Broward News

Payton's Place Is Commonplace for South Florida City Managers

A city commissioner has a buddy who wants a meeting about getting a city contract: Is there a city manager who hasn't been there, as Miramar's Robert Payton was?

There's no evidence that Payton knew the agent posing as a contractor had bribed Salesman. But the most frustrating aspect of this corruption scene is how it unfolds on practically a daily basis in other South Florida city halls.

Salesman wasn't boasting when he told the undercover agent that he had "basically got [Payton] that f-ing job." As a commissioner, Salesman casts a vote for the hiring or firing of a city manager.

Through that power, the city manager has every reason to stay in a commissioner's good graces. Then that commissioner can exploit his power by soliciting bribes from contractors who want to get work for the city, as Salesman is accused of doing. But the cruel irony in his case is that Salesman could have performed the same corrupt act by taking the legal kind of bribe: campaign contributions.

In that scenario, Salesman meets with a contractor who wants lucrative work for the city. Salesman tells the contractor that he can make that happen, but it would sure be nice if that same contractor supported Salesman's campaign. So once the contractor's $500 check clears, Salesman sets up the meeting with Payton, who needs Salesman's vote to keep his job.

Granted, Payton can award contracts up to only $50,000 -- the bigger ones need to go through the commission. But that's still a high price in tax dollars for what may be a completely unnecessary expense. (In Miramar, the city taxpayers got gazebos.) And from the contractor's standpoint, that's a pretty handsome return on what was a $500 investment with a city commissioner.

So the contractor gets his work. The city commissioner gets his campaign contribution. And the city manager gets to keep his job. The only party who gets screwed? The taxpayer, who has no recourse because all of the above is perfectly legal.

In fact, thanks to the Supreme Court's recent ruling on campaign finance laws, pay-for-play in government is going get far worse before it gets better.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post contained a typo. Payton, who is the city manager, obviously doesn't have a vote in his hiring or firing. Commissioners like Salesman do. I typed "Payton" when I meant "Salesman." I regret the error.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Thomas Francis