hollywood's CRA, Berman-Miller went to City Hall for her own private business deal. Partnering with MG3 Developer Group, a company whose principals are Brazilian developers, Berman-Miller submitted two development proposals to the city.

On June 23, 2005, Berman-Miller and MG3 proposed Tango Gardens, a development of 60 townhouses, including some affordable housing, on the city-owned land at Adams Street and 24th Avenue. Less than two weeks later, on July 5, 2005, Berman-Miller and MG3 submitted a proposal for Metro Hollywood, 87 to 118 condos, townhouses, and lofts to be built on the $6 million CRA land known as the Dixie Highway Project. The architect for Metro Hollywood is another familiar face at City Hall: Margi Nothard, lead designer of the ArtsPark.

In both proposals, Berman-Miller noted that she is a "licensed real estate agent with NewStar Realty." She did not volunteer the fact that she received her state license on May 31, 2005, about a month before she submitted the proposals.

Although Berman-Miller eventually resigned from her position with the city, she was in fact a city employee at the time both proposals were submitted, a clear conflict of interest. But due to Hollywood's lax ethics code for employees, she was legally able to play on both sides of the fence — something one city commissioner claims he wasn't aware of until now.

Miller's letter of resignation is dated July 17, 2005, but she claims that's a typo — she wrote it a month earlier, she says. Either way, her last date of employment was July 15, nearly a month after she asked to do business with the city.

"I didn't know that," Commissioner Oliveri says. "That's not appropriate. I certainly don't think that's ethical."

"To my knowledge, I have not violated any laws, ordinances, or ethics regarding conflicts of interest," Berman-Miller says. "I left the City of Hollywood on good terms and started a new career. I still care deeply about the city's future. There are no conflicts of interest."

According to City Attorney Dan Abbott, Berman-Miller is correct. "The city does have a Code of Ethics ordinance that, amongst other things, prohibits employee conflicts of interest," Abbott says. "In particular, the ordinance prohibits certain city employees from accepting private employment with entities who seek to do business with the city. However, the ordinance is limited to those employees who have a role in deciding whether the city will enter into a business relationship with the private entity. Ms. Berman-Miller, as director of Arts and Cultural Affairs, of course, had no city role in deciding which developers would be retained for redevelopment projects. There was, accordingly, no conflict of interest."

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson