April 16, 2014

Government

Crisis Mode

Under fire, two south Florida elected officials respond differently.

Pat Dunnigan | 9/1/2004
There's nothing simple about overhauling a massive government agency with high-profile responsibilities. Things can go wrong.

Sometimes, say Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne and suspended elections Supervisor Miriam Oliphant, things go wrong because you are doing things right.

But while Oliphant was on trial before a Senate hearing officer in July, straining to make the case that her problems were the result of a political conspiracy and not poor management, Jenne was safely entrenched in office. The arrows of his political enemies could not make a dent, despite revelations that his office had underreported crimes.

There were moments when the two Democrats offered similar explanations for their troubles.

"I was an agent of change," Oliphant said following the second day of her trial on charges that she mismanaged her office and botched the 2002 primary.

Jenne also painted himself as the victim of his own reforms in imposing a rigid system of accountability and in overseeing the agency's dramatic growth.

"We dramatically changed the way we do business," said Jenne in an attempt to explain how the practice of underreporting crimes by downgrading them, failing to write reports and in some cases attributing them to inmates, had occurred. "We introduced an accountability system," he said.

But while Oliphant pinned her defense on a conspiracy theory, Jenne held open house. When the allegations surfaced last year, he brought in the state attorney's office. He countered a barrage of unflattering media attention with a barrage of self-examination, calling in the FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and for good political measure Republican former Attorney General Jim Smith. He admitted errors, promised reforms and began to mete out discipline. "We've been very transparent," Jenne says.

Though the matter is not completely closed -- the state attorney's office was not expected to complete its investigation anytime soon -- by late July Jenne appeared to be well on his way to re-election. His sole Democratic challenger was not expected to survive an Aug. 31 primary.

Meanwhile, Oliphant's prospects for regaining office, through either re-election or reinstatement, were seen as dim.

Tags: Politics & Law, Southeast, Government/Politics & Law

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