“Retiring” and “Ron Book” are words that never appear in the same sentence. It’s time that they did.
Ronald Lee Book made his name in South Florida as a powerhouse lobbyist. Every year, he prowls the halls of the Florida Capitol working on behalf of those who pay him well. Very, very well. How do we know? He lives in very nice house in Plantation, up in Broward County.
And he has a Lamborghini. Or at least he had one. In February 2019, the Florida Highway Patrol responded to an accident on I-595 near Nob Hill Road. Book was driving a Lamborghini which was involved in an accident where it was damaged on the front left side. Book was given three roadside sobriety tests and then booked on charges of DUI, DUI with property damage, and refusing to take a breathalyzer test.
Who are the clients whose generosity allows Book to enjoy this kind of lifestyle? We don’t know all of them, but we do know the 91 clients that he disclosed prior to this year’s Florida legislative session. They include companies like 7-11, Coca-Cola, 1-800-Contacts, and AutoNation. They also include charities like Casa Familia, Inc., Miami Project/Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, and his daughter’s charity for abused children, Lauren’s Kids. Then there are the counties, Miami-Dade, Broward, Seminole, and Brevard. He lobbies for Miami-Dade Public Schools, Jackson Health System, and the University of Miami.
He represents a conglomeration of cities and towns, such as Aventura, Bal Harbour, Cooper City, Coral Gables, Dania Beach, Davie, Doral, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers Beach, Lauderdale Lakes, Marathon, Marco Island, Margate, Miami Beach, Miramar, North Bay Village, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Palm Bay, Sunrise, and Tamarac.
It’s no wonder that Ron needed a Lamborghini. He needed a fast car to meet up with clients spread all over the state.
Ron even represents The Geo Group, Inc., which has a contract with Florida to run private prisons, a rock quarry in north Miami-Dade County whose blasting jars the nerves and foundations of the folks in Miami Lakes and Miramar.
There is no question that Ron is a busy guy. But is he too busy to head up the Homeless Trust here in Miami-Dade? The Legislature’s two-month session means that he’s based in Tallahassee during those weeks, as well as the weeks that the House and Senate committees meet to mark up and consider bills. That, and given that he lives in Broward County, means that he naturally can’t focus on the homeless issue like he should.
Yet. Book admits that he is more than a “hands-on” chairman. Although the Trust has hired Victoria Mallette to be the Executive Director, no one is authorized to speak on behalf of the Trust except Ron. I’m not the first person to say that Ron Book has an outsized ego. That’s probably a necessary quality as you prowl the corridors of the Capitol looking to buttonhole a freshman legislator to get enough votes to pull something out of a committee.
It’s not necessary or desired for someone who wants to be the sole voice of an agency that has spent over half a billion dollars of taxpayer money over the last decade. Book often comes across with an attitude that he is doing the County and the people a favor by hanging onto the chairmanship long after ordinary mortal would have been shown the door.
The Homeless Trust is composed of 27 leaders in the County. (The Homeless Trust website appears to be a bit out of date because it still lists Tomas Regalado as Mayor of the City of Miami and Francis Suarez as a Miami Commissioner.) The Trust isn’t a direct service provider. Its 16 employees don’t scour the streets and underpasses daily, recruiting the homeless into programs to get them off the streets.
The Homeless Trust Board is supposed to meet monthly but there was no meeting held in January of this year. More troubling is that the Board and its committees don’t publish an agenda or the minutes of its meetings online. Even an agency as toothless as the Commission on Ethics and the Public Trust has been able to figure out how to do both.
The Homeless Trust lives on an extra one-percent sales tax slapped on the bills at some restaurants, except for establishments in Miami Beach, Surfside, and Bal Harbour. That, together with federal and state grants, comes to about $90 million a year. Its job is to determine which private programs merit support. It is a filter through which our tax dollars flow.
Book has served on the Trust’s Board since 1994 and has been its chairman since 2006. The County Commissioners has repeatedly waived the board’s six-year term limit so that Book can retain his seat. Why? It could be that Book is a prodigious fundraiser for County Commission candidates.
For years the Trust has been criticized for attempting to solve a long-term problem like homelessness using short-term solutions like temporary housing. Ron’s been at this for over a quarter of a century. While he’s done some good, the problem is no closer to being solved that it was when he was a founding member of the Homeless Trust Board.
It’s time that we thanked Ron Book for his service and looked for new leadership to solve this old problem.