Broward News

[UPDATED] Email Gives Behind-Scenes Peek at Conflicts Over Hospital District's Museum Sponsorship

Just two business days before the North Broward Hospital District board was to consider spending $2 million to sponsor an exhibit at Fort Lauderdale's Museum of Discovery and Science, one commissioner was vowing to embarrass museum staff. This based on his obligation to "protect taxpayers" against a potentially foolhardy investment.

It comes from an email that Commissioner Robert Bernstein wrote to district CEO Frank Nask, in reaction to the answers museum staff gave to his questions about how the exhibit could advance the the district's mission.

"I can already tell that someone is going to get ripped to shreds by me at the board meeting if they try to push off these types of answers as legitimate," raged Bernstein, in an email he wrote on the Friday night of August 22, 2008.

He complained that the museum had provided imprecise data on what percentage of its visitors were adults, children and tourists. Bernstein also complained about cost estimates not being backed by "documentation from professional sources" and financial information he requested that was not disclosed. "The whole presentation of information is amateurish at best and that is before we even get to the question about the appropriateness of the investment / marketing expense," wrote Bernstein. He continued:

"Someone should warn the museum folks to bring some well-researched... documentation. Otherwise they will regret coming to us with a request like this. I am going to protect taxpayers from anything less than a very strong argument for funding."
And yet for all that, Bernstein voted on August 27, 2008, in favor of spending $2 million from the district's marketing budget on the Broward Health exhibit. The board meeting minutes reflect only mild concerns on his part. Commissioner Dan Gordon cast the lone dissenting vote.

Did the museum staff rally in those two days after Bernstein's tirade? Or did something else change Bernstein's mind? We'll email him a link to this post and maybe he'll be kind enough to offer some insight, either with an email response or in the comments field below.

Yesterday we posted about the close ties between the museum and Commissioner Rebecca Stoll, which was a cause of concern for former general counsel Laura Seidman.

Update:  Late Friday, Bernstein e-mailed this note about his vote on the sponsorship of the museum:
Management of the District and the museum did provide me with additional information after that email.

Chairman (Mike) Fernandez also gave me wide latitude at the meeting to both ask questions and put my concerns on the record.

The written minutes of the meeting are just a summary. If you go back and listen to the recorded minutes you will find that I raised additional concerns about issue's dealing with capital reserves, museum projections, control of the exhibit's message, and our ability to protect our investment over the long term.

My vote on this issue was a close call. In my four years at the district this is the one vote I made where I have second guessed myself. I did the best I could with the information I had.

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Thomas Francis