HOLLYWOOD -(CBS4) – The investigation into a Hollywood city manager centers on the acceptance of gifts through city employees from a garbage company hoping to land a contract with the city, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.
On Friday, Mayor Peter Bober said he had submitted letters to the FBI and the Broward State Attorney’s Office asking both agencies to look into those “disturbing allegations” against city employees, including City Manager Cameron Benson.
The allegations surfaced last week in the form of two typed, anonymous letters mailed to city commissioners.
The letter calls into question Benson’s acceptance of gifts through two city employees who are also his personal friends, the letter alleges.
“Benson spearheaded this transition, using several of his close, personal friends, to guide and direct WastePro representatives and lobbyist (sic) during the period when the City’s ‘Cone of Silence’ ordinance was in effect. During this period when City employees are prohibited from actively promoting or otherwise providing bid information to potential vendors,” according to The Herald.
WastePro reportedly also treated two Hollywood public works employees to meals and during those meals the employees allegedly received a gift card and a money order for home improvement services to help Benson buy things for his vacation home in Canada, the Herald reported. WastePro eventually landed a contract with the city.
Bober said he hopes the allegations turn out to be false, but said his promise to his constituency during his campaign called for more transparency.
“I hope none of this is true, but given Hollywood’s history with prior scandals involving public office, and my promises of transparency when I campaigned for this office, I had to ask the question: Would the residents of Hollywood accept the city investigating itself in this matter or would it be more appropriate to have an impartial party do so?” Bober said.
Residents expressed their concerns about the recent allegations.
“Something’s gotta be done,” said Hollywood resident Dee Houston, who is concerned when she hears about new corruption allegations.
In just the last four years, a city commissioner and four police officers were arrested in corruption scandals. This time, the Mayor is not taking any chances.
The city won’t release the new anonymous tips, but CBS4 News has learned they have to do with misuse of position, misappropriation of city funds, and corrupt conduct.
A police officer is also involved in the investigation, that’s why the Police Chief has launched an internal affairs investigation.
Mayor Bober discussed the investigation at Wednesday’s city commission meeting.
“We can’t just get information like this and do nothing about it, because then we’re accused of not fulfilling our ethical responsibility to make city hall an ethical place,” said Mayor Bober.
The Mayor told the Commission he has no choice but to seek outside investigators.
“And I don’t want to do anything that looks like we’re trying to cover something up either,” said Mayor Bober.
At least one commissioner is concerned that the tips are anonymous.
“If you do not have the guts to sign your name, and back up what your complaint is about, then please don’t send it to me,” said Hollywood Commissioner Linda Sherwood.
“It could essentially be an over reaction. It could really depend on the seriousness of those letters,” said Hollywood resident Steve Channey.
Because some of the allegations surround a police officer, a city spokesperson says the anonymous tips will not be made public.
The spokesperson also says the City Manager won’t comment on the investigation.
Late Friday, WastePro issued the following statemen to CBS4′s Gio Benitez: “Waste Pro was shocked to hear the allegations contained in the anonymous letter addressed to the City. Not only are these accusations completely false and without merit but they also don’t accurately depict the comprehensive bid process that the City conducted in order to select Waste Pro as a vendor. Waste Pro was the low bidder by a substantial margin over the next qualified bidder in a very detailed process. The fact that we were the lowest qualified bidder was the sole reason we were recommended for award. Waste Pro has an impeccable reputation in this industry for delivering excellent service at a quality price and that is why we are successful in winning new contracts. Waste Pro has never done anything inappropriate with the City of Hollywood elected officials or staff and find it inconceivable that a unsigned letter containing such off the wall allegations was given credence without a thorough review of the facts of how this contract was awarded first. In addition the fact that these erroneous claims are surfacing nearly three years after they are alleged to have occurred and are coincidentally during a time while Waste Pro is being considered by other Broward County municipalities causes me to question the motive behind these anonymous letters. We appreciate The City of Hollywood and its business and look forward to a continued long relationship.”
(CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed to this report.)