Broward tax-appeal board to vote on job for politically connected lawyer

 

BrowardBulldog.org

Broward’s Value Adjustment Board will consider a resolution Monday to give a lucrative no-bid contract to the father of County Commissioner Martin David Kiar.

Incumbent VAB legal counsel Monroe Kiar, who makes $225,000 a year, has asked the board to extend his contract for as long as five more years without having to endure any competition for the job.

County rules exempt legal services from the standard competitive procurement process due to the specialized nature of attorney services. But a decision by the VAB, whose members include two of Commissioner Kiar’s County Commission colleagues, to award a big-money contract to a county insider without publicly advertising the job could have political repercussions.

Monday’s vote comes on the heels of last week’s news of a critical audit by the Florida auditor general’s office that raised questions about the independence of VABs in Broward and other counties. The performance audit said it found evidence suggesting that property tax appeals in those counties appear to have been rigged by local government officials who were concerned about maintaining tax revenues.

VABs have five members. By law, they are two county commissioners, a School Board member and two citizen members who are appointed by the County Commission and the School Board.

Complicating the matter is political activity by Monroe Kiar that could raise questions about his even-handedness as counsel to the independent, quasi-judicial authority that decides disputes between homeowners and commercial taxpayers and the Broward’s property appraiser’s office.

In 2012, while serving as VAB counsel, Monroe Kiar was a member of the “Committee to Re-Elect Circuit Judge Geoff Cohen,” the husband of Broward Property Appraiser Lori Parrish.

Kiar and his son, then running for his commission seat, are both named on a committee campaign flier as sponsors of a March 18, 2012, “backyard picnic” fundraiser at Cohen and Parrish’s home in Davie. “Please make checks payable to: Geoff Cohen Campaign,” the flyer says.

Kiar’s VAB contract includes conflict-of-interest language that says, “It is important that counsel be independent and impartial in order to properly conduct its services for [the] board.”

Nevertheless, state election records show that Monroe Kiar also contributed $100 to the 2012 campaign of Parrish’s husband. Martin Kiar and his wife, Kelly, contributed $100.

“It’s a situation that surely lends itself to the appearance of something that’s not fair,” said veteran appraiser and tax representative David Zachem.

Kiar declined to comment for this article.

The state auditor general’s audit cited Broward’s VAB for compiling “tracking reports” on special magistrates who recommended large reductions in property assessments to the VAB and used them to get rid of six magistrates who gave the largest assessment reductions.

Broward Commissioner Stacy Ritter, who chairs the county’s VAB, has said the agency no longer compiles tracking reports. She did not respond to a request for comment relayed through her chief of staff.

Monroe Kiar has been VAB counsel since he was hired on an interim basis in 2008. The job was not advertised. At the time, his son was a Democratic state legislator representing Davie.

In 2009, Kiar won a competitive three-year contract, with two one-year extension options. The amount budgeted for the post that year was $200,000. The contract was extended twice, and will expire in October.

Under Kiar’s contract, he is an independent contractor who receives a monthly retainer of $2,450, mostly for attending about a half-dozen VAB meetings a year, plus $175 an hour for additional,non-retainer services like legal research and providing legal opinions. The board caps how much Kiar can charge at $225,000 a year.

Monday’s VAB meeting is scheduled for 2 to 4:30 p.m. in Room 422 of the Broward County Governmental Center in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

Broward Bulldog is a not-for-profit online only newspaper created to provide local reporting in the public interest. www.browardbulldog.org, 954-603-1351.

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