What does a real estate agent like Joe Kessel know about managing city government? Whatever it is, it's worth at least $36,000 per year based on a consulting agreement that Hallandale Beach City Manager Mike Good forged with Kessel in July 2008.
Kessel, a former specialist in health-care information technology, now has a second career as a real estate agen in South Florida. When he inked the deal with Good, Kessel was working for Century 21 in its efforts to sell condos at the Dynasty Ocean on South Ocean Drive. I asked Kessel what taxpayers got in exchange for his services.
"I don't know why all of this is going on -- it's not that important," Kessel answered, adding, " I don't want to be adversarial."
Of course, it didn't have to be adversarial. These are tax dollars at work.
"I'm on very precarious ground, and it has nothing to do with my willingness [to answer the question]," Kessel told me. "It's a matter of integrity as it relates to my agreement." Although he acknowledged that this income was public, Kessel claimed that by being more candid about his city business, he could disturb the delicate balance of some ongoing matter.
"Things that I might do might be better served..." said Kessel, his voice trailing off. "If the city isn't ready to come out about what's being done, because all the information isn't together... It really is at the discretion of the city."
Doesn't make much sense, does it? I tried to simplify the matter for him. I asked Kessel to name one single task that he performed in his capacity as a consultant to the city. But he insisted that the problem was on my end. I needed to understand his predicament.
"Let's say there's some sort of something that -- if it came out prematurely -- would damage the city and by association, the taxpayer."
Kessel is currently working for Keller Williams Realty. Is his work for the city related to his real estate work?
"Some could be," he answered.
Commissioner Keith London first asked for records relating to the city's contract with Kessel in late December. He had to wait six weeks just to get the three-page contract with Kessel, and London's still waiting for more public records, like those that reflect that Good posted an advertisement for the consulting position, then considered candidates before deciding on Kessel.
"I don't know what the guy got paid," says London. "I don't know what he did. I don't know whether there was anybody who could have done it better. I just asked the questions."
A longtime critic of the city manager, London also wants to know why Good never brought the matter before the commission as an agenda item. Technically, Good isn't required to do so -- he has the freedom to spend up to $50,000 without asking for commission approval. But in London's view, it's still matter of demonstrating good faith.
"This is not the city manager's personal slush fund," says London. "This is taxpayer money."
The contract itself doesn't offer any clues about Kessel's work. It calls for him to "assist the city manager on issues related to such topics as overall management, budget and finance, growth management, city development and redevelopment strategic planning, program evaluation and issues forecasting, public relations, including meeting with organizations, civic groups and staff."
In short, he consults on everything -- or nothing. Whatever it is, it pays $3,000 per month. The contract with Kessel called for it to be automatically renewed on its one-year anniversary last July, and Kessel confirmed to me that it was, meaning that he will have received $72,000 by the time the contract comes up again this July.
The contract also allows for Good to reimburse Kessel for expenses. London has been waiting for more than 100 days to see those numbers.
Good was not in City Hall when I called this morning. If he or another city official calls back, I'll update this post.