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$1,000 rings ordered for port staffers

Port Everglades, criticized by even its own consultant for wasting millions of dollars, is poised to reward top employees with $1,000 hand-crafted rings.

Port Director Joel Alesi said Wednesday he ordered the pricey prizes -- six to eight, he couldn't remember exactly how many -- as an incentive for a job well done.

"I thought that might be an appropriate reward for them," said Alesi, who has yet to hand out any rings.

Some port commissioners are outraged. They took a beating from taxpayers for imposing the port's first property tax in six years while admittedly not keeping a careful eye on the public agency's expenses.

"I'm a little taken aback, quite frankly," said Port Commissioner Jim Kane, who heard about the rings from a reporter. "I think it's totally inappropriate."

Said Commissioner Joseph DeLillo: "I believe in trying to let people know when they do good work, but I don't know if I want to do it with a $1,000 ring."

Commissioner Alan Marks said he thought the rings originally were meant for commissioners. An Alesi aide asked him what his ring size was earlier this year, Marks said.

"I refused," Marks said Wednesday. "I told Joel, 'Forget about it for me.' I didn't want that type of compensation. I can afford my own jewelry."

Alesi said it was "never my intention" to give the rings to commissioners, just employees.

The revelation about the ring-buying spree came just two days after port commissioners approved the authority's first tax in six years -- raising $23.1 million to fuel an expansion.

Two public hearings on the tax each drew more than 200 people, most furious at the port. The port's own consultant, Booz-Allen & Hamilton, found a host of wasteful practices at the port and said $3 million was wasted on unneeded jobs.

Battered commissioners vowed to curtail excessive spending.

The rings were designed by Robert Ronchi, a friend of Port Chairman Walter Browne. Alesi and port spokesman David Miller could not say what Ronchi was paid. Ronchi did not return repeated phone calls Wednesday.

Browne said the rings are gold with a black insignia, "like a college ring."

"I don't have a problem with it," Browne said. "If anything, I supported it."

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