View Full Version : Thank GOD Broward County finally grows a set of balls!!

08-13-2003, 11:41 AM
Maybe the NAACP will threaten to boycott Broward again for FINALLY saying no to this incompitant b!tch!!

Broward refuses to give $290,000 to cash-strapped elections chief

By Scott Wyman
Staff Writer
Posted August 13 2003

Broward County Elections Supervisor Miriam Oliphant will have to struggle to keep her office open for the next 50 days after county commissioners rejected her pleas Tuesday for more money to pay her bills.

Commissioners repeatedly bailed out Oliphant during the past year when her financial troubles threatened to jeopardize elections or close the office. But they refused this time over concern she had not gone far enough in cutting her spending.

Oliphant wanted $290,000 to pay legal and cell phone bills and run the office until the new budget year begins Oct. 1.

As the votes began lining up against her, Oliphant walked out of the commission meeting with a wave of her hand. County officials contend she has enough money left to stay open and meet her payroll through September, but her chief financial officer, Dick Wallsmith, is less certain.

Wallsmith said layoffs would be a last resort and added that he was not sure what services would have to be cut or whether the office would have to shut down. Among the projects in jeopardy are finding poll workers for next spring's presidential primary and mailing out cards to voters in danger of being purged from registration rolls.

"Instead of sleep mode, we'll go into hibernation," Wallsmith said.

Commissioners have intensely criticized Oliphant since the botched September 2002 primary and an audit's revelations two months later of vast financial irregularities, but they had always backed away from cutting off her money. This time, though, previous supporters said they felt betrayed.

"Finally, the County Commission has said enough is enough," said Commissioner Kristin Jacobs, who crafted a $920,000 bailout that kept Oliphant's office running in May but refused to help Tuesday. "We haven't been dealt with in good faith. It makes me sick that we have evolved to this place. There is no glee here."

The decision came on an 8-1 vote after Jacobs and Commissioner John Rodstrom announced they were joining longtime Oliphant opponents Lori Parrish and Jim Scott. Also lining up against Oliphant were Mayor Diana Wasserman-Rubin and Commissioners Ilene Lieberman, Suzanne Gunzburger and Ben Graber. Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion cast the sole vote to help Oliphant.

Oliphant's request included $116,007 to pay legal bills since October, $57,259 to cover employee cell phone bills, $13,394 to perform maintenance on the new touch-screen voting machines and $14,435 to pay for temporary labor used in last March's municipal elections.

The county's new independent auditor, Evan Lukic, recommended trimming the amount to $258,000. Details in Lukic's review turned most of the commission against Oliphant.

The review showed $12,178 of the $57,259 in cell phone bills was incurred during this spring's elections and the rest was general employee usage. Commissioners asked why employees were using phones so frequently when Oliphant had said she'd rein in spending.

Lukic also reported that Oliphant had shifted $88,000 from other accounts to pay legal bills. Commissioners said that amounted to an end-run by Oliphant around the oversight she agreed to this spring.

Oliphant had accepted an austerity plan to cut her spending and have county auditors co-sign her checks as part of May's bailout. She had spent more than budgeted on the fall and spring elections and had run through her $5.8 million budget when she reached the deal with commissioners.

Oliphant was also challenged about why she hired a person to coordinate her voter outreach efforts earlier this year when she had promised to disband that department.

"I feel somewhat betrayed," Rodstrom told his colleagues. "I went out on a limb and appropriated the $920,000. My constituents didn't understand, and I said we couldn't let the supervisor's office close. But I feel like I'm being played."

Oliphant disputed that and said any decision not to help was unfair to her staff and to voters. "We are on an austere budget, bare bones, and are about to break," she said.

Wallsmith said the commission's concerns were misguided. He said the office has made progress in controlling its finances and will have reduced Oliphant's deficit from $936,382 to $549,482 by the end of September.

He argued that the elections office needs to begin recruiting and training workers for the spring elections and that waiting until Oct. 1 could leave the county less prepared than it should be. He also said the office is out of compliance with state law because of the backlog in mailing out forms to update voter registration rolls.

The budget showdown raises legal questions for both Oliphant and the county. Oliphant has previously suggested she might sue the county if she is not funded adequately, and County Attorney Ed Dion has said that Oliphant will violate state law if she carries any debt into the next budget year.

Commissioners have not challenged Oliphant to this extent since Gov. Jeb Bush rejected their suggestion that he remove her from office in the weeks leading up to this spring's elections. Unable to oust her and facing a firestorm of criticism from her supporters, commissioners advanced her extra money.

Eggelletion urged the board not to change course now, saying that some could construe the actions as an attack on voting rights on par with poll taxes and literacy tests. That prompted a testy exchange between him and Parrish as she replied that Oliphant's profligate spending, not the commission, was jeopardizing the elections office.

"How much more are you willing to give before you say, `Enough,'" Parrish said during the debate. "You can open up the taxpayer coffers and turn your pockets inside out because it is not going to stop unless we stop it."