Broward Is Open for Business

Yes, Ilene Lieberman showed up at yesterday's commission meeting.

But was she really there?

The AWOL commissioner was a veritable black hole, not participating in the least, except to cast votes with an "aye" and to decline adding anything else to the discussion.

She spent much of the time on her laptop. Understand that this is a woman who exerted more power over the board during the past decade than any other commissioner. The dragon lady has become a wallflower. 

The good news is that she looked perfectly healthy. After much pressure for an explanation, she cited health reasons for not showing up to the meetings, but she didn't appear ill in any way.

So what the hell is going on? Does she know something about the State Attorney's Office investigation we don't? Did her old friend and aide Bev Stracher flip on her? Did Lieberman cooperate against someone else? 

We'll just have to wait and see.  

-- Things are definitely slow today. Proof comes in the form of one of the biggest nonnews stories ever seen posted on a newspaper's website. The Sun-Sentinel has seen fit to add under its "Breaking News" banner a story about a Broward driver being busted in the Keys for speeding (62 in a 45) and then arrested for having a small amount of marijuana and a little bag of mushrooms.  

The most absurd part is that the Monroe County Sheriff's Office saw this as a photo op. Remember those big cocaine busts where drug agents would stand in front of a huge haul of cocaine bricks? Well, now we got a deputy holding up a little baggie with maybe a half-ounce of pot on a scale in front of him.

-- One of the topics Lieberman didn't weigh in on involved the new courthouse. While schools are threatened with crushing proposed cuts and state parks are being closed, Broward County is putting out its bid for the new courthouse tower. Inside, get the big picture of what to expect. Hint: It involves big money, plenty of lobbyists, and the heavy participation of "disadvantaged" subcontractors.   

Yesterday the commission approved a request for letters of interest from contractors interested in building the courthouse tower, which amounts to $170 million of the $328 million courthouse.

So now the real fun begins.

Expect a lobbying extravaganza on this one with heavyweights like Stiles Corp., Moss Construction, Skanska, and others jumping into the game. Each one will employ lobbyists, and soon you'll see commissioners falling into various lines. Here's how the county describes it: 

This project supports the Commission Goal of "A Pristine, Healthy Environment" by the provision of open space, and a sustainable green building.

The Public Works Department and the Office of Economic and Small Business Development established a 29% County Business Enterprise participation goal for this project (Exhibit 2).

The Construction Management Division is seeking a firm to contract for the demolition and reconstruction of the existing Broward County Courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale for an estimated construction cost of $170,000,000.

The Broward County Courthouse is located at 201 S.E. 6th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. The project will provide a new high-rise tower (approximately 700,000 square feet), demolition of the existing Central and East Wings, construction of a new 500-space secure parking garage and a new landscaped plaza.

Construction of the facility will be deliberately phased and planned to provide demolition and construction while daily operations are maintained on-site in existing structures.

It goes on a bit, but you get the picture. The letters will help the county establish a list of approved contractors, and then the low bidder wins the contract.

Notice that the county is demanding that 29 percent of the project -- roughly $50 million -- go to "County Business Enterprise" subcontractors. These are subcontractors that qualify as being "disadvantaged." You may remember that the county used to demand minority involvement in these contracts; well, courts have struck that down.

So now the county has created the category of "disadvantaged" companies. So how does a firm qualify as disadvantaged? Here's where it gets absurd. The owners of the company must have a net worth under $750,000 and must have done less than $5 million in gross revenues during the past three years. That's the official county brochure regarding the qualifications pictured above.  

You think this might lead to some fudging of assets to keep under that $750,000 threshold? Another problem: How long after one of these disadvantaged firms gets on the county gravy train before they aren't disadvantaged anymore?

This is going to be an incredibly complicated process, and I expect plenty of shenanigans. Let the games begin.

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Bob Norman
Contact: Bob Norman