Democratic chairman says sheriff in "learning curve" and will get better

Sun Sentinel

Original blog post | 2:32 p.m.

Updated with Israel comments | 4:29 p.m.

Broward Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar, commenting Tuesday on Sheriff Scott Israel’s first eight months in office, said the sheriff is experiencing a steep learning curve and needs to be assessed over a longer time frame.

“I think there’s a learning curve period,” Ceasar said Tuesday in an interview with the Sun Sentinel editorial board. “I think like anything else, just like when I first took office there was room for improvement. I think that’s true here too.”

“I think there’s room for improvement, and I think the sheriff would say that. I think there’s been some good things and I think we’re going to have to take a long-range look,” he said. Ceasar suggested the sheriff be evaluated “probably on a yearly basis.”

Update: Just spoke with Israel. Here's what he had to say on the subject:

 “I could not feel better about the first nine months in office. Of course we had some hiccups like any administration,” he said. “Did we make a couple of mistakes? Of course.  But look, we’re successful…. The proof is in the pudding. I’ve reduced crime by 9 percent, violent crime by 12.3 percent. Our viper squad has made over 300 arrests. This is a squad I’ve created.” He said it’s gotten  violent criminals and guns off the streets.

Israel’s record includes asking for a 14 percent budget increase and threatening layoffs if he didn’t get what he wanted; put a slew of political operatives and politicians on the payroll (including lobbyist Jorge Forte, paid $187 an hour as a consultant to produce a report on fleet issues that contained five paragraphs of conclusions); under-reported his pay last year from a Fort Lauderdale private security firm, according to the Broward Bulldog website; and paid just $1,500 for a five-day family cruise after the election on a private yacht that normally rents for $190,000 a week.

More about each of those subjects, from Israel, below.

What areas should Israel improve on?

“I think he needs to probably, which may be impossible, I think there’s 6,000 employees in the sheriff’s office approximating. He has a lot of different pulls on him inside the office and out, and I think he probably needs to be able to measure peoples’ responses in advance.

“For instance, when he went before the County Commission and asked for a very large [budget] number. I as a lawyer understand you start at the top and negotiate. And I don’t know the particulars of the sheriff’s office. But I think that was a situation where he asked for a  very high number and I think the reaction that I saw from the county commissioners and from what I read in the paper is that they were somewhat surprised that the request was so large…. So I think a lot of that is being able to – and I think he’s already learned – that  reaching out to different folks

So that’s what he needs to improve on, reaching out to other folks?

“I think being able to anticipate. Putting together a strategy and trying to anticipate the response as tightly as possible, and if he sees the response is going to be different you kind of round the edges and offer a new proposal.”

Is there anything else he needs to improve on?

“Um, I would leave that to the press, which has been editorialzed to a very large extent.”

So you don’t think there’s anything else he needs to improve on?

“I think there’s a lot of things that need to be improved in any department with anybody coming in. Whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican, I would have frankly the same response. I mean he has not been there a year. I think that’s something that needs to be judged probably on a yearly basis, and which I would bet he’s probably going to do himself. You know take stock every year and see where he can improve and where he’s done well.

“I think he’s already done very well on a lot of different policing programs, but I think there are places where he needs to do better and I think he would say that if he was sitting here.”

Update, here's what Israel had to say about issues in the sixth paragraph:

On his budget request, “I stand by that. I asked for a budget that solved all the public safety problems. I gave a fair ,fiscally responsible budget to the county. And I heard one or two commissioners said I’m another sheriff asking for money, money, money. That wasn’t the case. I think most of the commissioners realize the kind of state administratively that we were left in” which he said included contracts with cities for police protection that didn’t cover their costs and buyouts for people who left under the previous administration. “We came in to fix problems. And I felt one or two or three commissioners were just the same old commissioners saying no to public safety requests. I stand by the request that we made. We did nothing wrong.”

On Forte, “it was recommended to me by two administrative directors to use Jorge and do a recommendation on fleet issues.” He said it was impossible “for me to look into a crystal ball” and see that Forte would be indicted. “Nobody would have known that.”

On the cruise, the idea that the cruise was worth far more than the $1,500 he paid for the trip “is the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever heard in my life. To think I would pay what someone would pay to rent it. I was never in charge of that vessel. I was one of many people on that vessel.” He said an examination by the state ethics commission would show he did nothing wrong. “I look forward to being fulling cleared of everything. I acted in what they called a safe harbor. I did exactly what I was told to do.”

On the political hirings, he said “I’ve never made a political hire in my life. Have I ever met people through politics that I’ve hired, you bet – the same way that I’ve met people through life experiences, coaching,” for example. He said he hires “people who share your vision.”

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