For the last two months, non-essential Fort Lauderdale businesses have been shuttered. Residents have been ordered to shelter in place unless buying food or seeking medical help. Fort Lauderdale schools and parks are deserted. Yet, it appears “government lobbyists” are an essential business in the eyes of Mayor Dean Trantalis.
According to official meeting logs, Trantalis welcomed three lobbyists to City Hall in April. The visitor log for April 27, 2020 shows lobbyists for AECOM met “in person” with Mayor Trantalis. The lobbyists were Matthew Sacco, John Milledge and Eric Johnson.
Surely the lobbyists were there to discuss emergency COVID-19 related issues with Mayor Trantalis, right?
According to the log, Trantalis and the lobbyists discussed “downtown projects.”
In February, REDBROWARD revealed AECOM lobbyist Eric Johnson is a key campaign adviser to Mayor Dean Trantalis and Commissioner Ben Sorensen. In addition to a new police headquarters building, AECOM wants built a privatized government center to be shared by the City of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County.
REDBROWARD also exposed Johnson’s role, alongside fellow Trantalis adviser Blake MacDiarmid (R-Lobbyist), with companies seeking to privatize Fort Lauderdale’s water service.
Are these essential services? Did the lobbyists wear facemasks? Did the foursome maintain six feet of separation? Why do lobbyists get to work during quarantine while local restaurant owners get harangued by health inspectors and police officers?
Did Trantalis and Johnson discuss his re-election campaign?
Didn’t Mayor Dean Trantalis have better things to do during a pandemic?
While another part of Fort Lauderdale drowned under a sea of poop and raw sewage, a company represented by one of Mayor Dean Trantalis’ key campaign advisers landed deals rebuilding the City of Fort Lauderdale police station and (coming soon?) parks. Last week, the multinational corporation AECOM was awarded a contract to serve as consultant to the construction of a new police headquarters. The request from the City stated, “The services required may include, but not be limited to, the development of space needs (program verification of existing prior space study), full construction documents and specifications including a full site development plan, permitting and construction administration, demolition of all existing structures, (the radio tower may have the possibility of remaining at its present location or need to be redesigned to another area on the site).” And the news gets better for AECOM.
In December 2019, three out of five city officials reviewing proposals for “Parks Bond And Master Plan Implementation Services” ranked AECOM first. The other two officials ranked AECOM second. How does AECOM keeping landing these huge City of Fort Lauderdale projects?
Surely, the AECOM proposals and references must be first class. The company’s recent work on the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport is widely praised. But it cannot hurt to have a member of Mayor Trantalis’ campaign team lobbying the City on your behalf.
Earlier this month, REDBROWARD exposed the lobbying done by key members of Trantalis’ campaign team as well as advisers to Commissioner Steven Glassman, Commissioner Heather Moraitis and Commissioner Ben Sorensen.
In June 2019, a group, headed by AECOM, presented unsolicited bid to build a shared Broward County/City Of Fort Lauderdale Government campus by public private partnership (P3). According to the Sun-Sentinel, 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.
At a 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.”
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 not one but two companies seeking a public private partnership (P3) to replace a Fort Lauderdale water treatment plant.
City records show Eric Johnson, Stephanie Toothaker and James Blake MacDiarmid are registered lobbyists for Poseidon Water. MacDiarmid, the campaign consultant for Commissioner Heather Moraitis, claims to be an adviser to Mayor Dean Trantalis, Steven Glassman and Ben Sorensen.
Days after REDBROWARD revealed their roles in the Poseidon bid, the trio registered as lobbyists for another company.
On Friday February 21, 2020, Stephanie Toothaker, Eric Johnson and James Blake MacDiarmid registered as lobbyists for Fort Lauderdale Water LLC at 461 From Road, Suite 400 in Paramus, New Jersey.
On February 19, 2020, Eric Johnson of Johnson Strategies registered as a lobbyist for Suez at 461 From Road Suite 400 in Paramus, New Jersey. On February 21st, Toothaker also registered as a lobbyist for Suez.
Perhaps Fort Lauderdale residents should hire Johnson, Toothaker and MacDiarmid to lobby on their behalf to get the sewers fixed?
Sarahnell Murphy wants to replace Michael Satz as the next Broward State Attorney. When she kicked off her campaign last month, her husband Richard Merlino was quick to tell voters she was a longtime Democrat. Merlino’s social media post was more than moment of partisan pride. For weeks, Democrat insiders discussed Merlino’s numerous Facebook posts supporting President Donald Trump.
REDBROWARD obtained a copy of the flyer circulated among Broward Democrats which highlighted anti-Democrat posts by Richard Merlino. The flyer asked, “Did Richard forget that what happens on the internet stays on the internet?” Several of the Merlino posts address political topics from 2018 such as the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, the Andrew Gillum campaign and illegal immigration. A cartoon posted by Merlino claims liberals hate Donald Trump because, “my TV told me too.”
On Monday, Buddy Nevins of Broward Beat addressed the controversy. Sarahnell Murphy refused to respond to Nevins’ questions about her husband’s pro-Trump posts. Nevins wrote, “Murphy and Merlino didn’t return calls and e-mails sent to discuss the posts. He has sealed off his Facebook page. That makes me wonder. Murphy and Merlino could have denied the posts were Merlino’s. Maybe even talked me out of writing this. Perhaps they realize that if the posts are his, or even if they are not, any attention to them could be a problem for Murphy.”
The disappearance of these pro-Trump posts is not the first time Merlino scrubbed his Facebook page.
MURPHY CAMPAIGN DELETES PICS OF LOBBYIST AT KICKOFF EVENT
On July 11th, Richard Merlino posted nearly forty photographs taken at a Sarahnell Murphy fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale. It was the standard campaign Facebook post: smiling supporters enjoying drinks and conversation at Timpano restaurant on Las Olas. Just one problem. Several photographs featured lobbyist Judy Stern.
Perhaps the naive Richard Merlino did not realize the political baggage Judy Stern can bring to a political campaign. Days earlier, Merlino posted a thank you message to Sarahnell Murphy’s campaign team which included Judy Stern.
One day later, REDBROWARD shared Merlino’s photograph of Judy Stern chatting with former Broward Health Chairman David Di Pietro at Murphy’s event. Minutes later, the photograph was removed from Merlino’s original post.
According to Facebook, Richard Merlino deleted 35 photographs from his Murphy campaign post. All photographs of Stern and Di Pietro vanished. He also removed numerous tags he made of friends and supporters. The Judy Stern thank you message has disappeared as well.
Did someone tell Merlino to remove the pictures?
Will Democrat voters support a candidate who would rather delete information instead of answering questions?
Does Broward want a new State Attorney who hides from voters when the questions get tough?