CONNECT WITH:

Whistleblower probes expose bad blood behind county, MPO split

Gregory Stuart

Gregory Stuart

Bertha Henry

Bertha Henry

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Hardly anyone noticed last month when Independence Day arrived for the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Broward’s powerful but obscure transportation agency.

No politicians made speeches; no one marched in a parade. But it turns out that there were plenty of fireworks behind the scenes at the agency that largely decides what county roads get built or improved.

As the MPO was breaking away last spring, county employees filed a pair of whistleblower complaints accusing top MPO officials of mismanagement, unprofessionalism and cronyism.

The names of the whistleblowers are not public by law. But reports of county internal investigations obtained by Broward Bulldog using Florida’s public records law expose a bureaucratic fault line affecting hundreds of millions of dollars in public transportation spending, and future planning efforts.

Broward’s MPO is a federally mandated transportation planning body that was welded to the county by a staffing contract since its establishment by the Florida Legislature in 1977. Its 19 members, mostly elected city and county leaders, control approximately $300 million a year in federal transportation system funds and decide which Broward road and improvement projects get built and which don’t.

Currently, that money and additional federal stimulus dollars are being spent on bus shelters, the development of I-95 car-pool lanes, and the new Dixie Highway bridge linking Deerfield Beach and Boca Raton.

The MPO became independent on August 6, and moved to 100 West Cypress Creek Road in Fort Lauderdale. It’s now affiliated with the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, Tri-Rail’s parent, which provides various administrative services and a line of credit.

Its first meeting as a freestanding agency is Thursday, Sept. 16, at Weston City Hall.

A NASTY DIVORCE

MPO Chairman Daniel Stermer, a Weston city commissioner, described the split as “acrimonious.”

That acrimony played out in the relationship between Broward Administrator Bertha Henry and the MPO’s Executive Director Gregory Stuart.

The county’s investigation focused on allegations that Stuart was a “dictatorial” and “anti-county” manager. One whistleblower recounted how Stuart allegedly “suggested he read Machiavelli’s The Prince in order to understand (his) management style and relationship to the county’s ‘fiefdom,’” the report says.

Henry criticized Stuart’s outspoken criticism of county management as “unbecoming,” and considered him “insubordinate” for refusing her order to furlough MPO staff.

“Had independence not been imminent, Mr. Stuart would have had negative consequences,” Henry drily told a county investigator.

Still, the report says most people interviewed by the investigators didn’t feel that way about Stuart. Rather, they appreciated his “ability to set a new course and be decisive in his actions.”

But Henry’s opinions are most echoed in the report. It concluded Stuart was insubordinate, as well as unprofessional for calling county staffers “incompetent” in meetings and elsewhere. Also, he was found to have manipulated data to support the push for MPO independence and violated county rules by drinking alcohol at a mid-afternoon holiday party.

“It’s interesting how things can be spun,” said Stuart after reading the reports for the first time.

In the face of those findings, the MPO board voted unanimously to retain Stuart to lead the independent MPO. The board also raised his pay from $120,000 to $150,000 a year.

OTHERS TO BLAME?

Stuart traced his troubles at county hall to another whistleblower accusation investigators did not sustain: that he was “protected by specific county commissioners” – namely Broward Mayor Ken Keechl and Commissioners Lois Wexler and Kristin Jacobs.

“Because I actually talked to a politician I became enemy number one,” Stuart said.

Bureaucratic tension isn’t new to relations between the county and the MPO.

According to Stermer, the self-described “instigator” of the MPO’s breakaway from the county, MPO members have long been concerned that information they were getting from MPO staff was “tilted toward what they thought the county commissioners wanted.”

“I started to raise questions six years ago about the issue of a federal agency being in a staff servicing agreement with Broward County, and the position that was putting the staff in – serving two masters,” Stermer said.

Stermer was also the subject of a whistleblower allegation that he had improperly influenced the MPO to award a $2,500-a-month contract to a Fort Lauderdale land-use attorney.

Stermer told investigators he introduced Orshefsky, husband of development lobbyist Debbie Orshefsky, to the MPO because of his expertise, but that it was the board who hired him. Investigators concluded the contract was awarded outside the procurement process, but did not fault Stermer or anyone else.

With the MPO now independent, the reports’ “recommendations for corrective action are somewhat moot.” One the county may keep an eye on: “whether adverse employment action occurs against MPO employee-whistleblowers or participants in the MPO investigations.”

The MPO had 25 employees before the split. According to Henry’s office, 12 stayed with the MPO, three retired, seven took other positions with the county and three were laid off.

Stuart said the MPO today has 16 employees, including himself. He says that’s a good number.

“I don’t know why there were so many employees before. That’s just the way the county managed it,” Stuart said.

Can the county and the MPO now get along?

“Of course. We can work with whomever we need to work with,” said Henry.

“I’m not going to have a problem with that,” said Stuart.

Broward residents should be happy to hear that. 

According to Stermer, going rogue was necessary for the MPO to take the next step in transportation planning in South Florida. And governmental cooperation is the key to success.

“There needs to be more regionalism and we have started it,” said Stermer. “The federal government wants to put a lot of money into southeast Florida, and we believe this step will assist us in pulling down those funds.”

Henry, however, says that “only time will tell if this is a good move.

“I’d rather them have the independence they feel they need so they can move their agenda,” she said. “So there is no question if they are successful or not.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Share

Latest comments

  • So, this board becomes independent and the very first thing they do is raise this guy’s salary $30k? Glad to see there is plenty of money to throw around these days.

    They should be ASHAMED!

  • There are a lot of bad roads in Broward County that need to be fixed as soon as possible. It’s a shame that the MPO had to got through so much red tape just to get projects done. Sometimes going rogue is the only way to actually get the ball rolling.

  • It’s good to know that Greg’s philosophy of how to advance a public service career is to be a Machiavellian backstabber and a data manipulating cheat. The MPO members and those that deal with them have advance warning now.

  • The fact is that a major power play occurred, and the madman behind it was city of Weston Commissioner Daniel Stermer, who sits as the MPO’s Chairman. Mr Stermer, having been term limited out of his Weston seat and aware that he would be unable to defeat Angelo Castillo for a County Commission District 8 seat, decided that Obama’s unending transportation stimulus funding is the ticket to his golden parachute. As soon as Stuart’s county boss Cynthia Chambers installed her puppet (Stuart) to director of the MPO, he turned on her and Henry. Stermer is now well positioned to become an employee of the new MPO, with its unchecked spending abilities, its generous new pension system, and its access to municipal, county and state electeds and lobbyists. Stuart, with less than one year of transportation planning experience, parlayed his friendship with Keechl into a lucrative career. Unfortunately for the sheep that are the 20 MPO Board members, each of which is a local government elected official, they’ve been completely duped by Stermer and Stuart. Stuart laid off half of the county MPO staff, while hiring his gay friends, an intern with no experience, and an inadequate assistant director in order to further his objective. Good luck broward commuters.

  • It’s a hoot, actually. The Metropolitan Planning Organization PO has always been a sleepy little agency no one paid much attention to, a Gulag where the Planners could safely transfer redundant or troublesome employees so they could be taken care of at Federal expense. Then along come the Obama windfall dollars, and everybody suddenly wants to be MPO’s friend! Ms Chambers places her protege, Mr Stuart, in charge and he promptly stabs her and the County Commission in the back and goes rogue. You just can’t make this stuff up.

  • State law requires the MPO to be independent. The MPO has been working on this for several years. The final act occured this summer, and was planned. So none of this should be considered new. It’s just the newspapers really didn’t report this evolution. It is truely now what state law requires.

    His predeceasor reported to the county, and this always created a conflict.

    Stuart is no longer a Director within the County, but head of an Independent Federally Funded Agency. His increase in salary is still less than his counterparts in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties. It is less than Bertha Henry’s salary too. His responsibilities are greatly increased, and this is a promotion, equivalent to a City Manager position with a budget of several hundred million $$$/year. So his salary is in line, if not underpaid for the position.

    This article only scratches the surface of what goes on in the county, and its not very flattering.

  • Wow – to anyone who wants to buy the above bs from “observer,” I have a bridge for sale that I know you’d be interested in….

  • several years? promotion? really? how about the convergence of the perfect power hungry triumvirate: stuart, stermer and weiss serota? i feel like i am only giving these people what they want by even talking about them. by the way, i would hardly compare the executive director position to a city manager or the fact that this guy’s salary is less than his counterparts in palm beach and miami-dade whose directors have been in the positions for well nearly two decades.

  • 300 Million a year in federal transportation system funds… Where was the Florida Department of Transportation when all of this was happening at the Broward MPO? Mamipulating data, awarding contracts outside the procurement process, is this the new MPO’s course? FDOT is federally mandate to oversee the MPO process. Stephany Kopelousos, Jim Wolfe, Gerry Reilly, is anyone there?

  • ok

  • 300 million a year in federal transportation system funds……where was the Florida Department of Transportation when all of this was happening at the Broward MPO? Manipulating data, awarding contracts outside the procurement process, is this the new MPO’s course? FDOT is federally mandate to oversee the MPO process. Stephanie Kopelousos? Jim Wolfe? Gerry Reilly? Is anyone there?

  • Sir, I am on the inside of this system I am going to give a bit of information because it is time for it to change, the system has been corrupt for too long in Fort Lauderdale: the reason the police in Fort Lauderdale are corrupt is that the criminals have paid off the department, and this is not just the department but the entire system. All in office love money. They love money. So whom ever pays them the most is the most innocent in Fort Lauderdale, and I am sure all around the country. (Don’t feel bad, Babylon is everywhere. Better yet, let us call Fort Lauderdale Sodom, it fits the bill a hell of a lot better. Remember Lot and the homosexuals trying to sexually assault his guests. Re-read that Biblical account to recognize the true ID of Fort Lauderdale.. That means justice is perverted. The criminals are innocent and the Innocent are criminals. So when a criminal calls to report his theft, now the police have to find someone to blame it on. Yes sir yes sir, the police say, we will find the guilty party, but of course we will look everywhere except YOU, for you have made a donation to the PBA or some other crony association. For example: Les Steinger and Joel Steigner both criminals have the police department on their pay rolls. Joel Steigner is still defrauding innocent people out of money with fake investments like the “organic Pizza Scam”. Who knows what Joel is doing with his time now. He has to make money somehow and has no skills other then theft and he is too fat to work. Is the old thief still alive? I don’t even know. He went and bought pizza from a local pizza house and put on a plate and then told some Innocent investors that it was home made organic pizza and he needed a massive amount of money to get his “business” off the ground. (That’s great Joel, Keep up the good work, the Police department and officials in high Government need more donations and gifts). He stole a fortune from some people for a lie. Look it up. (Need more info, research it your self. No more free rides.)

    The police Department is crooked: if the police are paid off by Criminals like Joel and Les Steigner (Les don’t forget had fake doctors with the Mutual Benefits scam) how in the world can there be any justice. He who has the biggest gift wins? Steigner He bought a wonderful house on the end of Pelican Isle (3) I believe it is. He was so good at theft that his widow had to change her name to try and not be associated with her now dead husband’s criminal enterprise Look it up on the internet 3 Pelican Isle is no longer associated with Steigner but Stacy’s maiden name now. If you notice her vehicle still has the “police” car tag as did Les’s car while he was alive. They have paid off every Politian to look the other way. The only people that benefited were him and his cronies; the name was a massive esoteric joke to the initiated. The shoeple believed they were benefitting. What a joke.

    So, in summary, when wicked people have the police department on their pay roll, the police have to find somebody upon which to pin crimes the only people left are innocent people. Black are a great target because most of them do have the money to play the game and stay out of jail. But anybody can become a target because the people who are supposed to be finding the guilty have been paid off by the guilty.

    So Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Go &$%@ your self. The complaint department is run by, wait for it: Pallen as in Palliative care. I.E. we will listen to your complaint but we won’t do anything. Kind of like Obama –care, otherwise know as Death care to the esoterically minded. Any shoeple think that anything is “free” are blind and stupid. End of Rant Have a nice day in Sodom. I am outta this town.

    To the Criminal Cabal in the White house all the way down to the local: There is only One God and it is not Allah, it is not Buddha, and it is not your wallet, it is Jesus Christ. Repent and do justice because when Jesus Christ shows up you will have to look at HIM a man that was sentenced to death illegally by the original criminal Cabal: The Jewish leaders. So he knows the truth. Every dollar you have taken to pervert truth and justice. –Officer Blank.

leave a comment