Under tough questioning from County Commissioner Mark Bogen, Broward Supervisor Of Elections (SOE) Brenda Snipes admitted she was unaware her “right hand lawyer” gave money to candidates with legal matters involving her office. Snipes’ comments came during a budget workshop with Broward County Commissioners earlier this week. While controversial County Commissioner Dale Holness told Snipes she was doing a “great job,” other commissioners questioned Snipes’ budget, early voting plans and methods to increase voter turnout.
Commissioner Bogen focused on ethics and the law. Snipes agreed with Bogen’s assessment that SOE’s main goal is to “run efficient and unbiased and impartial elections.” Bogen stated commissioners are prohibited from sitting on the county elections canvassing board if they gave money or endorsed a candidate.
Snipes claimed Bogen’s line of questioning stemmed from his messy District 2 election.
Last June, REDBROWARD reported District 2 write-in candidate Tyron Francois did not live in the District. Florida Statute 99.0615 states, “At the time of qualification, all write-in candidates must reside within the district represented by the office sought.” In campaign paperwork, the 25 year-old Democrat listed his address as 4019 NW 37th Terrace in Lauderdale Lakes. This address is not within the boundaries of District 2.
Francois’ entry into the race kept Republicans and Independents from voting in the District 2 primary.
At first, Snipes appeared to support an open primary. But, at a July 10 emergency hearing, Snipes’ “right-hand lawyer” Burnadette Norris-Weeks fought to keep non-Democrats from voting in the Broward Commission District 2 primary. She gave Judge Sandra Perlman a myriad of excuses of why it was too late to open the August 26 primary to Republican and Independent voters. On July 11, Francois testified he did not live in District 2 at the time of qualifying. Francois admitted under oath that he knew Dale Holness’ daughter. Superlawyer William Scherer produced a photograph of Francois and Damara Holness.
The picture showed Francois and Holness staring into each other’s eyes in the front seat of an automobile. The picture was captioned, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The caption included an animated emoticon of heart with an arrow through it. Scherer asked Francois what the animated heart meant to him. The courtroom observers snickered when Francois said it could mean just about anything.
RED BROWARD reported Snipes’ attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks is a supporter of Dale Holness. In October 2012, she made a $500 contribution to Holness’ re-election campaign. Weeks later, Holness was a guest at Norris-Weeks “holiday party.” RED BROWARD obtained pictures of the party Norris-Weeks posted on Facebook. Norris-Weeks took exception to the reporting of her support for Holness. In a conversation with a DailyBroward contributor, she questioned why we did not report her recent contribution to Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca or William Scherer’s support of other candidates. Norris-Weeks said, “Last time I checked, there was no prohibition on giving a contribution and I fail to understand the link between the contribution and my responsibilities to my client as an attorney.”
SNIPES: DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT LAWYER’S CAMPAIGN CASH
Commissioner Bogen asked Snipes if she familiar with Right Consulting LLC. Snipes said she was aware of the company which is managed by Burnadette Norris Weeks. Bogen asked Snipes if she knew Norris Weeks gave money to District 2 candidate Lisa Aronson. Snipes said, “We did not have that discussion.”
Last year, REDBROWARD reported Norris Weeks gave $300 to Miramar Vice Mayor Alexandra Davis for her 2012 re-election. In 2014, Davis ran against Broward Commissioner Barbara Sharief. Davis was backed by Dale Holness. On May 22, 2014 Right Consulting LLC gave $300 to Alexandra Davis’ campaign. On February 4, 2014, Right Consulting LLC gave $500 to District 2 candidate Lisa Aronson. On Lisa Aronson’s campaign reports, she writes Right Consulting LLC is in the “airport concessions” business.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) program is supposed to increase opportunities for minority and women-owned small businesses to operate as concessionaires in airports around the country. Locally, Broward County Office of Economic and Small Business Development (OESBD) “works to certify local firms as ACDBEs and to establish annual ACDBE participation goals for the County’s airport projects.” In order to qualify, a business must be “51% owned, controlled and managed by socially and economically disadvantaged U.S. citizen or legal resident who belongs to one or more of the following categories: African-American, Asian-Pacific, Hispanic, Native, Sub-continent Asian, or female.” An individual owner’s Personal Net Worth (PNW) must not exceed $1.32 million excluding personal residence.
In order to retain its food and concession contracts at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, TheParadies Shops needed to comply with the ACDBE guidelines. In 2006, Paradies formed Paradies-Broward LLC. According to State of Florida corporate records, Paradies-Broward LLC was comprised of four members: The Paradies Shops, JD Ruffin Associates Inc., Maria Soldani Consulting LLC and Right Consulting LLC. Burnadette Norris-Weeks is listed as a member of Paradies-Broward LLC.
In December 2013, Broward Commissioners approved the latest agreement with Paradies-Broward LLC. Records show Right Consulting LLC owns a 9% share of the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport concession business.
In 2006, Norris-Weeks added a member with airport experience to Right Consulting LLC. State documents show Judith DeBourg joined Right Consulting in September 2006. DeBourg had experience landing Broward county government contracts. In May 1999, Buddy Nevins wrote DeBourg used political connections to secure airport business. He wrote, “Broward County commissioners this week handed an airport contract to Judith Debourg. Debourg got her work the old-fashioned way at the governmental center. She was Commissioner Kristin Jacobs’ campaign manager.” DeBourg had no shame. “It didn’t hurt to know the right people,” Debourg said.
REDBROWARD exposed fact that Dale Holness and Burnadette Norris-Weeks attended the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC) conference in Denver just weeks before the July 2014 court hearing. Norris-Weeks and Holness were listed on the official roster of AMAC conference attendees. RED BROWARD obtained photographs of Norris-Weeks and Holness at the June 6-10 conference. Several photographs show Norris-Weeks and Holness smiling and dancing together. Another shows them wearing novelty Sunny.org sunglasses. Sunny.org is the Fort Lauderdale Tourism Council.
WHO RUNS THE OFFICE, YOU OR BURNADETTE?
Snipes tried to deflect further questions regarding Burnadette Norris Weeks political activities. She told Bogen, “I think you are bringing things from District 2 to the table.” Snipes said these questions should be addressed to Norris Weeks. Bogen asked, “Who runs the office, you or Burnadette?” She replied, “I run the office.”
Bogen revealed Norris Weeks threatened to file a Florida Bar complaint against him if he attempted to speak with Snipes. Dr. Snipes said, “You were threatening me….you keep bringing up District 2.”
Bogen shifted the discussion to revenues. He asked why Broward School Board candidate Hubert St. Clair did not pay a qualifying fee. Bogen said Commissioners and School Board member Nora Rupert paid the fee. “Why was [St. Clair] treated differently?” he asked.
Snipes played the victim card. She claimed Bogen was being a bully.
Bogen asked if Burnadette Norris Weeks had authority to after St. Clair. Snipes said, “We’re just ministerial.”
Bogen asked Snipes about St. Clair’s campaign financial reports. He listed cash contributions of $1,300, $500, $400 and $200, a clear violation of Florida law. Bogen asked Snipes if she reported the violations.
Broward Mayor Tim Ryan stated accepting cash contributions over $50 may be a felony and wondered if Snipes had reported this to the Broward State Attorney’s Office.
Snipes said she needed to “research it.”
ANOTHER DALE HOLNESS CANDIDATE
Last July, REDBROWARD conducted a telephone interview the mysterious Hubert St. Clair. St. Clair stated he was “best friends” with controversial Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness. “Dale Holness is my best friend,” St. Clair said, “when you find him you will find me.” St. Clair stated Holness was one of two individuals running his campaign.
Bogen claimed the handling of the St. Clair campaign violations was further proof Snipes’ office “selectively enforcing laws?”
On Tuesday, the entire Broward County Commission will take up the matter. Bogen proposed a “Resolution encouraging the Broward County Supervisor of Elections (the “SOE”) to adopt a policy precluding SOE contractors that donate to or actively support a candidate from providing professional or legal guidance to the SOE in connection with the election contest in which the above-referenced candidate is participating.” Bogen claims the resolution “avoids actual impropriety or the appearance of impropriety that results from the SOE being advised on election contests where the advisor, based on support or campaign donations, may lack impartiality.”