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Southwest Ranches quietly hires Democratic Party leader in fight against Pembroke Pines

Mitch Ceasar hired as 'special counsel' but is lobbying county commission

SOUTHWEST RANCHES, Fla. – Broward County Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar has a controversial history of being paid to lobby the same politicians that rely on his backing when they run for election.

But now he's stepped into one of the most heated fights in South Florida: The bitter feud between Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines.

The Town of Southwest Ranches hired Ceasar as "special counsel" in its attempt to derail the Pines effort to annex 66 acres of land it recently purchased that had been the site of a women's prison in unincorporated Broward County.

But Broward County Commission records show that Ceasar has been lobbying county commissioners on behalf of the town – and against the Pines annexation. Both Lois Wexler and Marty Kiar have reported meetings with him on the topic.

"[Ceasar] said the annexation [of the prison land] was an outside issue that should be handled by the legislative delegation," said Kiar. "And I agreed with him."

Ceasar's hire at $1,500 a month for a full year – a total of $18,000 – was not publicly disclosed or voted on by the town council despite the fact that town law demands that any procurement of $10,000 or more be approved by the council.

Instead, town attorney Keith Poliakoff directly hired Ceasar as an attorney. He denied that Ceasar was a lobbyist and said his work was strictly legal in nature.

But Ceasar himself, when asked if he was lobbying for the town, said it "depends on your definition." And by the county's definition, he is definitely lobbying the county commission.

Ceasar admitted he was trying to influence the commissioners during those meetings but said he dealt strictly with legal issues in the talks and denied his role as the top Democrat in the county gave him any special influence when dealing with the politicians on the board.

Even Councilman Freddie Fisikelli said he wasn't aware that his own town had hired Ceasar as a lobbyist.

"I'm going to get answers," he said Friday.

Pembroke Pines activist Ryann Greenberg, who uncovered Ceasar's lobbying, said she believed the behind-closed-doors nature of Ceasar's hiring subverted and may have outright broken the town's procurement laws.

"The only reason I can think of why they didn't vote on it was to keep it from the public and keep it from the town," said Greenberg. "Transparency is of utmost importance in government, otherwise people lose."