By: Sharon Aron Baron
Back in September, after discovering that taxpayers were footing the bill for dinners and galas for the Tamarac city commissioners, we made a public records request to the Tamarac City Clerk to find out how much they were spending on their annual expense accounts.
After 30 days and a $58 dollar check to the city, we got the answers. But first, here’s some background on the commission’s expense accounts: Through the city charter, the mayor and each of the four commissioners are allowed a discretionary expense account for what is deemed “actual and necessary expenses” which meets the definition of a public purpose. This amount is $1,500 per person each year. This can be used for breakfast, lunch and dinners, functions, events, clothing with city logos, office supplies, membership dues, subscriptions and parking. Totaled up, this is $7,500 annually of budgeted money. That is, if they stay within their budget.
The way the mayor skirted around this restrictive $1,500 budget to take a $14,000 two-week class at Harvard in August, as well as a trip in 2016 for $12,400 was due to a rule change in 1998. No longer would commission conferences and educational seminars costs be a part of their expense account, but would be used from the city’s general expense funds.
The definition is clear on what elected officials can spend money on: “actual and necessary expenses.” which seems too broad for many elected officials in Tamarac. This seems to mean that these are to be used for expensive tickets to events around the county and not in their own district. No one wants to deny our elected officials the opportunity to attend dinner parties and galas. However, they can do this at anytime on their own dime, which would show that they truly cared about the foundation in which the money is worthy of. Many other commissioners in Broward County must pay for their own tickets, and the City of Tamarac should be no exception.
Already, the city is under intense scrutiny for their excessive travel budgets due to a piece in the Sun Sentinel that has caught the eye of the Broward Office of the Inspector General who has asked the city for copies of all the travel requests and itineraries for each city commissioner.
Here is an example of some of these events where tickets were purchased for all commissioners:
Broward County Mayor’s Gala ($2,000), Broward League of Cities Gold Coast Breakfast ($60), Edith Lederberg 40th Anniversary Celebration Luncheon – Area Wide Council on Aging ($100), Broward League Luncheon ($840), Broward League of Cities Gala ($2,500), Protect the Children Gala ($796.20), ADRC Breakfast and Awards ($500). All this totals $6,796.20.
Here are the City of Tamarac’s biggest expense account spenders year-to-date:
Commissioner Julie Fishman $2,199.24 ($699.24 over)
Commissioner Michelle Gomez $2,099.24 ($599.24 over)
Vice Mayor Debra Placko $1,943.93 ($443.93 over)
Mayor Harry Dressler $1,909.79 ($409.79 over)
Commissioner Marlon Bolton $1,639.00 ($139.00 over) – In an email from Marlon Bolton he stated he this amount is only $1,293.06 which makes him under $206.94 and many of tickets that the city has purchased for him, were not used by him.
Remember, the city charter only allows $1,500 in annual expenses and all five elected officials have exceeded their limits.
Sadly, the commissioner who went the highest over budget, Julie Fishman, is the one who represents the constituents who know how to live on a fixed budget the best: the retirees in Kings Point who mostly live on social security and savings.
Typically, when a retiree spends more than what comes in, they have to give up something extremely important. Whether it’s food, medicine or entertainment. Not in Tamarac where commissioners can spend above their limit.
The mayor’s overage also includes $500 worth of meals at Wings Plus ($90.31), Tavolino Della Nonna ($99.87) and Metro Diner a couple times, bringing his expenditures up to $1,943 – well over budget allowed by the charter. Did the mayor get approval to go over this amount? Vice Mayor Placko’s includes $214.69 for meals as well to Colony West and Metro Diner. Who are these constituents that are getting free meals? Invite them to your taxpayer paid office at city hall, or meet for coffee instead.
For a city of 65,000 and a median income of $43,250, our city pays its city manager and elected officials well. Too well, including that $700 monthly car allowance. For elected officials to think nothing of spending over $2,000 for them all to attend an event far removed from their district, knowing their constituents are footing the bill demonstrates that they are truly no longer public servants residents voted for.
Residents must decide whether they are acting in their best interests and should be replaced come election time.