Seeing Red | Bob Norman | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Seeing Red

Bill Griffin's new job has prompted a handful of activist groups to demand he relinquish his old one -- as mayor of Pompano Beach. More than 100 protesters met last Tuesday to demand Griffin's resignation after learning in this space that the mayor had landed a job with a construction company in line to build the International Swimming Hall of Fame and two skyscraper condos on the beach. Crying conflict, they held a rally along Atlantic Boulevard in front of City Hall, a place that lately seems likely to overtake Berkeley as the nation's mecca of civil disobedience.

The protesters made a point to wear red. Another 60 or so Griffin supporters came out to oppose them. Because most of the latter wore green "Go Pompano Go" shirts, the occasion looked more like Christmas come early than civic unrest. And it seemed to be a family affair, as a bunch of Little League baseball players, wearing green shirts over their uniforms, excitedly ran about the crowd. When I asked the 12-year-old boys why they showed up, they shouted, almost in unison, "Mayor Griffin gave us $3000!"

Good God, had the mayor sunk so low as to bribe kids? No, this was the Pompano Predators, a traveling team that needed the money for a trip to Cooperstown, Ohio, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Griffin promised to raise the money because his grandson is on the team.

This is the stuff of good old Americana, but it still fits the Griffin-supporter prototype: They either stand to gain financially from him in office or are kin to him, or both. Many belong to the Chamber of Commerce. The bulk of the Griffinites believe that the swimming hall and the mayor-driven condo projects on the beach will serve as the economic engine to draw other developers, drive up real estate prices, and help make them rich. Forget the beauty of the beach and public access to it. What has that got to do with the bottom line?

While I talked with the baseball players, a thin, tall, buttoned-up, rather severe looking older woman sidled up next to me. "I can't wait to see what you write next week," she said.

I told the woman I wasn't sure what I would write. Then she got down to the business of her visit. "What you wrote last week was pathetic," she proclaimed with disgust.

She walked away before I could properly thank her, so I turned back to America's future, the Little Leaguers, who'd received an abrupt lesson in the social perils of revealing a mayor's secrets. They looked a little puzzled, but, not wanting to further confuse them, I decided not to explain the woman's vitriol.

Also among the green shirts was Dan Hobby, executive director of the Sample-McDougald House Preservation Society in Pompano and former director of the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society. He too has financial reasons to support the mayor, as the city supplies him with an office and the commission helps fund his organization. But Hobby said he came because he wanted to defend the mayor from "personal attacks."

"There are issues to discuss, and I am all for citizen input, but not like this," he said.

I asked him if a referendum on the swim hall might boost citizen involvement. Griffin and his fellow commissioners had killed that possibility in a recent vote. Hobby didn't have a ready answer, but a man nearby offered, "We don't live in a democracy. We live under a representative form of government."

I didn't catch the man's name but appreciated his citizen input nonetheless. Then Hobby got to the point: "The mayor's job is not a conflict. All you have to do is call the Attorney General's Office and they'll tell you it's not a conflict."

Everything about that statement is dead wrong, but I don't blame Hobby. He's just a willing parrot for the official spin coming from the Griffin camp. The attorney general has, of course, made no ruling on Griffin's employment and never will. Ethical concerns regarding politicians fall under the jurisdiction of the Florida Commission on Ethics, which I hope soon to see investigating the mayor.

Here's a summary of the facts:

Griffin began meeting with swimming hall developer Michael Swerdlow this past November to encourage him to build the project in Pompano. That same month, the mayor, who makes $15,745 per year in his official capacity, closed down William F. Griffin Construction, his mom-and-pop home-renovation company, and began looking for a new job. He enlisted Bill Keith, a prominent engineer who contracts with the city, to help him find work.

Somehow, Swerdlow found out that Griffin needed a job. Griffin says Keith, who often works with Swerdlow, may have told the developer about his employment needs. Swerdlow says someone in his office introduced Griffin to officials at Turner Construction, which has done nearly $50 million of business with Swerdlow. Turner hired Griffin in March; the mayor admits he knew the company was interested in building the hall of fame project. Turner has since begun doing preconstruction work on the project; company Vice President Scott Skidelsky told me he believes Turner is "slated" to build it.

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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

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