On Wednesday morning, Tamarac Commissioner Elberg Mike Gelin wanted his fellow commissioners to approve a $300,000 deal to conduct a “disparity study” of Tamarac’s business dealings. One of these consultants is the niece of former Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, a Gelin ally. Gelin also failed to disclose his wife Shaheewa Jarrett Gelin pushed for disparity studies in Broward County and its thirty-one municipalities since at least 2020. REDBROWARD obtained an August 2020 video where Shaheewa Jarret Gelin, founder of the Broward County Black Chamber of Commerce, bragged how the studies would help her affiliates get a piece of the 41 million dollars spent by the City Of Tamarac. The 2020 interview was conducted by one of consultants seeking the $300K deal with Tamarac.
“THEY SPEND A LOT OF MONEY”
According to the City of Tamarac, “A Disparity Study determines whether a government entity, either in the past or currently, engages in exclusionary practices in the solicitation and award of contracts to minority, and women‐owned, and disadvantaged business enterprises….” Under questioning by commissioners, Tamarac staff stated there are no legal issues with how the City conducts its business. But in her 2020 interview with Ann Marie Sorrell of The Mosaic Group, Shaheewa Jarrett Gelin claimed disparity studies were needed because white government and businesses believed there is no reason to share with black businesses. “You’re getting money, they’re making money, they’re fine,” Jarrett Gelin said.
Shaheewa Jarrett Gelin said her group needed a disparity study to, “Understand if [government’s] vendor base is diverse, if not, we can do something to correct the disparity study.” In addition to County and municipalities, Jarrett Gelin wanted to target disparity studies at big “anchors” such as Broward College, Broward Health and the Broward Sheriff’s Office. “How can we partner with you to ensure public monies are being spent equitably with black companies,” Jarret Gelin told Sorrell.
Then, Shaheewa Jarrett Gelin brought up the City of Tamarac:
“I always give this example. An unexpected example of the City of Tamarac. Last year when we took a tour on getting certified, their procurement director announced that they in spent $41 million dollars last year.”
Ann Marie Sorrell had a one word reply, “wow.”
Shaheewa Jarrett Gelin stated, “We need to get in on that!”
Shaheewa Jarrett Gelin wants to “get in on” the multi-million dollar budget of the City her husband represents?
Was the $300K contract with Miller 3 Consulting and Ann Marie Sorrell a way to “get in on that?”
Why did Commissioner Elberg Mike Gelin fail to disclose his wife’s strong advocacy of a disparity study in the City of Tamarac?
Luckily for taxpayers, the contract was not approved.
But if it had been approved, what would have stopped Shaheewa Jarrett Gelin and the Broward County Black Chamber of Commerce from coming in to “correct the disparity study?”
“So think about what’s best for our city in the long haul, not whether you like or dislike the existing leaders.” — Nick Sortal
Even though Plantation voters overwhelmingly rejected a “city manager” form of government in 2014, City Councilman Nick Sortal continues to push for another vote in November 2022. Even thought he lacks public support, Sortal began his push to replace the City’s strong mayor form of government in February 2021. In April 2021 Sortal, a former reporter, wrote an opinion piece in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
“My thinking is that city managers are professionals who are trained to run the city’s operations and manage employees who the city’s services,” Sortal wrote. “They also can focus on professional management of the city rather than having political concerns interfering with being the city’s chief executive.”
Hoping to deflect complaints he was unfairly targeting Plantation’s popular strong mayor Lynn Stoner, Sortal warned residents not to “merely attach current names to existing positions.”
“So think about what’s best for our city in the long haul, not whether you like or dislike the existing leaders,” Sortal wrote.
Nick Sortal covered the gambling/casino beat for the Sun-Sentinel so his knowledge of local forms of government, especially the city manager form of government, may be limited.
In April 2021, Sortal brought an expert to discuss the greatness of city managers with Plantation residents. His expert witness was Dan Kleman of something called “Florida City/County Managers Association.”
Sortal touted Kleman’s lengthy resume as a very well paid government bureaucrat. Twenty years as Tallahassee city manager. Nine years as Hillsborough County manager. Chief Operating Officer of Jacksonville. Three years as special assistant to the Port Saint Lucie city manager. But Dan Kleman is hardly an impartial advisor for Plantation residents on this very important matter.
Sortal failed to mention that Kleman, as a senior advisor for the Florida City And County Management Association(FCCMA), conducts searches for municipalities seeking to hire city managers. Will Kleman conduct the search if Plantation voters pick a new form of government?
While Sortal claims that city managers are “professionals” who act above politics, very recent history shows South Florida has major issues with these “professional” city managers.
PLANTATION’S LEAST MOST WANTED
Nick Sortal thinks a “professional” city manager would do a better job running the City of Plantation than strong mayors like Frank Veltri, Rae Carole Armstrong, Diane Veltri Bendekovic or current Mayor Lynn Stoner. Here are a few “professional” city managers that Sortal could hire if voters approve his ballot measure.
In August 2021, longtime Tamarac City Manager Michael Cernech was arrested on racketeering charges following an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). Cernech is accused of working with two shady developers in a scheme to defraud a local landowner. Cernech plead not guilty and was fired by the Tamarac city commission. Perhaps a speedy trial will allow Cernech to apply to Nick Sortal?
Last August, the City of Pahokee finally fired City Manager Chandler Williamson, a Fort Lauderdale native. Williamson served six years as Pahokee’s “professional” executive. During those six years, the Palm Beach Inspector General investigated Williamson three times for misuse of city funds. In 2020, The Palm Beach Post reported Williamson “improperly used his city credit card for about $5,800 worth of personal flights, car rentals and hotel stays over four years….also identified another $16,000 that Williamson spent on his city credit card without proper documentation. The report recommends he repay the $5,800 and refers the case to the State Attorney’s Office to consider criminal charges.” Williamson was previously investigated for closing city hall without approval, paying city workers for holidays without approval and approving a $150,000 payment for marina work which was never performed.
Even though Williamson was fired, he still received tens of thousands of dollars in a severance package. Is this “professional” behavior Nick Sortal wants for Plantation?
In April 2019, Burgess Hanson “resigned under scrutiny” after spending ten years as Deerfield Beach city manager. According to the Sun-Sentinel, Mayor Bill Ganz wanted Hanson out for providing information that was “incomplete, misleading or downright not accurate.” In addition to questions about payments to coaches and athletic groups, Hanson allegedly was overpaid nearly $16,000 on top of his salary of close to $185,000 per year. Is this a problem for Nick Sortal?
The New Times summed up the scandal surrounding Davie Town Administrator Chris Kovanes. After landing the job, Konvanes “sets up a sham corporation and begins to issue town contracts to his bogus company. He collects nearly $500,000. The town finance director discovers the scheme and asks a few questions. The town’s assistant city attorney tips off [Kovanes].” When the FDLE started investigating the matter Kovanes went on the lam. “Crooked bureaucrat” Kovanes was eventually arrested in October 2006. Three years later, Kovanes plead guilty to fraud and money laundering charges. He received a twelve year prison sentence. Kovanes was released in December 2019 which means Kovanes is available to be hired!
In September 2016, Opa Locka City Manager David Chiverton plead guilty to federal bribery charges. “In open court today, a former Opa Locka City Manager admitted under oath that he sold away his commitment to fairly administer the city’s services – for a personal profit,” stated U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer. “It is imperative that public officials abide by the rules, policies and legal practices that are in place to prohibit any abuse of the public’s trust. Otherwise, corrupt officials will continue to find themselves the target of law enforcement prosecutions that seek federal penalties for their misconduct.” Chiverton, a “professional,” received a three year prison sentence.
Robert “Bob” Levy is no stranger at Plantation City Hall. As an alleged city resident, Levy served several terms as a Plantation City Councilman. While serving as an elected official in Plantation, Robert “Bob” Levy also served as the Pembroke Park manager. In 2017, the Broward Inspector General (OIG) determined Levy and two other City Of Pembroke Park employees, “engaged in gross mismanagement, misconduct, or both in the procurement of professional engineering services from Craig A. Smith and Associates, Inc. (CAS), the town’s interim town engineer, consultant engineering firm, and (for twelve years of that time) its lobbyist or grant specialist.” Until his retirement last month, Robert Levy was the longtime Pembroke Park town manager. The OIG found the City Of Pembroke Park violated Federal, State, County and City rules regarding the awarding of contracts. A review of contracts showed 66 of 67 engineering projects were never put up for bid. According to the OIG report, “The town paid CAS approximately $3,323,245 in public funds for those 22 projects between 1999 and 2015.”
Since some of the money used for the projects came from a Federal source, the Broward OIG referred the matter to US Department of Housing And Urban Development (HUD) Inspector General for further action.
In his interview with Broward OIG investigators, Robert Levy claimed he had no idea that rules were not being followed. He claimed to be powerless in his position as town manager. He stated he did not have final say in any matter.
Robert Levy lost his seat Plantation City Council in November 2016.
Levy claimed to be “powerless” as chief executive of a city. I thought Nick Sortal said this a powerful position worthy of our best professionals?
Will Robert “Bob” Levy get an interview with Nick Sortal?
In May 2021, the City of North Miami Beach hired Arthur “Duke” Sorey as its city manager. City leaders ignored the warnings of journalist Stephanie Kienzle of VotersOpinion.com who raised red flags about Sorey since his days as interim city manager of North Miami. Flags like his arrest on grand theft auto charges, exorbitant spending of city funds on a lavish Super Bowl party and his dislike of conducting business in the sunshine because people have said mean things about him. Would Nick Sortal hire Duke Sorey?
Can Plantation residents gamble on Nick Sortal’s ability to hire a competent executive?
Why is Nick Sortal so gung-ho over a city manager?
Plantation residents should ask Nick Sortal about these issues tomorrow night when his city manager idea is discussed at the council meeting at city hall.
Like many Americans dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Winston Barnes spent most of the last year working remotely from his Miramar home. Due to health issues, Barnes felt working from home was best for his family. Winston Barnes, a longtime City of Miramar commissioner, attended all required government meetings via a webcam hookup.
Not wanting to run afoul of the law, Winston Barnes relied upon a legal document prepared by Miramar City Attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks. According to Barnes, a November 11, 2020 memorandum written by Norris-Weeks states city commissioners are not required to physically attend meetings. Barnes claimed he relied upon Norris-Weeks’ legal opinion when he attended Miramar Commission meetings remotely from May 2020 to September 2021.
Barnes states official meeting minutes from that time period show he as present and participated in the meetings.
But on October 25, 2021 Barnes claims Burnadette Norris-Weeks “suddenly and surprisingly completely reversed course and now opined that participation is not the same as attendance, and that Commissioner Barnes could be relieved of his office by a majority vote of the City Commission.”
Now, Miramar Commissioner Maxwell Chambers submitted a resolution, drafted by Norris-Weeks, calling for the removal of Commissioner Winston Barnes. The resolution states:
WHEREAS, during the period of October 28, 2021, through September 29, 2021, Winston F. Barnes failed to physically attend a meeting of the City Commission for a consecutive period of more than three (3) months; and
WHEREAS, the Commission finds that it is in the best interest of the City and Commission that Winston F. Barnes be relieved of his commission office for his failure to physically attend meetings of the City Commission for a consecutive period of more than three (3) months.
The resolution will be heard at the November 15, 2021 commission meeting.
Also on the November 15th agenda is a resolution by Winston Barnes calling for the termination of City Attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks. Barnes’ resolution includes a letter from his attorney Keith Poliakoff of Government Law Group. In that letter, Poliakoff shreds Norris-Weeks’ legal arguments and her interpretation of the law and Florida Attorney General opinions.
Burnadette Norris-Weeks is already embroiled in a costly legal battle surrounding her termination as city attorney by the Pahokee City Commission. She also serves as a legal advisor to controversial Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness.
Last week, Burnadette Norris-Weeks advised Holness during the recount process for the CD 20 election. Holness remains five votes behind Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick.
Holness enjoyed the support of Miramar Commissioners Maxwell Chambers, Yvette Colbourne and Alexandra Davis. The four were spotted together at numerous City of Miramar events during the election.
Unlike his fellow commissioners, Winston Barnes is not listed in the endorsement section of Dale Holness’ website.
Winston Barnes’ social media is devoid of any pictures or mentions of Dale Holness.
Is this removal process some sort of revenge against Winston Barnes?
Should Miramar taxpayers foot the legal bill for petty political shenanigans?
**UPDATE** An earlier version of this story said Keith Poliakoff worked for Becker Poliakoff . Mr. Poliakoff works for Government Law Group. We regret the error.