Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Bill Julian says he was "not concerned" about reports of an ethically dubious contract between City Manager Mike Good and a local real estate agent because those reports did not appear in the Miami Herald or Sun-Sentinel. They appeared here in Juice and in a print edition of New Times.
The city is finalizing its termination of Good, but Julian's remarks illustrate the difficulty that the region's major newspapers have in performing watchdog duties, given their dwindling resources and economically frail condition. If they cannot, the question is how that affects local government.
It's been over six weeks since Juice broke news about what appeared an ethically dubious contract
: a real estate agent named Joe Kessel retained as a consultant by Good in July 2008. A month ago, we reported that as a real estate agent Kessel profited from the sale of at least one piece of land
to the city, receiving
a commission of over $15,000 at the same time he was under that consulting contract. He may also have collected $13,500 in commission for another parcel sold to the city.
Thursday I asked Julian whether those dealings played a role in his decision to fire Good.
"I wasn't very concerned about Kessel," said Julian. "I figured someone's probably doing an investigation, because it's gotten so much publicity."
But I corrected Julian, mentioning that in fact Juice was the only media source reporting on the Kessel contract. He conceded the point, then he said, "That's one reason I didn't have much concern, because the Sun-Sentinel and the Herald haven't written anything about this. So it really wasn't all that troubling, and we had so many other things to worry about."
Julian and Hallandale Mayor Joy Cooper have both claimed that their decision to abandon their past support of Good is based on the city manager's recent absenteeism. But as Commissioner Keith London and a slew of city activists have made clear, Good has been missing work long before he finally caught flak for it these last few weeks.
The timing suggests that the Kessel contract played a bigger role than city officials want to admit, particularly in the case of Cooper who displayed her reflex to defend Good in making a comment on this blog post
that only got him -- and her -- in more trouble.
Thus far, Cooper is the only member of the commission to say that she knew of the contract Good drew up for Kessel. If that's the case -- and if the dealings between the two break Florida law -- then Cooper is potentially culpable.
In the past, Cooper has proven herself adept at rolling up voting blocs, and it appears that her abandoning Good triggered two other commissioners to do the same.
Today's Sun-Sentinel article
on Good's termination (the paper's first), mentions the Kessel contract. But it creates an illusion that Good's firing was inevitable, that it happened organically through a system that works. Only the way the system is supposed to work is that the paper of record reports on potentially scandalous backroom deals, then the city manager is fired.
Too often, it seems, that happens in reverse, where some other event must occur to set the system in motion. For an even more vivid illustration of this troubling phenomenon, just check out this corruption compendium
at Daily Pulp.
Of course, it's also disturbing that city officials would be so incurious about reports of possible corruption in their midst, so dependent on local media and law enforcement. That brings me to a quote from my interview yesterday with Julian. Asked to elaborate on his reasons for not citing the Kessel deal in voting to terminate Good, Julian said it was "because if there was any criminal wrongdoing, I'm sure it would come out." He added: "In the end, people will get their punishment -- if it's necessary."
I suppose it should be refreshing to hear someone with such faith in the system, but in this case, it's anything but.