Fort Lauderdale commissioners will pay after all, after attending Lionel Messi’s unveiling

The Fort Lauderdale commissioners who joined VIPs to welcome Inter Miami superstar Lionel Messi are reimbursing the soccer team.

Commissioners Pamela Beasley-Pittman and Warren Sturman said Tuesday they would write checks to cover the value of the July 16 event as soon as they get a bill.

Commissioner Steve Glassman said via text he’s already sent a check for $100, an amount “way more than the value of what I consumed.”

The Fort Lauderdale leaders, along with elected officials from Miami-Dade County, were hosted by the team in a VIP area at DRV PNK Stadium for the Messi unveiling. Some were able to chat with and get pictures with the new player and team co-owner David Beckham.

In a July 18 email, in response to an inquiry from one of the commissioner-attendees, interim City Attorney D’Wayne Spence said those who went should pay. His email to commissioners and staff was released Monday in response to a public records request.

Commissioner John Herbst, whose district includes the stadium and has spearheaded efforts to push Inter Miami to do more to live up to its development agreement, said last week he wasn’t invited, and wouldn’t have attended if he had.

Mayor Dean Trantalis was in New York for an intensive leadership and management program sponsored by the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, but said last week he would have attended if he’d been in town.

Even though there have been disputes between the city and the team over the extent to which it has lived up to its promises in developing the city-owned site into a soccer stadium and training facility, Beasley-Pittman, Glassman and Sturman said it was part of their responsibility to attend the event that received worldwide publicity.

“With everything that’s been going on,” Beasley-Pittman said Tuesday, she wanted to demonstrate “we’re trying to work together to make this relationship work for the whole city, and not make it seem as if there’s so much tension (that) we can’t work together.”

Sturman said commissioners often welcome dignitaries from other countries and recognize local businesses. And, he said, as the owners of the stadium, the city is in a partnership with the team.

Broward’s ethics code — which applies to the cities, towns and villages in addition to the county — is strict.

It states that “no elected official” may accept any gift worth more than $5 from a lobbyist who lobbies that government, or from the lobbyist’s employer. Countywide restrictions were imposed in 2010 after a series of corruption arrests in the county, then slightly loosened in 2015 to allow people to accept things of minimal value, such as a bottle of water at an event.

The county law was cited by Spence in his July 18 email to commissioners and their aides. He also cited state law requiring commissioners to report gifts worth more than $100 and a prohibition on accepting gifts from lobbyists or vendors.

Inter Miami is represented by lobbyist Stephanie Toothaker in its dealings with the city — which owns the stadium that the team redeveloped as a temporary location until it builds a stadium in Miami in future years.

Some participants said Toothaker facilitated the invitations on behalf of team owners. Spence said in his email that “it is not clear to me what entity extended the invitation.”

What is clear is that the ethics code applies to gifts from a lobbyist or an entity that employs a lobbyist. Spence advised commissioners about the $5 and said they should cover their costs.

“The facts surrounding the invitation are not very clear to me so I will provide general guidance. It is my understanding that there was no cost to attendees of this event as it was an invitation-only event. Any food or beverage consumed or entertainment experienced at the invitation-only event at the expense of the event host is a gift pursuant to both the State Code of Ethics and the Broward County Code of Ethics for Elected Officials unless the attendees who are subject to these codes of ethics provide consideration of equal or greater value within 90 days of the event,” he wrote.

Spence said attendees need to “ascertain the name of the entity from whom the invitation was extended and the costs of a food and alcoholic beverages consumed and other benefits of attendance in order to provide reimbursement to the host,” Spence wrote.

The food and beverages were modest, participants said last week, recalling items such as chicken fingers, grapes, crackers and cheese, and cookies emblazoned with the team’s logo, plus soft drinks and beer.

After season ticket holders received their free tickets, the team gave them the chance to buy more tickets for $30. But there was no charge for admission to the VIP area.

Glassman, who said last week he thinks he had “a cookie and a Coke,” said he paid $100 to cover any possible admission value, even though he said it was “debatable” if there was any.

Sturman said he always intended to pay his own way, for himself and his three adult children who accompanied him. “I asked for the invoice before I even went,” he said. Two other guests of his would pay for themselves, he said.

Sturman, who was elected in November 2022, said he always pays if there’s a cost or value. “I pay my way for everything.”

Beasley-Pittman said she would cover the cost for herself and her husband, who also attended.

“I plan to pay,” Beasley-Pittman said. “We’re just waiting for the actual figure.”

Sturman said he’d like to see all such invitations come through the city manager in the future.

Beasley-Pittman, also elected in November 2022, said she would handle a similar situation differently in the future. “Lesson learned. I will not accept any type of invitation without checking with my city attorney.”

Anthony Man can be reached at, on Twitter @browardpolitics and on