Fred Grimm

Dubious credentials no problem for Broward’s new tourism czar

Miami Herald archive photo of Stacy Ritter
Miami Herald archive photo of Stacy Ritter Candace West/Miami Herald Staff

If nothing else, Broward’s controversial new hospitality CEO has the resumé to open a whole new international tourism market. The world is chock-full of sleazy government officials suspected of bribery or conflicts of interest or campaign law violations, all of them surely in need of a sunny Florida getaway.

Under Stacy Ritter’s leadership, Broward’s tourism industry could reach out to the targets of corruption investigations in capitals like Brasilia. Or closer to home. Think of beachfront staycations for the gang down at Opa-locka City Hall.

Ritter, a sitting member of the Broward County Commission for the past 10 years, and the survivor of several investigations herself, was picked last week to take over the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. She’ll be making a swell starting salary of $168,000 a year. A nice bump from her $95,000 commission salary.

Local business leaders had hoped the county would hire, instead, someone with experience and expertise in the tourism industry. The Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association had begged the county to look outside the county. According to the Sun-Sentinel, the Tourist Development Council just last week tried to head off the Ritter hiring.

Broward County Manager Bertha Henry instead picked Ritter, one of her nine county commission bosses. She will bring a different kind of expertise to the job.

In 2010, the Florida Elections Commission found that Ritter failed to report 11 campaign contributions. She got off with an $8,300 civil fine. At her new job, this accounting wiz will oversee a $30 million budget.

Her relationship with Bruce Chait, president of Prestige Homes, and son Shawn was a bit more bothersome. Both men pleaded guilty to greasing local officials as they sought city and county approval to build 728 homes on two golf courses in Tamarac. Former County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion went to prison after Bruce and Shawn stuffed $25,000 into his golf bag. They also leased a $47,500 BMW for a Tamarac city commissioner during their unseemly campaign.

Same father and son just happened to gift Stacy and her husband, lobbyist Russ Klenet, a $1,998 golf cart back in 2006. Later that year, she voted in favor of Chait’s development. According to the Broward State Attorney’s Office, which gave the transaction a hard look, Bruce Chait told investigators he had “hoped she would remember his generosity and vote for his project. It is clear that he gave her the golf cart to ingratiate himself, and thereby his project, with her. However, there is insufficient evidence to provide any corrupt intent on her part, when she accepted the golf cart and later voted on the project.”

Prosecutors also looked into some questionable votes the commissioner cast for a healthcare contract with a company represented by the same lobbying firm that employed her husband. Ritter admitted “an appearance of impropriety in some of her husband’s actions....”

An appearance of impropriety, however, wasn’t enough to warrant a criminal prosecution.

Nor was it enough to keep an unqualified political hack from snagging the county’s top tourism job.