Three of Hollywood’s new city commissioners have business or personal ties to the city, raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest.
One commissioner is married to a police officer; another is married to someone who works in the city’s community development department and the third commissioner’s trucking company has a contract with the city.
“The public raised a concern about whether a conflict of interest exists when a city commissioner’s spouse is a city employee, and the city needs to put this issue to rest by clarifying it for the public,” said Sara Case, a community activist who also blogs about the city.
Hollywood spokeswoman Raelin Storey said last week that there is no reason for concern in most cases — and that it is not something new to government.
“Them voting on union contracts does not violate the law,” she said.
Commissioner Peter Hernandez, elected Nov. 6 along with the other new commissioners, owns Govea Trucking Inc., which has a city contract.
Storey said the contract is for removal of sludge from the city’s water-treatment plant. The most recent contract began in April 2010 at a cost of about $59,000 a year. The original contract was for two years, and it came with the option of two two-year renewals. The contract was renewed this past March and will be up for consideration again in March 2014.
Hernandez will have to recuse himself at that time, Storey said. But when the contract comes up for rebidding in March 2016, while Hernandez is still in office, Storey said that the city code would prevent his company from bidding on the contract.
Hernandez said he would abstain from the upcoming votes. However, he said he did not know that his company could not bid on the contract in 2016.
“I have been open to the city and the citizens,” said Hernandez, who won the District 2 seat over three candidates. “I will do what I have to do.”
Traci Callari, who defeated incumbent Heidi O’Sheehan for the District 3 seat, is married to James Callari, who has been a Hollywood police officer for more than 20 years. There has been tension between the police union and City Hall since employee salaries and benefits were slashed to help close a budget gap of more than $38 million.
The police union and the city are in negotiations for a new contract.
“Before I even stepped into the political arena I made sure there would be no problem,” Callari said. She said that if the commission were to vote on a matter that would affect her husband directly, she would “step back,” which is required by the state.
But Storey said that if a vote affects more than 100 people — the police department has about 300 — there would be no reason Callari could not vote.
The same would be the case for Kevin Biederman, whose wife, Donna, works for the city’s Community Development Department.
Biederman, who defeated two other political newcomers for the seat vacated by Fran Russo, said Friday, “There is no conflict.”
“Apparently the voters didn’t think there was a conflict,” said Biederman, who is part-owner of Pest Pro Services, where he has worked for the past 20 years.
Neither the state Commission on Ethics nor the Florida League of Cities would comment directly on the situations of Hollywood’s new commissioners, but the commission has issued at least two rulings dealing with similar issues.
NOT UNHEARD OF
In April 2012, the ethics commission ruled that a council member in Fort Walton Beach did not have a conflict of interest when it came to voting on a contract for law-enforcement services with the sheriff’s office even though his father worked for it.
And in February 2011, the commission ruled there was no conflict for a member of the Port St. Lucie council whose husband was a police officer and part of the union’s bargaining unit.