An SEC judge in Washington has it all wrong. He actually contends that Broward county politicos would take advantage of a system in which it is whom you know (or whom you pay off) that runs the government, many times to the disadvantage of citizens. What an outrageous accusation.

The judge ruled that First Union Corp. and a former executive have to pay about $150,000 in fines and interest for failure to report that they paid lobbyist Ron Book to win a contract to advise Broward County on bond matters.

One would hope the county would hire bond consultants who had our best interests at heart. But as everyone knows, you simply hire a lobbyist (who also funnels campaign contributions to elected officials) if you want to get the government to throw lucrative contracts your way. Those who want to get business with the county pay the influential lobbyist and then, voilà, they get the job. So why is this judge in a dither?

The recent case revolves around Teressa Cawley (see "Her Word Is Not Her Bond," New Times, July 22, Bob Whitby). She hired Book and then hid that fact because she knew it was wrong. She was after lucrative bond business and used Book to secure the job of an outside financial adviser to the county. Book would then get a percentage of the bond business that would eventually go to her employer, First Union. Isn't that they way it is supposed to work?

News reports indicate that Cawley's attorney doesn't agree with the SEC's ruling. And the county commissioners are angry at the accusation that a lobbyist would sway their votes. Imagine that. Some judge, after months of investigation, thinking that those dozens of influence peddlers, who make millions of dollars, would actually dictate anything of importance in Broward.

Judge Herbert Grossman, not understanding the way things work in South Florida, frowned on underwriters buying influence, and thus business, from a government through lobbyists. The obviously angry judge blamed the county officials "for creating and perpetuating this system under which it is influence rather than merit that lands the contracts." What an outrageous accusation.

In its daily quest to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, or something like that, The Herald routinely takes a stick to businesses that don't operate by the letter of the law. As well they should. Someone needs to be watching the field of commerce to keep it level and true.

So you can imagine our shock and dismay upon learning that the mighty Herald itself has failed to comply with perhaps the most basic requirement for opening up shop: obtaining an occupational license.

The newspaper's Hollywood bureau, at 3325 Hollywood Blvd., has been in business for about four years. Yet Hollywood has no record of the paper ever having an occupational license -- which is like driving without a driver's license. Oh my.

Actually, two licenses are required: one from the city and one from the county. The Herald is square with the county but not with Hollywood.

"Certainly that's a surprise to me," says Broward Herald publisher Paul Anger.

Full disclosure: The county occupational license for the New Times complex in Fort Lauderdale has recently lapsed. A small army of New Times suits are attacking the problem and the guilty party in our business department will be sacked. Rules are rules.

Got a tip? Call 954-233-1581, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail [email protected].

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.
Tom Walsh
Contact: Tom Walsh