Bros and Cons

It's starting to hurt all over for Parkland Mayor Bob Marks.

First, he's the subject of a criminal investigation of his financial ties with WCI Communities, the biggest developer in town.

Then his wife, Carolyn, files to run against him. But don't worry — their marriage is as strong as ever. She says she supports her hubby all the way and is in the race only to keep the Marks name on the ballot just in case ol' Bob gets, well, you know, indicted.

Did the newspapers celebrate this act of selfless love? Uh-uh. Instead, the mayor and his bride have been met with ridicule. And that may have led to the surprise announcement last Thursday that Madame Marks was dropping out of the race.

To those people who claim he's transformed the city's political landscape into an absurd circus, I ask: What's wrong with that? Where are we supposed to get our entertainment? American Idol? My Name Is Earl? The Super Bowl Pregame? Parkland's almost all we have left. It's sort of a soap opera, only filled with exceedingly dull, duplicitous, and wealthy suburbanites. OK, put that way, it really is a soap opera.

And there's one great Marks story line that remains unknown to the public at large concerning a man named Mike Squillace. Wonder who still supports Marks after all of this? Well, Squillace has taken up the mantle as Marks' Backer Number One. He's the mayor's first major campaign contributor, and he's having a party soon to honor the illustrious mayor.

But Squillace's starring role in As Parkland Turns begins with a knock on the door of City Hall in September 2004. Squillace, you see, owns a company called All Terrain Landscaping, and he got a brilliant idea the day after Hurricane Frances struck. Trees had fallen. He could stand them back up. He's a landscaper, after all.

So Squillace told city engineer Charles DaBrusco and former Assistant City Manager John Mattlin that he'd like the job.

"I just walked into the office and said, 'You guys need any help to stand trees?'" recounts Squillace, who is 44 years old and kept calling me bro. "They said, 'We need you, and we need you desperately. '"

Squillace says he walked out of the city that day with a $135,000 contract to pick up trees. Not bad work if you can get it. The problem is that the city's own rules dictate that any contract for more than $25,000 require a process that includes bids and staff evaluation of companies. None of that, of course, was done.

So why did he get that sweet plum? Well, the only tie Squillace seemed to have with the city was a friendship — with Mayor Bob Marks. Marks had recruited Squillace to join a couple of city-related committees around the turn of the century, and All Terrain had contributed $500 to Marks' campaign for mayor in 2003.

In the February 2005 edition of Parkland Life Magazine, a pro-business, good-news publication, the two men were photographed side-by-side after Marks recruited Squillace to volunteer to put trees up around the stadium at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Both men have also worked extensively for WCI Communities, the developer that has helped get Marks into all kinds of trouble [see "The Mayor's Trial," April 21, 2005].

The All Terrain owner, however, insists that Marks didn't help him get the contract. "I didn't talk to Bob," he insists. "I didn't say, 'Hey Bob, can you get me this job?' Some of the other landscapers were pissed off that I got the job, but, bro, I was the only one that went in there and asked."

Some don't believe that's the case. Former City Commissioner Ricky Gordon is convinced that Marks helped Squillace get the dubious contract with the city. "That contract violated the city's competitive bidding process," said Gordon, an elected official in Parkland for 14 years before he was voted out of office in March 2004.

"I think Bob Marks doesn't get it. I think Bob Marks got to a stage that many politicians do where they think they have an entitlement. They think they are immune and they have this right, this entitlement to do what they want. And it's insulting to the intelligence of the people of Parkland."

The city manager who signed the deal, Harry Mertz, said he didn't deal directly with Squillace but approved the contract because it was an emergency situation. Mertz, who retired just a few weeks after the dubious deal was struck, says he has no knowledge that Marks was involved.

The new city manager, Mark Lauzier, immediately balked at the deal. Lauzier would authorize paying Squillace only half the money, or $67,500. He also claimed that All Terrain had gouged the city and that the contract wasn't legal in the first place.

Commissioner Michael Udine, a political foe of Marks' who is now running against him for mayor, didn't buy it either. He called for a State Attorney's Office investigation.

"At best the issue stinks with the appearance of impropriety...," he wrote to Parkland City Attorney Andrew Maroudis on March 7, 2005. "I cannot check logic and common sense at the door on this one. I do not believe that someone just showed up the day after the hurricane, no references were checked, no presentation to staff was made, no prices were offered and the contract was just signed off on."

Against this bombardment, Mayor Marks stood by Squillace's side and publicly argued his case at City Hall meetings. Say what you will, but the man is loyal.

Squillace, for his part, turns the tables and accuses the city of corruption. He claims that Lauzier, who wouldn't comment to me on the matter, and other officials asked him to commit fraud on paperwork so that FEMA would pay the All Terrain bill rather than Parkland. "I wouldn't do it, bro," Squillace says. "I didn't want anything to do with these dirty scoundrels."

A bitter lawsuit ended last year with the city agreeing to pay All Terrain's bill in full. Yet in the scant newspaper coverage on the case, Marks' involvement — or lack thereof — was never mentioned. When I tried to talk to him about it, I lost him at hello. "I'm in the middle of something and can't talk to you," he said before hanging up the phone.

This whole thing may have been forgotten except for one small fact: Squillace is now one of Marks' biggest campaign boosters. Or, according to the first campaign report Marks filed, All Terrain is really his only major contributor to date.

Through January 20, Marks had raised $2,525 in contributions. Most of it, however, came from Marks himself. Between the mayor's own bank account and his janitorial businesses, Marks gave himself $1,500. The other $1,000 came on January 19 from Squillace, $500 from his company and $500 from his wife, Darlene, who is also vice president of the firm.

Squillace, who arguably should be laying low during this campaign season after his notorious dance with the city, is also throwing a fundraiser for Marks at his home in the Ranches on February 24.

"Yeah, I'm throwing a party for him," the landscaper says. "Want to come?"

Wouldn't miss it for the world, bro.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman