Bogus campaign slams and more

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Pictured: David Silvers

Bogus facts?

In one of the few competitive Florida House races, an ad for Republican State Rep. Bill Hager seems to unfairly and inaccurately target a Boca Raton company.

The company is Hollywood Media, which trades on the NASDAQ. Hager is being challenged by Democrat David Silvers (above). His mother, Laurie Silvers, is president of Hollywood Media. His stepfather, Mitchell Rubenstein, is chairman and CEO of Hollywood Media. David Silvers currently works for a book licensing company called Tekno Books, which Hollywood Media owns.

The voiceover in the Republican Party of Florida ad says, “South Florida families will never forget what happened” when David Silvers got a job in the “family business with little experience.” The voiceover goes on to say that David Silvers “did nothing as his company ran into the ground.” As a result, “workers were laid off and families were devastated.” The ad tells viewers that 38 percent of company employees lost their jobs. As this happened, the ad charges, “David Silvers and his family gave themselves more than $1.5 million in “pay and bonuses.” David Silvers “lost our jobs” and “lost our trust.”

That’s a tough ad, complete with the predictable picture of David Silvers looking rode hard and put up wet. But are the charges true?

Fine print in the ad cites as sources Securities and Exchange filings by Hollywood Media for 2007 and 2009. I read the filings, which detail the sale of companies by Hollywood Media. I called David Silvers, who put me in touch with Mitchell Rubenstein.

According to Rubenstein, the reality is far different from what the ad claims. Though the SEC filings show a decline in the number of employees for the publicly traded parent company, Rubenstein said the jobs were not lost. They simply were shifted to the buyers. And while the ad refers to “South Florida families,” Rubenstein said the jobs were out of state.

Rubenstein was irritated/intrigued enough to ask his accounting staff to examine the filings. He and they believe that the “38 percent” figure comes from subtracting the number of jobs at companies Hollywood Media sold from Hollywood Media’s workforce.

And what about the other charge—that David Silvers profited at those employees’ expense?

The ad says David Silvers had a “director’s job.” That implies that he served on the board of directors or was a top administrator. Rubenstein said neither is true.  Some of David Silvers’ job titles with Hollywood Media have included the title “director,” Rubenstein said. Indeed, Silver’s current title is President and Director of Business Development for Tekno Books. But David Silvers, Rubenstein said, “has never been an officer.”

Finally, what about that “over one-and-half-million in pay and bonuses.” Rubenstein found one year during the period in question when total compensation for himself and Laurie Silvers came to about $1.5 million. But a review of David Silvers’ record with the company, Rubenstein said, shows only modest bonuses.

I contacted the Republican Party of Florida to ask for details on the charges in the ad. I first got an email from Director of Communications Susan Hepworth listing the SEC filings I had seen. I then asked for a response to Rubenstein’s assertions that the jobs were not lost and were not in South Florida to begin with.

Hepworth emailed to say, “Hollywood Media Corp.’s filing speak for themselves—there was a reduction in employees while David was in charge.” But David Silvers was not in charge, and the response doesn’t address whether the employees actually lost their jobs or were “South Florida families” in the first place.

Rubenstein called the ad “a complete fantasy” and “utterly false.” He wondered why Hager, whose campaign website lists endorsements from several business groups, would go after a local business. In addition to its publicly traded ventures, Hollywood Media operates privately held cable and radio businesses in the Treasure Coast.

Perhaps the ad shows that Hager and the party are worried. The district, which includes Boca Raton, Delray Beach and coastal areas north to Singer Island, is only slightly Republican in terms of registered voters. Hager got just 52.7 percent in 2012. Since David Silvers has no political background, there are no votes to go after.

But unless the GOP or Hager can provide a better answer, this ad has to be considered dishonest even by the low standards of campaign ads.

Time to check in

Since May 2012, when John Goodman was sentenced to 16 years in prison for killing Scott Wilson and leaving him to drown, he has spent almost no time behind bars. He was free on bond while he appealed, and then he got a new trial due to juror misconduct.

On Tuesday, the founder of the International Polo Club in Wellington was convicted again of DUI manslaughter and failing to render aid. In plain English, Goodman got stinking drunk in February 2010, rammed Wilson’s car into a canal west of Wellington and ran away.

Naturally, Goodman will appeal again. When you’ve spent what credible people have told me could be as much as $15 million on two legal defenses, why stop now? Among other things, Goodman will argue that Palm Beach County Circuit Judge William Colbath should have allowed Goodman’s attorneys more freedom to challenge evidence about Goodman’s blood-alcohol level. The defense has claimed that the blood was improperly drawn.

On Tuesday, as happened after the first jury ruled in March 2012, Goodman was taken to jail. Soon enough, though, he will ask Colbath for a supersedeas bond. In plain English, he will ask to have his freedom until the 4th District Court of Appeal rules. Given the time to prepare and make arguments, and the leisurely pace of the 4th DCA, that could take a year.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the state attorney’s office told me that prosecutors Sherri Collins—who also tried the first case—and Al Johnson are “researching” whether Goodman is eligible for the bond and whether they will challenge it. After the first conviction, Goodman was free on a $7 million bond but under house arrest. He paid $2,000 per day for a sheriff’s detail to watch him. Colbath reduced the bond to $4 million after throwing out the first verdict in May 2013, but took Goodman off house arrest.

Goodman has been treated more then fairly. He got permission to visit his mother for four days just before she died. Colbath tossed the first conviction not because of any problem with evidence but because of a self-absorbed juror who was seeking publicity—or maybe just a date. The second trial didn’t shake any of the evidence. Indeed, the jury came back in just four hours—two hours sooner than the first jury.

Goodman’s guilt is clear. This time, he should have to wear a jump suit and live in government housing while he appeals.

Red light cameras to get the red light?

Two weeks ago, the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach issued a ruling that could strike down almost every red-light camera program in Florida.

As a result of the ruling that found Hollywood’s program unconstitutional, Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach stopped issuing tickets. For now, though, nothing is changing in Boca Raton and Boynton Beach, but for different reasons.

In Hollywood, the company that maintains the cameras also sends out the violations and helps to enforce them. The court, correctly, found that the city cannot outsource law enforcement to a private third party. Most cities operate their programs this way.

Boynton Beach does not. City Manager Lori LaVerriere said that while American Traffic Solutions—the largest vendor in Florida—does the initial screening, the city reviews all Notices of Violation and sends them out. LaVerriere calls that an “extra step of review,” and it might be enough to render Boynton’s program legal under rules the Legislature created in 2010.

Red-light critics like me have said the programs are more about raising money for local governments than making roads safer. LaVerriere said her city’s program doesn’t generate significant revenue, and that Boynton has “seen a reduction” in crashes at the monitored intersections. Still, LaVerriere said, Boynton Beach will “assess” as Hollywood appeals the ruling. Boynton Beach’s contract with American Traffic Solutions expires in 2016.

Assistant City Manager Mike Woika said Boca Raton’s system is “similar” to Hollywood’s. The violation ultimately comes from American Traffic Solutions.

Regarding money, Woika said Boca’s contract “insures that the city will not lose money. . .” He adds that the program “is not producing revenue for the city.” Regarding safety, Woika said, “There has been a general trend showing a reduction in accidents at the intersections in which traffic cameras were installed in 2012.” He added, though, that “other variables” might explain the reduction.

A better solution would be to adjust the duration of yellow and red signals at these intersections. Or the cities could do it the old-fashioned way and assign a cop.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

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Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.