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.

Report: Hallandale commissioner Anthony Sanders “engaged in pattern of misconduct”

By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org 

Hallandale Beach Commissioner Anthony Sanders and Jessica Sanders

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 may seek Attorney General opinion on CRA spending; statewide impact seen

By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org hallandalewateretower1

Hallandale Beach city commissioners on Wednesday will consider asking the Florida Attorney General for a ruling on how community redevelopment funds can be spent, a decision that could have a far-reaching impact.

“This is an opinion that would affect every CRA in the state of Florida,” Hallandale Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) attorney Steven Zelkowitz cautioned city commissioners at a recent meeting.

Commissioners will also review the city manager’s draft response to recommendations made by the Broward Inspector General’s office, which has criticized the city for “grossly mismanaging” millions of dollars in CRA funds.

While stating they are complying with many of the Inspector General’s recommendations, city officials continue to challenge the accusation that community development money was misspent, primarily by funding certain nonprofit groups.

With both sides at odds, the push to involve the Attorney General’s Office is coming from a state committee that has injected itself in the matter.

The Florida Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, expressing concerns about questionable spending cited by the Inspector General, recently invited the city to seek a new legal opinion that might clarify CRA spending rules.

The committee made the request after noting that Hallandale Beach officials questioned a 2010 Attorney General’s opinion that held CRA funds should be used for “brick and mortar” projects. In its letter to the city, the legislative committee also asked the city to agree to adhere to any new legal ruling.

Hallandale CRA attorney Steven Zelkowitz

Hallandale CRA attorney Steven Zelkowitz

City officials have argued the 2010 opinion does not limit CRA spending only to brick and mortar projects, and contend the ruling was nonbinding anyway.

The state committee also has asked the city to explain its questioned expenditures and to provide a copy of its response to the Broward Inspector General’s recommendations.

CRA attorney Zelkowitz could not be reached for comment. But during his remarks at a June 17 CRA board meeting, he noted that it was unusual for the committee to have asked the city to seek a new legal opinion and warned about the pitfalls in doing so.

“We have never seen a request that actually goes so far as to say we would like you, as a board, to request an Attorney General opinion as to certain matters and…(to) abide by it,” said Zelkowitz. “This is not to be taken lightly.”

A majority vote by Hallandale Beach’s five city commissioners, who also sit as the CRA’s board of directors, is needed to get an opinion, Zelkowitz said.

Zelkowitz told commissioners the state legislative auditing committee could order an audit of the CRA even if the city receives an Attorney General opinion that favors the city’s position or if the city does not ask for a legal opinion.

City Manager Renee C. Miller’s eight-page draft response regarding the Inspector General’s recommendations cites the 2010 legal opinion in defense of the city’s actions. It states that “…a close reading of this opinion will reveal that the Attorney General gives no definite answer as to whether or not all grants to nonprofits are outside the scope of the Community Redevelopment Act.”

Much of the remainder of the response outlines how the city has altered its practices – many of them absent or disregarded in the past – in an effort to comply with the Inspector General’s recommendations and comport with state law governing CRAs.

The response said the city has:

*Stabilized CRA staff by naming Miller executive director and hiring a new Deputy City Manager to serve as CRA director and supervise key departments that interact with the CRA.

*Provided training to top city officials regarding provisions of the state law, Chapter 163, governing CRAs, and established a process and standards for awarding funds/grants to nonprofit groups, as well as on-going performance evaluation.

*Established a separate CRA trust account – CRA property tax funds were commingled with city funds before – and indicated it would provide information on the trust fund balance by the end of the fiscal year.

*Trained staff on policies and procedures for all CRA programs; established legal and financial reviews of loans and other financial funds, and implemented controls to monitor all CRA expenditures.

In another development, the city commissioners have agreed to pay Zelkowitz’s law firm $40,000 more for additional legal work stemming from the Inspector General’s report. Zelkowitz told commissioners his firm had exhausted $60,000 in its contract with the city because of the extra work.

Wednesday’s meeting was scheduled after a dispute among commissioners on the need for a public hearing. Mayor Joy Cooper and Vice Mayor Alexander Lewy wanted to have Miller and Zelkowitz prepare responses and brief commissioners individually.

They were outvoted, 3-2, in favor of a public meeting. It was backed by commissioners Michele Lazarow, Bill Julian and Anthony Sanders.

The Inspector General’s probe involved a review of the city’s purchase of property from Sanders’ nonprofit High Vision Ministries at 501 NW First Ave. The Inspector General, however, cleared Sanders of an allegation that the CRA showed favoritism toward him by substantially overpaying his nonprofit group for the property.

Higher Vision brought the property in 2001 for $45,000 and sold it to the city in 2009 for $235,000. Appointed to the commission in 2008, Sanders did not vote on the purchase.  In between the purchase and the sale, the CRA gave the group $46,000 for property improvement; the group was required to repay only $31,000 of the loan, with the balance forgiven.

Broward Inspector General slams Hallandale for “gross mismanagement”; CRAs elsewhere eyed

By William Gjebre and Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org igreport

Broward’s Inspector General has found that Hallandale Beach officials “grossly mismanaged” millions of dollars in public funds “entrusted to the care of its Community Redevelopment Agency,” according to a report obtained by BrowardBulldog.org.

“The OIG (Office of Inspector General) investigation substantiated the allegations and uncovered numerous deficiencies in the city’s administration of the CRA,” says the 50-page preliminary report that has not been released publicly.

Investigators said they found at least $2.2 million in questionable CRA expenditures between 2007 and 2012, including inappropriate loans to local businesses and grants to local nonprofits – as well as the improper use of bond proceeds.

The city improperly spent $416,000 of CRA money for parks outside the CRA boundaries, says Tuesday’s report.

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 says.

Former Commissioner Keith London told investigators that his colleagues “looked at the CRA fund as one big pile of money and they didn’t care how or where the money went,” the report says.

Mayor Joy Cooper, however, offered a different take. “She was not concerned with the CRA administration’s lack of (expenditure) verification because the CRA Board members observed the work of the nonprofits when they went out in the community,” the report says.

Cooper and the rest of the city commission also sit as the CRA’s board of directors.

“This report vindicates everything I have stated for the last six years,” London said Tuesday night.

Cooper could not be reached for comment.

Former commissioner Keith London

Former commissioner Keith London

The probe began 14 months ago following a string of stories in BrowardBulldog.org about questionable city loans to local businesses and land purchase through the CRA. It surfaced publicly last April when county agents sought a multitude of records at City Hall.

In some cases, the report says, the CRA awarded funds despite a 2010 Florida Attorney General opinion that CRA expenditures must be connected to “brick and mortar” capital improvements – not, for example, to promote economic development or promote socially beneficial programs by nonprofits.

In one case, the line of what’s legal was apparently crossed and a crime may have been committed, the report says.

The Inspector General’s findings about Hallandale Beach are the latest to cite serious mismanagement of CRA funds. A year ago, for example, the Inspector General slammed Lauderdale Lakes for misspending $2.5 million in CRA funds. More recently, the Florida Auditor General identified misspending by Hollywood’s CRA.

“It is becoming increasingly apparent that the gross mismanagement of CRA funds by a Broward County municipality is not a unique occurrence,” the report says.

The CRA was established in 1996 under a state law that allows it to collect tax revenue to be used to rid slum and blight conditions. It receives 95 percent of the taxes collected on the appreciated value of properties within its boundaries. The county has provided Hallandale’s CRA with approximately $35 million since it began.

Inspector General John Scott’s report includes what amounts to a warning to other Broward cities that his office will be eyeballing their CRA’s to see how they spend their property tax dollars.

“The OIG will continue to examine the expenditure of CRA funds by municipalities,” says the report.

The final report will recommend to the county that it look over its legal options “to prevent the ongoing abuse of the CRA process and recover those funds that may have been misspent,” the preliminary report says.

In Hallandale, there was an apparent lack of regular monitoring by the CRA of who got its funds and how that money was spent.

In one case, the report says, a nonprofit grant recipient spent nearly $5,000 in funds to make a payment on her time-share at the Westgate Resort in Orlando, make payroll payments to herself and her brother and on other things.

Dr. Deborah R. Brown with former Congressman Kendrick Meek

Dr. Deborah R. Brown with former Congressman Kendrick Meek

“We found probable cause to believe that Dr. Deborah Brown, the founder and director of the Palms Center for the Arts (PCA), engaged in criminal misconduct in the handling of a $5,000 award the PCA received from the CRA,” the report says.

Brown could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The matter has been referred to the sheriff’s office and the Broward State Attorney for prosecution.

The Inspector General’s report also clears Commissioner Anthony Sanders of allegations that the CRA showed favoritism toward him by substantially overpaying his nonprofit, Higher Vision Ministries, for property it purchased in 2009 at 501 NW First Ave.

“The investigation did not substantiate the allegations, although we found that the CRA fomented an appearance of favoritism by failing to consider the purchase of the property in a fully transparent manner,” the report says.

The report also cites “institutional deficiencies in the establishment, organization and function of the CRA” that it says contributed to numerous instances of gross mismanagement. They include:

•  Failure for nearly 16 years to establish a CRA trust fund, as required by law, which led to the commingling of CRA funds with city funds in the city’s bank account. A trust finally was set up last May.

•  Failure to operate the CRA independently from the city. Former CRA executive director Alvin Jackson told investigators the CRA “was treated like any other city department and that the city had ‘free rein to tap into CRA funds.

•  Failure to timely generate detailed CRA plans and adhere to them, as well as a lack of a “stable and empowered CRA staff to ensure compliance” with the law.

“We also identified multiple instances where city officials ignored warnings from CRA staff of various deficiencies in the management of the CRA,” the report says.

The report notes that before Jackson there were several CRA managers under City Manager Good’s heavy managerial thumb. “More troubling is evidence that Mr. Good and other senior officials lacked understanding of” state statutes governing the CRA “and did not require compliance.”

The report notes that in 2011, after news reports about CRA problems in BrowardBulldog.org and elsewhere, it undertook “remedial steps” to improve its management and effectiveness.

But the Inspector General indicated those steps, including the establishment of the trust fund, are not enough.

The report includes a half-dozen recommendations intended to “ensure the independence of the CRAs,” including building a stable and knowledgeable staff with the authority to ensure compliance with the law, and diligent future monitoring of expenditures.

Broward IG questions former Hallandale commissioner about CRA deals, newspaper loan

By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org 

Hallandale Beach paid $235,000 to buy this property in 2009 from a nonprofit whose officers included Vice Mayor Anthony Sanders and his wife Photo: William Gjebre

A former Hallandale Beach commissioner said he voluntarily met with Broward Inspector General investigators Monday who questioned him about the city’s embattled Community Redevelopment Agency, its purchase of property once owned by a group headed by Vice Mayor Anthony Sanders and a city loan to a local newspaper.

The former commissioner, William “Bill” Julian, is currently running for city commission. He declined to discuss details of his four-hour interview with three investigators because “they asked me not to talk about anything.”

For more than a year, however, Broward Bulldog has reported about questionable city loans to local businesses and land purchases through the CRA – whose board of directors are also the city’s commissioners.

The IG’s office investigates suspected misconduct that includes fraud, corruption and mismanagement. IG investigators appear to have begun focusing on Hallandale Beach and its CRA this spring with a trip to City Hall in April. In response to their requests, the city recently turned over thousands of pages of records.

Records indicate that investigators are examining the CRA and a city grant program that funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and donations to eight local non-profits, including several linked to Vice Mayor Sanders or his wife, Jessica.

In 2009, after Sanders’ appointment to the commission the year before, the city spent $235,000 in CRA tax dollars to purchase a building and land at 501 NW First Avenue owned by Higher Vision Ministries, a not for profit corporation whose officers included Sanders and his wife.

Sanders, who did not vote on the city’s purchase, was a director of Higher Vision Ministries when it bought the property in 2001 for $45,000. The nonprofit received a $46,000 property improvement loan from the city not long after the purchase.

The terms of the loan immediately forgave $7,500 in principal. An error by the city at the time the property was sold in 2009 doubled that forgiveness to $15,000 – meaning Higher Vision Ministries only had to pay back $31,000.

LOCAL NEWSPAPER DEAL

Julian, who served as a commissioner and vice mayor from 2001 to 2010 when he was defeated for reelection, said the investigators also asked about a CRA loan to the for-profit South Florida Sun Times.

The weekly newspaper, which regularly features a column by Mayor Joy Cooper, received a $50,000 CRA business loan under favorable terms in 2009.

Half of the loan — $25,000 – was forgiven even though for two years prior to the loan the newspaper’s two top executives each reported incomes averaging more than $200,000.

Julian told Broward Bulldog there has been turmoil at the CRA, with several directors being removed in past years. He added that CRA funds were used for a variety of charitable contributions to community groups.

“I didn’t question use of CRA funds for charitable contributions,” Julian said of his time on the city commission. Commissioners, he added, wanted to “take a load off the general fund…I don’t know if that was legal. That will have to come to light.”

“I don’t know of wrongdoings by commissioners or myself,” Julian said. “I don’t know if I did something wrong.” Julian added that if something was done incorrectly “let’s fix it.”

VOLUNTEERED TO TALK

Julian said he contacted the IG office Friday and volunteered to be interviewed because “there’s a cloud of suspicion over me.”

He said he was compelled to come forward because of public comments on recent stories about the IG investigation and what his involvement might have been while in office.

“I want to be as open as possible,” Julian said. “I have never been accused of anything in my life.”

Inspector General John Scott did not respond to a request for comment.

Julian is one of six candidates vying for two at large commission seats up for grabs on November 6. The other candidates are Vice Mayor Sanders, Gerald Dean, Ann Pearl Henigson, Csaba G. Kulin and Michele Lazarow.

Dorothy Ross, a commission member for 17 years, is not seeking reelection.

CITY BALKS AT COOPERATION

County investigators have asked to speak with each of the commission’s current members.  The City Manager’s Office has informed them that it won’t schedule any interviews until the IG’s office informs the city about its intentions.

In addition, CRA attorney Steven Zelkowitz recently told the IG’s office by letter that the CRA is “a separate legal entity” and not subject to the authority of the IG under county and state laws.

Historically, however, the city administration and commissioners have treated the CRA as a part of the city government.

*The CRA has been operating since 1996, but it wasn’t until March that its board of directors – the city commissioners – voted to establish it as a separate “agency” reporting directly to the board in accordance with state law. Until then, the CRA functioned mostly as a subdivision of the city’s Department of Development Services.

* All 59 properties purchased with CRA funds are in the name of the City of Hallandale Beach – not the CRA. The CRA is now seeking to re-title 43 properties to itself, but 16 will remain in the name of the city.

*Hundreds of thousands of dollars in past city grants and charitable contributions to local non-profit community groups did not clearly spell out how much CRA money was used in those taxpayer-provided gifts.

*CRA business loan policies changed frequently under former city managers, allowing for some loans to exceed established limits, some funds to be distributed without repayment agreements, and questionable forgiveness arrangements.

A critical study of city and CRA record keeping this year by an outside auditing firm recommended that a financial manager be hired. The recommendation was also in agency bylaws adopted by city commissioners sitting as the CRA’s board of directors. In June, however, those same board members voted down a CRA staff request to hire a financial manager.

That study was ordered after it had become clear that management problems existed. The commission, however, authorized a limited review rather than a more intensive financial audit. Aside from poor record keeping the recent report by the auditing firm said some $20 million in vendor contracts were never reviewed because city staff failed to provide them.

William Gjebre can be reached at wgjebre@browardbulldog.org

Details emerge about Broward IG’s Hallandale probe; payments to commissioner’s wife eyed

By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org 

Broward Inspector General John Scott Photo: CBS4 Miami

A Hallandale Beach program that funneled hundreds of thousands of dollar in grants and contributions to community groups is a key focus of the Broward Inspector General’s widespread investigation of city management practices.

Documents obtained by Broward Bulldog show the Inspector General obtained city files on eight community-based organizations, several linked to City Commissioner Anthony Sanders or his wife, Jessica. The documents include information about city payments to Jessica Sanders and others associated with the groups.

Those disclosures, and others about the probe, are contained in a 15-page letter sent to Inspector General John Scott on April 23 from City Manager Mark Antonio.  The letter was the city’s formal response to Scott’s request two weeks earlier for dozens of city records.

Among the records turned over to county investigators are thousands of pages of city memos, reports, minutes, email, budgets, policies, programs, audits, grant reviews and program files. The records sought are for the fiscal years 2010-2012. Antonio also referred investigators to additional public documents on the city’s website.

Some requested information was not supplied. For example, investigators asked for all city records that would show attendance by nonprofit grant recipients at quarterly workshops, as required by grant agreements. Antonio said, however, that there were no sign-in sheets to verify attendance

Antonio, who retires next week, said, “The city has diligently fulfilled the request for records to the best of our ability.’

Scott does not comment on pending investigations.

Antonio’s letter says investigators also sought information about the leasing and rental of city property to local groups; plans and loan programs operated by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency; and expenditure reports involving the CRA, the city’s general fund and the Law Enforcement Trust fund.

County investigators are also reviewing whether non-profit groups receiving city funds followed procedures, assessments, and commitments.

Broward Bulldog reported last week that the City Manager’s Office has not been fully cooperative with investigators by declining to set up interviews between city commissioners and county investigators who want to speak with them. Those commissioners also sit at the CRA’s board of directors.

The refusal was cited in a June 13 letter from the City Attorney’s Office, which also sought the identities of commissioners who might be targets.

INVESTIGATORS VISIT CITY HALL

The Inspector General’s office began its probe on April 10 with a visit to city hall where investigators met city with Antonio and CRA Executive Director Alvin Jackson. Jackson started in January 2011.

Investigators revisited City Hall in recent weeks, meeting with Jackson for several hours. Documents state that IG special agent William Cates and senior auditor Susan Friend also met with other city officials, including Jennifer Frastai, an administrator in the City Manager’s Office, and Marian McCann-Colliee, the city’s Human Resources Director.

The probe appears to be limited to the past three years, but some requests for records have resulted in the city providing documents going back to 2000.

In March, an outside audit was critical of city management and the tracking of CRA loans and property acquisitions. Broward Bulldog also reported then that the audit, which raised questions about the city’s loan practices, did not review more than $20 million in contracts with city vendors because the city failed to provide the information and limitations on the scope of the audit.

In several of the loan deals involving taxpayer property tax dollars, recipients did not have to pay back the amount as much as half of the value of the loan.

COUNTY FOCUSING ON GIVEAWAYS

While records indicate that the Inspector General’s probe is multi-faceted, investigators appear to be strongly focused on city grants and charitable contributions made through its Community Partnership Grants program.

City records show that such giveaways increased 60 percent in the past three years – from $400,000 in fiscal year 2009-2010 to $647,000 this year.

“As economic times worsened the city saw a greater need for services in the community which directly corresponded with the increase in the amount of requests to the city,” Antonio said in his letter. He added that for 2012 “two teams of professional who were non-city employees” reviewed 29 applications.

Available city documents show that in 2010 and 2011, city grants and donations did not specify where the money came from: the general fund, CRA or the Law Enforcement Trust fund. But this year, after a CRA management makeover, they were shown as follows: general fund, $256,130; CRA, $274,600; and Law Enforcement Trust Fund, $116,654.

The Inspector General asked for the files on these program recipients:

  • Eagles Wings Development Center Inc., job training and social services program, $50,000 in the past two years.
  • Greater Mt. Everett Resources and Learning Center, a work force training program for construction trades, $61,000 this year.
  • Lampkin’s Creative Arts for All LLC, including Dizzy Fingers School of Excellence, Inc., training youth in how to advance in the arts, $50,000 this year.
  • Palms Center for the Arts, Inc., a youth arts and job preparation program, $107,000 past three years.
  • Palm Community Action Coalition, community based program assistance, $26,000 over two years.
  • Palms of Hallandale Beach Weed and Seed, a crime prevention and community development program associated with the Department of Justice, $143,000 past three years.
  • Phileo Outreach Ministries Inc., a program for rehabilitation of youth, $45,000 past two years.
  • Zamar School of Performing Arts, Inc., $25,000 two years ago.

COMMISSIONER SANDERS AND WIFE

State corporate records for Eagles Wing listed Hallandale Beach Commissioner Anthony Sanders as president and his wife, Jessica, director, in 2009. In 2010 and 2011, Jessica was listed as director, but Anthony Sanders was not listed. He was appointed to the city commission on Sept. 8, 2008 to fill a vacancy.

Commissioner Anthony Sanders

Jessica Sanders also has ties to two other non-profits on the Inspector General’s list, according to public records.

She is a contact for the Palms Community Action Coalition, which until April 2011 was known as the Palms Community Development Corporation. Jessica Sanders, as “interim site coordinator” for Palms of Hallandale Beach Weed and Seed, appeared at a July 14, 2011 Hallandale Beach commission meeting before a vote to award a $45,000 grant to her group.  “Vice Mayor Sanders excused himself from the dais during the presentation and recused himself from voting,” city minutes say.

In an interview this week, Commissioner Sanders indicated that he is perplexed about the county’s inquiry.

“I can’t answer why they are asking for the records,” he said. “They are looking at nonprofits. I don’t mind that they are looking at Eagles Wings. It is a service to the community and always has been…food programs, job training and other services.”

Sanders indicated he may meet with IG investigators soon.

Jessica Sanders said, “I’m not concerned about the probe.” She said there has been no wrongdoing and noted that she has provided some records to IG investigators. She said that she and her husband “stayed here to make a difference. We do good work.”

Her income from the Weed and Seed program was not from city funds, she said, but came from the Department of Justice, which backed the program. She said that on several occasions she was asked by the Weed and Seed governing board to operate the program when the group’s administrators failed to perform.

OTHERS SCRUTINIZED

The county investigators also sought information payments made by the city to Nellie Bacon, Clara Brown, Deborah Brown, Selinda Washington-Jackson and Jacquelyn Rosenau.

According to state corporation records Rosenau is director at Eagles Wing. Clara Brown is corporate secretary for Palms Community Action Coalition. Deborah Brown was president of Palm Center for the Arts in 2011, and a principal and director of Zamar School in 2011. Washington-Jackson works for Weed and Seed. Rosenau used to work for the agency.

The city supplied copies of its lease and rental agreements with non-profits to investigators.

Those agreements are with: Hallandale Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Zamar School of Performing Arts, and the Palm Center for the Arts.

The chamber, which received $25,000 from the city in 2010, has an office in City Hall, next to the commission chambers. The rental fee for approximately 400 square feet of space is $1 a month.

The Palm Center for the Arts, 501 NW 1st Ave., sits on land the city purchased with CRA funds in 2009 from Anthony Sanders’ nonprofit Higher Vision Ministries; a commissioner at the time, Sanders did not vote on the sale.

Sanders bought the property in 2001 for $45,000 and sold it to the city for $235,000 after receiving a $46,000 property improvement loan. The city initially agreed to forgive $7,500 of the loan. When the city bought Sanders’ property, however, it forgave an additional $7,500 when at the time the sale was finalized. City officials have said it was an error by the city.

In August 2009, the city leased Sanders’ former property to the Palm Center for the Arts for a one- time fee of $10, on the condition it provide community art and music training programs. While the lease states the center is not allowed to sublet or rent the facility, the city modified the agreement to permit the Zamar School for Performing Arts to operate a summer camp at the center in the summer in 2009.

A provision in the Palm Center lease allowed for a summer camp music program. The city helped Zamar with $25,000 to operate the camp.

The IG’s office has also requested information about additional money given to various groups that was more than initially authorized.

William Gjebre can be reached at wgjebre@browardbulldog.org

 

 

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