Lauren’s Kids funnels $3.1 million to politically connected public relations firm

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Tallahassee’s Sachs Media Group produced this billboard in 2014.

A nonprofit run by Broward State Sen. Lauren Book and lavished with millions of dollars in state handouts by lawmakers paid a Tallahassee public relations firm with considerable political clout $3.1 million between 2012 and 2015.

The payments by Lauren’s Kids to Sachs Media Group accounted for 28 percent of the charity’s $10.8 million in expenses, according to Lauren’s Kids most recent available tax returns. In the same period, the Florida Legislature awarded Lauren’s Kids – which employs Sen. Book as its $135,000-a-year chief executive and counts powerful lobbyist Ron Book, her father, as its chairman – $9.6 million in grants.

The nonprofit’s payouts to Sachs Media for 2016 are not publicly available. A spokeswoman for Lauren’s Kids did not respond to requests to view that information.

Florida Bulldog reported last week that Sen. Book, using a loophole in state conflict-of-interest rules, voted last month to approve a state appropriations bill that included $1.5 million for Lauren’s Kids.

Millions of taxpayer dollars flowed through the nonprofit to Sachs Media as it both promoted Lauren’s Kids and cultivated Sen. Book’s public persona as a survivor of child sex abuse. Critics say the domination of Lauren’s Kids by the senator and her lobbyist-father raises concerns that the work Sachs Media does is more about making her look good, not raising awareness about unreported cases of child sex abuse.

“There is nothing wrong with an individual promoting that they have done good work,” said Daniel Borochoff, founder of Chicago-based CharityWatch. “However, it would appear the father can pull some weight to push the organization in a direction that would be beneficial for the daughter. It is more likely for that to happen more so than helping kids.”

If that’s the case, then the Books and Sachs Media are abusing the public’s trust, Borochoff added. “Nonprofit money is supposed to be used for a public benefit and not to enhance the aspirations of the charity’s officers,” Borochoff said. “But sometimes there is an overlap and it can become a side effect for someone running a charity.”

‘Proud of our work’

Sachs Media founder and chief executive Ron Sachs did not return two phone messages seeking response to a list of detailed questions emailed to him on June 12. Instead, Sachs Media president Michelle Ubben provided Florida Bulldog with a written statement noting that the firm is “not currently engaged by Lauren’s Kids.”

“We are particularly proud of our work to help the Lauren’s Kids foundation develop sexual abuse prevention curricula for grades K-12, and to raise awareness of the signs of child abuse and public reporting requirements,” Ubben’s statement read. She referred specific questions about the firm’s work with Lauren’s Kids to the nonprofit’s spokeswoman and former Sachs Media account executive Claire VanSusteren.

Ron Sachs

“We have worked with Sachs in the past to raise awareness about child sexual abuse,” VanSusteren said in an emailed statement. “[Sachs] has, over the course of several years, completed communications work and engaged a variety of subcontractors related to deliverables for state contracts.”

A former news reporter and editor who did stints as spokesman for Florida governors Reubin Askew and Lawton Chiles, Ron Sachs founded his company in 1996, specializing in corporate branding, marketing and crisis management. His early victories included a 1998 campaign to inform voters on amendments proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission and helping repeal an automatic 20 percent phone rate hike tacked onto a bill in 2003.

Six years later, Sachs landed more than $130,000 worth of work from the Associated Industries of Florida, according to a 2011 Florida Trend article. The same year, Sachs Media was retained by an anonymous group of oil and gas producers called Florida Energy Associates to do a campaign promoting the removal of the prohibition on drilling in the state’s offshore waters.

Sachs Media has also counted the Florida Chamber of Commerce among its clients, producing a web-based public affairs program called “The Bottom Line.”  Another program, “Florida Newsmakers,” features one-on-one interviews with top state bureaucrats answering softball questions. According to an online database of state contracts, Sachs Media has also been awarded small and large media jobs by various state agencies.

For instance, the Florida Lottery paid Sachs Media $150,000 in February 2013 for an educational multimedia campaign. A year later, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs paid Sachs Media $3,720 for table throws stamped with the department’s emblem. The Department of Environmental Protection awarded the firm a $316,250 contract in 2014 to produce a public awareness campaign about the importance of sea turtle nesting beaches in Florida’s Panhandle.

Sachs media faced criticism

Sachs Media has faced criticism over its business practices in recent years. In 2014, the firm dropped a lawsuit it had filed against the family of a paralyzed Broward County man after a public outcry over Sachs Media’s heavy-handed tactics against its former client, who was left brain damaged by the car of a speeding Broward County sheriff’s deputy. Sachs had claimed Eric Brody’s relatives owed the firm $375,000 for four years of public relations and media outreach services.

A year later, a state audit of a $296,105 Sachs Media contract with the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs found that the agreement did not clearly establish the tasks to be performed by the firm, did not contain documentation requirements, did not sufficiently identify the activities or services to be provided and included three amendments for an additional $135,421.

“In general, the agreement had no scope of work or deliverable issues,” the audit states. “The amendments did not fall within the original scope of work and did not clearly establish the tasks the provider was required to perform.” (Ubben did not comment on the dropping of the lawsuit and on the audit’s findings.)

According to Sachs Media’s website, the firm was retained by Lauren’s Kids in 2007, the year the nonprofit was founded. “Lauren’s Kids engaged our firm to conceptualize and bring to life a breakthrough strategy that would get people aware, educated, and mobilized to prevent this dark, societal secret – child sexual abuse,” a statement on the website reads. “We branded the Lauren’s Kids Foundation and generated extensive, multi-year media coverage – including the cover of Newsweek – around an annual 1,500-mile walk for awareness throughout Florida.”

In addition, Sen. Book and her cause have been featured by Nancy Grace, USA Today, Lisa Ling, Jane Velez-Mitchell and various local media outlets due to Sachs Media’s public relations work, the website states.

Sachs Media was also involved in helping Sen. Book market and promote her autobiography “It’s OK to Tell” and her annual walk from Key West to Tallahassee, as well as producing billboards, public service announcements and a curriculum for grades K-12 about child sex abuse prevention. The curriculum features web-based video lessons starring Sen. Book and reading materials that recount how she was sexually abused by her nanny during her teen years.

In 2015, Sachs Media conducted an online survey for Lauren’s Kids that found more than one-third of female respondents and one-fifth of male respondents had admitted to being sexually abused as children. However, the accuracy of the online survey, which national polling experts dismiss as being unreliable and inaccurate, could not be verified because Sachs Media declined to provide its methodology and backup data to Florida Bulldog.

The payments

Here’s the breakdown of Lauren’s Kids payments to Sachs Media as detailed in the nonprofits tax returns:

  • $670,032 for “public relations.” That accounted or 33 percent of Lauren’s Kids’ $2 million in expenses that year.
  • $957,977 for “program support,” or 63 percent of Lauren’s Kids $1.5 million in expenses.
  • $579,772, or 20 percent of expenses.
  • $966,100 for programming support. Sachs subcontractor, The POD Advertising, was paid $349,800, with both accounting for 28 percent of Lauren’s Kids expenses that year.

The owner of a Miami-based public relations firm who requested anonymity said the amount of money Lauren’s Kids has paid Sachs Media is shocking. “It’s pretty outrageous that a PR firm is billing that much to a nonprofit,” the owner said. “Usually, you are taking on charities on a pro-bono basis or providing them with a significant discount.”

Claire VanSusteren

Sen. Book, a Plantation Democrat, and Ron Book did not respond to requests for comment. However, Lauren’s Kids spokeswoman VanSusteren defended the work performed by Sachs Media, noting the campaigns have taught Floridians the importance of openly discussing child sex crimes.

“We have received countless calls and messages from parents, educators and law enforcement officers sharing stories of children coming forward and disclosing abuse thanks to our curriculum program,” she said. “At the end of the day, nothing is more important than protecting childhood. That’s what it’s all about.”

For example, she said, Sachs managed content production and communications related to a Lauren’s Kids public awareness campaign called “Don’t Miss the Signs” developed in partnership with the Florida Department of Children and Families.

She claimed that reports of abuse to the DCF hotline rose by 30 percent during the campaign and that Lauren’s Kids has received positive feedback from numerous teachers and police officers about the “Safer, Smarter” curriculum Sachs Media produced. In her statement to Florida Bulldog, VanSusteren included testimonials from unidentified teachers and guidance counselors.

One was from a self-described educator at James M. Marlowe Elementary School in New Port Richey who said, “I love the fact that it’s simple and easy to implement. I love the fact that there isn’t a lot of prep time needed for the lessons.”

Yet, the testimonial said nothing about the curriculum’s effectiveness in preventing child sex abuse.

Miami-Dade Schools gives fat, multi-year lobbying contract to Trump-connected lobbyist

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org 

Lobbyist Brian Ballard

Seeking an edge in Republican-dominated Washington politics, Miami-Dade public school officials awarded a federal lobbying contract to an influential Florida firm whose chief officer played a significant role in the election of President Donald Trump last fall.

On the recommendation of Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho, the Miami-Dade School Board on Wednesday awarded a contract that could pay Ballard Partners up to $540,000 over five years beginning July 1. The initial three-year contract pays up to $324,000 and can be extended for two years and pay up to an additional $216,000.

The firm, which earlier this year opened an office in Washington D.C., will “provide federal legislative consulting services to assist in advocating the Board’s interest before the South Florida Congressional Delegation, federal legislative committees, and the Executive Branch, including the Secretaries of Education, Commerce, Health and Human Services and Justice,” according to the school board’s agenda item on the matter.

Brian D. Ballard, president of the firm, was a key factor in the awarding of the contract, especially with his link to Trump. He has represented Trump on business matters in the state – on and off – for at least 10 years.

Ballard declined to discuss business matters in which he represented Trump. “I don’t talk about my clients’ ” business, he said.

“I think his relationship with the administration is value added,” said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, MDCPS associate superintendent, Intergovernmental Affairs, Grants Administration and Community Engagement. Her office requested the issuance of proposals for firms interested in representing the school district in Washington.

“You know it’s about relations and who can open doors … and this specific firm outlined expertise,” Mendez-Cartaya said.

Asked about the role his relationship with Trump played in the selection, Ballard said in an earlier interview that he’d leave speculation for others to address. But he added, “I think it can prove to be value added. I think I can work with this administration.”

The Trump connection

Ballard Partners’ website spells out the connection, especially its most recent involvement leading to Trump’s election. “Brian’s political portfolio includes significant roles in presidential campaigns including the historic election of President Donald J. Trump. He was an integral player in the President’s successful Florida campaign serving as Chairman of the Trump Victory and leading the campaign’s finance efforts in Florida.

Brian Ballard is listed as Trump’s Florida Finance Chairman in this campaign fundraiser announcement

“Brian also had the honor of serving as a member of the Electoral College casting his vote for President Trump. The President-elect appointed Brian to serve as Vice Chairman of the Inaugural Committee and as a member of the Presidential Transition Finance Committee.”

Ballard’s other presidential campaigns involved John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 when he chaired the Florida Finance Committee for those two Republican Party nominees.

The selection of Ballard by the Miami-Dade school district marks its reentry into the national political scene with a lobbying firm to represent it. The district has been without a federal lobbying firm for nearly 10 years, having cut the expenditure due past fiscal hardships; district staffers took on the work during that time.

Ballard Partners beat out four other firms for the contract. Ballard Partners has offices around the state, including Tallahassee, Coral Gables, Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando and West Palm Beach.

Speaking of representing the Miami-Dade and its new Washington offices, Ballard said, “It’s exciting for us.” Representing Miami-Dade schools, he said, “can be an important public service.”

“We have a track record of success and expect to be successful,” Ballard said. Aside from ties to Trump, Ballard said many of the Washington legislators served in Tallahassee, adding, “We have a relationship [with them].”

While the company will be a new player, Ballard’s Washington staffers are veterans of Florida and Washington politics. They include Sylvester Lukis, with more than 40 years of experience in representing clients in Florida and Washington; Otto Reich, former ambassador to Venezuela; Susie Wiles, who was a key player in Trump Florida campaign; Dan McFaul, who has been involved in Washington politics for 20 years, including serving as a staffer on Trump’s transition team; and Robert Wexler, who served as a Democratic member of Congress from 1997-2010 and in the Florida Senate for six years.

Ms. Book goes to Tallahassee, sees no conflict voting $ for Lauren’s Kids or dad’s clients

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Lauren and Ron Book in Times Square in March 2015 promoting her child sex abuse education book. Photo from the documentary “Untouchable” by David Feige

Freshman Broward State Sen. Lauren Book says she won’t abstain from voting on matters involving clients of her father, powerful lobbyist Ron Book. Similarly, she sees no conflict of interest in voting on measures to funnel millions of taxpayer dollars to benefit her non-profit charity and political launching pad, Lauren’s Kids.

Book, a Plantation Democrat, offered her thoughts on the issue of personal voting conflicts in an email exchange last week with Florida Bulldog.

“No,” she said when asked if she plans to abstain from voting on any matters involving Ron Book’s clients. “In ALL matters, I will vote my conscience and in what I believe is best for my district, for Broward County, and for the people of the State of Florida.”

Sen. Book also said that Lauren’s Kids would again seek significant state funding during this year’s legislative session that began March 7. Does that mean she will abstain from voting on bills to authorize funding for her organization?

“No. I have met with the Counsel of the Senate and have been advised that it is proper that I do not abstain on these matters unless the funding directly inures to my benefit, which it will not,” Sen. Book said.

Lauren’s Kids, however, pays Sen. Book a six-figure annual salary for serving as its chief executive. In 2015, her salary was $135,000 – a $20,000 increase from 2014, according to the charity’s federal income tax returns.

“My salary is not paid for with any state funds,” said Sen. Book. “I derive no personal benefit from public tax dollars except knowing that these monies are being used to save lives, raise awareness and prevent childhood sexual abuse.”

Sen. Book said that to make certain her salary includes no state dollars, she “restructured my employment to ensure that no public dollars were used to compensate me for my work” once she declared her candidacy. She declined to elaborate on how she accomplished that restructuring and that separation.

Ron and Lauren Book at a Tallahassee rally promoting Lauren’s Kids in April 2015. Photo from the documentary “Untouchable” by David Feige

Sen. Book did say, however, that she resigned from the board of directors of the Lauren’s Kids Foundation “to add an additional (but entirely unnecessary) layer between myself and the Foundation.”

Lauren’s Kid’s tax return for 2015 – the latest available – shows the charity received more than 83 percent of its $4.5 million in total revenue that year from the state. Since 2012, records show, the state has contributed more than $10 million to Lauren’s Kids.

The Florida Department of Education has requested another $1 million in funding for Lauren’s Kids for Fiscal Year 2017-18 “so we can continue to educate children and families to prevent abuse and help survivors,” said Sen. Book. “I might add, the DOE would only recommend funding if as experts they believed the curriculum was of significant benefit to our children.’’

Ron Book as landlord

Lobbyist Ron Book, the senator’s father, is the unpaid president of Lauren’s Kids. Yet he also makes money from Lauren’s Kids. According to the 501(c) (3) organization’s 2015 tax return, he paid himself $61,651 for renting space to Lauren’s Kids in his Aventura office.

Ron Book, who is also on the charity’s board, collected $63,175 in rent from Lauren’s Kids in 2014, according to that year’s tax return.

Ron Book declined to comment.

On Wednesday, March 22, Sen. Book will face one of the first ethical tests of her nascent political career. As a member of the Florida Senate’s health policy committee, she will be evaluating five bills to establish the rules and regulations for the state’s medical marijuana industry.

While some patient and industry advocates argue the state should open up the market to competition, four of the bills discourage participation by more cannabis providers beyond the seven companies already licensed to manufacture a non-psychoactive, non-smokable form of the drug under a restrictive medical marijuana program set up by the Legislature in 2014.

Among the Florida licensed providers is a joint venture between Homestead-based nursery Alpha Foliage and Surterra, an Atlanta-based medical marijuana company that employs the senator’s father Ron Book as its Tallahassee lobbyist.

While government watchdogs said Sen. Book should abstain from voting on any matters involving her father, she told Florida Bulldog she has no intention of doing so because Florida law and Senate rules do not prohibit it.

“As I stated above, I will follow the letter and spirit of the law in how I vote and how I conduct my business,” she said.

Conflict questions loom

Still, questions about Sen. Book’s potential vote conflicts involving both her father’s 100-plus clients and Lauren’s Kids loom large.

Ben Wilcox, research director for the government watchdog organization Integrity Florida, noted that because Florida has a citizen legislature that allows members to have outside employment, the bar is set low when it comes to ethical requirements.

Florida’s weak Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees says that state officers “may not vote on any matter that the officer knows would inure to his or her special gain or loss.” It does not prohibit such votes. Rather, the code says vaguely that officers who vote to benefit themselves or a relative “shall make every reasonable effort to disclose the nature of his or her interest in a public memorandum” that can be filed up to 15 days after the vote.

Integrity Florida Research Director Ben Wilcox

Sen. Book, nevertheless, could face questions when it comes time to vote on an appropriations bill that would include Lauren’s Kids, which advocates against child sex abuse.

“You are not supposed to vote on something that has a direct benefit to you personally,” said Wilcox. “That is where she may get into some trouble if her organization is getting an appropriation from the Legislature.”

Wilcox said Book should also be mindful about voting on matters favorable to her father’s clients. “She should be sensitive to the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Wilcox said. “Even if it technically is not a conflict, it raises questions in the public’s mind and causes the public to lose confidence in government.”

Since founding Lauren’s Kids 10 years ago, Book has seemed on a trajectory for public office. In addition to appearing before the Legislature to lobby in favor of laws that crack down on sexual predators and child abusers, Book has led an annual walk from Key West to Tallahassee to raise awareness for child sex victims that receives statewide media coverage. She’s also written two books, including one for children, about her own experience being sexually abused by her former nanny. Book and her father had a starring role in the recently released documentary about Florida’s sex offender laws called Untouchable.

Book, 32, decided to run for the Senate seat previously held by Eleanor Sobel, who left the Legislature in 2016 due to term limits. After raising more than $1.5 million through her campaign and her political action committee, Leadership for Broward, Book automatically won the seat when no one filed to run against her. A Bulldog analysis of her 2015 and 2016 campaign finance reports and her father’s client list show she received $35,000 from 15 entities that employ Ron Book.

Clients and contributions

Of that amount, her campaign received $1,000 apiece from two of Surterra’s owners, Michael Havenick and Alexander Havenick, who is also vice president and general counsel for Southwest Florida Enterprises, a company that owns several pari-mutuels in the state, including Magic City Casino in Miami. Southwest, four affiliated companies and four other Havenicks also each gave the $1,000 maximum to Sen. Book’s campaign.

According to 2016 lobbyist compensation reports filed with the state, Ron Book’s law firm was paid between $40,000 and $80,000 by Surterra to lobby the Legislature. Ron L. Book P.A. also received approximately $30,000 from Surterra to lobby the executive branch.

Lauren’s Kids has also been the beneficiary of millions of dollars in state funding. According to the organization’s 2014 tax return, Lauren’s Kids received $2.7 million in state grants. Its 2015 tax return shows the nonprofit got $3.4 million that year from Florida’s Department of Education. In 2016, records show, the Legislature awarded Lauren’s Kids $1 million.

A Lauren’s Kids insert in a Florida Department of Motor Vehicles registration renewal.

Florida’s Department of Motor Vehicles also contributes to Lauren’s Kids via the sale of specialty license plates approved by the Legislature. Lauren’s Kids, which got its specialty tag in 2013, received $294,653 from the DMV in 2015, tax records show.

Further, the DMV allows Lauren’s Kids to insert a brochure asking for donations in every auto tag renewal notice mailed to Florida residents. Lauren’s Kids is one of several nonprofits eligible to insert their brochures under the specialty tag program.

Beth Rosenson, a University of Florida political science professor who teaches a course on ethics in U.S. politics, said in an interview that Book might derive a benefit from her father’s earnings as a lobbyist. “Parents always help out their kids,” Rosenson said. “Let’s say she had a medical emergency or something in which she needed money so her father’s financial situation is not something that is totally separate from hers.”

Rosenson said Sen. Book’s potential for conflict is analogous to President Donald Trump and his sons, who have taken over the Republican billionaire’s companies while he’s in the White House. “In a perfect world, she would realize that her relationship with her father raises questions of conflict of interest,” Rosenson said. “So ideally, yes she should recuse herself.”

When it comes to Lauren’s Kids, Integrity Florida’s Wilcox said even if Book’s salary is not being paid with state funds, she should still abstain from voting on matters involving her nonprofit. “In an abundance of caution, that is something she may want to reconsider,” Wilcox said. “While technically it may be correct, I don’t think it will look good to the public.”

The cash-rich pharmaceutical lobby and the rising cost of drugs for Medicare seniors

By Stuart Silverstein, FairWarning 

President George W. Bush signing the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003.

President George W. Bush signing the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003.

When the Republican-controlled Congress approved a landmark program in 2003 to help seniors buy prescription drugs, it slapped on an unusual restriction: The federal government was barred from negotiating cheaper prices for those medicines. Instead, the job of holding down costs was outsourced to the insurance companies delivering the subsidized new coverage, known as Medicare Part D.

The ban on government price bargaining, justified by supporters on free market grounds, has been derided by critics as a giant gift to the drug industry. Democratic lawmakers began introducing bills to free the government to use its vast purchasing power to negotiate better deals even before former President George W. Bush signed the Part D law, known as the Medicare Modernization Act. (more…)

Broward Health begins lobbyist registration – 12 years and millions in contracts late

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Broward Health's corporate headquarters in Fort Lauderdale

Broward Health’s corporate headquarters in Fort Lauderdale

Broward Health’s long-lost lobbyist registration policy is, at last, resurrected. Lobbyists looking to influence district policy or the award of profitable contracts must now publicly identify themselves and their clients.

Six lobbyists have registered since the program began Sept. 12 – all representatives of large, out-of-state pharmaceutical or hospital and medical supply companies like Sandoz, Genentech and Carefusion.

Who to watch out for going forward: politically connected local lobbyists like William “Billy” Rubin and Fred Karlinsky, who’ve operated behind the scenes at Broward Health in the past.

Rubin is a confidant of Gov. Rick Scott. Karlinsky was co-chair of Scott’s 2014 statewide campaign finance committee. The governor appoints the board of commissioners that governs the billion-dollar public health system whose legal name is the North Broward Hospital District.

FloridaBulldog.org reported in May that for 12 years Broward Health had ignored its own lobbyist registration rules, adopted in 2004, allowing lobbyists to operate freely behind the scenes.

That was news to Broward Health’s current board of commissioners.

Broward Health Chairman Rocky Rodriguez and Commissioner Sheela VanHoose

Broward Health Chairman Rocky Rodriguez and Commissioner Sheela VanHoose

Said Chairman Rocky Rodriguez, “You assume these things are being taken care of.” Said Commissioner Sheela VanHoose, who spent two months on the board’s legal affairs committee holding workshops to establish a lobbying policy, “It was a little shock to see.”

Broward Health CEO Pauline Grant announced in May that registration would begin in June, but it took much of the summer to actually get a system in place.

The revised rules require lobbyists to pay an annual $40 fee for each client “before any advocacy can take place.” Lobbyists must declare under oath that the information they provide is “true and correct.” That includes their yes or no response to this question: “Do you have any direct or indirect business association, partnership or financial relationship or live in the same household with or are related to any Broward Health board member, board committee member, employee or agent?”

So far, no lobbyist has answered yes.

Lobbyists must also file annual expenditure reports under oath “disclosing each lobbying expenditures [sic] to any person or entity,” including such items as food and beverage, travel and entertainment expenses. Those reports, however, don’t have to be filed until the July 30 of the fiscal year after registration, so they will likely not be timely.

Unlike the Florida Legislature, the district does not require lobbyists to disclose how much they are being paid to lobby.

The district’s revised lobbying policy forbids “lobbyists and lawyers” from lobbying any Broward Health board members, employees or agents “during the consideration of any contracts and contract negotiations and related discussions. This prohibition shall include, but not be limited to, physician contracts, professional service contracts, services contracts, design-build contracts and construction contracts.”

A list of registered lobbyists is published online.

Broward Health awarded many multi-million dollar contracts during the years its lobbying policy was not enforced. One of the biggest, and most unusual, was an unprecedented 25-year, no-bid deal in 2012 that outsourced the district’s radiation oncology services to 21st Century Oncology, the Fort Myers-based cancer care company.

FloridaBulldog.org reported in February that at the time of the deal Gov. Scott had an indirect ownership interest in 21st Century Oncology via his $210,000 investment in Vestar Capital Partners, the private equity firm that owns 21st Century.

The governor’s office has said Scott had “no conversation or contact about Vestar Capital or 21st Century Oncology with the North Broward Hospital District.”

Still, Scott’s good friend, lobbyist Billy Rubin, has lobbied at the district and counts 21st Century Oncology among his clients, according to the website of his firm, The Rubin Group.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s son rose to the top skirting lobbying rules, critics say

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, right, and his son, Carlos Gimenez Jr.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, right, and his son, Carlos Gimenez Jr.

As his father rose to power from county commissioner to strong mayor, Carlos Gimenez Jr. has climbed his way to the upper echelon of South Florida’s lobbying corps representing prominent clients like Donald Trump, the PGA Tour and American Traffic Solutions, the nation’s largest red-light camera operator.

Along the way, junior has been investigated three times for violating county ethics rules by concealing his lobbying activities involving Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez as well as other county and municipal elected officials. While the probes ultimately found no wrongdoing by junior, critics insist he exploits his family name on behalf of his clients.

Alfred Santamaria, one of six candidates running against Gimenez in the Aug. 30 primary, told FloridaBulldog.org that the mayor’s son provides a clear-cut reason why Miami-Dade should adopt a rule that bans companies and individuals doing business with county hall from hiring the relatives of elected officials.

“Carlos Gimenez Jr. has worked at firms that represented companies getting contracts worth tens of millions of dollars for airport work, roads and red-light cameras,” Santamaria said. “I think it is unethical, not moral and clearly a conflict of interest.”

Gimenez Jr. did not return two messages on his cell phone seeking comment. Michael Hernandez, the mayor’s spokesman, said his boss is not concerned about allegations made against his son because Gimenez “prides himself on operating in a very transparent manner.”

Hernandez added: “Mayor Gimenez is very proud of his son’s professional success which has come due to his hard work, education, dedication and talent and is in no way related to his father being elected as the county commissioner representing District 7, or as Miami-Dade County mayor.”

According to his LinkedIn page, Gimenez Jr.’s career began in 2000 as an associate for the now-defunct law firm Steel Hector & Davis, where his father also briefly worked. When Gimenez was elected county commissioner in 2004, his son went to work for Bilzin Sumberg, a Miami law firm specializing in government relations, land use and zoning. Four years later, Gimenez Jr. moved to his third law firm, Becker & Poliakoff, where he was a senior attorney until February 2013. Since then, he’s been vice president and general counsel for Balsera Communications, a Hispanic-focused public relations firm founded by Alfredo Balsera, a prominent Democratic fundraiser for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Balsera Communications President David Duckenfield did not address the allegations against Gimenez Jr., but told Florida Bulldog in an email statement that the mayor’ s son was hired based on his qualifications.

‘Well known and respected’

“Carlos brings to our firm top notch experience in real estate development and crisis communications, having worked for the some of the best law firms in Miami,” Duckenfield said. “He is well known and respected among his professional peers.”

Recently, however, Gimenez Jr. stirred up controversy when he and a Balsera colleague tried to convince three candidates running in a Miami-Dade School Board race against his aunt, Maria Theresa Rojas, to drop out.

Documents from the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust show that Mayor Gimenez has sought several legal opinions about how he should conduct county business involving firms employing junior, 39, and his other son Julio, 37, who has worked for two construction firms that are frequent county vendors.

Gimenez Jr. is currently registered as a lobbyist In Doral, where he represents Trump and the PGA Tour, and in Miami, where he represents more than a dozen firms. He is not a registered lobbyist with county government.

For instance, on March 27, 2007, then-Ethics Commission Executive Director Robert Meyers advised Gimenez, at the time a county commissioner, to abstain from voting on a rezoning application because junior was part of the team representing the developer.

Four years later, shortly after Gimenez was elected mayor, he asked for another ethics opinion. This time, Meyers advised him to delegate the power to award contracts involving Munilla Construction Management to one of his deputies or get a county commissioner to sponsor an item awarding those contracts because the firm employed Julio Gimenez. Meyers also advised the mayor to recuse himself from making any recommendations or decisions when Gimenez Jr. lobbied any arm of county government.

During the five years Gimenez has been mayor, the ethics commission has delved into allegations Gimenez Jr. cloaks his lobbying work by not filing required paperwork identifying him as a representative for vendors and developers seeking to influence the decisions of government officials, including his father.

According to a 2012 ethics commission report, investigators received a confidential tip in October of the previous year that Gimenez and his son held discussions about initiating a red-light camera program in Miami-Dade with executives from Horsepower Electric, a subcontractor to Gimenez Jr.’s client American Traffic Solutions. The report states Gimenez and Horsepower Vice President Humberto Ortiz were interviewed, but not Gimenez Jr.

The mayor and Ortiz vehemently denied they discussed red-light cameras during their meeting, which took place at Horsepower’s main office in Hialeah. They said the mayor was there to collect a campaign check for his political action committee.

Gimenez could not recall if his son, who represents American Traffic in the City of Miami, attended the meeting, but the mayor was adamant that he was not involved in implementing a red-light program in unincorporated Miami-Dade, according to the report.

“He said that, dating back to his tenure as a county commissioner, he has recused himself from any deliberations on the matter as a result of his son’s representation of ATS,” the report states.

In 2014, Joe Centorino, the ethics commission’s current executive director, sent an investigator in mid-May to meet with Susan Fried and Armando Gutierrez, two well-known lobbyists who had pulled him aside during a county commission meeting to complain that Gimenez Jr. and four other individuals who worked on his dad’s campaign “were lobbying on the big Water and Sewer bond issue and had not registered as lobbyists,” according to another investigative report.

Fried alleged that Gimenez Jr. and the four others told potential clients, “I’ll charge you $150,000, and avoid the lobbying registration, but they lobby anyway under the name of public relations,” wrote ethics investigator and former Miami Herald columnist Robert Steinback. Fried could not provide specific details, but said Gimenez Jr. and crew “have infiltrated everywhere, including the mayor’s office,” Steinback wrote.

No ‘hard evidence’

Gutierrez was unable to provide names or any firsthand knowledge, Steinback added. Steinback closed the probe shortly after checking the sign-in logs for the 13 county commissioners and finding none of the names of the alleged shadow lobbyists, including Gimenez Jr. “Given the lack of specificity of the original complaint, this investigator could not turn up hard evidence of lobbying on the part of the subjects,” Steinback wrote.

When contacted by Florida Bulldog, Fried and Gutierrez declined comment.

Steinback opened another investigation into Gimenez Jr. on Aug. 27 2014 after an anonymous female called in a tip that the county mayor’s son had bragged to her that he had lobbied six of seven council members in North Miami Beach about a proposal to build luxury floating homes off the city’s coastline by his client, Dutch Docklands. Steinback reviewed the city’s lobbyist log the following day and determined Gimenez Jr. was not registered to represent Dutch Docklands.

In late September, Steinback interviewed three council members, who denied meeting with Gimenez Jr., as well as Frank Behrens, Dutch Dockland’s vice president, who claimed junior’s role was to “address residents of Eastern Shore,” a residential neighborhood in North Miami Beach.

“[Behrens] said that the company has endeavored to be very careful about lobbyist registration,” Steinback wrote in his report, adding that he subsequently spoke to Gimenez Jr.

“It turns out Gimenez Jr. registered with the city as a lobbyist on September 15, 2014,” Steinback wrote. “He stated that he then sent letters to two city commissioners, which he acknowledged would qualify as lobbying contacts, on Sept. 17.”

Nevertheless, Steinback concluded there was no evidence suggesting Gimenez was improperly lobbying city officials.

Gimenez Jr.’s name would pop up again in a fourth ethics investigation that was completed in June of last year. This time, it was junior’s most famous client, Donald Trump, and his dad who were being accused of breaking the county’s lobbying rules when the Republican presidential nominee made an unsolicited offer to take over management of the Crandon Park Golf Course in early 2014. Gimenez told ethics investigators he stopped being involved once Trump submitted a formal proposal because junior represents the billionaire developer in Doral, an independently run city not under the county’s control.

“Gimenez said he immediately recused himself from involvement in the Trump proposal out of an abundance of caution,” the investigative report states. “But not because he is required to since his son does no lobbying work for Trump in the county.”

Three lobbyists, who spoke to FloridaBulldog.org on the condition of anonymity because they fear being blacklisted, said the only way to catch Gimenez Jr. breaking the rules is with good old-fashioned surveillance and wiretaps. “It’s amazing that Carlos Jr. is able to get away with this scam of not being a lobbyist while trading on the name he shares with his dad to do exactly that,” one lobbyist said. “But since we’re in Miami, people just kind of shrug and accept it.”

“Of course, it’s still going on,” another lobbyist said. “Unless you are dishonest with him and his clique, you can’t beat them. It’s not endemic to the county. I believe it happens in most of the municipalities too.”

Santamaria, Gimenez’s opponent, agreed. “The mayor and his inner circle are very sophisticated,” Santamaria said. “”They know how to work the system very well.”

Broward Health will start lobbyist registration in June, according to CEO

By Dan Christensen and Karla Bowsher, FloridaBulldog.org 

Broward Health's board of commissioners at a meeting last month.

Broward Health’s board of commissioners at a meeting last month.

As Broward Health’s board of commissioners dithered last week about how to implement a 12-year-old, yet newly discovered lobbyist registration policy, reform-minded CEO Pauline Grant said she would have a registration system up and running in June.

“I have come up with procedures to implement registration over the next couple of weeks,” Grant said in an interview on Friday. “It will be done.”

News of Broward Health’s failure to enforce its own lobbyist registration policy gave yet another black eye to a beleaguered hospital system that’s already the focus of federal and state agents.

In a brief discussion at Wednesday’s regular board meeting, Commissioner Sheela VanHoose said board members want an online registration system. In an interview afterward, she said it should be comparable to those used by Broward County or Broward Public Schools.

“That to me is accountability and transparency at its best,” said VanHoose, whose paying job is as a lobbyist for Charter Schools USA.

VanHoose heads the district’s Legal Affairs Committee, which spent months studying how to develop a lobbyist policy without being told by staff that a policy already existed.

“You assume these things are being taken care of. The board doesn’t get involved in operations,” said Broward Health board Chairman Rocky Rodriguez. “The public has a right to know who is lobbying the hospital district.”

Broward Heath CEO Pauline Grant

Broward Heath CEO Pauline Grant

What’s happened has caused VanHoose to wonder whether other policies have not been followed. She said she’s talked with Grant about creating a searchable database of district policies.

“People come and go … so there has to be a process put in place to make sure nothing slips through the cracks in the future,” VanHoose said in an interview.

Unlike city and county governments, hospital taxing districts like the North Broward Hospital District – Broward Health’s legal name – are not required by law to register lobbyists or compel them to publicly disclose what they’re up to and who they represent.

Lobbying policy adopted, not implemented

In 2004, however, Broward Health’s board adopted a five-page lobbying policy requiring lobbyists to register, identify their clients and disclose both the nature of their business activity and any business or financial relationships they have with Broward Health board members, employees or agents. Also while under oath, lobbyists were supposed to submit an annual statement for each of their lobbying expenditures before the district in excess of $100. Violators can be debarred.

Still, the district has never required a single lobbyist to register.

Nevertheless, district records show that the board was aware of its policy enough to modify it in 2014 after Rodriguez complained about being swamped by “tons and tons of phone calls” from advocates for doctors and others in contract negotiations. The change: lobbying was prohibited “during the consideration of any contracts.”

Wednesday’s board meeting also included a brief speech by Broward Health compliance manager Brian Nicholas, who talked about a “culture of fear, retaliation and bullying” at the district.

As an example, Nicholas cited the reaction of board Chairman Rocky Rodriguez and Commissioner Christopher Ure to a recent anonymous letter that accused General Counsel Lynn Barrett of impropriety involving the Baker Donelson law firm.

Broward Health hired Baker Donelson last year to serve as the “independent review organization” that monitors its compliance with the terms of its federal settlement of Medicare and Medicaid fraud allegations last fall. Nicholas said that when the anonymous complaint was discussed at a May 18 committee meeting, Rodriguez and Ure were only concerned with trying to identify the author, not with the complaint itself.

“I believe you’ve now given a figurative middle finger to the federal government,” Nicholas told commissioners. “I will undoubtedly be retaliated against.”

Lobbyist rules? What rules? Broward Health fails to enforce own policy in another snafu

By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, FloridaBulldog.org 

Broward Health's never used lobbyist registration form

Broward Health’s never used lobbyist registration form

For more than a decade Broward Health has ignored its own rules, allowing lobbyists to operate freely behind the scenes as they seek to influence who gets tens of millions of dollars in contracts the hospital district awards every year.

Broward Health’s failure to enforce its own lobbyist registration policy is another management snafu by the billion-dollar public health system whose business practices are being probed by federal and state investigators.

One lobbyist who tried to register a year ago literally had to beg the system’s staff to enforce its own rules.

“I hounded them. Maybe there was something going on behind the scene they didn’t want known,” Seth Platt of Miami Beach-based LSN Partners recalled. Platt had a client in April 2015 seeking to provide free marketing services in exchange for product placements in the district’s four hospitals.

Platt eventually forced the hospital staff to allow him to attempt to register. A district lawyer sent him a copy of Broward Health’s five-page lobbyist policy passed by commissioners in 2004 with a registration form. He filled it out and sent it – he doesn’t recall to whom – but it apparently landed in the circular file. Broward Health has no record of it.

Broward Health Commission Chairman Rocky Rodriguez, appointed to the board by Gov. Rick Scott in December 2013, was surprised when told the lobbyist registration had never been implemented.

Broward Health Chairman Rocky Rodriguez and Commissioner Sheela VanHoose

Broward Health Chairman Rocky Rodriguez and Commissioner Sheela VanHoose

“You assume these things are being taken care of. The board doesn’t get involved in operations,” Rodriguez said. “The public has a right to know who is lobbying the hospital district.”

Even more surprising is that Commissioner Sheela VanHoose serves on the board’s legal affairs committee that recently held workshops to establish a lobbying policy without being told by staff that a policy was already in place.

A waste of time

“We’ve spent two committee meetings talking about a lobbying policy and most of what we talked about is not relevant,” she said after being provided a copy of the policy. “It was a little shock to see.”

VanHoose said she wants to know why no registration process was ever established and will ask the administration to provide a list of registered lobbyists at the next regular board meeting on May 25.

“How did it happen and how do we prevent it from happening again? Those are the questions that we as board members need to answer,” said VanHoose.

Unlike city and county governments, hospital taxing districts like Broward Health are not required by law to register lobbyists or compel them to publicly disclose what they’re up to and who they represent.

Still, in a 2004 nod to protecting the “integrity” of the hospital district’s “governmental and contracting processes,” Broward Health’s board of commissioners adopted a five-page lobbying policy requiring both registration and disclosure, with sanctions for violators.

The policy remains in effect, but hospital district administrators never followed through to set up a registration process or even acknowledge on its website that such a policy exists. Not a single lobbyist has ever registered at Broward Health, district officials told FloridaBulldog.org.

Today, Broward Health is a lobbyists’ playground. The hospital district’s forlorn attempt to flush them from the shadows is all but forgotten.

Platt’s attempt to register was disclosed in an interview with Charlotte Mather-Taylor, Broward Health’s vice president for government relations. She said she was never instructed to set up a registration process and that when a frustrated Platt contacted her about registering, she referred him to the district’s lawyers, who sent him a copy of the lobbying policy and told him to call the CEO’s executive secretary.

“That was the last I heard about it,” said Mather-Taylor.

Platt told FloridaBulldog.org that after sending in his now-lost registration form, he pitched his client’s marketing proposal to Broward Health Senior Vice President Doris Peek and others, but nothing came of it. Instead a month later, in May 2015, the district signed a $2.1-million marketing deal with Fort Lauderdale’s Zimmerman Advertising that later morphed into a controversial proposal for a $71.4-million ad deal. The proposal withered following the Jan. 23 suicide of Broward Health CEO Dr. Nabil El Sanadi.

Gov. Rick Scott’s investment

Broward Health, the brand name of the North Broward Hospital District, has awarded many fat contracts during the years its lobbying policy was not enforced. Perhaps the fattest was an unprecedented 25-year, no-bid deal in 2012 that outsourced the public hospital system’s radiation oncology services to a Fort Myers-based cancer care company, 21st Century Oncology.

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

FloridaBulldog.org reported in February that at the time of the deal Gov. Rick Scott had an indirect ownership interest in 21st Century Oncology via his $210,000 investment in Vestar Capital Partners, the private equity firm that owns 21st Century.

The governor’s office has said Scott had “no conversation or contact about Vestar Capital or 21st Century Oncology with the North Broward Hospital District.” Still, Scott’s good friend and confidant, Fort Lauderdale lobbyist William “Billy” Rubin, is known to have lobbied at Broward Health and counts 21st Century Oncology among his clients.

Rubin likewise represents two other companies that have lucrative contracts with Broward Health: Armor Correctional Health, the county jail’s in-house healthcare provider, and Emcare, which has a trio of contracts to provide emergency and urgent care services, obstetrical and gynecological care and pediatric care. Those two contracts and the one with 21st Century Oncology are worth tens of millions of dollars.

Rubin, however, is not registered to lobby at Broward Health.

Broward Health’s lobbying policy was approved in November 2004. It drew from state law to define who is considered a lobbyist and says “no person(s) may lobby the district or any of is board members, employees or agent until such person has registered as a lobbyist with the district’s Vice President/Corporate Services.”

A hitch: Broward Health has no Vice President/Corporate Services.

“That’s not a title that belongs to anybody I know,” said Rodriguez. “We have a lot of vice presidents. But nobody with that title.”

The policy requires lobbyists, in addition to identifying themselves, to disclose the nature of the business activity and any business or financial relationships they have with any Broward Health board member, employee or agent. Lobbyists must also submit an annual statement of each of their lobbying expenditures before the district in excess of $100. Violators can be precluded for lobbying at the district “for a period of time to be determined by the board” and their clients may be debarred.

In 2014, after Rodriguez complained about board members being swamped by “tons and tons of phone calls” from lawyers, doctors and others about contract negotiations, the board amended its policy to prohibit lobbying “during the consideration of any contracts.”

Missing from the updated policy was the original lobbyist registration form that lobbyists were supposed to use to disclose under oath information about themselves and their clients.

Republican-led Broward Health paid $3 million in legal fees to firms tied to Gov. Rick Scott

By Dan Christensen and Buddy Nevins, FloridaBulldog.org 

The Foley & Lardner law firm recently removed from its Facebook page this photo of Gov. Scott paying a visit to its Jacksonville office on Aug. 24. Pictured with the governor, left to right, are Scott's former environmental secretary Herschel Vinyard, office managing partner Kevin Hyde and Karen Bowling, Scott's ex-partner in the Solantic urgent-care clinic chain

The Foley & Lardner law firm recently removed from its Facebook page this photo of Gov. Scott paying a visit to its Jacksonville office on Aug. 24. Pictured with the governor, left to right, are Scott’s former environmental secretary Herschel Vinyard, office managing partner Kevin Hyde and Karen Bowling, Scott’s ex-partner in the Solantic urgent-care clinic chain

Republican-controlled Broward Health paid two law firms with strong ties to Republican Gov. Rick Scott more than $3 million in legal fees in the last 12 months.

The law firms are Foley & Lardner, which billed $1.72 million, and Greenberg Traurig, whose invoices totaled $1.65 million, according to data compiled by Broward Health.

Foley & Lardner’s Republican-heavy roster includes Herschel Vinyard, the governor’s former environmental protection secretary; Christopher Kise, general counsel to Scott’s transition team who was later appointed by Scott to the board of Enterprise Florida, and Karen Bowling, Scott’s partner in the multi-million dollar Solantic urgent-care clinic chain.

Foley & Lardner has been generous to the Republican Party of Florida, giving it more than $195,000 during the last two gubernatorial campaigns won by Scott.

Greenberg Traurig was similarly helpful to the state GOP. Since 2010, it donated more than $192,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.

Greenberg Traurig’s principal connections to Gov. Scott are Fred Karlinsky and Hayden Dempsey.

Karlinsky is a Fort Lauderdale lawyer, insurance lobbyist and Republican finance official who co-chairs Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s bid to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Dempsey is a former special counsel to both Gov. Scott and his campaign. Dempsey leads Greenberg’s Florida government practice.

Greenberg Traurig lawyer/lobbyist Fred Karlinsky

Greenberg Traurig lawyer/lobbyist Fred Karlinsky

Karlinsky is responsible for all three contracts Greenberg Traurig obtained from Broward Health last year – one for legal services and two more to supply federal and state lobbying.

The district’s legal costs, with hourly rates as high as $695, were the focus of criticism at a meeting of Broward Health’s board in late February when it was disclosed that the work of the two law firms was in addition to Broward Health’s in-house staff of six lawyers.

“The chair [David Di Pietro] expressed concern that the legal bills are completely out of control,” say minutes of the meeting. “He feels this is runaway lawyering with no governance from the board.”

Less than a month later, Gov. Scott suspended Di Pietro and board colleague Darryl Wright for alleged malfeasance after his chief inspector general, Melinda Miguel, expressed concern that Broward Health board members might be interfering with her ongoing review of contracts and other matters at the district.

Di Pietro is suing to be reinstated, contending the governor overstepped his authority. A hearing was held Friday; a ruling is expected this week.

El Sanadi signed contracts

The contracts of both Foley & Lardner and Greenberg Traurig were signed last year by then-Broward Health Chief Executive Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, who killed himself in January. El Sanadi was a long-time contributor to the Republican Party of Florida who gave the party more than $90,000 during Scott’s two gubernatorial campaigns, state records show.

Broward Health’s governing board, whose members were appointed by Gov. Scott, hired El Sanadi as CEO in December 2014.

Within months, El Sanadi hired Foley & Lardner and Greenberg Traurig. District sources say El Sanadi acted at the direction of Fort Lauderdale lobbyist and Scott confidant William “Billy” Rubin.

Lobbyist William "Billy" Rubin

Lobbyist William “Billy” Rubin

Rubin did not respond to requests for comment. His company, The Rubin Group, posts on its website a client list that includes a trio of companies that do business with Broward Health, including 21st Century Oncology.

In February, FloridaBulldog.org reported that Gov. Scott owned an indirect financial interest in Fort Myers-based 21st Century Oncology in 2012 when it was awarded an extraordinary no-bid, 25-year contract to supply radiation oncology services to Broward Health. The governor’s ownership interest was through his $210,000 investment in Vestar Capital Partners, the private equity firm that owns 21st Century.

State records show 21st Century later contributed nearly $400,000 to Scott’s re-election campaign and another $275,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.

Invoices sent to Broward Health by Foley & Lardner and Greenberg Traurig were reviewed and approved by El Sanadi and Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett, whose duties include employing and directing outside counsel.

In her contract with the hospital district, Barrett agreed not to “engage nor retain her prior employers to provide any legal representation on behalf of the district and not to refer any district legal services to her prior employers.”

Barrett listed three of her recent prior employers in the contract, including the Jones Walker law firm.

Legal work referred to general counsel’s ex-boss

As general counsel, Barrett has referred no legal work to Jones Walker. She has, however, referred hundreds of thousands of dollars of work to her former boss at Jones Walker, Myla Reizen.

Reizen led Jones Walker’s healthcare practice when Barrett joined that firm in January 2010. Reizen was quoted in a press release then as calling Barrett an “outstanding addition…to our healthcare practice.”

Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett, left, and Foley & Lardner partner Myla Reizen

Broward Health General Counsel Lynn Barrett, left, and Foley & Lardner partner Myla Reizen

Reizen jumped to Foley & Lardner in December 2013.

In March 2015, El Sanadi hired Foley & Lardner to represent Broward Health with regulatory and compliance issues “as requested” at rates as high as $695 an hour. The contract gave Reizen “primary responsibility” for that representation.

About the same time, El Sanadi was looking to hire an in-house lawyer to replace Broward Health’s then-outside General Counsel Sam Goren. Sources said Reizen recommended Barrett for the job. Barrett, following approval by the board, took over in July 2015.

Between June 2015 and January 2016, Foley & Lardner billed $1.51 million, records show.

Barrett did not respond to a detailed request for comment.

Reizen also did not respond to a request to discuss Foley & Lardner’s connections to Gov. Scott and how Broward Health came to hire her and her firm.

Karlinsky, of Greenberg Traurig, referred a similar request for comment to a law firm spokeswoman, who released this statement: “We believe we provide high quality and responsive legal services nationally and internationally; we believe that is why we have been retained here, as well as by many other clients in the healthcare field throughout the U.S. and internationally.”

Ties run deep

Karlinsky’s ties to the governor run deep. In addition to serving as statewide finance co-chair for Scott’s re-election campaign last year, he accompanied the governor on two foreign trade missions – to London in 2012 and Israel in 2011. Also on the governor’s Israel trade mission: Billy Rubin.

The two Broward Health lobbying contracts Karlinsky secured for Greenberg are for terms of 19 months. The total value of the federal contract is $150,000. The state lobbying contract is worth another $50,000.

Information compiled by Broward Health staff and disclosed at a February board meeting says that Greenberg Traurig was tasked with reviewing approximately 1,700 contracts. The firm also assisted in drafting and negotiating contracts for doctors, including Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah, who recently switched his hospital affiliation from Holy Cross to Broward Health Imperial Point.

Zachariah is an important Republican fundraiser whose son, Zachariah P. “Reggie” Zachariah Jr., is an associate in Greenberg Traurig’s Fort Lauderdale office. In 2012, Gov. Scott appointed Reggie Zachariah to a four-year term on Broward’s Judicial Nominating Commission that expires in July.

Broward Health’s contract with Greenberg Traurig says that when conflicts of interest arise, the law firm will either obtain a written conflict waiver or, if the conflict can’t be waived, will recommend other counsel. It is not known whether Greenberg Traurig sought such a waiver from Broward Health regarding Zachariah.

Curiously, Foley & Lardner’s contract with Broward Health includes an “advance waiver of conflict” in which the hospital district agreed up front to allow the firm to represent “current or new clients in work directly adverse” to Broward Health. That includes “clients in contract negotiations adverse to the company.”

New union deal at Miami-Dade Schools to begin push toward $15 hourly minimum wage

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org minimumwage15

A tentative agreement between Miami-Dade Public Schools and the union representing its general employees raises the minimum pay for some of district’s lowest paid workers to $10 an hour, marking what a top union official says is the start of a drive to obtain a minimum hourly wage of $15.

The deal also provides for an immediate average pay hike of about four percent to the district’s food service employees, custodians, bus drivers and other workers.

Negotiators for the Miami-Dade school system and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 1184 reached the agreement Nov. 13. It goes to the School Board for approval today.

“We will be pressing for $15 an hour” in future negotiations, said Local president Vicki Hall.

“I think it is a very good deal for the union considering they are the lowest paid,” said James Haj, Assistant Superintendent in charge of the school district’s Labor Relations Department. He added that the district will look at the $15 an hour wage minimum, but only as an idea to be phased in over time.

“It does not happen overnight…We will keep moving on it,” Haj said.

Government agencies in various states around the country have joined the $15-an-hour minimum wage movement.

Last week, outside County Hall in downtown Miami, several hundred workers joined a $15 wage minimum rally headed by the Service Employees International Union, part of a nationwide demonstration in more than 200 cities that day.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo this month unilaterally established a $15 hourly minimum wage for all state workers in New York City by the end of 2018, and the end of 2021 for state workers outside the city. Other cities that have approved a $15 an hour minimum, to be reached over the next two to five years, include Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The Miami-Dade School Board will be asked to ratify the agreement subject to union members endorsing the pact at a Nov. 23 vote.

BOARD MEMBERS LOBBIED

Sources said the agreement came after union officials lobbied several school board members for a pay boost higher than the 2.4 percent that district officials had been offering. Union officials said the board members they lobbied were chairwoman Perla Hantman, Marta Perez Wurtz, Lawrence Feldman and Wilbert Holloway.

The pay boost for the union’s 7,300 workers is slightly more than the percentage boost accepted earlier this year by unions representing teachers, professional/technical workers and skilled craft employees. The AFSCME union gained much of the increase with a step advance on salary schedules — providing a nearly 4% average hike — rather than a flat rate hike.

According to district figures, the AFSMCE new contract’s total would cost increase salary costs by $4.5 million, though that number is proportionally less than its labor agreements with other unions. For example, the deal with the United Teachers of Dade, representing 31,000 teachers and other support personnel, is $50.1 million more.

If approved, the AFSCME accord would cover terms and conditions for three years, with the wage increase set for the first year, retroactive to July 1. Union officials said additional improvements to health insurance benefits would actually provide a wage improvement of 5 percent in the first year of the new contract.

About 714 employees represented by the union, including some food service and bus aides, will have their hourly salary hiked from about $9 to the new $10 minimum, Hall said.

Hall said the agreement also provides for joint union-management committees to study increasing the minimum hourly work guarantees for bus drivers to seven hours from the current six hours and evaluating staffing of food service workers and custodians to possibility add workers and reduce part time employees in these categories.

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