Hallandale commissioner Anthony Sanders resigns amid allegations of wrongdoing

Hallandale Beach Commissioner Anthony Sanders and Jessica Sanders

UPDATE, Aug. 11 By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org:

Hallandale Beach City Commissioner Anthony Sanders resigned his commission seat today on the heels of a scathing report from the Broward Inspector General’s Office that said he “engaged in a pattern of misconduct” in the awarding of city grants and other funding.

“To the residents of Hallandale Beach and Mayor Joy Cooper…I have decided to end my term as Commissioner of the City of Hallandale Beach effective today,” Sanders said in his resignation letter. He said in his letter there was “toxicity” on the current commission.

Sanders, a commissioner for nine years, had generally supported Cooper in controlling the commission majority until the most recent election.  He denied any wrongdoing in his formal response to the IG report, which was finalized earlier this week.

City commissioners next week are expected to call a special election to fill Sanders’ seat because there is more than a year remaining on his four year term.

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org 

July 11 – A preliminary report by the Broward Inspector General’s Office says Hallandale Beach City Commissioner Anthony Sanders “engaged in a pattern of misconduct” when he “failed to disclose payments” made to him and other family members by a community group which Sanders voted to give thousands of dollars in city grants and other funding.

The July 7 report obtained by Florida Bulldog also said that Palms Community Action Coalition Inc. (PCAC) made contractual payments to Higher Vision Ministries, where Sanders is the pastor and the only paid full-time employee. The report adds that Sanders solicited and received contributions for the church from developers seeking to do business with the city.

PCAC is a Hallandale Beach-based nonprofit organization that provides job training and community development services to local residents.

The various payments occurred during a three-year period in which Sanders voted in favor of PCAC, according to the report.  “Commissioner Sanders continued taking a salary from his employer, continued accepting significant payments from PCAC on behalf of his employer, failed to abstain from voting, failed to disclose the voting conflicts to the voting body either verbally or in writing, directly and indirectly solicited developers to give contributions to his employer, and accepted those contributions on behalf of his employer,” the IG report stated.

The report said the Inspector General plans to refer the office’s findings about Sanders to the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Hallandale Beach city commission “for whatever action those entities deem appropriate.”

“We are filing against Commissioner Sanders an ethics complaint charging a violation of the Broward code of ethics to be tried by an administrative hearing officer,” the report said.

If sustained, the allegations would violate provisions of state, county and municipal codes that prohibit elected officials from receiving anything of value to influence their vote, take any action that provides undue benefit to family members and require refraining from voting to avoid conflict and disclosures in such cases.

The report apparently stems from an investigation opened by the IG’s office, as reported by the Florida Bulldog in June 2016, involving the city’s Community Benefit Program (CBP). The program requires contributions from private developers vying for city projects over $1 million to help fund recruitment, training and hiring of city residents and purchasing from local vendors.

PCAC partnerships

According to the IG documents, it was Sanders who “initially promoted the idea that local workers should be included in city development.” The city requirements made it difficult for developers to win a city contract without a program partner, which had to be named in bidding documents. The IG said PCAC was frequently designated as “partner” in bid documents.

The Bulldog story said investigators were looking for voting conflicts in their review of city commission and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) minutes. The inquiry came three years after the IG found the city “grossly mismanaged” millions of dollars in CRA funds. Sanders was investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing in the IG probe four years ago, but did not escape criticism in the latest probe.

Sanders did not return calls seeking comment on the Inspector General’s latest assertions.

The new investigation of Hallandale Beach covered a period from January 2013 through December 2015. During that time city commissioners, including Sanders, approved direct grants to PCAC three times and development contracts that included the group as a “benefit plan partner” seven times, according to the report.

The city requires companies seeking contracts above $1 million to set aside funds for things like job training programs.

The 10 grants and development contracts ultimately “benefited PCAC a total of approximately $893,320,” the report said. Funds collected from successful bidders were later transferred to PCAC, amounting to $695,870; the balance came from city grants.

The report outlined the connection between the commissioner and the community group. “The OIG [Office of Inspector General] substantiated that PCAC made contractual payments to Higher Vision Ministries…, that PCAC employed his [Sanders’] son; and that PCAC also made other consulting and employment payments to the commissioner’s wife and another son.”

Payments to Sanders’s wife

According to the report, PCAC paid Sanders’ wife, Jessica, for consulting and grant writing and paid two of Sanders’ adult sons for part-time employment. Jessica Sanders had been involved with PCAC in 2011. “We found that PCAC directly paid the commissioner’s immediate family a total of approximately $7,588 between January 2013 and December 2015,” the report stated.

In addition, the report said that PCAC made monthly $1,000 payments to Higher Vision Ministries to transport job trainees to classes. But, it added, neither the church nor PCAC documented any rides. The IG said it determined PCAC paid Higher Vision approximately $27,000 for 613 miles of transportation service – or about $44 for “each accountable mile” under the agreement.

“In all,” the report said, “PCAC paid Commissioner Sanders’s employer and immediate family a total of approximately $38,688 during this three-year period.”

“Following one of Commissioner Sanders’s votes in November 2013 for a Hallandale Beach multi-million public workers project that included PCAC as a community benefit plan partner, PCAC paid an extra (that is, over and above $1,000 per month) $2,000 to Higher Vision Ministries with a memo notation of Donation/Pastor’s Appreciation,” the report stated.

In another instance, the report said, “…following city commission approval for direct city funding to PCAC between October and November of the following year [2014], it [PCAC] made extra payments totaling another $2,100 to Higher Vision Ministries.”

“As described in this report,” the IG report stated, “the commissioner was well aware of the nature of these conflicting relationships and their bearing on the propriety of his voting. Yet, Commissioner Sanders admitted that he did not disclose these relationships or payments to the public at any time during the period he voted to benefit PCAC.”

The IG report said investigators “also established that, while they were at city hall for a commission meeting involving one of the development votes, Commissioner Sanders solicited one of the project awardees to make a direct contribution to the Higher Vision Ministries church, who then asked a second developer to do the same. Their companies’ two donations to the church totaled $1,100.”

 

Hallandale freezes payments for city development, jobs programs citing waste & fraud

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org 

Hallandale Beach City Manager Roger Carlton

Hallandale Beach City Manager Roger Carlton has ordered what could be a multi-million dollar freeze on all payments under two city jobs and business development programs, saying they “have lost their way.”

Carlton acted about what he said was “waste” and possible fraud weeks before a report by county investigators became public last week that accused City Commissioner Anthony Sanders of failing to disclose payments he received from a local community group awarded city funds, including money under the two programs, with his backing.

In a June 5 memorandum obtained by Florida Bulldog, Carlton, who was appointed city manager by a new reform-minded city commission majority, expressed outrage about the flawed city programs and public apathy about them.

“I am angry about this situation,” Carlton wrote. “… It is extremely disappointing that there is no outrage in the community about these programs. No demands for reform have been publicly made to date. No complaints regarding the fact that public funds, which should have been utilized effectively to build capacity of local contractors, or help individuals find work can be found.”

In a preliminary July 7 report, the Broward Inspector General’s office said Commissioner Sanders “engaged in a pattern of misconduct” when he “failed to disclose payments” made to him, other family members and his church, Higher Vision Ministries, by a jobs development group, Palms Community Action Coalition (PCAC) during a three-year period. Sanders voted to give PCAC three grants and backed seven funding agreements under the Community Benefit Program (CBP), resulting in the PCAC receiving a total of $893,320 from 2013 through 2015, according to the report.

Carlton’s directive was aimed at the CBP and the Hallandale Opportunity Project (HOP), the city’s administrative arm created to monitor job development, including placement and training, and the purchase and use of local subcontractors and residents, by firms that won contracts. Those gaining contracts under the program pledged a percentage of the contract to hire residents and subcontractors and/or earmark funds to train and create jobs for residents.

“It’s not a pretty outcome,” Carlton said in a brief interview with the Florida Bulldog, adding “millions of dollars” are at stake. The city manager also said the city will “recover as much as possible” of any misused funds.

“I have directed the Finance Department and the Capital Improvement Division to cease making any payments to consultants, contractors, design/engineering firms and/or individuals under the CBP/HOP program until a complete review … can be completed,” Carlton said in his memo.

Exception to freeze for a handful

“The only exception to this payment freeze,” he wrote, “will be to those individuals and firms who are doing actual physical work or are in a verifiable training program at a job site, and who are qualified participants due to their employment and residency status.”

Jeremy Earle, assistant city manager, has been placed in control of the troubled programs and was directed to reform them. The city’s review of the programs, Carlton’s memo said, “will include an analysis of waste, fraud and abuse.” It added, “Without equivocation, there has been waste. Fraud and abuse will be determined.”

“If necessary,” Carlton stated, “the results of our review will be brought to the appropriate authorities for their determination.”

In his memo, Carlton said the city must retool the programs – not terminate them — and make them effective by using “best practices across the country… We must also eliminate providers that are not contributing to program goals.”

The new controversy surrounding the Hallandale’s CBP is similar in some aspects to that involving the city’s troubled Community Redevelopment Agency, which came under investigation by the Broward Inspector General Office five years ago. The findings: The city’s CRA lacked effective city oversight, agency funds were mixed with city funds, a good deal of spending lacked documentation, and policies changed frequently or were not adhered to. The IG found $2.2 million in questionable CRA expenditures from 2007 to 2012, including inappropriate loans and grants to local businesses and nonprofits.

The IG’s new probe – as reported by Florida Bulldog in June 2016 – was already underway when Carlton took over as city manager on Feb. 6, 2017.  He didn’t like what he found surrounding the CBP and HOP.

“During the past six years, the CBP and the HOP programs have lost their way for a complex variety of reason,” Carlton said in the memo. Successful bidders for city contracts “have contributed to the CBP and HOP at a rate which has grown so rapidly since the recovery of the Great Recession, that there are not enough small contractors of unemployed/underemployed workers in the city of Hallandale Beach to feed into the program.”

The programs ran afoul, he stated, because:

  • Program personnel for both the city and companies awarded contracts were hired often without a competitive process or without demonstrating the ability met the goals of the programs.
  • City monitoring staffers were not given “uniform standards or criteria… to follow” and were not included in negotiations to understand CBP provisions of each contract; and sanctions for failing to comply were less severe than the cost of complying.
  • “City administrators did not demand the excellence and fair-dealing required for the effective use of public funds. That is our fault, and the city administration will resolve these issues going forward.”
  • “The city commission also needs to shoulder some of the responsibility for the difficulties in this program. The rumors, confrontations, accusations and innuendos regarding abuses in the CBP/HOP are not new. When my predecessor brought a series of reforms on October 19, 2016, these reforms were approved by the city commission in a 3/2 vote…, but were not made a priority. The turmoil that swirled around city hall at the time, in part, allowed the need to implement the reforms as a priority of the organization to go unmet.”

In its July 7 report, the Broward IG also stated that Commissioner Sanders solicited and received contributions from developments seeking to do business with the city under the CBP program during the period of the investigation.

The IG report revealed some possible payment discrepancies that could receive closer review by the city:

  • PCAC had an agreement to pay $1,000 a month to Higher Vision to transport job trainees to Sheridan Technical College in Hollywood, with payments totaling $31,000. But the report said no services were provided after May 16, 2015. It also said the city provided free bus passes to the trainees to get to the school.
  • The city provided $17,000 from October 2014 to September 2015 for PCAC to send 10 women to Sheridan Technical to receive training as nurse aides. But six of them dropped out.

Hallandale Beach halts advertising in local newspaper where mayor is a columnist

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org 

A column by Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper in the Sun Times

Hallandale Beach city commissioners have pulled the plug on city advertising in the local Sun Times newspaper featuring articles by Mayor Joy Cooper that drew fire from commission colleagues as “propaganda” for the mayor.

Cooper used the platform regularly before and after the weekly newspaper received a favorable — and controversial — $50,000 loan from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). The Sun Times, according to city documents, has been paid nearly $400,000 in city advertising to publicize events since 2003, most of the money coming after the loan was made during the 2008-2009 budget year.

The Florida Bulldog published a story about the loan, which later became a matter of interest to the Broward Inspector General’s Office in its 2012 probe. While the IG stated the Hallandale Beach CRA had “grossly mismanaged” millions of dollars, tallied $2.2 million in questionable expenditures and made inappropriate loans and grants to local businesses and non-profits, there was no finding of wrongdoing in the city’s Sun Times loan.

“The whole thing is a propaganda paper for the mayor,” said Commissioner Michele Lazarow, who moved at the Dec. 7 meeting to halt funding immediately.

While not voted on, the measure gained consensus support from the new majority of the five-member commission, and city staff said it would not place any more advertisements in the newspaper. Cooper had left the meeting before the item came forward.

In the past, the newspaper had the support of Cooper and commissioners who backed her. Lazarow, Vice Mayor Keith London, a long-time Sun Times critic, and newly elected Commissioner Anabelle Taub successful pushed the item to halt further advertising.

“The Sun Times is the mayor’s pulpit or podium for her to spin the truth,” Lazarow said at the meeting. “It has become a political rag during the political season.” Making matters worse, she added, the newspaper was unfair by not accepting or allowing “rebuttal.”

“I’m appalled that city funds go to the Sun Times,” Taub said at the meeting. “We should not fund the mayor’s political propaganda and personal vendettas and attacks.”

Taub said she was incensed during her recent election campaign when the Sun Times printed personal information about her that “could be used to commit fraud on me.”

“They have a one-sided view of city hall,” said London, adding that a reporter from the newspaper rarely attends a city commission meeting.

Mayor: ‘I will continue writing’

“They are entitled to their opinion,” Cooper told a reporter in response to the criticism from her commission colleagues. “I report on city business. I will continue writing. Everything I write is edited by an editor and it’s their choice to use it.”

Cooper began writing for the Sun Times in 2003, the year she became mayor. Her opinion piece last week was about Dr. Martin Luther King and political protest.

 

Sun Times officials said they were unfazed by the funding cutoff. “The commission has every right to do so,” said Craig Farquhar, president of the South Florida Digest, which publishes the Sun Times. As for the accusation that the newspaper has been a forum for the mayor’s propaganda, he said, “That’s their political opinion.”

The money paid by the city to the Sun Times, Farquhar added, “was to promote city events.”

City records showed that between 2003 and 2008, the city paid the Sun Times about $32,000 for advertising – an average of about $6,400 a year. But the relationship changed the following year.

That’s when the Sun Times became the first city business to receive a loan under a new program, funded through the CRA, to retain and to assist firms having financial difficulties. It received a 10-year $50,000 loan, with half of it forgiven, to be paid at two percent interest; the loan balance of approximately $7,500 is expected to be paid off in July 2019.

What raised questions about the newspaper’s financial problems was that Farquhar and another official of the newspaper, Cecile Hines, were each paid an average of over $200,000 in 2007 and in 2008, the years before the Sun Times received the city loan.

City advertising in the Sun Times, after the loan approval, also began to escalate. From 2008-2009 until the end of 2016, the city paid the newspaper $362,929, averaging more than $45,000 yearly during the past eight years, according to city documents.

 

New majority on Hallandale commission wants to know: Where did CRA millions go?

Update: Jan. 23 – Hallandale Beach city commissioners Monday night gave initial approval to hiring an accounting firm to conduct a forensic audit of the city’s long troubled Community Redevelopment Agency.

Sitting as directors of the CRA, the commission designated the firm of Stanley I. Foodman, CPA & Advisor, to work with newly appointed City Manager Roger Carlton to determine the audit’s scope and cost. Carlton will present their proposal to commissioners for approval at a meeting next month.

Vice Mayor Keith London, who presented the item that won unanimous approval, said the audit will determine the CPA fund balances dating back to 2012, when a CRA fund was first established. The audit will also review prior land purchases by the CRA that forced $7.4 million in cuts from the CRA budget.

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org  

The Hallandale Beach City Commission. From left to right: Anthony Sanders, Anabelle Taub, Mayor Joy Cooper, Vice Mayor Keith London, Michele Lazarow

The new majority on the Hallandale Beach City Commission will seek the first-ever forensic audit of all expenditures by its troubled Community Redevelopment Agency for the past five years, including finding out why $7.4 million had to be cut to balance the agency’s budget this fiscal year.

Current Vice Mayor Keith London and Commissioner Michele Lazarow had been frustrated in seeking such an audit by the previous commission majority headed by Mayor Joy Cooper.

The November city commission election resulted in London and Lazarow gaining the backing of new City Commissioner Anabelle Taub. Cooper was reelected, but failed to gain another commissioner to back her and her ally, Commissioner Anthony Sanders. They’re expected to vote on the audit, aimed at determining whether any wrongdoing occured, later this month.

“Let’s see where the money went,” London said. “We are going to get to the bottom of this.”

The new commission trio already has flexed its power in a remake of city hall.

It was responsible for the ousters of City Manager Daniel Rosemond and City Attorney Lynn Whitfield, and replacing them with long-time South Florida government administrator, Roger Carlton, and a new city attorney, Jennifer Merino. Merino was general counsel for the Broward Inspector General’s Office, which investigated and severely criticized the spending practices of the city’s CRA four years ago.

“It’s time to clean house of the city manager and the city commission … the collusion,” Lazarow said.

Now the new commission majority will be seeking answers about the spending of the much-troubled CRA.

‘We need to find out’

“We need a full forensic audit [of the CRA],” London said. “We need to find out about the $7.4 million, and we need to know what we have left.”

London was referring to last August when city commissioners, who are also directors of the CRA, were forced to cut $7.4 million from the proposed $25.9-million CRA budget for this year after being told by the city administration that the agency had counted land purchases by the agency as cash.

At that meeting, then City Manager Rosemond said an “adjustment” had to be made — the city commission had no choice but to approve the budget cut.

Prior to that, London said the city manager had given commissioners assurances that cash was available to the CRA, only to learn that the value of the city-purchased land by the CRA cannot be counted as cash.

Both London and Lazarow lobbied for a forensic audit of expenditures at that time, but lacked a third vote. The commission instead voted to seek a forensic audit that delved only into CRA land purchases.

Making matters worse, London said, Rosemond later came back and told commissioners that he was unable to engage any firm willing to conduct the forensic audit of land purchases — and, therefore, no firm was hired.

That all changed, however, with the November city commission election. Lazarow was reelected, along with newcomer Taub. London was not up for reelection.

Now in the majority, London said he wants audit to cover CRA spending back to 2012, the first year city commissioners established a separate funding account for the agency.

“We need to know what we have,” he said.

“We have to inquire about the $7.4 million,” said Lazarow, adding she plans to back London’s request for a forensic audit when he brings it up for a commission vote. Taub, who was not available for comment, is also expected to back the request.

City co-mingled CRA funds

Prior to 2012, the city had co-mingled CRA funds with city funds. That practice started in 1996, when the CRA was established under state law. The agency has been funded through property tax increases in the CRA boundaries.

It was only when the Broward Inspector General’s Office began its probe and issued a scathing report that some changes were made, including separating CRA-collected funds from other city tax revenues. Florida Bulldog had reported about questionable loans to local businesses and land purchases through the CRA nearly a year before IG investigators descended on city hall in April, 2012 seeking records and questioning officials as the probe became public.

After a 14-month investigation, the Inspector General’s Office in 2013 stated the Hallandale Beach CRA had “grossly mismanaged” millions of dollars in funds between 2007 and 2012. It found $2.2 million in questionable expenditures by the CRA, including inappropriate loans and grants to local businesses and non-profits, as well as the improper use of bond proceeds.

Before and after that report, London asked for a forensic audit of agency funds, but was outvoted by his commission colleagues.

Mayor Cooper denied the city had done anything wrong. The city commission majority at that time then ousted the agency’s recently appointed CRA executive director, Alvin Jackson, who won praise by the Inspector General for efforts to improve the CRA.

The city commission, over the objections of London, placed the agency once again under the direct management of the city manager. Except for Jackson’s short tenure, city managers have had full control of the CRA since 1996, during which the agency failed to keep adequate records, including changing loan and grant policies in violation of existing rules.

Both London and Lazarow said they are pleased with the new appointees, in particular Merino, 36.

“She has knowledge of our city,” said London, referring to Merino’s work with the agency that investigated the city’s CRA.

“Merino has a history [with the city],” Lazarow said. “She has been watching our meetings.”

Carlton, 69, has held several key positions with public agencies, among them: Miami Beach city manager (1992-1995), executive assistant Miami-Dade county manager (1977-1981).

Broward’s Inspector General probes Hallandale Beach CRA – again

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org 

Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper is flanked on the left by Commissioners Keith London and Michele Lazarow and on the right by Commissioners Bill Julian and Anthony Sanders. The commission also sits at the city CRA's board of directors

Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper is flanked on the left by Commissioners Keith London and Michele Lazarow and on the right by Commissioners Bill Julian and Anthony Sanders. The commission also sits at the city CRA’s board of directors

The Broward County Inspector General’s Office has launched another inquiry into Hallandale Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency, three years after finding the city “grossly mismanaged” millions of dollars in CRA funds.

The first probe led to reform and a grand theft charge against the director of a local cultural program for misspending CRA grant money. What triggered the new probe, however, isn’t known.

“I cannot comment,” said Inspector General John W. Scott, who leads the independent watchdog agency that investigates allegations of fraud, corruption and gross mismanagement at the county and Broward’s 31 municipalities. He’s asked the city and the CRA to submit the requested information by July 1.

A key focus of the inquiry, however, is the city’s Community Benefit Program (CBP). The program seeks to encourage private development and city-funded projects to recruit, train and hire city residents and local vendors.

Tuesday’s letter to the city from the Inspector General’s Office requested a variety of CRA documents from Jan. 1, 2013 to the present. They include: all voting conflict memos submitted by city commissioners, who also serve for directors of the CRA; the minutes of all city commission and CRA meetings; a list of all bid solicitations with a Community Benefit Program component as well as documentation from vendors identifying specific partners to be engaged in the program.

In addition, Inspector General Scott’s office requested documents related to two groups that received grants from the city and the CRA: the Palms Community Action Coalition and the South Florida Educational Development Center.

The latest inquiry set off another disagreement among city officials.

“While the CBP has good intentions,’’ said City Commissioner Keith London, “it is my belief the program has been hijacked and abused by insiders who have used their power and influence to steer contracts and jobs to unqualified persons and companies for no other reason than their political connections.”

London said residents should “review the voting record of each commissioner who has blindly supported the CBP policy, every CBP expenditure and bid sheet awarding millions of taxpayer dollars to firms whose major qualification was their connection to city hall.”

But Mayor Joy Cooper, who has differed bitterly with London in the past, played down the significance of the IG’s records request.

We have been in compliance”

Cooper cited the city’s Hallandale Opportunity Program that monitors grants and contracts. She said the program’s monthly reports have indicated compliance with city provisions, including by the Community Benefit Program. “We have tightened up” controls over grants and contracts, Cooper said. “We have been in compliance.”

City Manager Daniel Rosemond added the same internal group has monitored city funds going to South Florida Educational Development Center and there have been “no performance issues.”

Rosemond likewise sought to downplay the significance of the Inspector General’s inquiry, observing that he merely asked for some records.

“This is not an investigation,” Rosemond said in an interview, adding “I don’t believe there is anything substantive” to the inquiry, but rather that the IG has received some information and “has a fiduciary responsibility to look at it.”

In an email to commissioners, Rosemond said, “The nature of the [IG] request appears to center around the city’s Community Benefit Program, its administration and recipients.”

Palms Community Action Coalition members could not be reached; South Florida Educational Development Center members did not return calls for comment.

Palms Community Action Coalition (PCAC) is a group attempting to prevent and reduce crime, drug abuse and gang activity. The coalition came under scrutiny during the Broward Inspector General’s previous probe – although there was no finding of wrongdoing. Under a three-year agreement with the city, PCAC has received a total of $306,000.

According to state documents, the South Florida Educational Development Center, established six years ago, is a non-profit group that provides educational job training for youth and adults in underserved areas. It received $45,000 last year and again this year, and will receive the same amount next year under a three-year agreement ending Sept. 30, 2017.

City Commissioner Michele Lazarow said she and Commissioner London have questioned the effectiveness of the Community Benefits Program. In some instances, she said, city funds appeared to be going to only a few groups. There is also concern that some firms receiving city contracts may be having trouble fulfilling promised job slots because there are not enough qualified workers in the city.

A city ‘investigated twice’

“I wonder how many other Broward County cities have been investigated twice,” said Lazarow.

Commissioner Anthony Sanders could not be reached for comment. Vice Mayor Bill Julian said he could not comment because he hadn’t seen the IG’s letter.

In March 2013, after a 14-month investigation, the Inspector General’s Office found $2.2 million in questionable expenditures by the Hallandale Beach CRA between 2007 and 2012, including inappropriate loans and grants to local businesses and non-profits, as well as the improper use of bond proceeds.

The city, the report stated, improperly spent $416,000 in CRA money for parks outside the CRA boundaries. The spending, which was not always documented, was often done at what amounted to the whim of former City Managers Mike Good and Mark Antonio, the report said.

The Hallandale Beach CRA, like other similar agencies in other municipalities, was established under a state law that allows the agency to raise and spend a large portion of increased property tax dollars collected within the CRA’s boundaries on projects aimed at eliminating slum and blight. Nearly 50 percent of those funds come from Broward County, which approved establishment of the agency.

While city officials contended that all expenditures were permissible under state law, the Broward IG cited in its report a 2010 opinion by Florida’s Attorney General that CRA expenditures must be connected to “brick and mortar” capital projects.

At the conclusion of the last investigation, Hallandale Beach officials denied wrongdoing and challenged the authority of the Inspector General to oversee the city’s CRA.

Nevertheless, the city ultimately made changes as a result of the probe that included updating its CRA development plans and adopting procedures for awarding grants. The city also announced plans to repay the CRA for funds used for parks outside the CRA boundaries.

The IG’s finding also led Broward prosecutors to charge Palm Center for the Arts (PCA) director Deborah Brown with grand theft in May 2014. The IG reported finding probable cause to believe that Brown spent nearly $5,000 in CRA funds on herself and her family. The funds were designated by the city in 2010 to send children on a trip to Washington, D.C.

The criminal case remains pending in Broward Circuit Court, with the next hearing set for Sept. 22.

Hallandale Beach skyline to change with massive Diplomat expansion

By William Gjebre, Florida Bulldog.org 

A rendering of the proposed four-tower project adjacent to the Diplomat Golf Resort and Spa in Hallandale

A rendering of the proposed four-tower project adjacent to the Diplomat Golf Resort and Spa in Hallandale

A proposal for a massive, four-tower project in Hallandale Beach featuring three hotels, 938 rooms and a 250-unit high-rise condominium under the Diplomat brand will be officially unveiled to nearby residents at a meeting Thursday in the city’s Cultural Center.

The four towers will elevate the city’s skyline and represent a significant expansion of an existing 60-room hotel at the Diplomat Golf Resort and Spa, placing its room count on par — and then some — with the nearby 998-room Diplomat Resort and Spa, on Hollywood Beach.

The project is estimated to cost $100 million.

Hallandale city officials said owners of the new mixed-use development, to be called the Diplomat Hotel and Country Club, have said the two facilities are not directly tied and are apparently separate operations. Previously media reports, however, have linked the two to the Thayer Lodging Group of Annapolis, Md.

The two facilities will nonetheless share facilities, with country club visitors being able to use the beach services at the Diplomat in Hollywood beach, whose visitors will be able to use the golf course a short distance away in Hallandale Beach.

In this early planning stage, the biggest challenge facing owner-developer Diplomat Golf Course Ventures LLC is the project’s impact on local traffic.

Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Miller

Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Miller

“This is a significant development,” said Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Miller. “There is fear from the community about traffic.” But, she added, “We will work with the developer to see how to mitigate the impact on the surrounding community.”

“The traffic impact is a big concern,” said City Commissioner Michelle Lazarow, adding little information has been presented to nearby residents to date.

Other commission members, Mayor Joy Cooper, Vice Mayor Bill Julian, Keith London and Anthony Sanders, did not respond to requests for comment.

The developer’s lawyer is Debbie Orshefsky, with Holland & Knight. She did not return phone calls seeking comment, but instead had former State Rep. Joe Gibbons call.

Gibbons said the huge project “will blend in” with the property and surrounding area. Still, he noted “everyone wants to know about the traffic.” He said traffic questions would be addressed at Thursday’s meeting.

Gibbons said the new Diplomat Hotel and Country Club would cost close to $100 million and make Hallandale Beach even more of a tourist destination than it already has become and add to the city’s tax base.

“We will learn more after the presentation,” City Manager Miller said.

The make the project a reality, Diplomat Ventures will be seek various proposed zoning changes. They include establishing a planned development use for the property and rezoning some commercial land for residential use.

Those changes would allow for construction of three hotel towers of 20, 24 and 30 stories, 70,000 square feet of retail and other accessory hotel space and another 30-story residential tower with 250 units. The developer will also seek to rezone six-tenths of an acre near the existing marina to allow for four new single-family homes.

City officials said the 100-acre golf course itself would remain unchanged. All the new construction will take place on 12-15 adjacent acres.

The development group is sponsoring Thursday’s community meeting at 6 p.m. in the Cultural Center, 410 S.E. 2nd Ave.

Hallandale’s Development Review Committee (DRC) and its Planning and Zoning Board will review the project. If the project passes muster there, it is expected to go to the City Commission for approval next year.

The Miami Herald reported in 2014 that Diplomat Ventures, an affiliate of Thayer Lodging Group and Concord Wilshire Management, paid $20 million for the 18-hole golf course and hotel, at 500-501 Diplomat Parkway. The Herald also reported then that another Thayer affiliate, Diplomat Hotel Owner LLC, bought the Diplomat Hotel and Spa for $460 million.

Gibbons said he was unaware of the relationship between the two facilities, but added they are apparently operated separately.

South Florida winning war against saltwater intrusion, but it’s not cheap

By Ann Henson Feltgen, FloridaBulldog.org 

An illustration of saltwater intrusion. Courtesy: floridaswater.com

An illustration of saltwater intrusion. Courtesy: floridaswater.com

Saltwater intrusion leading to contaminated drinking water wells has long been feared in South Florida. But, billions spent on measures to protect our water supply — mostly paid for by utilities and their customers — have paid off so far.

The invisible underground barrier separating salt and fresh water is holding saltwater back to the 1995 boundary or even farther east, scientists say.

“This is a success,” said U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) hydrologist Scott Prinos, who helps monitor saltwater intrusion in Miami-Dade County. “The question is: As we move into the future and with population increases, will these measures continue to be effective?”

The barrier between fresh and saltwater — called the saltwater interface — preserves the pristine water in the 3,000-square mile Biscayne Aquifer that supplies potable water to about 5.8 million residents in South Florida and the Florida Keys.

The struggle to forestall saltwater intrusion began in the 1930s when canals were dredged to drain the Everglades, Prions said. As water levels declined in the spongy aquifer, saltwater that is heavier than fresh water, began to flow inland. Population pressure drought, and higher sea levels all play a part in interface movement. Although the interface is stable, it imperceptibly ebbs and flows seasonally.

Florida receives an average of 54 inches of rainfall per year, much of which seeps into the ground and refills the aquifers. This year’s rainy season officially began May 10 and is expected to be above normal in May and June, then below normal through the remainder of the season, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But those predictions can be trashed by a tropical system hitting South Florida, an agency official noted.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), which governs potable water for South Florida, has for years been nudging municipalities to control their water usage by adopting conservation measures, installing reverse osmosis plants that can convert the brackish water from the deep Floridan Aquifer into drinking water and storing water during the rainy season for use in dry periods. Last year, these conservation measures were mandated by state law.

Previously, the carrot at the end of the water district’s stick was a water use permit that allows specific withdrawal amounts from the Biscayne Aquifer for up to 20 years. Now South Florida communities and counties are spending billions of dollars to adopt the latest technology and build new facilities, passing along the cost to residents and businesses in increased fees. For its part, the water district has been upgrading and monitoring water control structures that also retard saltwater intrusion, said Pete Kwiatkowski, a SFWMD hydrologist and manager of the resource evaluation section.

The agency also provides substantial grants to cities, special districts and utilities for these projects. The agency issues a request for proposals, then reviews the projects based on a list of criteria and available funding. The projects must be considered nontraditional such as aquifer storage and recovery, reverse osmosis plants and reclaimed wastewater used for irrigation. Since 1997, the agency has approved $1.4 billion in funding for 488 projects.

Broward County offers cities within its borders grants through its Integrated Water Resource Plan.

PROBLEM AREAS WELL KNOWN

Saltwater intrusion hot spots include wells in Lake Worth, Dania Beach, Lantana, Hallandale Beach and Miami-Dade County, which is much more susceptible to intrusion because of its low elevation. Miami-Dade serves as the water utility for the entire county.

“The cities with saltwater intrusion are pretty well known,” Kwiatkowski said. “Saltwater intrusion is not creeping up on us and there are no big surprises.”

One area of concern has been Lake Worth where the saltwater interface moved west because the city was pulling more and more water from the Biscayne Aquifer.

“As part of our 20-year permit with South Florida Water Management District, we had to build three additional wells farther west and abandon five older wells east of I-95,” said Larry Johnson, director of the Lake Worth water utility.

The city also agreed to build a reverse osmosis plant and draw water from the Floridan Aquifer to reduce its reliance on the Biscayne Aquifer.

“We now take half of our water from the Floridan Aquifer,” he said. “Having two sources of water gives us a long-term, sustainable solution. Recent reports indicate that we are controlling the saltwater and the boundary is stable.”

The Floridan Aquifer covers much of the southeast U.S., including Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, and is one of the most productive aquifers in the world, according to the U.S. Geological Service. In South Florida, however, the aquifer lies 3,000 feet below the surface and is filled with brackish water.

The Biscayne Aquifer sits above the Floridan Aquifer, just below the surface in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Its water is much purer and needs less treatment that water in the Floridan Aquifer.

The cost of the new wells, plants and infrastructure came to more than $30 million. Several million dollars was financed through a state low-interest revolving fund and some of that will be forgiven, Johnson said. Otherwise, the city self-funded the capital project and increased rates to users.

“We raised our [water] rates beginning in 2010 in phases over a period of years,” he said. “Residents are pretty accepting of the rate increases and we worked to keep them at reasonable levels, as compared to surrounding communities.”

Miami-Dade County, which provides potable water to 2.6 million residents, businesses and visitors, launched a capital improvement program for water and wastewater projects two years ago.

The $4.1 billion potable water plan includes replacing a 100-year-old reverse osmosis plant in Hialeah that the county co-owns with the city of Hialeah, building another reverse osmosis plant in the southern part of the county that will draw water from the Floridan Aquifer and shutting down five small well fields, according to Doug Yoder, deputy director of operations for the Miami-Dade County Sewer and Water Utility.

“Those well fields were built in the 1920s, 1950s and 1960s,” he said.

The projects were mandated by the county’s water use permit, approved in 2012.

“We are funding these projects through the state revolving loan fund that we pay back,” he said. “That’s our only source of revenue outside of our own funding.”

The county as well as other counties and cities do receive grants from the South Florida Water Management District for water conservation activities that encourage people to use less water and gives rebates for fixtures that are low flow, such as toilets and shower heads, he added. Miami-Dade County receives about $25,000 per year for these efforts.

Customers are covering the project costs through a 6 percent rate increase put into effect last year and another 6 percent increase recommended for this year’s budget. “We have had few if any complaints about the increase,” Yoder said.

Yoder said the county might apply for a grant from the SFWMD for its reverse osmosis plant when it is to be built.

Sometimes changes made by a water utility can come at little or no cost as was the case with Lantana, said Jerry Darr, director of the city’s water utility.

“South Florida Water Management District noticed that our salinity was increasing and suggested we shift our water draws to wells farther west,” he said. “The eastern wells are still operating, but we just use them less so we don’t lose them.”

The cost to the city and customers was negligible, he said.

WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?

Much has been said about the effects of climate change and what it may mean for South Florida’s potable water supply.

Eric Draper, executive director Audubon of Florida

Eric Draper, executive director Audubon of Florida

“It’s too early to declare a victory over saltwater intrusion,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, which supports and stresses conservation of natural resources including water. “Saltwater intrusion is also a matter of sea level rise and we don’t know what will happen.”

He said water use projections are fairly flat and water managers have done a good job in instituting conservation measures, especially Cooper City, which won the Audubon’s water conservation award last year.

“As sea levels rise, it puts more pressure to move the saltwater that’s underground. I don’t know if we have studied that yet,” he added.

Barry Heimlich, a retired engineer for the petroleum and pharmacology industries who now devotes time to warning of the impact of saltwater intrusion, is concerned about the Biscayne Aquifer. While he acknowledges that much has been done, more actions could be taken, he said.

“As the sea level rises, saltwater pushes inland like a parabolic curve – the deeper you go the more saltwater there is and it moves inland,” he said. “Some wells have become contaminated and were moved inland and that will probably continue. Even a small amount of sea rise can have a very large effect.”

He worries that rising sea levels will not only submerge coastal cities in saltwater, it could “flow north and contaminate the headwaters of the Biscayne Aquifer,” Lake Okeechobee.

Scientists agree that climate change is a factor, but say efforts are taking place to save the aquifer and, as technology continues to advance, more strategies will come into play.

USGS’s Prinos said South Florida governments are working together to identify areas of concern and come up with proactive solutions.

“We maintain salinity control structures, relocate wells that are very close to the coast farther west and we are using [best] practices with water conservation and some cities are using reclaimed water for irrigation,” he said.

Dorothy Sifuentes, also a hydrologist with the USGS, said some municipalities in South Florida are looking at aquifer storage and recovery as another means to stabilize the aquifer. “Some are considering, discussing and planning the idea of storing water from the rainy season for later use,” she said.

She added that the four South Florida counties have banded together in a coalition that is concerned about water resources as well as climate change.

The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact was formalized following the 2009 Southeast Florida Climate Leadership Summit. Elected officials came together to discuss challenges and strategies for responding to the impacts of climate change, according to the agency’s website. The compact outlines ongoing collaborative efforts among the compact counties (Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe) to foster sustainability and climate resilience.

“They are developing a regional approach to this resource,” Sifuentes said.

Prinos added that technology now allows pinpointing where the saltwater interface is and if it is moving east or west. During mapping in 2011, the agency deployed helicopters equipped with electromagnetic technology that can precisely determine where the interface is located. Formerly, the salinity in sentinel wells along either side of the interface was used to determine if saltwater was moving.

“In some cases, we had the front farther west than it really was,” he said.

“As we move into the future, we will continue to be vigilant, watching and considering ways to hold it back.”

Ann Henson Feltgen can be reached at ahenson@browardbulldog.org

Hallandale commissioners cash-in on new travel allowance policy they approved

By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org hallandalecityhall

Hallandale Beach’s new travel reimbursement policy has paid big dividends to city commissioners less traveled.

Five Hallandale Beach city commissioners pocketed nearly $35,000 of their unspent travel allowances last month under the new policy they enacted last year. Previously, unspent travel funds were returned to the city’s general budget.

The new policy, in place since Oct. 1, 2013, allows commissioners to take home any money that’s left in their individual travel accounts at the end of the city’s fiscal year.

Four commissioners got checks from the city shortly after Hallandale Beach’s fiscal year ended on September 30. A fifth commissioner, Alexander Lewy, got his travel allowance payout when he resigned in May. The payouts represented salary boosts of up to 53%.

Mayor Joy Cooper was the only commission member to turn down the payout. Cooper, who spent more city funds traveling than all of the other commissioners, declined $2,781 in unspent funds from her $15,000 travel budget, according to city officials. Cooper traveled extensively to attend local, state and national meetings and conferences.

The five commissioners combined spent $10,145.

“I have no problem receiving it,” said Vice Mayor Bill Julian of his additional income. “It was budgeted money and better than asking for a pay raise.”

“If they wanted a raise they should have voted for one,” said Cooper, who responded in an email to the BrowardBulldog.org. “Elected officials should be here to serve the public, not make a living.”

Julian, who spent only $201 on city travel, got the biggest travel payout, $11,882. His $10,000 allowance as a commissioner was increased by another $2,083 when he was appointed vice mayor to succeed Alexander Lewy, who resigned in May. The increase was to cover more extensive traveling expected of Julian after he took over for Lewy.

Julian said he was “surprised” when he received a note from City Manager Renee Miller increasing his travel budget. The additional funds, he added, were authorized under the new city commission travel policy approved.

This was the total of Julian’s travel spending for the city last year: $125 to attend three local community functions before becoming vice mayor, and another $80 to attend a church sponsored dinner-dance in Dania Beach after he became vice mayor.

“I didn’t go on many trips,” Julian said. He explained that he is the chief caregiver for his 91-year-old mother and found it difficult to be away for “more than a day or two.”

Commissioners Michelle Lazarow and Anthony Sanders each had travel accounts of $10,000. Lazarow spent $2,527 and was reimbursed $7,473. Sanders spent $3,844 and got a check for $6,156.

Commissioner Leo Grachow, appointed to the commission in May to replace Lewy, spent $76 from a pro-rated $4,167 travel account. He received a payout of out $4,091. Grachow lost a re-election bid this month to Keith London, who was sworn in to replace Grachow on the commission on Nov. 17.

Former Vice Mayor Lewy’s travel account for his seven months in office the past fiscal year was $8,750. He spent nearly $3,500 and got paid more than $5,200.

Excluding Cooper, the five commission members received payouts for unspent travel totaling $34,855, or 77.4 percent of their budgets totaling $45,000. Under federal laws, the travel payouts are considered income and taxable.

City commissioners received an annual salary of $22,378 last year. The travel payouts boosted the city income for Julian, by 53 percent; Lazarow, 33 percent; and Sanders, 27%.

Sanders, who did not respond to requests for comment, joined with Julian and Lazarow in voting to approve the travel reimbursement policy in a 3-2 vote in July 2013. Cooper and Lewy were opposed.

Lazarow, said via email that she now has some concerns about the policy and plans to ask the city commission to review it.

“In light of what has transpired since the policy was enacted, I do not believe the item [was] properly vetted, and as result, I will be bringing this back for reconsideration in the near future,” Lazarow stated.

Meanwhile, the city commission will be operating under the same travel policy during the current fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Hallandale city manager’s going away gift of public money to departing commissioner

By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org 

Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Miller, ex-Vice Mayor Alexander Lewy

Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Miller, ex-Vice Mayor Alexander Lewy

Thanks to Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Miller’s generosity, former Vice Mayor Alexander Lewy collected a tidy gift of taxpayer cash after he quit the city commission last May before his term was finished.

To make it happen, Miller liberally interpreted a new and controversial city rule that commissioners’ enacted last year. The rule allows them to pocket thousands of unspent city dollars every year from their annual travel accounts.

“I made judgment calls,” Miller said when asked about the city’s $5,253 farewell payout to Lewy.

Miller said she decided Lewy was entitled to a payout even though he left his commission seat just seven months into the fiscal year. Likewise, she acknowledged hiking Lewy’s payout by raising his yearly travel account to $15,000. Commissioners’ standard travel budget per year is $10,000.

“I didn’t ask for it,” said Lewy, who quit to work for a lobbying group. He pointed out that he voted against allowing city commissioners to be paid for unused travel funds.

Lewy compared the travel fund payouts to other city benefits, like health insurance. “It’s not my fault that I benefited by it,” Lewy said. “I didn’t receive anything I didn’t deserve.”

Lewy said the commission authorized the increase to $15,000 as a way of providing additional funds for the mayor and commissioners who travel more on city business, but the approved resolution says each would receive $10,000 apiece. The city manager was also authorized to establish “an additional travel account” to cover such travel.

At the July 2013 meeting where the new travel policy vote was taken, Miller suggested $5,000 more for Mayor Joy Cooper plus an additional $5,000 for those traveling frequently on behalf of the city, according to city commission video.

In interviews, Commissioners Michele Lazarow and William Julian raised concerns about Miller’s payout to Lewy. Each said the city administration should have asked the commission’s approval before increasing a commissioner’s travel budget beyond $10,000.

“It was not voted up,” Lazarow said, adding the higher budget for Lewy “is a surprise.”

“It’s not right to get money if he leaves” before the end of the budget year, Julian said. He said the notion that anyone would leave early wasn’t contemplated when the policy was adopted.

Without consulting the commission, Miller said she decided to pay Lewy for unused travel on a prorated basis for the year. She also authorized $15,000 travel accounts for both Lewy and Cooper, who also voted against the travel payout policy, because they were tasked with attending numerous local, state and national conferences and meetings on the city’s behalf.

When Lewy quit he’d only spent $3,497 of the $10,000 in his city account. Miller, however, pro-rated his payout based on a $15,000 travel budget.

The city manager’s calculations allowed Lewy to receive nearly $3,000 more than he would have had his benefit been calculated using the standard $10,000 travel budget.

In 2012-2013, both Cooper and Lewy traveled extensively on the city’s behalf, each exceeding their $10,000 travel budget. The commission approved an extra $5,000 for both that year.

Records show that through Aug. 18, Cooper had spent $10,814 in travel. If she spends no more by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, she’ll be entitled to a payout of $4,186 from her $15,000 travel account. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Here is the comparable travel spending for the three commissioners who voted to approve the travel policy. The number in parentheses is the current amount each would be due after Sept. 30: William Julian, $277 ($9,723); Michele Lazarow, $2,333 ($7,667); Anthony Sanders, $3,844 ($6,156).

Commissioner Leo Grachow, appointed by the commission in May to fill Lewy’s seat, has a $5,000 travel account this year. He’s spent $76, and stands to collect $4,924 after Sept 30.

 

Broward to seek return of CRA tax dollars mishandled by cities; Millions at stake

By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org 

Broward Administrator Bertha Henry and attorney and FAU professor Frank Schnidman

Broward Administrator Bertha Henry and attorney and FAU professor Frank Schnidman

Broward will seek the return of county property tax dollars from city community redevelopment agencies that hoarded that money instead of spending it on projects to fight slum and blight that are ready to get underway, according to County Administrator Bertha Henry.

The county’s toughened stand follows recent findings by Broward’s Inspector General that Margate deliberately mishandled $2.7 million in CRA funds. It also comes amid fresh criticism about the way Hallandale Beach allegedly handled its community redevelopment funds.

Frank Schnidman, an attorney and senior fellow at Florida Atlantic University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, said in an interview that Hallandale Beach appears to have mishandled $12.6 million in CRA funds – an allegation disputed by a top city official.

“They lost track of the money,” Schnidman said. “They were not aware there were all these millions of dollars…they had misplaced.”

The County approves the establishment of CRAs after the need for redevelopment is studied and documented and contributes tax dollars – so called tax increment funding, or TIF – to the municipal agencies from revenue generated by the increase in property values in the redevelopment area.

Ten Broward cities have CRAs that receive TIF dollars. Others include Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Pompano Beach, have CRAs.

Henry said in an interview last week that the county will enhance its review of expenditures to make sure municipal CRAs don’t improperly bank funds at year end instead of spending them as required by state law.

“They now know they have to comply,” said Henry, referring to the Inspector General’s publicized findings.

Under state law, CRAs that have funds at the end of the year must spend that money on projects to be completed in three years, pay down debt or return it to the county.

INSPECTOR GENERAL’S PROBE

For months, the Inspector General has been conducting what appears to be a review of how some municipal CRAs in Broward have handled funds unspent at the end of each fiscal year.

In Margate, investigators found, the CRA mishandled funds by rolling them over from year to year without designating them for specific purposes. The Inspector General said the county could retrieve $2.7 million in funds provided to Margate.

Henry’s parallel review of CRA spending is expected to take two months. County representatives will then meet with CRA’s receiving tax increment property tax funds. For cities that don’t have projects ready to go, “I will recommend we go after the money,” she said.

Cynthia Chambers, director of Broward’s environmental protection department whose duties include overseeing municipal CRAs, will also be watching. She said the county would “certainly” seek the return of tax funds from CRAs that violate state law regarding the handling of year-end funds.

The Inspector General’s ongoing CRA probe began in 2012 after a string of stories in BrowardBulldog.org about questionable loans to local businesses and land purchases by Hallandale Beach. The 14-month investigation found $2.2 million in questionable CRA expenditures, the improper co-mingling of city and CRA funds dating to the CRA’s establishment in 1996 and poor record keeping.

The Inspector General also asked the city to tell it how much money the CRA had, suggesting the amount was uncertain. An audit by Hallandale Beach that in July, 2013 identified $12.6 million in CRA funds co-mingled with city funds.

Schnidman, the FAU professor and a former consultant for the Hallandale Beach CRA, was critical of the audit finding such a huge sum.

“They were not aware the money was there; they misplaced it. They were hanging onto the money…year after year,” Schnidman said.

The $12.6 million, Schnidman said, should be returned to the government agencies that, like the county, contributed property tax increase funds to the Hallandale Beach CRA – the city, South Broward Hospital District and Children’s Services Council.

Hallandale Beach City Manager Renee Miller disputed the notion the CRA had excess funds. “Anyone saying that is misleading the public. It’s not found money…not excess cash,” she said.

Miller said the audit went back to as far as 1996 to ascertain the amount of CRA funding, with interest. The money, she said, was then transferred to the CRA trust fund. Asked where the money was located, Miller said it was from current funding that year, not from any leftover funds from previous years.

Miller said the city had a good estimate of the amount of CRA dollars co-mingled with city funds, but the audit confirmed $12.6 million.

In the past when funds were co-mingled, Miller said it had been the city’s practice to account for CRA costs near the end of the budget year on September 30.

The $12.6 million CRA funds were used to pay agency costs during 2012-2013, according to Miller and city controller Melissa Cruz. Of that, more than $10 million went to pay salaries and benefits, administrative charges, debt service, utilities, material and supplies, repairs and maintenance, community redevelopment programs, grants to community groups, professional and outside services, subsidized loan programs, and other service charges. Another $500,000 was transferred to the city, and $2.3 million was designated for capital projects.

“It’s not as insidious as was inferred,” Miller said.

 

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