By: Howard Melamed
Our City Commissioners that are running for reelection have been taking campaign contributions from companies that require them to vote in favor of their contracts. Our city code of ethics allow them to do so, at will, but nonetheless this practice stinks.
Maybe it is easy to go after companies and lobbyist that have business before the city, hitting them up for campaign contributions. Maybe, the lobbyists and other companies think that by contributing to a particular candidate’s campaign fund they will have LEGAL influence on the commissioners.
With millions of dollars at stake, anyone can see how it’s possible that influence pedaling is going on in this city. Especially when single source contracts are given out for large amounts of money, and election campaigns now costing thousands and thousands of dollars.
There is no doubt that given the fact that our city commissioners make decisions on hundreds of millions of dollars that affect our city, the taxes we pay, and the quality of services we receive, that we need to be assured that there is no possibility of any city commissioner being unduly influenced by campaign contributions.
Accepting contributions from companies or individuals that are doing business and may be doing business with the city is completely legal according to City Attorney John Hearn who specifically responded to our request on this matter.
“Florida Commission on Ethics opinions provide that there is no voting conflict where an elected official votes on an issue which affects a campaign contributor. This would include those campaign contributors who are vendors of the City.” – John Hearn, City Attorney
However that does not make it right. As well, it does not mean we cannot hold our commissioners accountable to a higher standard.
No less of an example is Commissioner Tom Powers who has declared his candidacy for Mayor, and has raised almost all of his funds from companies and lobbyists that have or have had business before the city. He has voted on contracts in their favor after either soliciting them directly, or with the knowledge that they have put into his campaign bank account the maximum contributions permissible by law. For the trash contract, Tom Powers received 12 – $500 payments from recycling related companies and lobbyists. He received additional campaign funds from the winner – WastePro.
No one can say that EVERY recycling company gave money to Powers prior to the vote because they believed that he would make a great Mayor for Coral Springs. They contributed because there is the perception that if they didn’t, then the ones that gave would have a better chance at getting his vote. This influence got him $6,000 of contributions, plus more coming. Powers NEVER declared before the city commissioners that he received funds from the companies prior to voting, because he did not have to, since this is not contrary to the ethics code of the city. However, in not doing so stinks more than the trash that is being collected. Every commissioner should openly declare ANY conflicts that they may have on any issue that comes before them for their vote since this is the only honorable thing to do if you are holding office.
Regarding the single-sourced contract to Motorola, Powers received contributions ONLY from Motorola affiliated business entities, $2,000 contributed to his campaign before he voted on giving them the contract.
Then there are contributions received from towing companies, the management company that handles the Coral Springs Center for the Performing Arts (that has yet to turn a profit), and two large land developers donating generously before their rezoning issues were voted upon by Powers in their favor. Then there are the car dealerships who no doubt depend on relaxed code enforcement and there is the Broward County Firefighter’s Union (correction updated Jan 9), who has been given favorable terms on their recent contract negotiations.
All in all, Tom Powers has received $15,000 or more in campaign contributions from special interest groups out of the $16,000 he has raised to date. Powers has put in a total of $100 of his own money. Any amount a candidate can get from OPM (Other People’s Money) reduces the amount the candidate has to put in. A sitting city commissioner of course benefits financially from getting contributions from companies with the perceived notion of favoritism. It is not in the best interests of the citizens that the commissioners are supposed to be representing.
To be fair, Tom Powers is not the only sitting city commission running for office that has taken campaign contributions from companies that need their vote. Young city commissioner Dan Daley has received similar contributions from similar companies. They are smaller amounts, but given the fact that they only needed three of the city commissioners to agree on any issues brought before the city, most of the contributors, no doubt, performed the calculations and gave him a little less.
All of the candidates financial reports are on the city website and offer the evidence to what has been discussed in this article. Make sure you follow the money trail and addresses to really investigate where the money is actually coming from. In some cases, several companies owned by the same person have contributed.
Everyone has to ask themselves if they are comfortable with city commissioners going after campaign contributions from people and companies doing business with the city. They must hold all candidates responsible for taking this type of money, and consider it when they vote in the upcoming November elections.
I cannot find any reason why this is a good thing for the citizens. In fact, the only thing that I can say is that this city is for sale – for cheap.
About the Author
Howard Melamed is running for Coral Springs City Commissioner Seat #4, in a nonpartisan election. More information can be found at howardmelamed.com and is the owner and editor of Coralsprings.com, a local website. As a resident of Coral Springs for 23 years, Melamed has written over 200 articles, and has recently published a book titled “the Science of Opportunity” available on Amazon.com. He an expert in cell phone technology and is the CEO of CellAntenna Corporation, a multinational multimillion dollar company that is headquartered in Coral Springs. He has appeared on radio, television and has been quoted in newspapers around the world.
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