Dean Trantalis’ Campaign Advisers Lead Parade Of Water Company Execs & Bankers Through Fort Lauderdale City Hall

Top campaign advisers for Mayor Dean Trantalis (D-Hapless) guided an entourage of water company and investment bankers through Fort Lauderdale City Hall this week. As REDBROWARD exposed last week, two key Trantalis advisers, Eric Johnson and James Blake MacDiarmid, are registered lobbyists for Suez/Fort Lauderdale Water. This New Jersey-based company is the latest contestant in a non-public sweepstakes to rebuild the Fiveash Water Treatment Plant in Fort Lauderdale.

Official lobbyist records show MacDiarmid and Johnson met with Mayor Dean Trantalis and Commissioner Ben Sorensen on Monday February 24, 2020. The lobbyists met with Trantalis while work crews and the local media gathered at George English park as raw sewage flooded the area. On Tuesday February 25, 2020, MacDiarmid and Johnson met with Commissioner Heather Moraitis and Commissioner Steven Glassman, a former television game show contestants.

MacDiarmid and Johnson did not come alone. Also meeting with Mayor Trantalis and the Commissioners were Kevin Chandler and Gary Albertson of Suez, Cav Walters and Travers Garvin of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and John John Joyner of Water Capital Partners LLC.

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) is a “leading global investment firm that manages multiple alternative asset classes, including private equity, energy, infrastructure, real estate and credit, with strategic partners that manage hedge funds.” According to its website, Water Capital Partners LLC is a “company formed to source and develop water sector infrastructure investments for affiliates of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), one of the world’s oldest, largest and most respected private equity firms.”

As REDBROWARD shared last week, leaders of a Pennsylvania city regrets entering into a public private partnership (P3) with Suez.

MIDDLETOWN WATER BLUES

In March 2018, residents of Middletown, Pennsylvania discovered an 11.5% surcharge added to their water bills. “The change is not a rate hike. It is a surcharge to make up for water usage in the last three years that fell below a target in the 50-year lease with Suez.”

Middletown Council President Damon Suglia said the council in 2014 “really put this town in a long-term bind” with the lease. “Suez knew those numbers (regarding water usage) were not realistic for us to reach in a town of our size,” Suglia said. “The borough is landlocked” and cannot grow beyond its current borders.

“Because we made an upfront payment and our investors invested in that upfront payment, there has to be a level of confidence that there is going to be adequate revenues to support the debt service and the recovery of that investment,” Kevin Chandler, vice president of Suez’s North Division told the Press & Journal.

Last year, Middletown leaders voted to stop Suez plans to complete more infrastructure work. The Press And Journal covered the unanimous vote by the Middletown Council:

Middletown Borough Council at the end of its Sept. 17 meeting voted 6-0 to reject a 5-year plan for capital improvements to the borough’s water and sewer systems proposed by Suez.

“The public’s health and well-being are being jeopardized” by council’s action, Suez and the Middletown Water Joint Venture told the Press & Journal in a statement provided following council’s decision to reject the plan.

The plan called for Suez spending close to $17 million from 2019 to 2023, mostly for annual replacing of water and sewer lines but also to rehabilitate and recoat all three above-ground water storage tanks that serve the system.

For every $1 million Suez spends on capital improvements, water and sewer bills for Middletown residents would go up by 1 percent to 1.25 percent, Don Correll, CEO of Water Capital Partners LLC, told council during a presentation on the plan at the start of the Sept. 17 meeting.

Water Capital Partners and Suez are part of Middletown Water Joint Venture, the entity created in 2014 after council and the former borough authority approved leasing the town’s water and sewer systems to the joint venture for 50 years. The lease became effective on Jan. 1, 2015.

The lease allows Suez to recoup the cost of major capital improvements by adding a surcharge to water and sewer bills.

The surcharge is on top of a rate increase that Suez is allowed to impose every year of the lease, starting in 2019.

For 2019 through 2033, the annual increase is 2.5 percent plus the rate of inflation. For 2034 through the end of the lease, the yearly increase is 2 percent plus the annual index for inflation.

Even with adding the surcharge to recoup capital improvements of about $2 million a year, the annual rate increase will still be “within” the national average of water and sewer rate increases of from 5 to 6 percent a year, according to an annual survey done by the American Water Works Association, Daniel Sugarman, managing director of Water Capital Partners, told council.

But Correll and Sugarman both acknowledged that the surcharge and annual rate increase would be on top of the 11.5 percent surcharge that Suez imposed on water and sewer bills in April 2018, to recoup what Suez says is a water sales shortfall that occurred in the Middletown system in the first three years of the lease.

That 11.5 percent surcharge — which has increased water and sewer bills by about $72 a year, according to Suez — isn’t supposed to come off of residents’ bills until the end of 2020.

At that point, under terms of the lease, the 11.5 percent surcharge could be replaced with another surcharge, depending on whether there is another water sales shortfall from 2018 through 2020, and how much of a shortfall there is.

It’s all too much for residents of a town where the average annual income is $43,000, Mayor James H. Curry III told representatives of the joint venture after they presented the 5-year plan.

Curry spoke of reaching “a breaking point” where Middletown residents can no longer afford to pay their water bills, leading to Suez devoting increased resources to chase down more and more bills that are uncollectible.

He asked Correll what percentage of monthly bills are late or not being paid.

Correll estimated uncollected bills at 3 percent, which he said is “pretty much an industry standard.” He didn’t know what percentage of bills are delinquent.

Suez spokeswoman Ghilianie Soto in a follow-up email to the Press & Journal said that 99.7 percent of bills sent out for August 2019 had been collected.

“I see this as a living breathing example of a Catch-22,” Curry said during the meeting. “If they can’t afford this they will start using less water. If they use less water you will hit them with the water shortfall” charge.

The mayor called on Suez to “taper” out the capital improvement plan, so impacts of the plan are more gradual on residents.

Suez and the joint venture also got an earful during the meeting from residents, including Crystal McGuire, who brought copies of her water bill and said that her average bill is $252 a month.

“I don’t know where you guys live but I’m going to tell you you’re going to force me out of my house. You’ve done it in New Jersey, I’ve seen it, you’re going to do it here. You are going to force me to sell,” McGuire said, directing her comments to Correll and Sugarman. “I don’t want to leave Middletown but this right here, this usage, this bill is going to force me to move.”

But according to the follow-up email from Soto, the average residential bill in Middletown for August 2019 was $137.99.

During the meeting, Councilor Robert Reid and Middletown Fire Chief Kenton Whitebread Jr. both challenged Suez’ assertions that for reasons of fire protection up to 44 percent of water lines in the borough that are 2 or 4 inches in diameter must be replaced with lines at least 6 inches in diameter.

“We’ve been putting out fires for years with the piping that we have. Now all of a sudden we have to increase the size of the piping?” Reid asked. “It’s going to cost the ratepayers more money to put in new piping for something that I would say we are dealing with right now.”

The borough in a letter sent to the joint venture after the meeting detailed several reasons for council rejecting the plan.

Among them, the borough contended that the budgeted amounts for underground infrastructure improvements “have roughly doubled” since the last proposed 5-year plan that the joint venture had submitted in February.

The letter said that the plan does not provide the borough with enough information, such as specifying where in Middletown water lines are to be replaced, which could cause replacement costs to “vary” from the estimates provided by the joint venture, according to the borough.

The borough also said it does not believe it is “necessary or appropriate” that all three storage tanks be completed before the end of 2021. The borough also contended the cost of the tank projects is not subject to being recouped by the surcharge under the lease.

Suez has said that not addressing the tanks could lead to increased corrosion resulting in shell metal loss, reduced water quality, and more sediment building up on the floor of the tanks.

In a statement provided to the Press & Journal reacting to rejection of the plan, Suez and the joint venture said that “this is not about spending money for the sole purpose of doing projects.”

“The public’s health and well-being are being jeopardized by the borough council’s refusal to recognize that capital investment is needed to address the aging infrastructure. The (joint venture) showed actual photos of water pipe conditions, as well as tank deterioration that if left uncorrected, has the potential to risk the supply of safe drinking water delivered to Middletown residents,” the joint venture said in the statement.

The joint venture also notes that in return for the borough agreeing to the lease in 2014, the joint venture made an upfront payment of $43 million to the borough for the borough to retire debt. The joint venture also pledged to make additional payments to the borough totaling more than $45 million over the life of the lease.

Is Suez-controlled water utilities something beneficial to Fort Lauderdale residents?

If Suez gets a fifty year lease from Mayor Dean Trantalis will the same increases start here? Who holds Suez accountable?

Can voters trust Suez?

Can voters trust Mayor Dean Trantalis?

Company Repped By Mayor Dean Trantalis’ Campaign Adviser Lands Lucrative Deals For City Of Fort Lauderdale Police Station; Parks Deal Next?

From left, James Blake Diarmid, Mayor Dean Trantalis and Commissioner Steven Glassman

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?

Hypocrite? Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis Voted AGAINST Sewer Repair Funding In 2018

Dean Trantalis voted against sewer bond money in 2018

It appears as thought the waterways are not the only things filled with poop in the City of Fort Lauderdale. As REDBROWARD reported, even though he says residents should not play the “blame game,” Mayor Dean Trantalis (D-Hapless) continues to blame previous city officials for the sewer and water issues across the City. Trantalis insists his administration and his fellow Commissioners made infrastructure their top priority from day one. But a key vote held while Trantalis ran for Mayor calls into question his true commitment to fixing Fort Lauderdale’s failing sewers.

On January 23, 2018, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission heard an item regarding $200 million funding to fix infrastructure issues. Agenda item R-2 concerned bond money to fund water and sewer pipe repairs across the City of Fort Lauderdale. The list of projects to be fixed included sewer mains in the Rio Vista and Victoria Park neighborhoods. Several residents spoke in favor of the $200 million dollar bond.

Mayor Dean Trantalis’ only comments on the matter dealt with the bond payments. Trantalis asked what would happen if the City did not have money in eighteen years to pay the principle on the bond.

Without any further discussion, the vote was called. Mayor Jack Seiler, Commissioner Romney Rogers, Commissioner Robert McKinzie, and Vice-Mayor Bruce Roberts voted to fund sewer repairs.

Then-Commissioner Dean Trantalis was the lone vote against funding the projects.

If it was such a top priority for him, why did Dean Trantalis vote against the $200 million dollars?

Trantalis did not even bother to explain his vote. He could have easily said, “I want to fix sewers, but….” Instead, Trantalis voted no.

Since the sewer breaks in December 2019, Trantalis claims he has been “very aggressive” in his approach to fix infrastructure.

On Tuesday, Mayor Trantalis scolded a resident who asked why he has not done more to fix sewergate. “We weren’t sitting on our hands, not waiting for a break to happen,” Trantalis said. “Unfortunately, it got ahead of us.”

But since his election in May 2020, Trantalis had $200 million dollars in the bank to use on sewers but he’s done nothing.

Even though Trantalis voted no, the money was there for him to use on day one. What if he started work in Rio Vista in June 2018? Could the City avoided pumping 200 million gallons of raw sewage into Fort Lauderdale waterways?

What was Dean Trantalis waiting for?!?

Now, Trantalis wants federal taxpayer dollars to bail him out. Will Mayor Dean Trantalis actually use that money?

Is this the real leadership Fort Lauderdale needs during this crisis?

Doesn’t Fort Lauderdale deserve better?

Dean Trantalis