[UPDATED] Commissioner Targets Inflated Salaries, Cronyism at Health Care District

A week after he disclosed his intention to fire the North Broward Hospital District CEO Frank Nask, Commissioner Robert Bernstein is now demanding to know how a Nask associate is being paid roughly twice what that position paid just four years ago.

That associate is Deborah Breen, the district's vice president of financial operations. When Nask was promoted to CEO in January 2008, Breen filled Nask's former role as chief financial officer on an interim basis. That came with a big raise; but after a permanent CFO was found in August of that year, Bernstein says that Breen kept most of that big paycheck.

"It appears that she is making far above her pay grade," said Bernstein of Breen in an email to the district's general counsel, Sam Goren. "It also appears that she was given a 42% increase and then a subsequent 12% increase to be interim CFO, but only the 12% increase was taken back when she gave up those responsibilities."

According to Bernstein, Breen's current pay is $320,000 (See update below), a figure he calls

"outrageous." In his note, Bernstein says that the position paid half that when he was appointed to the commission in 2006.

Broward Health spokesperson Sara Howley said that Breen's salary was $265,000. According to Bernstein, however, bonuses paid this past year brought that figure up to $320,000.

Breen and Nask commuted to the district together from their homes in Jupiter, according to Bernstein, who says Breen was hired without so much as an interview.

It appears that Bernstein -- and perhaps a group at the district which support his effort -- is building a case against Nask in advance of the January 27 board meeting. Last week, Bernstein told Juice how he had lost faith in Nask's leadership.

The stronger the case against Nask, the more pressure there will be on commissioners Joseph Cobo and Mike Fernandez, who didn't respond last week to a report that they were planned to skip the meeting, which would cancel the meeting and avoid a vote that might cost Nask his job.

If the meeting does occur, Bernstein's questions about the Breen salary will be an item on the agenda. In particular, the commissioner wants to know whether Nask was entitled to make such a dramatic increase in Breen's salary without board approval.

Breen would be the second member of the public hospital district's executive staff to be collecting a paycheck approximately twice it's expected size. Goren, who with his Fort Lauderdale firm is serving as the district's general counsel on an interim basis, is the other.

UPDATE: Howley e-mailed a breakdown of Breen's salary showing that with bonuses the executive was paid $316,444 this past year. The document shows that in January 2008 Breen received a 42 percent raise for assuming CFO duties in addition to doing her job as controller in the Central Business Office. She then received another 12 percent raise in April 2008 for taking additional interim CFO duties. After a permanent replacement for CFO was hired in August 2008, that 12 percent raise was taken away, but Breen was promoted to her current position of vice president. Presumably, that promotion is the reason Breen's 42 percent raise stayed intact.

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