Lobbyist-Commissioners Go to Kill Ethics Reform; And Photographic Evidence That Charlie Crist Loves the Ladies?

We've seen indictments, we've seen handcuffs, we've seen some of the worst elements in this town go down hard.

But please don't think that things have changed. They haven't. This place is still run by the lowest common denominator. There's still a whole lot of work to be done.

I even had a brief moment there myself where I thought Broward County might be on the road to redemption. But any thought of that was killed when the Broward County Commission made its low-down and ugly attempt to kill the ethics reform it claimed it wanted.

The commission decided that the single best aspect of the ethics reform a citizen-based commission came up with -- a ban on lobbying in all parts of the county by commissioners and, to a lesser degree, their spouses.

Well, the lobbyists on the commission didn't like that provision. They make a lot of good money by peddling their influence as politicians in cities that often rely on them for votes. Yes, it's corrupt, and yes, banning it is a very good idea. Here are the main backers of this ploy:

Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, who has

lobbied in Broward towns and cities for developers and others using her lobbyist name, Ilene Michelson.

Commissioner John Rodstrom, who peddles bond deals in cities that rely on his votes, most recently winning a contract in Sunrise.

Commissioner Stacy Ritter, who, as we all know, has a lobbyist-husband who has made a fortune in part by riding the coattails of his wife.

Mayor Ken Keechl, a go-alonger who has joined the dark side in a big way, so of course he's against cleaning up the county too.

You know who's missing from the list but would have been a whole-hearted supporter? Joe Eggelletion, who was also a lobbyist-commissioner before he got his hand caught in the cookie jar. Now he's in prison -- a place where a lot of the shameless creatures still sitting on the commission might deserve a home as well.

But how exactly does a group of lobbyists posing as politicians undo the good intentions of the populace? It runs to the courts. The commission has unlimited use of attorneys on the taxpayers' dime, after all.

So the commissioners get their in-house tool, County Attorney Jeff Newton, to ask for a declaratory judgment from a judge calling the lobbying ban unconstitutional. Here's a link to Newton's memo to the commission. It's one of the more vile government documents you'll ever see.

Only Commissioner Sue Gunzburger has stepped up publicly to lambaste the proposal. In a letter (clearly written mostly by her lawyer son Ron), she makes strong points about why this is such a bad idea. Gunzburger explains her initial vote for the scurrilous proposal this way. "I made a mistake. The mistake I made was to have relied on the County Attorney's advice...," she wrote in an email. "However, I plan to move for reconsideration of the vote at the next meeting. We need to quickly pull the plug on this sham lawsuit."

Sham is exactly right. Newton claims that lobbying is protected under free speech, but he doesn't note that numerous lobbying bans for public officials are already in place and clearly not only legal but crucial to stop corruption. Several cities and the Broward County School Board have lobbying moratoriums for politicians after they leave office, for instance. 

Newton is (purposefully?) confusing lobbying with the act of free speech itself. If Ilene Michelson wants to go to, say, Pembroke Park to tout the greatness of Pinnacle Homes, she can do so. She just can't get paid to do it.

If John Rodstrom wants to use his influence to help Sterne Agee get a bond deal in Sunrise, he's free do it so long as he isn't employed by the company. If Russ Klenet wants to represent companies that do business with his wife's county, he can have at it, just so long as he does it out of the goodness of his own heart.

This is an incredibly serious issue with huge legal implications that I'll be writing more about later. But right now, I want to conclude with a photograph that one Pulp commenter claims provides proof that Gov. Charlie Crist actually does love the ladies. It doesn't prove anything, but it sure is a damned fine shot, taken on Miami Beach:

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman