Broward Days Inc. will get $5,000 from the county, despite concerns about the direction the non-profit civic activism group is taking.
The County Commission vote to grant the $5,000 was split 6-3 last week, with Commissioners Sue Gunzburger and Stacy Ritter, as well as Mayor Barbara Sharief, voting no. The request first went down on a 4-5 vote, with Commissioners Kristin Jacobs and Lois Wexler also voting no.
This is a transitional time for the non-profit Broward Days, a bipartisan group that brings people together to advocate for Broward County's issues to those in power in Tallahassee. The organization is known for its annual trip to Tallahassee, when Broward powerbrokers descend on legislators. But that trip's not taking place this year.
The organization says it's revitalizing itself, and is hosting meetings with Tallahassee leaders here, on our turf. For example, in February, the group hosted a reception in downtown Fort Lauderdale for Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, the chairman of appropriations. Speaker of the House Will Weatherford spoke at Broward Days in October.
The executive director of the organization left last year, and lawyer-lobbyist Mike Colodny became the chairman.
In a letter to the county, he said the $5,000 sponsorship would allow county staff and commissioners to attend the receptions Broward Days Inc. holds in Broward with state leaders, as well as attend private, "sponsor-only meetings.''
Some things are still in formation there. On the website, the "FAQs,'' or frequently asked questions, are blank. The "sponsors' list is a dead link. The "about'' link says: "Thanks for your interest. The Board of Directors is in the process of revamping Broward Days for 2013-2014. We will shortly unveil the new Broward Days on this web site. Stay tuned…"
Nevertheless, Colodny asked the county at a recent meeting for its customary financial contribution.
"I thought Broward Days is not going to Tallahassee this year,'' said Commissioner Sue Gunzburger.
"It's not,'' someone answered.
"Then what is the $5,000 for?'' she asked.
Colodny said Broward Days will return to Tallahassee in 2015 and wants to be "an intimate partner with Broward County'' recognizing the county's 100th anniversary, in Tallahassee.
In the meantime, he said, they've been "bringing Tallahassee to Broward County.'' He said they're also sponsoring a debate between Democratic gubernatorial candidates Nan Rich and Charlie Crist.
"I understood former Gov. Crist is not going to participate in any debates with state Sen. Rich,'' Gunzburger said.
"She has consented,'' said Colodny.
"Yes,'' said Gunzburger, "You only have one person.''
Colodny's answer is incomplete in the captioner's draft minutes of the meeting: "What we are trying to do is -- and we will continue on that,'' he said. "We will continue on that. Nothing has changed.''
"You still haven't said what the five grand is for,'' Gunzburger pressed.
Colodny said the money would be used for a reception.
Commissioner Jacobs said when high level leaders are in Broward they should be taken on tours of Port Everglades and other facilities, not just met with for three hours.
"While that may seem to save the public money to travel to Tallahassee, we have a lobbying team. We are in Tallahassee all the time. We can get one-on-one meetings with the same people coming here. So I am not going to support the item,'' Jacobs said.
Commissioner Tim Ryan, a former state legislator, said the meetings are better in Broward because in Tallahassee, "they're all stacked up with their appointments. You come in, you come out, like a cattle drive.'
Commissioner Stacy Ritter, also a former legislator, said Jacobs "is absolutely right.''
"We don't need Speaker Weatherford to come here. Three of us are former members of the Legislature,'' she said of herself, Ryan and Commissioner Marty Kiar. " ... These people think they know better than everybody else how to deal with legislators, a bunch of business people who go up, and court the legislators and suggest what the issues should be and don't involve the Broward County Commission ... though they use our money, it's not good enough for me. And I have seen a decline over the years from when I first got there in '96 to when I left,'' she added.
"I saw it decline to basically a big cocktail party that this commission was funding. And now it's not that. It's a smaller cocktail party in our neighborhood.''
Jacobs asked that the $5,000 be given on the condition that Broward Days make a good faith effort to take visiting leaders on tours of Broward facilities.
With that change, the request was approved.
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