TAMARAC, Fla. – Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel didn't make it to a political forum for local candidates at a condominium for senior citizens Wednesday afternoon, but he seemed well-represented by his underlings nonetheless.
Working the door and passing out Broward Sheriff's Office pamphlets, some of which featured prominent photos of the sheriff, was Patti Lynn, a BSO employee in full uniform. There was also Capt. Ira Goldberg, a longtime Israel campaign volunteer, who was also dressed in BSO garb and on the clock. There was also Tamarac Chief Neal Glassman, as well as a lieutenant.
All that BSO manpower at a political event at Kings Point condos in Tamarac had Israel's opponents fuming and alleging he's misusing his office to aid his political campaign.
"It's improper, because they are taking resources from the citizens," Willie Jones, a former BSO sergeant running as a Democrat against Israel in the Aug. 30 primary, said. "Taxpayers give the Sheriff's Office $750 million to run this agency to provide public safety."
Fellow Democratic candidate Jim Fondo, a former BSO commander, said he believed it might violate state laws forbidding politicians from using the power of their public office in campaigning.
"Obviously, Scott Israel can't be everywhere, so he sends his people to fill in for him," Fondo said. "I think it borders on illegal."
Fondo said Lynn is a fixture on the campaign trail, passing out BSO flyers featuring prominent photos of the sheriff.
"She's in her BSO uniform," Fondo said. "I don't believe she should be here at all."
When asked about her work for the sheriff, Lynn said, "I'm working for the sheriff doing the duties that I'm assigned to do," and denied her work was political in nature.
Goldberg was one of Israel's top campaign volunteers when he ran against incumbent Sheriff Al Lamberti in 2012, hosting events and constantly at his side. At that time, Goldberg was a jail guard. After he was elected, Israel leap-frog-promoted Goldberg all the way to captain of "special projects." He has been spotted at several political events, at times in full uniform.
He refused to answer questions when confronted by Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman outside the recent Kings Point forum.
"So you have a law enforcement reason to be in there?" Norman asked.
"Give the (public information office) a call," Goldberg said.
"Ira, it looks like as a captain you're doing political work for the sheriff while you're on duty," Norman said.
"Call (the) PIO, Bob," Goldberg said again.
While Israel refused to be interviewed, the media relations office said Lynn was doing "community outreach" at the political functions.
"It's their job to attend meetings and events and serve as liaisons between BSO and the community," wrote BSO spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright.
Fondo has criticized the sheriff's expanded Community Outreach Department as a whole, alleging it is a bastion of politically motivated hires and a waste of millions of tax dollars. Running community outreach with a $73,000 salary is Israel hire Wally Eccleston, the husband of Israel's campaign manager, Amy Rose.
Also serving as manager of a related department, Community Affairs, has been former newspaper reporter Elgin Jones, who heavily criticized Israel's 2012 opponent, Lamberti, at his community newspaper job prior to his hire by Israel after the election.
A number of other apparently politically motivated hires stock the ranks as well, including Lynn, a longtime political activist who has run for office in the past herself.
Such heavy politicization of BSO was exactly what Israel promised not to do while running for office in 2012. Israel, in fact, promised to "depoliticize" BSO and heavily criticized Lamberti for allegedly using community document shredding events called shred-a-thons that involved a photo of Lamberti's face on the side of privately owned trucks "selfless self-promotion."
But when Israel took office, he simply had his own face put on shredding trucks and continued the practice. He also denounced Lamberti's "coffee with the sheriff," labeling that as shameless self-promotion as well and promising to end the practice.
But now Israel is doing almost the same thing at area McDonald's restaurants, only offering ice cream instead of coffee. The PIO clarified that it was McDonald's that initiated the relationship.
Some of Israel's opponents are now running on exactly the same issues as Israel, only now they claim it is Israel who is abusing the office at levels never seen.
"I think the department has become 100 percent more political since Scott Israel came in here," Fondo said.