Fort Lauderdale paid $432k for one concert


Fort Lauderdale billed its Summer Jamz end-of-summer concert as a free event at Mills Pond Park. But it wasn’t free at all — at least not to the taxpayer.

This year’s Aug. 19 event cost an eye-popping $432,000, not including the required cost of police and fire-rescue crews. That’s nearly 10 times what it cost when Fort Lauderdale first started hosting the event five years ago.

The astronomical expense was news to most of the commission and only came to light after Commissioner Steve Glassman started asking questions.

Based on a series of emails, it appears Commissioner Robert McKinzie’s office put pressure on city staff to approve the supersized budget along with the high-priced talent, City Manager Greg Chavarria told the commission during a public meeting Tuesday that McKinzie did not attend. Typically events are planned by parks staff with no direction from commission offices in choosing the lineup and certainly not changing it at the last minute, Chavarria said.

“Summer Jamz 2022 was Summer Scamz,” Glassman said after peppering Chavarria with questions from the dais. “It was a total abuse of the system and an abuse of the taxpayer. Everyone should be outraged by this.”

Mayor Dean Trantalis joined Glassman, saying it was scandalous to spend half a million dollars on one event while the majority of the commission had no clue the costs had gone sky high.

“We should never ever spend that kind of money for one event,” he said.

On Tuesday, Chavarria told commissioners he’s asked the city auditor to delve further into how and why costs got so out of hand.

McKinzie was a no-show at Tuesday’s public meeting, and neither McKinzie nor his assistant Tracy Roach could be reached for comment on Tuesday afternoon.

Parks Director Phil Thornburg told commissioners he sounded the alarm early on, telling then-City Manager Chris Lagerbloom he was worried the costs were out of control. Despite the warning, Lagerbloom signed off on the changes on July 12, 10 days before leaving for a new job.

This year’s entertainment cost $338,000 alone, city records show.

Summer Jamz began in 2017 at a cost of $49,500. It cost $59,722 in 2018 and $67,643 in 2019. It was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. Last year, the bill came in at $182,689.

Based on city emails, it appears staff was being given direction from the office of Commissioner McKinzie and his assistant, Chavarria said.

That’s a clear violation of the city charter and a clear mishandling of taxpayer dollars, Glassman said.

The original lineup of national headliners changed somewhere along the way and all but one of the acts was switched out for lesser known talent, Glassman noted. That means the city paid for top talent but might not have gotten it, Glassman said.

He asked the city manager who came up with the list of talent.

The answer, according to Chavarria: McKinzie’s office.

The original contract referenced the following artists: Joe, Faith Evans, Ginuwine, Tamar Braxton and Christopher Williams.

The city’s web site lists this year’s talent as Tank, Mýa, Lil’ Mo, Christopher Williams, Ruben Studdard and the Deep Fried Funk Band.

The contract states that any change of performer can be made only with prior written approval from the city.

Glassman questioned whether that approval was ever given.

Chavarria said he can’t answer without further investigation by the city auditor.

McKinzie’s commission office came up with a VIP list with 235 names, including city employees, Chavarria said.

The mayor and the rest of the commission did not make the list.

“So the taxpayers paid to feed and give drinks to 235 people on that list,” Glassman said. “I have never been asked for a list of entertainers or a VIP list of people that are going to be wined and dined at an event.”

The event, which drew a crowd of 8,000 to 10,000 people, was held four days before the primary election, Glassman noted.

That night, McKinzie was elected to the county commission’s District 8 seat. He plans to remain on the Fort Lauderdale commission representing District 3 until Nov. 7.

During Tuesday’s discussion, Trantalis said it was clear McKinzie took ownership of the Summer Jamz event.

“Honestly I think it turned into a campaign event,” the mayor said. “It’s a shame how this was commandeered. I do believe he showcased himself.”

One photo tweeted by the city, shows McKinzie on stage, mic in hand.

The entire budget for the year for all city-sponsored events comes to $1.529 million. That means Summer Jamz gobbled up one-third of the entire budget for all of 2022, Glassman said.

Breaking News Alerts

Breaking News Alerts

As it happens

Get updates on developing stories as they happen with our free breaking news email alerts.

“The taxpayer dollars on this event rival that of the Fourth of July,” he said. “Was this truly a citywide all-inclusive event, or was this really a District 3 party?”

Glassman noted it was strange that he did not receive an information package about the event.

“Why was this event so low-key and under the radar?” he asked.

That’s another question that will need to be answered, Chavarria said.

Glassman warned this kind of thing can’t be repeated.

“The fact that this city commission was kept in the dark about this event was totally inappropriate and cannot happen again,” Glassman said. “I would urge staff, if you think something is going awry to this extent, speak up. Because we’re all in this together.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at sbryan@sunsentinel.com or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan

Spread the love