By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
One month after filing for election late last year, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony staged an elaborate groundbreaking ceremony for what he said would be BSO’s new training center adjacent to the sheriff’s Fort Lauderdale headquarters. Nine months later, work on the $34-million project has yet to begin, and Tony’s being sued by an electrical contractor who says the sheriff stiffed him for tens of thousands of dollars in work preparing for the groundbreaking.
The Dec. 19, 2019 groundbreaking was a big deal that Tony relentlessly hyped in advance and after the fact. “For the first time in BSO history, construction for a state-of-the-art Regional Training Center is underway which will provide for more intensive, frequent training to address today’s public safety challenges,” Tony wrote shortly after the ceremony.
The sheriff spent lavishly to ballyhoo the new training center. Paid vendor invoices obtained by Florida Bulldog show that in the days before the groundbreaking, Sheriff Tony spent thousands of dollars to purchase 50 engraved, gold-painted ceremonial shovels; 49 personalized, green “hard hats” for VIPs, and a single gold-plated hard hat for himself.
“Hard hats are for ceremonial presentations only as they do not meet safety requirements,” an invoice cautions. The cost to Broward’s taxpayers: $9,445.
But that’s not all. Tony spent another $1,015 on 50 “Custom Golden Shovel Paperweights” and $4,049 to buy 432 “Silver Himalayan Tumblers” – 20 ounce – emblazoned with the words “BSO Regional Training Center,” and the logos of both BSO and Broward County, according to invoices from a Fort Lauderdale awards manufacturer.
Training center and garage
The training center as described would be a seven-floor, 80,000 square foot facility with a two-story training center and five-story parking garage. It would feature an indoor gun ranges, an auditorium, labs and classrooms for the sheriff’s Fire Rescue division, a training tower, administrative offices and a memorial in the lobby to the 17 people who died in the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. BSO has said funding would come from BSO’s capital reserves.
Here’s what Tony told the several dozen assembled amid a drizzle for the groundbreaking: “In order for us to sustain that high level of training and response that this community deserves and expects, this training center must go up.”
But the center isn’t going up – the site today is an overgrown field – and the money Tony’s already spent seems wasted on a project that appears to be going nowhere. Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association Union, which represents more than 1,400 deputies, recently called the event “nothing more than a political stunt.”
Florida Bulldog asked BSO’s media relations staff to explain the construction status of the new training center, and whether an architect has been selected. This was the complete written answer supplied by Senior Public Information Officer Carey Codd:
“The Underground Conduit Installation portion of the Design Build Training Project began on November 21, 2019. Concurrently, a new electrical design with FPL necessitated the application of a new easement with the County. This process has been underway since November 2019 and the Application is currently with Broward County. FPL will not install its lines until the easement has been recorded. Additionally, during this period, a MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] was entered into with Broward County and BSO for the Design Build Project, solicitations were issued culminating in an award which is in negotiations.”
The bottom line: nine months out from the costly groundbreaking, BSO has yet to hire an architect or a construction company, and no new BSO training center is rising.
The lawsuit naming Tony was filed without fanfare in Broward Circuit Court in mid-July by Oakland Park’s ‘D’ Electrician Technical Services. One year earlier, Sheriff Tony awarded the company a contract to provide general electrical services that a few months later resulted in an $85,000 BSO purchase order to install underground conduit at the site, as well as work done for the groundbreaking.
The company contends Tony abruptly canceled its contract without “proper notice” on Jan. 16, 2020, less than a month after the groundbreaking ceremony that was attended by politicians, the media and parents of some of the victims of the 2018 Parkland shooting.
“Defendant breached its Contract with D Electrician by failing to pay $57,501.13 for materials and services provided by D Electrician and terminating D Electrician without notice or cause,” the four-page complaint says drily.
The suit seeks not only the outstanding $57,500, but attorney fees, costs, interest and “the lost profits it would have earned had the contract not been wrongfully terminated.”
The sheriff has hired private Fort Lauderdale attorney Michael Garcia, chairman of the Hispanic Vote PAC that in June endorsed Tony’s candidacy, to fight the case. On Aug. 5, he filed papers asking Judge Keathan B. Frink to dismiss the case. After Frink declined, Garcia filed a counterclaim for damages and asserted a number of “affirmative defenses.”
Most significantly, the sheriff’s answer contends the company got the ax after it breached the contract “when it failed to perform its scope of work correctly and safely. Specifically, D Electrician has caused extensive damages to transformers, underground conduit, Romex wires and utility lines on BSO’s property. Additionally, D Electrician failed to timely inform BSO of its actions.”
The counterclaim says the company’s failures led to a loss of power at the Public Safety Building, Defensive Tactics Building and the tech center building on the afternoon of Jan. 14, 2020. Power wasn’t fully restored for 9 ½ hours, court papers say.
‘D’ Electrician’s court papers deny that and ask for a jury trial. Neither company owner Terrence Davis nor his lawyer, Boca Raton’s Kenneth L. Minerley, would comment.