If you're really paying attention to the Broward County School Board, you're mad as hell.
This is a board of nine elected politicians whose campaigns have been largely financed by the construction industry and its lobbyists. During the past several years, they've wasted hundreds of millions of dollars to allow those same contractors to overbuild the district by 35,000 classroom seats, leaving the board broke and billions in debt in the process. It's a disaster that will have a profound and dismal impact on the county for years to come.
And this was no grand mistake. It was a planned and premeditated rifling of hundreds of millions of tax dollars to fuel the lobbyists and contractors who funded the board members' campaigns. Like any Ponzi scheme, they thought the money would keep flowing. But it stopped, and the district is left in ruins.
When auditors exposed an example of the corruption in the board's construction department, the board, led by Stephanie Kraft, responded by attacking the auditors.
The board has no excuses. The financial books don't lie. They've driven the district into near-bankruptcy. They can either come clean now or circle the wagons of the gravy train.
Not surprisingly, they've chosen the latter strategy. On August 11, the board randomly praised Superintendent Jim Notter, who has overseen the debacle. The board members are so happy with his performance that they want to extend his $300,000 contract for three extra years.
His main problem, they said, is that he doesn't have a better public relations strategy. Of course no PR campaign is going to change the fact that the board members bankrupted the district to pad the wallets of the people who funded their campaigns. And voting to extend the contract of the man who orchestrated the scam isn't going to help. It only proves that the board members were (are) complicit in the scam rather than just being unwitting dupes. They have the information now. They know what has happened. And to extend Notter's contract is the height of arrogance and cynicism. Basically, they can't pretend like they really care about the welfare of the district anymore. Only their own political survival.
The contract extension idea should enrage everyone except the corrupt machine that manipulates the board. The Broward Teachers Union, which has been following this disaster for years now, is calling for Notter's firing. John Ristow, spokesman for BTU President Pat Santeramo, fired off an email to me August 12 in obvious disgust.
"Maybe I am just frustrated and a little bewildered, but what do you have to do to get a 'bad' evaluation in this district?" Ristow wrote. "[Notter] has squandered MILLIONS of tax dollars and put the district's construction to the brink of financial collapse as well as overseen the largest number of layoffs in decades even when presented with viable alternatives. That is deserving of a three-year extension? Considered by the same school board members who paid a quarter of a million dollars to buy out Superintendent [Frank] Till's contract... what, a few months early?"
Note to school board members: You're digging yourselves deeper into your hole. And it looks like you're only going to get buried in the end.
Former GOP Staffer Arrested
Jason Wetherington, the young Republican staffer who boasted to numerous witnesses of having an affair with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and was recently featured in the movie Outrage, has been booked on felony charges related to a theft from the daughter of Pastor Larry Thompson, who leads the large and influential First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale.
Wetherington was charged August 5 with grand larceny, dealing in stolen property, and false verification of ownership, said Fort Lauderdale Police Sgt. Frank Sousa.
Pastor Thompson's daughter, Jennifer Thompson Jones, reported to police that Wetherington, a longtime family friend and member of her father's church, was housesitting her Las Olas condo in late July. When she returned, he was gone — along with three rings, including her wedding and engagement rings, worth a total of $19,000, according to the probable-cause affidavit.
Police investigated and found that Wetherington had pawned the rings at a shop called Diamonds by the Cove in Deerfield Beach on July 20, according to the affidavit.
I contacted Wetherington, who is apparently living in Georgia, on the phone and asked him about the criminal charges.
"Let me stop you now," Wetherington said. "I'm going to tell you that I don't have any comment, and I'm going to pass your number to my attorney, and he'll get in contact with you."
The story goes deeper. Thompson Jones also wrote an email warning friends about Wetherington that wound up in my box. In it she claims Wetherington admitted to stealing her wedding rings and that he also rifled $5,000 from Pastor Thompson's family safe. The latter allegation is not mentioned in the police reports.
"Jason clearly has serious problems that go beyond substance abuse which does not stop with his friendships," Thompson Jones wrote. "He expressed to me that he feels better by hurting those who have helped him and supported him. I am pressing felony charges against Jason. As a counselor I recognize the reality of continuing to help someone who never has to face any consequences. I can not be an enabler to Jason. I pray for Jason and I hope that he gets the help he needs."
The 24-year-old Wetherington has long been a member of Thompson's prominent downtown church and, however this shakes out, it's a sad case. He was a rising GOP star as a teen, serving as a page in Tallahassee and as the student liaison for the Broward County School Board. From there, he served as an aide to state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff and as a regional field director for Katherine Harris' U.S. Senate campaign.
It was while working for Harris that he told numerous independent sources that he was having an affair with Crist and came out as gay to Pastor Thompson. When I confronted him about his boasts, Wetherington admitted he knew Crist and had applied for a job in the governor's office but denied making the boasts.
Crist denied knowing Wetherington at all. After I wrote about Wetherington and another Harris staffer who claimed to have had an affair with Crist (Bruce Carlton Jordan, a felon himself), Hollywood attorney Todd Payne swooped in to represent Wetherington, who was removed from the state prior to Crist's election.
You have to wonder if anybody is coming to his aid right now.
The South Florida Herald-Post-Sentinel
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It has already happened: The three large South Florida daily newspapers have morphed together. Now we just have to wonder when they'll officially merge.
I've received two communiqués recently on the "content-sharing agreement" among the three newspapers run amok. The first begins: "Sun-Sentinel readers probably had reason to believe they were reading the Palm Beach Post on Thursday [July 30]. The local section of the Sun-Sentinel's Palm Beach County edition had more staff credit for the Palm Beach Post than its own newspaper."
The email summarized the Sentinel's local section tally: It included four Sentinel bylines, none from Palm Beach-based Sentinel staffers, and no pictures from Sentinel photographers. Meanwhile, the section had five Post bylines, two briefs, and four photos.
So the Post is taking over the Sentinel's Palm Beach edition, and the Sentinel is beginning to dominate the Herald's Broward edition. What you take away from all this is that competition between the newspapers is all but dead. And it's all done in the name of cutting costs and laying off employees to pay off corporate debt and/or shareholders.