By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Michael E. Miller
This past January 26, inside the Miami-Dade County Commission chamber in downtown Miami, Dorrin Rolle played MC for an early-morning ceremony honoring several government employees celebrating 30 years or more of county service. As usual, the "Ghetto Governor" as the county commissioner is affectionately known by his family, friends, co-workers, and supporters was dressed impeccably in a dark two-piece suit, crisp white shirt, brilliant pink tie, and matching breast-pocket handkerchief.
A roly-poly man with a slight limp, Rolle strutted to the podium, cracking one-liners to the county workers sitting in the audience. "You came in here looking like you lost a dollar and found a dime," Rolle, speaking into a microphone, crowed to one solemn-faced bureaucrat.
"Sorry that we can only give you a plaque," Rolle later quipped, "but that is all the budget would allow." He chuckled, revealing a broad smile that sparkled like the gold bracelets and pinkie rings adorning his hands. "I want you to feel good about this because we need to laugh as often as we can," he philosophized. "It's therapy."
Rolle continued his routine for about another half-hour until he was interrupted by a belated birthday surprise. (He turned 61 this past January 14.) The commissioner's children, grandchildren, friends, and several dozen well-wishers from the James E. Scott Community Association (JESCA) the storied social service agency where Rolle earns an annual $167,528 as president and chief executive emerged through a side entrance and filled the meeting hall. The master of ceremonies had become the guest of honor. "Nobody told me they declared a national holiday where I work!" Rolle bellowed, eliciting raucous laughter from the crowd.
"We wanted to recognize you today," explained Miami-Dade employee relations director Maria Casellas, who helped organize the surprise. "But you have to be quiet or else forget it," she warned Rolle.
For the next hour, department directors, assistant county managers, commission colleagues, family, and other Rolle fanatics took turns heaping praise on him. "My father has sacrificed so much to make a difference to so many people," said his daughter Yvette. "For that I will always admire him."
She closed with one of Rolle's favorite catch phrases: "Daddy, ya done good!" A beaming Rolle grabbed Yvette in a bear hug. "Who taught you those big words?" Rolle asked.
During the love fest, Rolle received a plaque, a proclamation, and a painting of a young black father holding a newborn babe. Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz trotted out a birthday cake with candles. Commissioner Rebecca Sosa serenaded him: "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday our governor, happy birthday to you!"
Finally Rolle reclaimed his microphone duties. "The governor doesn't have a word to say," he said. "I just thank God for allowing me to awaken this morning." Had he known about the surprise, Rolle continued, he probably would have skipped the meeting. "But it sure feels good to be honored!" he gushed. "I just like to see and make people laugh and smile because you never know when a storm is coming your way."
For the past eight years, Rolle has lorded over a district of 102,000 residents that encompasses the village of El Portal, Miami, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Liberty City, and Opa-locka. During that span, he has been a darling among high-rollers who do business with Miami-Dade County.
Yet for all the adoration Rolle receives at county hall, he is generating as much revulsion in the historically black, violence-plagued neighborhoods he represents. His reliance on campaign contributions from county hall vendors and lobbyists, many of whom are not black and live outside his district, has dented Rolle's street credentials. According to neighborhood activists and inner-city residents, Rolle is more interested in helping the individuals who keep him in office than the people he represents.
Four years ago, Rolle narrowly escaped a runoff against first-time candidate and Haitian-American political activist Lucie Tondreau, who capitalized on Rolle's dependence on big-money contributors by painting him as the special interests' candidate. Today Rolle is entering the final leg of his re-election campaign and is facing another viable opponent in Phillip Brutus, the first Haitian-American elected to the state legislature.
To defend his seat this time around, Rolle has raked in $361,485 in campaign contributions raising $253,625 in a three-month span earlier this year. Most of that cash rolled in during several fundraisers hosted by some of the most prominent movers and shakers doing business at county hall. And the primary is still two months away.
Rolle is also battling accusations that he has mismanaged JESCA's finances and abused his position as county commissioner to benefit the nonprofit.
A recent audit by Miami-Dade County Public Schools revealed JESCA racked up $175,500 and $15,000 in bank charges in 2004 and 2005, respectively. The school system is among several local, state, and federal government agencies that supply funding for JESCA, an 81-year-old organization that runs a myriad of social service programs such as helping ex-offenders obtain schooling and jobs, and providing low-income families with daycare and early-childhood education.
According to its 2004 financial statement, JESCA had overdrawn its bank accounts by $331,299. In essence the organization was using grant money meant to help inner-city youths stay in school to cover bank fees and pay salaries with cash it did not have on hand.
Rolle is also facing an ethical quandary: The same people who do business with the county and are contributing to the Rolle re-election campaign donate money to JESCA in effect, ensuring the ghetto governor remains gainfully employed.
For example, auto dealership magnate and real estate developer Alan Potamkin has been a regular JESCA contributor, donating thousands of dollars to the nonprofit. For the past two and a half years, Potamkin had been negotiating with Miami-Dade officials on a land deal that would have seen the county spend $25 million to $30 million to condemn several properties along NW Seventh Avenue so Potamkin could develop a massive auto dealership mall. It's no secret Rolle has been Potamkin's go-to man on the commission.
This is not the first time Rolle has crossed the ethical line. In 2002 he pleaded no contest and paid a $750 fine for violating the county's code of ethics. An investigation by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust charged Rolle with conflict of interest for lobbying county officials on behalf of JESCA and using his influence to have Miami-Dade Police provide security at a reggae festival that benefited the agency.
Robert Jarvis, a Nova Southeastern University law ethics professor, says Rolle has a conflict by raising money for JESCA from the people who lobby him. "That is definitely a problem," Jarvis notes. "When he goes around asking for donations, how are people going to say no to him?"
Critics like Brian Dennis, a member of the Brothers of the Same Mind a vocal group of reformed ex-criminals who advocate for jobs, better housing conditions, and business development in the inner city say Rolle has failed his constituents. "I don't know why they call him the Governor," Dennis hisses, "because he ain't governing shit."
Rolle supporters, however, defend the commissioner's track record. "It is easy to criticize until you are in his seat," says local attorney and JESCA vice chairman Larry Handfield. "But Rolle has always been committed to improving the quality of life for those who feel they have been left behind. He is the voice of the underprivileged."
But whether Rolle's troubles are dampening his usually congenial disposition is difficult to say. The ghetto governor, who normally enjoys taking center stage, ignored repeated overtures to discuss JESCA's private fundraising efforts and its finances, as well as the opportunity to respond to his detractors. He instructed New Times to fax him a list of questions, but then did not answer them nor return repeated phone calls over the course of two weeks.
Times have certainly been good for Rolle, who has a knack for replacing men who have fallen from grace. In October 1992 Rolle assumed JESCA's top executive post following a scandal that saw the agency's former leader, Archie Hardwick, convicted of grand theft. In 1998 Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed Rolle to replace County Commissioner James Burke, who had been indicted on public corruption charges.
Rolle was born in Liberty City on January 14, 1945, when segregation reigned in the Magic City. He graduated from Miami Northwestern Senior High School, where he played defensive end for the varsity football team. He attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, where he obtained his bachelor's degree in early education in 1967. He also earned a master's degree from the University of Northern Colorado.
In 1966 Rolle married Judith James, a nurse who worked at Mount Sinai Medical Center and Miami Heart Institute in Miami Beach. During 37 years of marriage, the Rolles had three children who in turn produced five grandchildren. In 2003 Judith succumbed to breast cancer. But even in mourning, says Miami attorney and Rolle supporter Al Maloof, Rolle never showed his grief. "He always had a smile," Maloof recalls, "even though you could tell tears were running down his face."
After graduating from FAMU, Rolle worked as a Miami-Dade Public Schools teacher before moving on to JESCA in 1972. Handfield first met Rolle when the future JESCA vice chairman was a fourth-grader at Nathan B. Young Elementary School in Opa-locka. Rolle was his teacher. "He was tough," Handfield recalls. "He was a no-nonsense disciplinarian."
Today Handfield, who is also chairman of the Public Health Trust, the agency that runs Jackson Memorial Hospital, is among Rolle's closest allies. "I've seen how the people he helps gravitate toward him," the soft-spoken executive says during a recent interview. "He's made a tremendous difference in the black community. It's why he's known as the Governor."
Alfred Balsera, a public affairs consultant who used to work for former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, recalls meeting Rolle for the first time during a 1994 local Democratic Party event hosted by Governor Chiles. "He reminded me of an old-school neighborhood boss who knew everybody on the streets," Balsera describes.
Sometime in June 1996, Balsera recollects, Penelas kicked off his campaign for mayor with a breakfast attended by 2000 people. "Rolle was responsible for busing in a large group of blacks," Balsera says.
Penelas was running against Arthur Teele Jr., one of the most beloved and respected elected officials in the black community. Yet Rolle backed the Cuban-American candidate instead of his fellow black politician. "He experienced some backlash in his community for what he did," Balsera says. "It showed me at the time that [Rolle] didn't succumb to ethnic politics."
In the end, Rolle's gambit paid off. Penelas beat Teele and served two full terms as county mayor. Rolle was among Penelas's reliable allies on the county commission. His relationship with Miami-Dade's first executive mayor gave Rolle access to a network of business people and community leaders he didn't have before, Balsera says.
It is a network Rolle has tapped into during his last and current campaigns for re-election. During a recent interview, lobbyist Sylvester Lukis acknowledged hosting a Rolle fundraiser at his client Alan Potamkin's Coral Gables palace that netted nearly $37,000 in campaign contributions in one day. "Rolle is a good commissioner," Lukis says. "He does a phenomenal job."
According to his campaign finance reports, Rolle has collected $9000 from Potamkin and $7000 from home builder Sergio Pino. Ex-felon and former-Hialeah-councilman-turned-affordable-housing-developer Silvio Cardoso, his family, and business partners kicked in $6500.
Others who generously gave to the Rolle re-election drive included H.J. Russell & Company a firm that holds a multimillion-dollar contract to manage the redevelopment of the James E. Scott and Carver public housing projects in Rolle's district and the Miami office of law firm Genovese Joblove & Battista, where Miami-Dade planning advisory board chairman Al Maloof is a partner. Maloof, his law firm, his consulting company, and several Genovese lawyers contributed $2250 to Rolle.
Maloof, who is registered as a lobbyist representing twenty companies, including his own law firm, says he supports Rolle because the Governor has done a good job fostering economic development and supporting youth-oriented community organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boy Scouts of America. "He takes care of the community," Maloof says.
It's one of those unbearably sticky Miami afternoons. Liberty City activist Brian Dennis is strolling through the desolate construction site that used to be the James E. Scott and Carver public housing compound on NW 22nd Avenue, between 68th and 75th streets. Dennis's shoulder-length dreadlocks and scruffy beard are beginning to sprout a few gray coils, possible signs of wear and tear from more than eight years of community activism.
The 39-year-old Dennis was among the hundreds of community activists and former residents who unsuccessfully fought Miami-Dade County's plans to replace Scott-Carver with a controversial redevelopment project that displaced 800 low-income families nearly 3000 inhabitants. "Rolle got rid of entire families," Dennis gripes. "All the residents won't be able to afford to come back. Sure, you'll find a few. But what about the rest of them?"
For more than 50 years, Scott-Carver was the epicenter of the drug-related crime and violence that envelopes Liberty City. Three years ago, the county razed most of the 850-unit military barracks-style apartment complex, paving the way for a mixed-income community consisting of more than 400 affordable single-family homes, townhouses, and low-income apartments. Demolition of the remaining empty 314 units is set to begin later this year.
From day one, Rolle has been the controversial project's champion a fact that has significantly hurt his standing among his core constituents in Liberty City. Even though he led the chorus of promises that residents would be given the opportunity to return once the redevelopment was complete, community activists assert most of Carver's denizens will not be able to afford the new homes.
Had James Burke not been indicted, the Scott-Carver redevelopment would have been dead in the water, Dennis relays. "Burke may have been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but he grew up in Scott," Dennis says. "He wasn't going to allow it to run like that. Now you see what Rolle did."
Gihan Perera, executive director of the Miami Workers Center, an organization that assists inner-city residents, says Rolle has been a disappointment and has lacked the leadership to really help his community.
Throughout the struggle to stop the razing of Scott-Carver, Perera says his group tried to impress upon Rolle the importance of listening to the residents' concerns about being uprooted from the gritty place they called home. "If he didn't step up and take care of these people," Perera recalls, "then he was going to lose his core constituency."
Instead, Perera continues, Rolle ignored the residents. For instance, on September 6, 2002, fifteen members from Low-Income Families Fighting Together (LIFFT) a grassroots coalition of Scott-Carver residents stormed JESCA's headquarters on NW 54th Street to deliver a letter urging Rolle to attend an upcoming community forum. The group accused Rolle of refusing to meet with them to hear their concerns.
At a June 22, 2004 county commission meeting, Rolle prevented LIFFT members from commenting about a county report showing a disproportionate number of vacancies in the county-owned housing project. "We've asked Rolle to meet with us many times, and he has never responded," says LIFFT member Jearline Borders.
To date, only four new single-family houses have been built on the former public housing site. Those were developed by Habitat for Humanity, which has a contract with the county to build another 52 homes. Construction won't commence on the remaining 354 townhouses, single-family residences, and public housing apartments until at least 2008, according to a recent housing agency report.
Of the 800 families, only 56 have qualified to purchase a home in the new development.
On the other hand, Balsera notes that Scott-Carver was a blight on the community. "It was not a situation that offered hope or optimism to anyone who lived there or in the surrounding community," Balsera opines. "He made the tough decision to displace all these families in exchange for building a much better community. That shows he is willing to make political sacrifices for long-term gain."
But for inner-city residents like Dennis, Scott-Carver's demolition is demonstrative of Rolle's inability to lead. Rolle promised jobs to people in the community but has not delivered, Dennis seethes. While contractors and builders who contribute to Rolle's campaigns win the rights to redevelop the community, black-owned firms are not getting any of the work, Dennis adds. "Where is the economic development?" he questions. "I have young brothers coming up to me every day asking me about jobs. No one wants to be selling drugs on a street corner."
Dennis should know. He has publicly admitted to selling drugs in the past. In 1991 he was convicted of felony possession of marijuana, and in 1994 he was twice convicted of felony aggravated battery.
Rolle is worse than the young black men killing each other over turf and dope-game supremacy, Dennis says. "Rolle is like a tribal chief in Africa who will kill his entire tribe and put them in mass graves," he sneers. "He is killing us all at once by doing nothing."
Unless there is a dead body and television cameras, the hood doesn't see Rolle, Dennis complains. Indeed there was Rolle, along with County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, holding a rally in late May to exhort witnesses to help police solve the murders of three black Carol City teenagers killed in a seven-month span. Just recently Rolle was among local black politicians who attended a prayer vigil for nine-year-old Sherdavia Jenkins, who died from a gunshot wound to the neck while playing with a doll on her front stoop.
Dennis extends a hand and points to the empty tract that was once Scott-Carver. "Whenever the powers-that-be want something done, they get a puppet," Dennis rhapsodizes. "Rolle is not the king of the chessboard. He doesn't have any rooks or bishops. He is just one of the pawns."
In 1972 Rolle took a job as a social worker for JESCA, an organization that dates back to 1925, when ex-U.S. Army Capt. James E. Scott founded the Colored Association for Family Welfare, a community center and day nursery. The nonprofit later changed its name in honor of its founder.
Today JESCA is the largest social service agency in the southeastern United States. According to JESCA's 2005 financial statement, the agency generated $8.4 million in revenue most of it from local, state, and federal grants.
For instance, JESCA receives roughly three million dollars annually from the federal government's Head Start/Early Childhood Development program to provide subsidized preschool and daycare, as well early-childhood education, to low- and moderate-income families.
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice pays JESCA $827,820 a year to run Floyd House, a juvenile probation and rehabilitation program with two sites in Miami-Dade. Since 2004, the City of Miami has awarded JESCA $390,000 in public service grants. Last year Miami-Dade County gave $1.8 million to the organization.
Through government funds administered by the United Way of Miami-Dade, JESCA receives an estimated $300,000 a year. Between 2003 and 2005, Miami-Dade Public Schools kicked in $1.8 million to pay for JESCA's Roving Leaders program, developed by Rolle to help potential dropouts graduate from high school and receive job training.
Rolle's first assignment was working with juveniles on the streets of Liberty City. In the late Seventies and through the Eighties, Rolle ran the agency's ex-offender program, which assists people released from jail with obtaining schooling, jobs, and counseling.
In 1991 JESCA's longtime chief Archie Hardwick and fiscal director George Thoroman were accused of swindling the social service agency out of public funds meant to help the needy. Hardwick was forced to step down. On April 6, 1992, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office charged Hardwick and Thoroman with grand theft. Prosecutors alleged Hardwick spent $800,000 of the organization's money on luxury cars, women, jewelry, and a nose job. Three years later, Hardwick was sentenced to 60 years in state lockup. He died in a prison hospital in 1997. Thoroman pleaded guilty in 1997 and was sentenced to four and a half years in jail.
In October 1992, after Miami lawyer and former Florida Secretary of State Jesse McCrary helped reorganize the reeling agency, JESCA's board selected Rolle as its chief executive over two other finalists. McCrary, then the nonprofit's chairman, hailed Rolle's appointment as a big step toward JESCA's recovery.
During the first weeks as JESCA's new leader, Rolle took steps to improve the morale of more than 200 employees, setting up a retirement benefits program and a credit union. In conjunction with the board and some of JESCA's private benefactors, Rolle added financial safeguards such as providing detailed monthly financial reports to the board of directors.
Richard Dunn II, a former Miami commissioner and head of the People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality (PULSE), credits Rolle for turning JESCA around. "He overcame insurmountable odds, and he has been a stabilizing force for JESCA," Dunn says.
But as a county commissioner, Rolle is compromised, says Dunn. Rolle cannot draw a hard line against the county manager and his fellow county commissioners because the Ghetto Governor relies on them to approve hundreds of thousands of public dollars for JESCA, Dunn offers.
Rolle also must tread carefully on controversial issues in the City of Miami, Dunn adds. "He has some 200 employees relying on him to pay their salaries," he says. "He also has to factor in his own salary. His main concern is his meat and potatoes."
Rolle's job at JESCA also creates a dilemma for his fellow county commissioners, observes Judy Nadler, former mayor of Santa Clara, California, and a senior fellow at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. "[Rolle] may recuse himself when his nonprofit comes up for a vote," she says. "But his colleagues know he runs the organization, so that may influence the votes on the board."
On December 7, 2005, the Miami-Dade County Public Schools audit committee, while reviewing JESCA's 2004 financial statement, detected some disturbing banking practices at the social service agency. The association's cash bank accounts were overdrawn by $331,299 and, as a result, JESCA had to pay $175,502 in bank fees and late charges. The committee ordered school district auditors to investigate JESCA's books to determine if the nonprofit had improperly spent the money for the Roving Leaders program.
This past April 26, the auditors reported back to their bosses after examining JESCA's finances from January 2004 through February of this year. The district's financial analyzers noted JESCA had reduced the amount of bank charges to $15,000 in 2005. But in a memo to the audit committee members, chief auditor Allen Vann stated JESCA's financial management "needs substantial improvement."
Auditors discovered JESCA had deposited Roving Leaders money into two general bank accounts that were in the red. "The district's funds may have been used to pay [bank] fees as well as late charges," Vann concluded. He also said the agency used the money to cover payroll shortfalls and overhead costs of other JESCA programs.
Among other findings, Vann and his team determined that the district overpaid JESCA $114,090 and that the nonprofit did not properly monitor student attendance.
Later that day, even though the Governor had not declared a national holiday, Rolle, JESCA board members, and agency employees filled the school board meeting chamber where the audit committee discussed the latest findings.
Rolle's usually congenial personality was missing in action. He complained that returning the $114,090 was "not fair, not right." The Governor claimed the loss of dollars would have a disastrous impact on Roving Leaders. "It would virtually close the program," Rolle said. "It would shut us down."
Committee chairman Jeffrey Shapiro wasn't buying Rolle's theatrics, and chastised him for blaming the district. "I am concerned that your institution, which is a vital part of our community, is not being run as it should," Shapiro informed Rolle. "You are an articulate and obviously a bright man. I think you need to take a look in the mirror and use that big r word, responsibility, and not pass the buck."
Rolle insisted there is no financial crisis occurring under his watch. In a letter to the Miami Herald, Rolle asserted that all of the agency's contractual obligations are being met. "JESCA is confident that an inspection of its finances will confirm that these bank service charges do not represent malfeasance or misfeasance," Rolle wrote.
Board vice chairman Handfield says there is nothing wrong at JESCA. "When grant money comes in late," he says, "there is not much you can do. But you still have to pay employees, and obligations have to be met." No one, he said, is abusing or taking money out of JESCA's programs. Besides, Handfield says, JESCA has obtained a credit line to fill funding gaps. "It's just an unfortunate event," he pleads. "But that's the past."
Handfield says it would be disingenuous for anyone to accuse Rolle of mismanagement because of the bank charges. "Anyone who says that is ignoring the facts," he comments.
The association's board of directors certainly appears to be satisfied with Rolle's performance. In 2004 he received an eleven percent raise, bumping his salary to $167,528. That doesn't include fringe benefits like his pension. By comparison, JESCA's second-highest-paid employee, executive vice president Sylvia Styles, receives an annual $79,141, about half of the Governor's take-home pay.
At the July 12 regular school board meeting, schools superintendent Rudy Crew requested that his bosses terminate JESCA's contract before it expired at the end of this month. "My concern is the financial irregularities," Crew told the board, which rejected the superintendent's recommendation by a 5-4 vote. Had the school board gone along with Crew, JESCA would have been precluded from obtaining district funds for the next two years. "To frame this issue on fiscal responsibility is unfair," said board member Robert Ingram, whose district overlaps Rolle's commission district.
Following the meeting, Rolle was relieved, but admitted he has a lot of work to do if JESCA wants to continue receiving district funds. "During the next month, the onus is on us to convince the superintendent and some of the board members that we are providing quality education to the kids in the Roving Leaders program," he said.
This past June 20, the regular monthly county commission meeting is halfway to its monotonous conclusion. The Governor is sitting between Chairman Joe Martinez and Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz. Rolle is wearing a white long-sleeve guayabera and black dress slacks. His gold bracelets and pinkie rings, as usual, radiate. He grills Assistant County Manager Cynthia Curry on the availability of county funds for affordable housing. "My concern is what is currently in the account," Rolle says. "I may have some projects placed on hold.... I do want mine to go forward."
In the audience, one of county hall's usual suspects, a high-power lobbyist who asked to remain anonymous, recalls that back in 1998, days after Rolle's appointment to the county commission, the lobbyist began receiving invitations to JESCA fundraisers from local land-use attorneys with business before the county. "There was, like, one every week attended by lobbyists, vendors, zoning lawyers, and anyone who had something live before the county," the professional arm-twister remembers. "All of sudden, JESCA was everyone's favorite charity."
Every year, JESCA holds an annual dinner during which the agency collects thousands of dollars from private benefactors in the community. The association raised $300,000 at last year's annual dinner. It gleaned another $100,000 from private donations not tied to the gala. Rolle did not respond to New Times's questions about the identity of JESCA's private donors. He would not disclose whether his developer buddies, like Sergio Pino and Alan Potamkin, have given to JESCA.
But Sylvester Lukis, Potamkin's lobbyist, says he, the auto magnate, and several other clients have regularly contributed to JESCA though not because they are trying to curry favor with Rolle, Lukis counters. "Anybody who's anybody in Miami-Dade County has given to JESCA," Lukis rattles. "It is a tremendous organization."
Rolle was the leading advocate of a plan that would have allowed Potamkin to develop a massive auto mall along NW Seventh Avenue. Had the deal gone through, the county would have spent $25 million to $30 million in condemning land that is currently home to several decades-old businesses.
Lukis claims the auto mall would have been a "legacy project." His client was going to deliver on 487 new jobs at salaries starting at $50,000 a year, Lukis says.
Besides, there is no conflict, because JESCA is not a money-making enterprise, Lukis says. "I could understand if JESCA was his private business," he asserts. "But does this mean that if you're the pope, you can't raise money for Catholic Charities?"
Planning advisory board chairman and lawyer Al Maloof says that in the past Rolle has contacted him, soliciting his law firm to buy tables for JESCA's gala. However, Maloof adds, he has always respectfully declined. "He wasn't a strong sell," Maloof relates. "I don't interpret him as the guy who twists arms. His pitch is very inviting."
Any suggestion that Rolle is using his position as a county commissioner to elicit donations for the social agency is wrong, Maloof says. "Yes, he calls around and asks for money," Maloof allows. "But if a commissioner gets in my face, I'm going straight to the inspector general."
Holland & Knight zoning lawyer Felix Lasarte is another county hall regular whom Rolle taps to raise funds for JESCA. However, Lasarte attests, Rolle has never asked him to contribute to the agency when they have met regarding a county-related issue.
"He has asked me to help, and I have," Lasarte says. "I've asked clients to help out with tickets to the annual gala. And I've had clients donate to [JESCA's] bike drive so they can give bicycles to poor kids in the inner city."
Nevertheless, ethics experts say, Rolle does have a conflict of interest because he is in a position to vote in favor of a contract or land-use items that would benefit the lobbyists, vendors, and developers who give money to JESCA. At that point, the contribution ceases to be voluntary, opines Santa Clara University's Judy Nadler. "He runs the organization," she says. "He still receives a salary. It could be interpreted that he is using his political position for some type of gain."
Nova Southeastern University law ethics professor Robert Jarvis adds that Rolle creates two problems by raising money for JESCA through people who do business with the county.
On one hand, someone who cuts a large check to JESCA might feel entitled to Rolle's vote, Jarvis explains. On the flip side, lobbyists and their clients might feel compelled to give the nonprofit money out of fear Rolle would vote against them.
"There is an appearance of impropriety," Jarvis affirms. "He really should not be soliciting or accepting money from people who have business pending before the county commission."