UPDATED: School Construction Chief "Shocked" About Kraft's Behavior | The Daily Pulp | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

UPDATED: School Construction Chief "Shocked" About Kraft's Behavior

Garretson said he intervened on Prestige Homes' behalf to help it get a $500,000 reduction in mitigation fees owed the school board in 2007 only after Stephanie Kraft prodded him to do it.

"It's not unusual for a school board member to contact me about this or that," he said.

I asked him if it was unusual for him to go to a member of the school board staff (Growth Management Director Chris Akagbosu) and tell him to break the rules to get something done for a developer at the behest of a board member, as was done in the case of Prestige Homes.

"Rules," he said with a sarcastic laugh and a wave of the hand. "What are you talking about, rules?"

"Rules don't apply to Michael Garretson?" I asked him.

He defended what he'd done and said items were put on the agenda after deadline all the time and pooh-poohed any other irregularities in the deal, which were richly deatiled in memos by Akagbosu and Facilities Management Director Thomas Coates. But then, considering the board's typically toothless lobbying "rules," Garretson certainly had every right to laugh.

Did he know that Kraft's husband, Mitch, had been hired by Prestige Homes to help it get the school board reduction?

"No," he said. "And I am telling you now that Mitch Kraft has

never spoken to me in my entire life."

What did he think when he learned about it.

"I was shocked," he said.

With that response, any thought that Garretson would circle the wagons and somehow try to justify the Krafts' seemingly dirty dealings evaporated. In effect he is contending that Stephanie Kraft used him to get the Prestige Homes' item on the agenda and that he had no idea there was anything unethical or illegal going on.

And he actually brought with him a sheet with "mitigation options" on it, showing that the fee reduction given to Prestige Homes was kosher. I asked him why Prestige Homes -- Stephanie Kraft included -- was in such a rush to get it done. "They had a closing coming up," he said. "They needed it done before the closing."

In what was a quick and truncated interview (Garretson was about to address the board), I wasn't able to get the details on that, and Garretson didn't seem to have them. 

When asked what he thought of Kraft's situation, he said only that he and Kraft never really got along very well, noting that she had stonewalled his hiring back in 2003 (Kraft claimed that Garretson's college, Assumption College, was never accredited and questioned his experience). 

Kraft, meanwhile, sat on the dais at Tuesday's meeting as if nothing was happening. The only clue that there was anything wrong was the presence of two television station news teams there to cover the latest wave of corruption at the board. When the controversial question of hiring a former administrator back to the school board was raised, she defended Supt. Jim Notter, saying that he only way the board could stop a hire was if the job candidated was "morally or professionally unqualified."

If only the same standard applied to board members themselves.

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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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