December 27, 2010

Commission has power to remove her from office

By Larry Barszewski

Deerfield Beach —

City commissioners who threatened in October to remove fellow Commissioner Sylvia Poitier from office for unethical behavior still have made no decision on whether they will take action against her.

It took time for City Attorney Andy Maurodis to find an independent attorney to advise commissioners and even longer for individual commissioners to contact the attorney, former Miami-Diade County Attorney Murray Greenberg.

“What remains is for the commission to decide whether and how to move forward,” Greenberg wrote in a memo to Maurodis last week. He has talked with all of the commission except Poitier. “At this date, it appears that the most logical and appropriate course would be for the commission, at an early meeting in 2011, to discuss the alternatives.”

Commissioners expect the issue to come up at their only scheduled meeting next month, Jan. 11. By then, commissioners will know if Poitier, who plans to seek one more term, has challengers.

Mayor Peggy Noland, who declined to discuss the issue, said it’s not too late for the commission to act. Additional meetings could be scheduled, she said.

“It’s not dead as far as I know,” Commissioner Martin Popelsky said. “I just hope it gets done officially and gets done legally.”

In most cases, commissioners are removed from office by the governor after being indicted on criminal charges, but Deerfield’s charter allows the commission to act if a member fails to make known if he or she, or a member of his or her immediate family, has a financial interest in an item before the commission.

Some commissioners are uncertain if the commission is the most appropriate venue for action.

“While I do feel we have the right, based on our charter, it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for the city to do, and that’s what has to be discussed,” Ganz said. “Perhaps it’s best served that this is handled by outside parties.”

Commissioner Joe Miller has similar concerns. Between voters being able replace Poitier and the State Attorney’s Office having the audits that show her questionable actions, Miller isn’t certain it’s best for the commission to make the call.

“If it’s so egregious. Why doesn’t the state attorney take care of it,” Miller asked. “He’s got all the same information we have.”

In suggesting Poitier be removed from office, commissioners cited her 2009 vote support of a $30,000 grant to the West Deerfield Businessmen Association.

Poitier was on the losing side, but commissioners said she never revealed her brother had loaned the group $74,000. They said the grant, if approved, could have improved the chances of her brother being repaid.

Poitier said last his week she understands prosecutors are looking into the issue as well. She acknowledged she told her brother, Lionel Ferguson, to loan money to the association so that it would not lose buildings it uses to provide affordable housing.

“That’s bad for them to stretch me out over something like that,” Poitier said. “My heart is in the right place.”

Commissioners also were concerned about a critical federal audit that showed Poitier voted in 2009 in favor of two grants worth more than $40,000 for the Haitian American Consortium that used her family’s dry-cleaning business as its corporate address. Poitier owns the property, but said there was no conflict because her daughter owns the dry-cleaning business.

The September audit said the city should pay back the money because federal officials weren’t notified of the conflict.

Since then, a forensic audit for the city has raised additional concerns.

It said that Poitier and two former commissioners had requested and received free blocks of tickets to the Mango Festival and distributed them to garner political support.

Poitier was also on hand when beer and gate revenues for the 2008 Brazilian Festival were counted, with auditor Michael Kessler estimating that $28,000 more than the $44,820 reported should have been collected. He questioned what happened to the missing money.

Poitier denies any wrongdoing. She said she observed but did not participate in the counting of the money, and was only there to make sure the city got its money.

Kessler gets definitive answers.

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