Sweet deal for owners of Hallandale newspaper that features mayor as columnist

By William Gjebre, 

Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper's newspaper column

A weekly newspaper in Hallandale Beach got a $50,000 city “loan” under terms so favorable that half of it – $25,000 – amounted to a taxpayer giveaway because the city did not require it to be repaid.

The for-profit South Florida Sun Times obtained the loan even though the paper’s two top executives reported incomes averaging more than $200,000 each for two years prior to receiving the city loan in 2009.

The Sun Times also benefited in recent years from an increase in city spending on advertising. The city’s no-bid ad purchases and loan averaged $65,000 annually during the past three years.

Throughout that time, and currently, the weekly Sun Times has featured Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper as a  prominent columnist, with a link to her writings about city issues on the front page of the paper’s web site.

The newspaper, which often writes upbeat stories about advertisers, circulates in Dania Beach, Hollywood and Pembroke Pines south to North Miami and Surfside. Cooper, who is not paid, is the only elected official listed on the paper’s site as having a regular column.

The paper’s arrangement with Mayor Cooper is under fire.

“How can you be independent if you are dependent on the city?” said community activist Csaba Kulin. He criticized the Sun Times for neglecting to print comments from readers in response to stories.

“It’s propaganda for the mayor,” complained City Commissioner Keith London, a rival of the mayor who  has sought unsuccessfully to halt city spending for ads in the Sun Times. “There’s no fact checking and no rebuttal; the city pays a lot of money for a bully pulpit for the mayor.”

Mayor Cooper said she was invited to write for the paper about five years ago. She sees “no conflict” in her writing a regular column and the city’s advertising and loan to the paper. She said she had nothing to do with those deals, adding that they were recommendations of former City Manager Mike Good.

Cooper said, too, that she has not used her column to gain any political advantage.

“I’ve written to inform residents what’s going on,” Cooper said. “I try to make it informative. It’s not always about city business. It’s also been about individuals, about the environment, about veterans. I’m like a reporter. I don’t get paid.”

Cooper also said her columns were not part of the city’s expenditures for advertisements in the newspaper.

The mayor generally writes about community activities, city government operations, and city commission actions from her perspective. There is no mention of oppositional or different viewpoints – if they exist.


In April 2009, the Sun Times became the first city business to receive a loan under a new program, funded through the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), to retain and to assist firms having financial difficulties. The CRA, a special taxing district that covers most of the city, is controlled by city commissioners and the mayor.

The city’s Business Retention and Expansion Program provided for 50% to 80% forgiveness on loans up to $50,000, with the balance to be repaid at two percent interest over 10 years.

The Sun Times received the maximum loan amount, $50,000, with half of that amount “forgiven” under the program in its loan agreement with the city.

Richard Cannone, who oversaw the CRA as the city’s director of development services, wrote a memo in December 2008 that then city manager Good had approved the $50,000 CRA loan to the Sun Times. In another memo, Cannone stated the funds were “loaned to rescue the newspaper from financial hardship that had befallen their company over the past few years.”

No other CRA loan program has the forgiveness percentage that the Sun Times received under the new program. CRA code compliance loans, allocating up to $100,000, and CRA Business Incentive and Enticement loans, allocating up to $200,000, provide for forgiveness of 15% of loans, with balances to be repaid at four percent interest over 10 years.

Craig Farquhar, president of the South Florida Digest, which publishes the Sun Times, declined to discuss the newspaper’s financial dealings with the city, its editorial policies, or its relationship with the mayor.

“This is old news,” he said. “I have nothing else to say.”

Hallandale Beach took other action beneficial to the Sun Times’ owner.

In 2010, according to CRA records, the city agreed to subordinate its position on the loan balance so the newspaper could refinance a mortgage loan. That meant the city gave up its claim as first in line for repayment in case of a default — putting taxpayer funds at increased risk.


City documents also show that before the loan “rescue the newspaper” was made, its two top executives drew six figure salaries.

Farquhar likewise declined to address the newspaper’s need for the city loan in view of the hefty incomes of he and South Florida Digest Vice President Cecile Hiles.

CRA files contain federal income tax returns showing that South Florida Digest paid salary and wages to Farquhar totaling $259,193 in 2007 and $239,054 in 2008, as well as an additional $41,239 in pension and annuity payouts.  Hiles received $192,052 in 2007 and $229,010 in 2008.

Current CRA Director Alvin Jackson said the wages Farquhar and Hiles were paid would not have disqualified the Sun Times from receiving the $50,000 loan. The information about their incomes was required by the city to determine the newspaper’s ability to pay back the loan, he added.

Jackson said the paper asked for the loan to survive a downturn in the economy. The paper had lost advertising and had cut jobs and reduced benefits, he said.

Hallandale Beach has also come to the rescue of the Sun Times with increased advertising purchases made without competition.

City records show that for the five-year period between 2003 and 2008, the city paid the Sun Times about $32,000 for advertising.

Those numbers jumped the next year, when the city bought about $42,000 in advertising and issued the $50,000 loan . The city bought $52,000 in advertising in 2009-2010, and $53,000 in 2010-201. It has agreed to buy $50,000 in advertising this fiscal year.

The most recent advertising buy was included in the current budget approved by the city commission on Sept. 26, 2011 in a 4-1 vote. Cooper voted yes; London was the lone dissenter.


The city advertised in the Sun Times without seeking bids. The mayor said that’s because it was the only local newspaper in the city. City code, she said, provides for giving preference to local businesses and those which are one of a kind. “There is no other provider,” Cooper added.

Because the Sun Times is not a newspaper of general circulation in the county, like the Sun-Sentinel or The Miami Herald, the city has to place its legal notices in other area newspapers.

Cooper has been a strong advocate in the community for the Sun Times. She urged local businesses to advertise in the newspaper in a 2008 letter on city stationery, co-signed by then city manager Good. Today, she says she favors future city support for the only city-based newspaper.

“To the naysayers, it’s not about” the column being used as a political platform, said Cooper. “It’s a service to the community to inform.”

Not everyone sees Cooper’s writing as useful.

“The mayor’s column: I used to read it,” Kulin said. “But it’s one-sided. It’s feel good stories about herself and the city.”

William Gjebre can be reached at [email protected]

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Latest comments

  • If the paper isnt publishing propganda, why doesn’t the Sun Times allow for opposing views or other columns from city officials? The manner in which her columns are written suggests that there are NO problems in this city and that she and other officials have everything under control. It is absolutely “manufacturing consent” by misleading residents. Her colums are solely her views about the goings on in Hallandale Beach, albeit some facts and data, but mostly subjective opinion.

  • Let’s not forget Mayor Cooper is running for reelection and the so-called “free” column she pens is only available to her. She is NOT a reporter.

    No one else (except Bill Julian) has ever been offered or allowed the opportunity to “write about the community and provide information about what is happening in Hallandale”.

    As a matter of fact, I was a denied a request to write in the Sun Times. Multitudes of residents of Hallandale Beach were denied the opportunity to voice their opinion as the paper never allows anyone to rebut or challenge what is written. There has never been an official opinion page, a letters to the editor page or opportunity to rebut the spin rolled by her.

    Basically, $100,000 of taxpayer money is utilized to support this so-called paper and is basically a non-reported campaign contribution to the mayor.

    Here is the link to her recent campaign contributions with no listing for the Sun Times here:

  • Bill, thank you for writing this excellent, well-researched piece! What goes on in HB is outrageous and has been for far too long. Csaba is an activist who is intelligent and does his homework. He should be on the dais with Commissionere London and one more good, honest person. Then that city will start to turn around.

    This situation is ripe for the IG to investigate, I would think.

    I hope the citizens whom Csaba worked so hard for when he coordinated and won the battle of the Diplomat remember when it’s time to vote.

  • If the paper isn’t publishing “propaganda”, then why doesn’t the Sun Times allow for opposing views or other columns from city officials? The tone of her columns implies there are no concerns in the city and that she and other officials have everything under control. She is misleading residents by “reporting” her subjective opinions. Her column is solely her view of the goings on in Hallandale Beach, albeit some data and facts, but mostly subjective opinion and hot air.

  • From personal experience, I’m a great believer in the importance of an “independent community newspaper” that covers issues that larger mass circulations newspaper can’t or won’t cover. I know something about that because when I’m in Ohio for part of the summer every year, the town I lived in full-time before moving to Hallandale Beach has one of the best “community papers” in the country, the Strongsville Post. There was no community issue or policy that the Post won’t send reporters to examine or report upon, and because of that, the newspaper remains trusted, popular, a good place to advertise a product or service, and accepted as an important part of the community there.

    Conversely, that same experience informs my opinion that the South Florida Sun Times (SFST) failed the “independence” test the moment it asked for and accepted money from the City of Hallandale Beach for services NOT provided. The SFST, having accepted funds that could have been better spent elsewhere within the CRA zone to eliminate blight, has for years adhered to a policy that’s ever mindful of biting the hand that feeds it.

    As opposed to the Post in Strongsville, OH, the SFST has become a one-sided house organ in its “reporting,” and has thus become both irrelevant and a subject of open ridicule throughout the community, practically a punch line. In my own condo complex, we routinely discard large bundle of unread copies that were placed in the condo lobby into the recycling bins every week.

    A legitimate newspaper that aspires to consider itself a “community newspaper” should, without even having to think about it, write about both sides of an issue or policy, and must encourage and publish opposing points of view. So in our case here in Hallandale Beach, routinely publishing something against the “party line” given by Mayor Joy Cooper in her so-called “columns,” rather than NOT publishing anything that challenges what she says, as is currently the case. And the same goes for publishing Letters to the Editor without censorship with respect to topic and content. They ought to publish updated police blotter and proceedings of the City Commission Meetings. The SFST currently does NONE of these things.
    If the SFST continues to operate in its current fashion, they might as well change their name to PRAVDA.
    The Hallandale Beach CRA, with policy set by the elected City Commission and the mayor, has had more than its share of problems in the recent past. One episode in particular is worth mentioning here as it’s indicative of the sort of favoritism and cronyism it has practiced in the past, a story never mentioned in the SFST. A loan in the amount of $125,000 loan was given for what was called at the time, THE CITY CHANEL, and was promoted and developed by Steve Fecske of California, and his local partner, a person very well-connected to HB City Hall. Mr. Fecske’s previous expertise includes, among other things according to Google’s search engine, developing pornography web sites. Like Seinfeld said, “not that anything is wrong with that”.
    The night of the city commission meeting, Hallandale Beach taxpayers showed up in force to vehemently oppose the proposed loan on its merits, as well as the transparent way the commission waived its own meager requirements that the business group did NOT meet. Commissioner Keith London took the lead in objecting to it from the dais, but because the mayor supported it, it passed. Where was the SFST?
    Well, forward to today, the local partner has since passed away, the money expended from the CRA is lost, and nobody in charge is asking any questions about it. And the South Florida Sun Times remains silent.
    In November, voters of Hallandale Beach will have a chance to make major changes in the way this city is governed and the public policies that guide it. Concerned voters who want a better-managed and more transparent City Hall that is proactively accountable to taxpayers, and NOT in love with crony capitalism excesses like the loan to the SFST, should heed the recent lessons that have cost them and their neighbors both money and lost opportunities to make this a better community, should vote for reform candidates.

    Csaba Kulin, candidate for Hallandale Beach City Commission

  • Hallandale Mayor Joy Cooper: “I’m like a reporter. I don’t get paid.”

    Truly one of South Florida’s all-time greatest quotes from anyone — official, unofficial, elected or otherwise. Hallandale could use CRA funds to build a lasting monument with this gem boldly inscribed.

  • Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
    How many times are the residents of Hallandale going to take a punch in the
    Stomach before they’ve had enough??? It’s up to us to make to make it happen.
    Get out and vote and make a difference. Cooper must go….

  • I think is time for Mayor Cooper leave the Mayor office, we are in theDemocracy, When th officals stay in the job to long timeis bad for the city, same peoples same ideas no change, so please and this election we have to change, the City name is Hallandale Beach, with the new proyect we only goint to have 8% of the beach side and we have to paid for parking space what ever the new concescion whant to be charge.
    Is time for wake up and make changes

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