It’s been almost a year since John W. Scott, a former corruption investigator with the U.S. Department of Justice, was appointed Broward County’s first Inspector General, and lately he’s been having lots of fun at the expense of local greedheads.
The Inspector General’s position was created by ballot measure following the discovery of widespread public corruption in Broward County in 2008. It was a humble admission by voters that their elected officials couldn’t be trusted and that the local media couldn’t perform its watchdog duties, in part because residents couldn’t be bothered to keep track of who was dirty and who wasn’t.
In short, Scott had the enviable task of flipping on the lights to see the cockroaches scatter.
First, the OIG eviscerated the Broward Office of Economic and Small Business Development, which has been giving contracts to a company called Everytrade, even though Everytrade was a broker, not a vendor, which should have disqualified it for contracts.
Scott found that Everytrade inflated the cost of those products and then sold them back to the county. In this fashion, Everytrade pocketed approximately $750,000 over the past four years, a period when the county was in dire financial straits.
In a hilarious act of impunity, the OESBD gave Everytrade a $35,000 contract for traffic cones, which Everytrade purchased from another company at a cheaper wholesale rate. It executed this contract the day after Scott delivered a preliminary report with the findings of misconduct by OESBD staff. No shame.
Next the Inspector General paid a visit to the Broward’s Medical Examiner, where an investigative supervisor named Linda Krivjanik was allegedly rifling through evidence bags to find prescription painkillers. Scott reported that ME staff called their evidence policies “loosey goosey,” which seems quite an understatement.
In all, some 3,600 pills were found missing, including over 2,100 oxycodone, the powerful opioid lusted after by those who frequent pill mills. A single dose of oxycodone has a street value of up to $100. (The Broward Sheriff’s Office is investigating; Krivjanik has not been charged with a crime.)
The Inspector General’s most recent target is Lauderdale Lakes. A preliminary report by Scott alleged that Lauderdale Lakes City Manager Jonathan Allen circumvented procurement policies by splitting up contract payments to former Public Works Director Manny Diez, such that Diez could be paid without approval from the city commission.
Allen has maintained that there’s a perfectly logical explanation for his behavior, and he has until March 23 to provide it. Don’t hold your breath.
In terms of local corruption, all of the above are low-hanging fruits, ripe for the plucking. The real test for Scott’s office is whether it can tackle the county’s trash problem.
Former Miami Herald investigative reporter Dan Christensen has been monitoring this clash of Titans. His Broward Bulldog reported two weeks ago that Oakland Park Mayor Suzanne Boisvenue asked the OIG to investigate the Resource Recovery Board, a body of local officials charged with representing consumers in negotiations with trash hauling companies.
To understand the scale of the Broward County trash problem, check out the feature I wrote for New Times in 2008. The upshot is that for decades residents have been paying inflated prices for trash pickup, largely because members of the Resource Recovery Board are traditionally more inclined to protect the waste hauler than they are to protect residents from being ripped off.
Boisvenue alleges that the board is steering the next trash-hauling franchise to the same firm that has had a monopoly since the 1980s, Waste Management. A Lantana-based hauler, Sun Recycling, has teamed up with West Broward land baron Ronnie Bergeron to try to wrest the contract away.
Bergeron is a Republican fundraiser while the Resource Recovery Board is comprised largely of officials loyal to the Democratic Party machine. Even if Bergeron and Sun prevail, it’ll be necessary to watch them closely to ensure they don’t exploit the monopoly in the same way that Waste Management has.
Since Scott can’t comment on what he’s investigating, there’s no way to know whether he’s taken Boisvenue’s suggestion. It’s hard to imagine a more challenging investigative task, as the trash problem cuts through dozens of Broward municipalities.
What’s more, there’s no easy solution. Because hauling trash is such a colossal task, there are very few firms with the resources to qualify to perform the job.
But even if Boisvenue has given the Inspector General a rather vague mission, it’s worth his while, if only because the launch of an investigation may convince board members that steering a contract to Waste Management is not worth the legal risk, if that is indeed what’s happening.
Better to have two vendors competing to give the county deal than to have one effectively naming its price. Surely, that’s the kind of logic that an experienced corruption buster like Scott can appreciate.