Flip-Flop on Fort Lauderdale Airport Vote

A sharply divided Broward County Commission decided to keep in place -- for now -- an $8 million airport construction contract with a Pembroke Park company that has ties to the corruption case against the late Arthur E. Teele Jr.

But minutes after the 5-4 vote, one commissioner said he wasn't sure about his vote, and commissioners decided that next week they will once again reconsider the contract with TLMC Enterprises.

Change of Heart

''Maybe I made a mistake,'' said Commission Ben Graber, who initially opposed the contract and wanted it reconsidered Tuesday. Then, he voted to uphold it, but changed his mind again after Tuesday's vote.

Commissioners had wanted to know whether Tammy McNair, the owner of TLMC Enterprises, lied in May when they voted 5-4 to give the contract to her company -- the low bidder. McNair's husband, Jacques Evens Thermilus, was the star witness in the corruption case against Teele, the former Miami city commissioner who committed suicide last month in The Herald's lobby in Miami.

Teele was indicted last December on corruption charges.

Accounts Vary

The probe centered on four largely unused parking lots built by TLMC Inc., a construction company that listed Thermilus as its chief of operations and McNair as its owner. Investigators alleged that Teele took kickbacks in exchange for helping Thermilus win lucrative CRA contracts.

Before the original May 24 vote, McNair told commissioners she did not know about charges in Miami-Dade County that her husband gave $100,000 in kickbacks to Teele. But McNair gave a different account five months earlier to state investigators, and many Broward commissioners say they felt misled -- which is why several wanted to reconsider and terminate her company's Broward contract on Tuesday.

McNair told police she was aware that Teele had come to her Miami Beach home ''to collect money'' from her husband, according to a summary of her Dec. 14 interview.

McNair told investigators that once, in late 1999, she walked into the master bedroom and saw ''two stacks of money wrapped in a rubber band on the bed.'' Thermilus told her it was $20,000, she said.

Lots of Cash

Tuesday, McNair told commissioners that her husband often kept large amounts of cash at home because of his nightclub, and that she assumed the money had something to do with one of Teele's campaigns. She never thought he was ''trying to buy a contract for TLMC.''

''I'm not a political person,'' McNair said. ''I don't know how campaign monies are raised, how they're contributed and so forth. Today, I know better.''

Several commissioners were skeptical.

''This is about the owner of a company, a company that was somehow ignorant of rampant fraud going on in her company,'' said Mayor Kristin Jacobs. ''I have always found that very difficult to believe. That's not the kind of company I would choose for work in Broward County.''

Commissioner John Rodstrom -- who originally voted for the contract but who now opposes it -- tried to pass a motion that would have forced McNair to take a lie-detector test.

''We have a reputational risk, here,'' Rodstrom said. ''How people view this county is important.''

Firm Gets a Boost

But Commissioners Jim Scott and Josephus Eggelletion argued that there was no proof that McNair's company had any problems in Broward County; in fact, there was only evidence that TLMC had done good work here, Scott said.

''If you want to go chasing ghosts, I know about five or six others,'' Eggelletion said. ''There must be a level playing field. We have to treat everyone equal under the law.''

McNair, who is black, argued that if she lost the contract the county would lose a minority-owned business and fall behind on several projects at the airport.

Her employees would lose their jobs and benefits, McNair said.

''It would drive out a business, one of the few successful black female-owned businesses in South Florida, a business that has proudly served this county and its citizens,'' McNair said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press