Broward News

See No Evil: Hospital District Commissioners Lack Nerve

By the conclusion of yesterday's long, rancor-filled meeting of the North Broward Hospital District's Board of Commissioners, it seemed as though everybody just wanted to move on.

Did Commissioner Joseph Cobo commit ethics violations? Well, gee, the district's own investigator Martin Goldberg says -- if I can paraphrase his 43-page report in a single word -- probably.

And yet the commissioners who had the guts to order that investigation on the front end couldn't deal with what came on the back end. They couldn't bear to send the report to the Florida Ethics Commission, much less State Attorney Michael Satz. Instead they sent it to the governor, where it's likely to be skimmed by some intern before vanishing into a file cabinet. That's what taxpayers get for $169,000.

Not like Satz would have filed charges -- he hasn't done so in far more egregious cases, like the ones Bob Norman described five years ago in New Times, when a more depraved, kickback-infested culture ruled the hospital district. Sending the report to prosecutors would have given Cobo a healthy scare, as well as other public officials who would mingle public and private business. Plus, the board would look convincingly like it takes these allegations seriously.

By not doing so, commissioners are not entitled to claim -- as they did numerous times yesterday -- that they "take these allegations seriously."

Roughly 40 of Broward County's most influential leaders took turns at the mic. Every one of them vouched for the integrity of Cobo. To do so, they needed to ignore hard evidence suggesting Cobo harbored conflicts of interest expressly forbidden by the district's charter. If that weren't enough, a great many at the meeting had the audacity to accuse the investigator, Goldberg, of corruption -- a charge for which they offered no hard evidence.

Or at least no evidence besides his failure to have interviewed more people with knowledge about Cobo's most problematic public / private dealings. But a careful reading of the report suggests this was not Goldberg's fault. Of the allegations that Cobo the commissioner went to bat for Drs. Michael Reilly and David Gilbert, both clients of Cobo the consultant, Goldberg found "credible" evidence. But in the next line he cautioned that "additional time is needed to conclude an appropriate review of the background facts." He then states candidly that this wasn't possible, "given the direction received to present this report on May 7, 2009" and that as such, "we leave this issue unresolved pending further direction from the Board of Commissioners."

Yet when Reilly railed against Goldberg at yesterday's meeting for failing to interview him, no commissioner confessed his or her role in that oversight. Rather, the commissioners let Reilly and a host of other speakers trash the integrity of the investigator.

The only possible justification is that commissioners believe Goldberg really was driven by an "agenda," as so many speakers claimed. But in that case, commissioners owe us taxpayers an explanation for how on their watch a rogue investigator was paid a few hundred grand to perform a political smear job.

It's one of the other. Either way, the very last thing the commissioners should do is exactly what they appear intent on doing: forgetting about it. Moving on. Just when it's starting to get good.

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Thomas Francis