Burn, Oliphant, Burn

It's a blessing to live in a county where all elected officials but one are so good and wholesome. Great to breathe the same air as politicians who are as clean as Britney Spears' teeth and who can root out evildoers in a way our great warrior president can only envy.

And we must thank providence that two Broward County leaders, Commissioner Lori Parrish and state Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, have led the deafening charge to excoriate that one bad seed in our political garden, that malignant tumor on our collective lung, that personification of all that is bad in our hearts. I speak, of course, of Elections Supervisor Miriam Oliphant.

It's not enough that we vote her out of office -- we must hold her out for constant public humiliation, try to force her resignation, and hopefully get her indicted and tossed in prison.

Make no mistake about it: Parrish and Campbell will help smoke her out. Yes, they'll either bring Oliphant to justice or bring justice to Oliphant. Either way, the state of Broward County is, and will continue to be, strong.

We all know Oliphant's sordid story. She took office two years ago, shortly after Broward played a leading role in the greatest election debacle in the history of mankind. Oliphant was elected after the U.S. Supreme Court decided the presidency, and she wasted no time in starting her jihad on Broward's heretofore unshakable tradition of governmental decency and honor.

First, she hired several associates and gave a bunch of contracts to minority companies. We had never seen this shocking brand of chicanery before -- was it what some call "political patronage"? That stuff may play in Peoria but not in Broward. I mean, it's not like Oliphant is the first black person in Broward history to win a countywide election. Oh, wait... actually she is -- but what does that have to do with it?

It may be true that Oliphant was trying to help balance the scales, to give the black community an equal stake in county business. But that just proves that she's one of those backward-thinking, Nubian nabobs of negativism who believe that racism still exists in South Florida. I mean, segregation was dead by the time disco was born. Bought any Gloria Gaynor records recently? I didn't think so.

But that's not the worst of it. Oliphant has also been accused of trying to wrangle extra funds from companies that vied for the lucrative touch-screen voting-machine contract last year. That's right -- she had the audacity to say that if the companies gave her office additional money for voter outreach programs (mostly to bring more black voters to the polls, as if we needed more of those) she would support them in the selection process. You might think this sounds like a simple negotiation tactic, but you'd be wrong. No, it's a crime somehow, and we know it. Right now, the bane of corrupt officials, State Attorney Michael Satz, has his men on the case. Godspeed, Mr. Satz.

There were other problems, including 500 uncounted ballots and a county audit that found that her office overspent its annual budget by $921,000. More than half of that money went to new positions and staff raises. The rest went to operating costs and capital expenditures. Oliphant would have you believe that some of this extra money was spent on the new touch-screen voting system. But really, how hard can it be to revolutionize voting in a ship-shape county like Broward?

Yes, Election Systems & Software -- the company hired by the county over Oliphant's objections -- has proven to be a disaster, making promises it hasn't kept. And yes, the same company's performance in Miami-Dade County was so miserable that it hastened the resignation of election chief David Leahy and, by county estimates, cost $5 million more than expected. There's talk that Miami-Dade might drop ES&S even after spending $25 million on the firm's machines.

Here, though, we know better than to question a contractor, especially one that hires well-connected lobbyists like Russ Klenet, who represented ES&S before the Broward commission. Here, the commission knows the real problem lies solely with Oliphant herself.

County Commissioner Parrish is doing everything in her power to exorcise the diabolical Oliphant from public life. Parrish has always had good instincts; she didn't like Miriam from the get-go. In fact, she actively worked on the campaign of David Brown, a political consultant who ran against Oliphant in 2000. The defeat of a good, loyal lapdog like Brown didn't make the commissioner bitter. No, Parrish isn't like that. She isn't some kind of weird control freak. Ask anybody.

On the contrary, Parrish cares precious little about the dirty process of politics and much about fastidious oversight of taxpayers' money. Sure, she sometimes steers big contracts and lucrative public deals to political contributors, but ain't that America? When she strong-armed the negotiation process in 1997 to give developer Michael Swerdlow $120 million for Port Everglades land valued at half that, she did it because she thought it was a fair deal.

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Bob Norman
Contact: Bob Norman