Broward News

Broward Health Chair Refuses to Discuss Political Motives Behind Board Transformation

Tomorrow morning, Broward Health Chair Rhonda Calhoun will convene a board that has four new members, all appointed last week by Gov. Charlie Crist, who removed two colleagues whom Calhoun admired -- commissioners Robert Bernstein and Dan Gordon.

She was given no explanation by the governor's office as to its reasons for passing over Bernstein and Gordon, whose terms were not renewed. "I would never speculate on something like that," Calhoun said today.

Of course, there's no need for an explanation when the reason for those moves is perfectly obvious: Crist's office had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the demands by Bernstein for stricter enforcement of ethics guidelines.

Bernstein's efforts in that respect first led to an internal investigation of Commissioner Joseph Cobo, findings that prompted a criminal investigation by the Broward State Attorney's Office. More recently, Bernstein had questioned the ethical conduct of district CEO Frank Nask and his chief backer on the board, Commissioner Mike Fernandez, a fraternity brother of Crist's.

By missing the meeting Wednesday, Fernandez and Cobo caused its cancellation, effectively avoiding a vote on whether to terminate Nask. They missed the previous month's meeting too, where Bernstein was also preparing to put Nask on the spot. In more than two years, it was the first and second time that Fernandez had missed a meeting, each of which are scheduled months in advance.

Did Fernandez and Cobo have a political motive for missing the meeting? "I don't know anything about that," Calhoun answered, saying again that it would be irresponsible for her to speculate. Rather, she assumes that Fernandez really did have a conflict with work and that Cobo really was sick.

"At this point, what I'm really hopeful for is a new beginning," Calhoun said. "Sometimes you just have to close the door to look forward."

If that note sounds a familiar tone, it's because that's what district officials said several years ago after New Times' Bob Norman exposed an insider culture rife with kickbacks and waste. "I wasn't here then," Calhoun snapped.

True, but her board faces challenges that may be even more dire. The State Attorney's investigation is still pending, and there's the looming threat of a federal investigation for fraud. Is "looking forward" a luxury that she and her fellow commissioners can afford?

"I don't think that's a 'luxury,' in any way," Calhoun answered. "It's just that in life and in business, sometimes you have an opportunity to make a new start."

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Thomas Francis