While the Chaitgate corruption investigation rages on, Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman won't be at today's commission meeting. She's gone to China.
Lieberman's office confirmed she left for Beijing yesterday as part of a delegation representing the National Association of Counties. She will be there for ten days to "promote economic development."
The commissioner, who has come under intense scrutiny in the State Attorney's Office investigation of the dealings of dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait, is currently president of the Florida Association of Counties, which is affiliated with the national group.
Interestingly, a vote is scheduled today on Item 51, which would provide an exemption to the new gift ban that would allow the Florida Association of Counties and National Association of Counties to pay commissioners' way to official events involving those organizations.
The county will also be voting on a health insurance contract with Aetna -- a Florida Association of Counties' "sponsor." One activist, Broward Coalition President Charlotte Greenbarg, is taking exception to Item 51 because, if approved by the commission, she says, the FAC will receive $2 a month on all county policies involving Aetna.
Basically this looks like a circular deal. The county -- which also pays dues to those organizations -- funds the association, which then pays for their junket trips to hotels, where they are feted by special interests.
Go inside to see who is funding Lieberman's trip to the Orient.
Here's a key excerpt from Greenbarg's email to commissioners:
Problem is that the Florida Assoc. of Counties (FAC), President of which is Comm. Ilene Lieberman, contacted each Commissioner re: this selection. Turns out that the FAC would get $2/month for each enrolled employee if Aetna gets the contract. This is a statewide "arrangment" that FAC has with Aetna.There's nothing wrong per se with the company Aetna; but the "arrangment" waddles and quacks.
Furthermore, FAC Pres. Lieberman is presently in China representing FAC.
So how is this connected to Item 51? Well, we need an open record of who gets and gives what to whom. We wanted full public disclosure when we demanded an Ethics ordinance. When FAC has an event (and the National Assoc. of Counties and others likewise), there are sponsors for the open bars, for example, and those sponsors are often law firms and lobbyists that do business with counties or have clients who do. But we don't know that, do we? It's not easily available information. And there's the rub.
You need to let the Ethics Ordinance continue to take effect before you begin to make any changes, and Item 51 is a very large change.
UPDATED: I just received a news release on the trip from the National Association of Counties. Apparently Lieberman is paying for her airfare, but all of her "in-country costs" are being paid by the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC). Here's the release:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Broward County, Fla. Commissioner Ilene Lieberman has been selected to be one of eight county officials to participate in a trip to the People's Republic of China Sept. 1 - Sept.11 to promote economic development and discuss key issues with Chinese officials.
While in China, the delegation of county officials will meet with U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. The issues that the group will discuss in meetings with Chinese officials include health care, environmental protection, economic development, transportation and rural development.
The delegation will visit three cities - Beijing, Harbin and Shanghai - and attend the China-U.S. Friendship Cities Forum. At the forum, NACo President Glen Whitley, Tarrant County (Texas) Judge, will participate on a panel. The group will also attend the World Expo in Shanghai.
The trip was organized by the National Association of Counties (NACo). The Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) is hosting the delegation in China. CPAFFC is paying all in-country costs for the delegation. Lieberman will pay for travel to and from China.