Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Broward mayor should sidestep political missteps

The hazards were as apparent as the shattered careers of the very politicians she followed into office. Of all the pols in the county, none should have been more wary about untoward behavior than Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief.

Sharief has been elected to two different public offices, both previously occupied by politicians undone by dodgy dealings. Though her sins may amount to nothing more than inept bookkeeping, her electorate has grown allergic to even the vaguest intimations of financial corruption or unethical behavior.

Yet this week, the Broward state attorney’s office confirmed that prosecutors were looking into the financial disclosure declarations filed by Sharief in 2010, 2011 and 2012. And on April 25, the Florida Commission on Ethics has scheduled a probable-cause hearing to deal with similar complaints that Sharief’s “full and public disclosure of financial interests” required by state law failed to list bank accounts, rental properties and business interests, and misrepresented her income and her mortgage liabilities.

Of course, all this might well be a bundle of innocent but messy or careless mistakes repackaged by her political enemies as something sinister.

But the allegations further tarnish a political image damaged when the Florida Agency for Heath Care Administration claimed that Sharief’s home healthcare business had overcharged Medicaid for patient services. She signed a settlement last year agreeing to pay the state $540,328 for overcharges and fines.

Sharief told the Sun-Sentinel that she had simply decided to settle “rather the fight and continue to mount legal fees.” That might have been a savvy business decision, but the political aesthetics were rotten.

Ironically, Sharief owes her political career to the unseemly behavior of her predecessors. In 2009, she defeated several candidates for a seat on the Miramar City Commission, including former Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman, who had been suspended from office on gun charges. Later that year, Salesman was busted for taking bribes to rig city contracts during his tenure on the City Commission. Got him three years in a federal pen.

The next year, she was elected to the District 8 County Commission seat that had been held by Diana Wasserman-Rubin until she faced five felony counts of unlawful compensation. Prosecutors said Wasserman-Rubin had voted in favor of grant requests for the town of Sunshine Ranches that had been written by her husband and had netted the family $45,000 in bonuses. She eventually pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges.

And 2010 was the same year that County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion pleaded guilty to federal money-laundering and state bribery charges and Broward School Board member Beverly Gallagher pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges. Like Salesman, Eggelletion and Gallagher had both added to the roiling stench around local politics by behaving like greedy dogs as they were recorded taking bribes from undercover FBI agents.

Shareif came into public office when an aura of corruption hung over the county, in the footsteps of lowdown miscreants. She should have known that after those characters, the public has no tolerance for even a whiff of shoddy behavior.