Sheriff’s hiring of political supporters under fire
Since winning one of the most powerful elected posts in Broward, Sheriff Scott Israel has hired from the ranks of his political supporters, building a community outreach wing his critics say doubles as a re-election team.
The supporters receive public funds to go out into the community, including to political meetings, touting the agency’s successes under Israel, and getting feedback. Some of the same employees campaign for the sheriff at the polls. Broward Sheriff’s Office officials said they’re doing so on their free time.
Israel’s hiring practices have been criticized by his political foes since his 2012 election, but the controversy has moved to the forefront this year as he runs for re-election. He faces three fellow Democrats in the Aug. 30 primary; the winner faces a Republican in November.
A log of employees hired by the sheriff shows 10 workers were hired since 2013 into “outreach” roles, their salaries totalling $634,479. The unit is embedded into a $2.4 million community services division. When the budget year closes out in October, the outreach team expects to have made contact with 320,000 people, budget documents say.
The outreach workers, who mainly attend community events, are in addition to political activists and others Israel hired into community affairs roles, writing and designing printed pieces about the agency, and sharing it on social media. The employee log shows six hired into community affairs roles, their salaries totaling $388,729.
Israel’s opponents say he’s built a publicly funded political machine, paying back supporters with jobs and using them to keep him in office. They say the money could be better spent, particularly after the sheriff complained about not having enough funding to secure the county courthouse, where a murder suspect recently escaped.
Israel said he built the outreach wing from nearly nothing, aiming to foster “a love affair with the community.” He said it would engender trust with the community that was lacking under the tenure of predecessor Al Lamberti. He defending the tapping of people he knew, some from the campaign trail, into outreach and other roles.
“What have I done differently than Don Shula or Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Ghandi?” asked Israel. “Men and women who assume leadership roles surround themselves with people who are loyal, who they can depend on and who they appreciate their skill set.”
Among the sheriff’s hires: three associates of the notorious political trickster Roger Stone, who aided Israel’s 2012 campaign; Israel’s campaign political strategist; the husband of Israel’s campaign manager; several members of his 2012 campaign team, and a Republican activist from New York.
At least one of the activists was hired as a deputy, but most are in civilian roles.
Candidate Willie Jones, a former BSO sergeant, said the sheriff is using BSO as “an extension of his political machine.”
Jones, who has a background in human resources, said when jobs are filled with friends and former colleagues, the longtime existing employees in the sheriff’s staff of 5,800 feel there’s little upward mobility.
Besides hiring from the political world, Israel filled some of the top jobs with former colleagues from Fort Lauderdale Police Department. He also made a childhood friend from Long Island, Anthony Stravino, the BSO fire chief. (Stravino has since departed for another job.)
“When people feel unwanted, unappreciated in the workforce, it reflects poorly on their job performance,” Jones said. “They do just enough to get through and survive.”
Opponent Jim Fondo, a former district chief for BSO, promises voters “less politics, more public safety!”
“It’s sad,” he said. “All of these people he’s hired, they’re all out at the polls. They’re sitting at the polls.”
Another candidate, Edison Jules, said the hiring of political activists whose campaigning for his re-election blurs the lines between their public and private roles is “inappropriate.”
“If you’re not part of his cliques,” Jules said, “you don’t get hired.”
But to criticize the team he built, Israel said, is to criticize “a team that won the Super Bowl.”
He cited a dramatic drop in violent crime during his tenure, and the issuing of thousands of civil citations — rather than arrests — for juveniles. Using one of his well-worn sayings, he said “lions don’t care about the opinions of sheep,” and maintained that he doesn’t spend “more than 10 seconds” listening to his opponents’ criticisms.
He said he noticed during the Olympic games that U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps stared ahead as he waited for the starting gun. But Ryan Lochte, his rival, focused on Phelps.
What he gleaned from that, he said, was that “winners concentrate on winning. Losers concentrate on winners. And that’s why they’re concentrating on me.”
To view the candidates’ answers to the Sun Sentinel candidate questionnaires, go to SunSentinel.com/browardsheriff.
• Angelo Castillo and his wife, Lisa Castillo. Angelo Castillo is a Pembroke Pines city commissioner. He’s now also BSO’s director of strategic planning and research, making $126,789. Lisa Castillo is chief of staff at BSO, making $122,038. She used to work for then-County Commissioner Jim Scott and worked with lobbyist and political consultant Judy Stern, on the sheriff’s unsuccessful 2008 campaign.
• Shevrin Jones, a state representative and son of West Park Mayor Eric Jones. He’s working as a research specialist part-time, that would pay $61,139 if full-time.
• Nezar Hamze, an activist who is regional operations director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida. He’s working as a sheriff’s deputy, at a salary of $49,274.
• Wally Eccleston, a political consultant and husband of Israel campaign manager Amy Rose. Eccleston originally was hired as a purchasing agent and now is a community outreach manager making $78,489. The agency also had said it was bringing Rose on as a lobbyist, but she ultimately was not hired.
• Elgin Jones, a former union leader and writer for the South Florida Times, targeted to Broward’s black community. Jones is community affairs manager, making $77,948. He continued writing for the newspaper after being hired at BSO.
• Michael Colapietro, Dianne Thorne and Jennifer Hobbs, all associates of Fort Lauderdale-based political operative Roger Stone, who helped get Israel elected in 2012. Colapietro is a community affairs specialist II making $55,367. Thorne was hired as assistant to the chief of staff (Castillo) making $67,956. She has since departed. Hobbs was hired as a community affairs specialist making $65,980. She has since departed.
• Kevin Ryan, the former president of the Northeast Queens Republican Club. Ryan is a community affairs specialist II making $67,299. Sheriff Israel also is a former New Yorker, and a former Republican, according to elections office records. Ryan also hosted Stone for a book signing.
•Patti Lynn, a former political candidate, former head of the Broward Coalition group of homeowner associations and member of the Dolphin Democrats. She’s also a former dispatcher and police officer. Lynn is a special projects coordinator making $61,042.
• Patrick Jabouin, former president of the Caribbean American Democratic Club of Broward County. He’s a community outreach liaison, making $61,042.
• Carmen Jones, a former political candidate and activist in Deerfield Beach. She was a community outreach liaison making $45,070, but has since departed.
• Ron Gunzburger, chief strategist for Israel’s successful 2012 election campaign and for his current re-election campaign. Gunzburger also is son of Sue Gunzburger, a former longtime county commissioner and Democratic activist. As general counsel for BSO, he makes $217,547. His sister also was rehired by Israel, after being terminated by the previous sheriff.
• Ann Zucker, a Democratic activist and former Weston Democratic Club president who is helping with the sheriff’s re-election campaign. Zucker was a special projects coordinator for BSO, making $67,299, but has departed.
• Stephen Greenberger, a political activist and campaign fundraiser whose Facebook page is full of photos of himself campaigning for the sheriff’s re-election. He’s a community outreach liaison, $67,299.
• Don Maines, a former Southwest Ranches councilman active in the sheriff’s re-election campaign. He’s a treatment counselor making $61,093.
• Harrison Grandwilliams, a Broward Young Democrat and member of the Democratic Executive Committee, who helped Israel get elected in 2012. He was hired as a community outreach liaison at a salary of $49,234. He now works as an aide to County Commissioner Beam Furr.