Bad Operation

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But the software shenanigan was small potatoes compared with what followed. Also in 2000, the hospital district decided it needed an office building to help attract doctors. At the same time, Forman and Murphy were buying up property on the 1600 block of nearby South Andrews Avenue. Mahaney told the feds that Murphy contacted her to see if the hospital district would be interested in the land, but she claims her good friend Forman never broached the subject.

Whether that's true or not, Mahaney was soon formulating the office building project with the Andrews Avenue site in mind. Forman and Murphy then brought in Stiles, another prominent developer who owns Stiles Corp., to build the project.

There were no bids, just a good old-fashioned deal between friends. In all, the 1.6 acres cost Forman and Murphy about $4.5 million. But the board is set to pay that cost in cash, along with $2.1 million for a parking garage. Wouldn't want anybody but us taxpayers to pay much of anything, after all.

On November 19, 2001, the first article about the proposed deal was published. "This building will really help the hospital," the Sun-Sentinel quoted Mahaney as saying. "Ultimately, this is our building."

In hindsight, you have to wonder who Mahaney really meant by "our." The board approved the rotten $170 million deal in February 2002.

I met Doug Eagon, president of Stiles Corp., for lunch at the Brasserie Las Olas last week to talk about the project. There, I learned that Eagon is a thoroughly gracious fellow and has a tasty sandwich named after him on the menu ("Doug Eagon's Favorite BBQ Sandwich"). But he supplied no facts to counter the evidence that this was a horrific deal for taxpayers.

For instance, I thought that the partners would at least manage and maintain the building, but Eagon dispelled that notion. "The district has a lot of infrastructure and resources," he said, "so they will deal with security and janitorial duties."

But Stiles will at least maintain the plumbing and wiring and other fundamental building matters, right?

"Well, no, we still have to discuss all those details," he said.

Eagon pointed out that the district has projected that rents from doctors in the building would come to $400 million over the 55 years. So NBHD would also do quite well in the deal, making some $230 million.

But the "Hey, everybody's making out good in this deal" argument doesn't cut it. The district is still paying $100 million too much for the building. Why shouldn't taxpayers make $330 million? And such projections are notoriously overblown anyway. Remember how much revenue the Office Depot Center was supposed to bring the county?

To be fair, Eagon and his boss, Stiles, are only taking advantage of a sweet business opportunity. NBHD executives are to blame. Not only was Mahaney leading the charge on the deal but she had the feckless Trower behind her, as well as William Scherer, the district's general counsel, who happens to be a long-time Forman business partner. Scherer has publicly stated that he owes everything to the Formans, who gave him his start as an influence peddler. So we know where his loyalty lies. Scherer, who actually uses a public relations firm to deal with the media, didn't return my calls.

It's no wonder that the seven-member NBHD board would approve this mess either. Most of the commissioners aren't public servants -- they're political and business opportunists who were repaid for their loyalty to Jeb Bush with an appointment by the governor. There is Paul Sallarulo, a financial adviser for Wachovia Securities who helped run campaigns for both the governor and the president; Dorsey Miller, one of Broward's most prominent black Republican activists and a staunch supporter of the Bushes; and John D. Collins, a builder who bought himself a place on the board by raising more than $100,000 for George W.'s presidential campaign and supporting the governor.

I called Miller about the deal, and he initially said, "I'm not really up to date on that issue right now." Well, it is only $170 million, after all. Then he said he'd make a call and ring me back up. When he did, all he would say was, "The information I had, that [NBHD staff] gave me, I was satisfied with it when I made my vote."

Now, that's what I call accountable.

Stiles also has cozy connections to the board. His former business partner Steven Berrard, who used to be billionaire Wayne Huizenga's righthand man, has a seat, as does one of Stiles' former lobbyists, J. Luis Rodriguez, who last week was named chairman.

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Bob Norman
Contact: Bob Norman