By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Since taking office 16 months ago, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony has promoted and/or given tidy raises to five BSO employees who moonlight for Blue Spear Solutions, the company founded by Tony and now run by his wife.
For example, BSO payroll records obtained by Florida Bulldog show that Blue Spear instructor Heath Clark’s BSO annual salary jumped nearly $50,000 thanks to the sheriff’s largesse.
Clark, a captain in BSO’s Fire Rescue Department, got his first salary bump under Tony – a $4,600 merit raise – a month after Tony took over as sheriff in January 2019. But a much bigger increase arrived on Jan. 18, 2020 when Tony promoted Clark to Chief of Fire Rescue’s training division – skipping over the rank of Battalion Chief.
Clark’s annual BSO salary went from $96,871 to $146,445. His current hourly pay rate is $70.41.
Blue Spear’s website identifies Clark, a 14-year veteran, and the other BSO employees as holding various positions at the company. But Sheriff Tony’s director of government affairs, Robin Rorapaugh, told Florida Bulldog that none of the five has performed paid work for Blue Spear since Tony became sheriff.
The sheriff would not comment.
Blue Spear, incorporated by Gregory and Holly Tony in October 2015, offers private and public-sector customers “state of the art training and awareness related to preventative strategies and response for Active Shooter/Mass Casualty incidents.”
‘Public perception of BSO’
BSO allows off-duty employment. But the sheriff’s policy manual states that such work must not “cause the appearance of impropriety” or “cause, or appear to cause, a conflict of interest.” The sheriff or his designee can deny off-duty employment if it interferes with the “public perception of BSO.”
The raises and promotions handed out to Clark and the other BSO employees affiliated with the sheriff’s wife were not arm’s length transactions, and as a result there is an inference of impropriety. Further, while Tony stepped down as Blue Spear’s president shortly after becoming sheriff, the company continues to display his photo and credentials on its website, and lists him as part of “our team.”
Florida’s Commission on Ethics long has cautioned that a public official’s business relationship with underlings can pose ethical problems.
“It is possible that where a public employee has an ongoing business relationship with a subordinate, that private business relationship and the employee’s interests in keeping that relationship harmonious, productive and profitable would impede the employee’s duty of impartially evaluating the subordinate’s job performance and would lead to a frequently recurring conflict between those interests,” the commission first observed in a May 1982 opinion.
Blue Spear is a private entity and as such its financial records, including payroll, are not public. And Holly Tony did not respond to a request for comment made via BSO’s Robin Rorapaugh. Various public documents, however, raise questions about Blue Spear’s viability, including its ability to pay workers.
For example, financial disclosure forms filed by Sheriff Tony reveal that Blue Spear paid him little or no money when he ran the company as president and CEO in 2018. Tony also reported being deeply in debt as of June 12, 2019, with a negative net worth of minus $73,194.
Blue Spear’s work
Likewise, there is little public evidence that Blue Spear has made much money.
In 2018, Blue Spear touted on Facebook its sale of bleeding control kits and training to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and four nearby schools. Blue Spear also has conducted training for workers at the Coral Springs pharmaceutical company United Medco, as well as training done as part of a Safer Schools Initiative in Transylvania County, N.C. in August 2018. [United Medco is one of Tony’s biggest political supporters and made a $20,000 contribution last June to the Broward First PAC that is supporting Tony in this year’s election.]
“Over 300 school staff members trained and over 500 bleeding control kits will be installed inside every classroom,” the company said in one Facebook post about its work in North Carolina. Another Blue Spear post pointed to endorsements by Transylvania’s school superintendent and three teachers. “Do the work and let others speak for you,” the post said.
In addition to BSO Fire Rescue Division Chief Clark, Blue Spear’s website includes the photographs and credentials of four other BSO employees it counts among its instructors.
Blue Spear manager and lead instructor Joel Campbell was a Fire Rescue Driver Engineer in Cooper City at the start of this year. On Jan. 21, Tony promoted him to Fire Rescue lieutenant in Hallandale Beach. Campbell’s salary increased by $6,500 to $93,000. Campbell, hired in 2005, is today assigned to Lauderdale Lakes.
BSO law enforcement Lt. Ana Murillo-Quigley, also a lead instructor at Blue Spear, was hired in January 2007 and is today the executive officer at Port Everglades. Under Tony, her base pay has risen from $103,000 to $117,000 – including a $3,800 cost-of-living adjustment last October.
Brian Powell is listed on Blue Spear’s website as both a manager and lead instructor. On Feb. 29, 2020, Sheriff Tony promoted Powell from Captain Firefighter to Battalion Chief. His salary rose from $100,000 to nearly $108,000 a year.
Blue Spear adjunct instructor Brian Vengoechea has been a Fire Rescue lieutenant since April 2017. BSO records state that since Tony became sheriff, Vengoechea’s base pay rose approximately $6,000, attributable to two cost-of-living adjustments in 2019.