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In Miramar, Beware of Gazebos

One of the puzzling parts of the criminal complaint against former Miramar Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman is why Salesman, if he was truly bent on helping crooked contractors get city work, didn't shoot for the moon. Why not reel in a contract for more than a million dollars? After all, Salesman allegedly stood to collect a percentage of whatever city contracts the undercover agents landed, so bigger should have been better. Instead, he's accused of steering small contracts -- for a couple of gazebos and a gymnasium floor.

But I think I can shed light on this subject. In 2002, the Miramar City Commission -- including Salesman -- voted to change the city code so that the city manager's office would be free to spend up to $50,000 without needing approval from the commission. That standard had been $25,000 before.

Fast-forward to the affidavit in Salesman's case: It says that his illegal activity with the undercover agent began in April 2006, when Salesman contacted a "high-ranking Miramar city official" and asked that person "if he had any 'no bid' $50,000 jobs available."

A moment ago, in response to phone messages I left with a number of Miramar officials, I received a call back from Phil Rosenberg, the human resources director. He confirmed to me that "anything over $50,000 requires a public process." That includes advertising a bid, then a public analysis of the merits of the competing firms, followed by a vote of the commission's five members. When it's under $50,000, says Rosenberg, there's a procurement process, which is explained on page 8 of this city code.

There is still a competitive element to those projects, says Rosenberg. "It's just a matter of how intensive."

Back to Salesman's criminal complaint. He allegedly told an undercover agent he had a friend with the city, bragging that he "basically got him that f-ing job." Salseman is said to have set up a meeting between that official and the undercover agent, and that's where the gazebo plan was allegedly cooked up.

The plan called for building two gazebos in Miramar parks, but they would be built separately -- and presumably with separate contracts.Since the price tag was $34,366, there was no need to make a request for proposals and get approval from the commission.

The complaint isn't very clear about how many gazebo contracts were awarded to the undercover agents -- at least three, by my count. They make a nice metaphor for the culture that appears to lie at the heart of the case against Salesman, as well as Broward School Board member Beverly Gallagher. In this county, we build not because we need to but because a powerful interest needs to. In Gallagher's case, that leads to empty schools. In Salesman's case, that leads to gazebos, the ultimate construction superfluity.

I left messages but have not heard back from City Manager Robert Payton and Assistant City Manager Vernon Hargray.

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Thomas Francis

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