In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: A novel way to get rid of bad pols

Tamarac’s solution to its Patte Atkins-Grad problem was the political equivalent to the strategy a few South Florida cities employ to rid their streets of homeless vagrants. They pay the cost of one-way bus tickets out of town and call it a bargain.

Tamarac acceded to a shakedown from its nuisance commissioner last week and agreed to pay her $8,000 to just go away. The deal might have reeked of extortion but it was an irrefutable bargain.

The city commissioner had been arrested on bribery charges back in 2010, accused of taking some $6,300 in “unlawful compensation” from Broward County’s infamous political corruptors, Bruce and Shawn Chait. The father and son developers had been seeking city commission approval for a controversial project to convert a pair of Tamarac golf courses into housing tracts.

At her trial in December, rather than deny the particulars in the bribery allegations, Atkins-Grad adopted the novel defense strategy that she had been too dense to know what was up. “There’s a quantum leap between being incompetent and being corrupt,” Kenneth Malnik, her attorney, argued.

Malnik managed to convinced jurors that Atkins-Grad had been too thick to grasp the criminal intent when the sleazy developers put up $2,300 toward the lease on her new BMW along with $4,000 in other gratuities. One of the Chaits, testifying for the prosecution, bolstered her defense when he observed that Atkins-Grad was “dumber than a post.”

She made for a convincing fool. After her acquittal, one of the jurors told the Sun-Sentinel, “If I could convict a person for being stupid, she’d be at the top of my list.”

Her idiot defense may have been a brilliant courtroom strategy but it didn’t endear her to the folks back in Tamarac. When Atkins-Grad reclaimed her city commission seat in January, along with $123,000 in back pay, her constituents went berserk. Enough angry voters in her district signed a petition to trigger a recall election, set for Oct. 15.

The recall would cost Tamarac taxpayers $48,000. The city had already been forced (by state law) to pay the $66,330 legal bill from Atkins-Grad’s criminal defense attorney and another $3,139 in court costs, in addition to the $123,000 for two years of lost compensation while she was suspended from her commission seat. Plus, the city faced potential legal costs from her lawsuit to fend off the recall.

Atkins-Grad sent the city commission a letter last week, offering to resign “effective on the payment of a settlement of $8,000 payable from the city of Tamarac to me personally.”

Outrageous, sure. But cheaper, by at least $40,000, than staging a recall election. Her fellow commissioners received the letter Wednesday; by Thursday, they had voted to pay Atkins-Grad to get lost, perhaps setting a template for other South Florida towns (take note, Homestead) faced with criminally charged elected officials without the grace to disappear.

Give them $8,000 to shut up and go away. And maybe a bus ticket.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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