On Tuesday, Broward Sheriff-elect Scott Israel will take over the most powerful elected post in the county, overseeing about 5,500 employees and a $670 million budget.
Past Broward sheriffs have generated colorful and political headlines. Nick Navarro, elected in 1984, ordered deputies to cook crack cocaine to use in drug stings, and ordered the arrest of the rap group 2 Live Crew for obscenity. Ken Jenne, a former state senator, plastered his name on everything from pencils to Frisbees to rugs before he pleaded guilty to tax evasion in 2007 and landed in federal prison.
Then Gov. Charlie Crist appointed longtime BSO official Al Lamberti as sheriff. On Election Day a year later, Lamberti won as a Republican in Florida’s most Democratic county. Tens of thousands of voters who turned out to elect President Barack Obama skipped the sheriff’s race, helping Lamberti defeat Israel, a Democrat.
But in 2012, fewer voters skipped the sheriff’s race on their ballot and Israel — with the help of key political allies — ousted Lamberti.
Israel set to work changing BSO immediately. In December, his transition team sent emails to 28 high-ranking employees telling them they would be out once Israel took over. Many top officials had already announced they would be leaving, including BSO spokesman Jim Leljedal, attorney Judith Levine and Undersheriff Tom Wheeler.
After 35 years at BSO, Lamberti said Friday that he has not applied for any jobs and doesn’t plan to open a security firm. (He has been joking about the fact that there is an opening at the CIA.)
Bob Butterworth, a former Broward sheriff and Florida attorney general, calls the sheriff’s job the “most challenging office” in Broward.
“If you can deal with the issues of substance abuse and mental health — and a sheriff can if they wish to do that — I think you can reduce crime in this community by a lot and also reduce the jail population,” Butterworth said.
Beyond staff changes, it is not yet clear how Israel, a 56-year-old former Fort Lauderdale police captain and North Bay Village police chief — will change BSO.
But emails from Israel’s transition team to BSO show that Israel has sought information about every aspect of the agency, including budget forecasts, contracts for everything from garbage collection to lobbying, statistics about the race of employees and even about the protocol for military casket arrivals.
Israel’s senior command staff includes many who played key roles in his campaign, including his new general counsel, Ron Gunzburger, son of County Commissioner Sue Gunzburger, and Lisa Castillo, who worked on Israel’s campaign. The name of her husband, Pembroke Pines Commissioner Angelo Castillo, is also being bandied about as having a role in the Israel administration.
Israel, who lives with his wife, Susan, and teenage triplets in Parkland, will be sworn in at a public ceremony by Broward Circuit Judge Ilona Holmes at 11 a.m. Tuesday at The Faith Center in Sunrise.
The Miami Herald spoke to Israel recently about his views on gun control, politics and other topics.
Q. The Broward sheriff is often described as the most powerful elected post in Broward. Your predecessor, Al Lamberti, tried to define himself as a law enforcement professional — not a politician. Do you view yourself as a politician?