By: Sharon Aron Baron
Tamarac City Commissioners Julie Fishman and Michelle Gomez are nearly inseparable in public life, even voting identically on the dais. Now that one has hired the other, residents may need to question whether their representative is making independent decisions for their community.
Back in January, Fishman whose district covers much of Kings Point, said on required disclosures that she has been employed by the law firm of Saunders, Curtis, Ginestra & Gore, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale. This is the same firm where Gomez lists herself as president on her LinkedIn page.
According to sources, Gomez, who was appointed as vice mayor in an annual rotation of the title, hired Fishman to work 20 hours a week at $10 an hour. While one commissioner hiring a fellow commissioner for employment isn’t illegal, the outward appearance may seem to be improper, or unethical, to constituents. The Broward County Code of Ethics requires elected officials to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
This isn’t the first time the pair have worked together outside of the commission chambers. In early 2017, Gomez and Fishman embarked on a website start-up business and asked for an advisory opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics whether they could fund this company with revenue from people doing business with the City of Tamarac. In opinion 17-05, the Commission on Ethics found that the operation of such a business venture by the two commissioners would create a potential violation of Florida Statutes since the business would collect revenue by soliciting donations from current and potential city vendors. Commission on Ethics Opinion.
Gomez and Fishman both serve together as Tamarac’s representatives on the Broward League of Cities. Gomez is a director and Fishman is a voting delegate. This requires the two to travel together several times a year to various conferences around the country.
Formerly unemployed before being elected in 2016 to the Tamarac city commission, Fishman’s Kia Sorrento was allegedly repossessed last year. For weeks, she was seen riding a bicycle to around the city. She insisted her engine blew out, however, when pressed to find out where it was being serviced, she would not answer.
In addition to her salary and car allowance from the City of Tamarac, Fishman disclosed on her 2017 financial disclosure form that her income from Commissioner Michelle Gomez’ law firm was between $5,000 and $10,000. She also earned income between $5,000 – $10,000 from the Star of David Funeral home in North Lauderdale, and from the law firm of Payton Bolin where she disclosed earning less than $1,000. Managing partner Jane Bolin is running for Oakland Park City Commission and Fishman endorsed Bolin on April 25, 2018 – after payment for services rendered. Something that could raise red flags with the Office of Inspector General.
Gomez’ term for commissioner ends in November. She is running for mayor after Harry Dressler decided not to seek reelection. Fishman’s term ends in 2020.