Lobbyist For Company Seeking To Build Broward/Fort Lauderdale Government Center Is Commissioner Ben Sorensen’s Campaign Consultant Too

In June 2019, as Broward County and Fort Lauderdale leaders met to discuss a new shared campus to replace the aging Fort Lauderdale City Hall and Broward Government Center, a private group presented a proposal “to design, build and own the joint governmental center and lease it back to the county and city….” According to The Sun-Sentinel, the unsolicited bid from “Civic Unity Partners” stated the public private partnership (P3) would be headed by AECOM, a multinational engineering firm, as well as Fengate Capital. County and City officials agreed to a staff review of the AECOM proposal even though the public was not allowed to view the details of the bid. But all leaders were not sold on the AECOM proposal.

I don’t know why we’re in such a rush that we would entertain an unsolicited proposal,” Broward County Commissioner Tim Ryan said.

At the December 2019 meeting of County and City officials, details of the AECOM were still secret. “Without describing the unsolicited bid in detail, AECOM Vice President Mark Blanchard told commissioners that the company’s proposal would ‘accommodate everything you need.‘”

According to published reports, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis favored the hiring of a design consultant before moving forward with the AECOM proposal. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” Trantalis said. [AECOM] “may try to sell us a Cadillac, and we may only need a Chevrolet.”

After hiring a consultant, Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Ben Sorensen chimed in on the proposal. “Sorenson suggested another joint meeting of city and county commissioners in early January to amend an intra-local agreement prohibiting them from considering confidential details of the unsolicited AECOM proposal.”

AECOM LOBBYIST IS TRANTALIS & SORENSEN CAMPAIGN CONSULTANT

City of Fort Lauderdale lobbyist meeting logs show representatives of AECOM and its partners first met with Mayor Dean Trantalis one month after they presented their proposal to build the Joint Government Center Campus. On July 29, 2019 Mayor Dean Trantalis met with Fengate Capital lobbyist Eric Johnson (of Johnson Strategies) at Fort Lauderdale City Hall. These same records show Eric Johnson registered as the Fengate Capital lobbyist on July 26, 2019.

On January 6, 2020, Johnson and other AECOM lobbyists met with Dean Trantalis and Commissioner Steven M. Glassman at City Hall.

Two days later, Eric Johnson and the AECOM team met at City Hall to discuss the Joint Government Center Campus with Commissioner Ben Sorensen. City records show Eric Johnson registered as the AECOM lobbyist on December 3, 2019.

City of Fort Lauderdale campaign records show on January 16, 2020, Ben Sorensen’s campaign paid $5,000 to Johnson Strategies for consulting services.

Sorensen is not the only Fort Lauderdale official with Eric Johnson on his campaign team.

DEAN TRANTALIS’ POSEIDON ADVENTURE

Earlier this month, REDBROWARD revealed Mayor Dean Trantalis’ campaign advisers were lobbying on behalf of public private partnership (P3) to replace a water treatment plant.

Last month, Mayor Trantalis said, Fort Lauderdale “simply need a new plant,” to replace the aging Fiveash facility. Trantalis stated, “several international players in the water industry have expressed an interest in a fast-tracked public-private solution that can bring more efficiency, more stable cost, guaranteed maintenance and higher water quality.” He said “we’ll see” if it is the right solution for Fort Lauderdale.

In June 2019 Trantalis took a $34,000 taxpayer-funded trip to Israel. According to the Sun-Sentinel, Trantalis’ entourage included city manager Chris Lagerbloom, Trantalis’ chief of staff Scott Wyman, Police Capt. Bill Schultz and Director of Sustainable Development Anthony Fajardo.

According to the Westside Gazette, Dean Trantalis met with five major Israeli investment groups for “discussions involving partnerships for major infrastructure and public works projects in Fort Lauderdale.” While in Israel, Trantalis took a field trip to the Hadera desalination plant. After returning to Fort Lauderdale, Trantalis wrote about his trip to Israel in a Sun-Sentinel editorial. He wrote, “a critical aspect of the trip was our visit to the Hadera water desalination plant. The builder/operator of the plant has been pursuing public-private partnerships around the globe and provided insights about long-term water solutions.”

At the October 2019 meeting of the City Infrastructure Taskforce Committee, Trantalis said he “met with Israeli companies, Poseidon and Suez, both companies want to forward a P3 proposal regarding the water plant.”

When asked to give more detail on the P3 process, Trantalis said:

“The Mayor expressed when the private sector gets involved projects get done much quicker. He used Lockhart Stadium as an example. He expressed that the water, wastewater and water plant systems were more complicated…but he would like to explore the P3 approach to the projects as well.”

In December 2, 2019 Mayor Dean Trantalis met with a Poseidon Water lobbyist. Trantalis had a noon lunch with attorney Stephanie Toothaker at Doc B’s restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. According to the lobbyist meeting logs, Toothaker met with Commissioner Ben Soresensen at the neighboring Kelley Uustal (KU) law firm later that day to discuss Poseidon Water.

Just one month earlier, Toothaker and Eric Johnson of Johnson Solutions registered as a Poseidon Water lobbyists. Then, on December 2, 2019, (the same day Toothaker met with Trantalis, Sorensen and Moraitis), James MacDiarmid of Layline Solutions registered as a lobbyist for Poseidon Water.

James Blake MacDiarmid is no stranger at Fort Lauderdale City Hall. During the 2018 campaign, Blake MacDiarmid was a paid consultant for Commissioner Heather Moraitis. On his (now “under construction”) website, MacDiarmid, the self-proclaimed “mayoral whisperer,” claims to be an adviser to Dean Trantalis, Steve Glassman, Ben Sorensen and Heather Moraitis.

Pictures from the January 9th Infrastructure Update meeting show MacDiarmid seated in the front row. The night before, MacDiarmid and Trantalis Chief of Staff Scott Wyman sat together at the Board of Adjustment meeting hearing the AIDS Healthcare Foundation appeal.

Is it just a coincidence these campaign advisers and consultants keep getting hired to lobby on behalf of companies seeking big deals with the City of Fort Lauderdale?

How did AECOM and Poseidon Water hear about Eric Johnson and Blake MacDiarmid?

Why are Mayor Dean Trantalis and Commissioner Ben Sorensen so eager to enter public private partnership deals with companies located outside the State of Florida? Don’t they like local companies?

Is anyone at City Hall looking out for the best interests of average residents?

Do they even care?

REDBROWARD asked Trantalis and Sorensen for comment. We will update story if they respond.

Mayor Dean Trantalis

Published by Tom Lauder

Covering South Florida Politics Since 2010...As Seen On: POLITICO, The Huffington Post, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, The Miami Herald, WPLG LOCAL 10 (ABC MIAMI), The New Times

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