Investigators with the Broward Inspector General’s office descended on Hallandale Beach City Hall this week following numerous reports of mismanagement of tax dollars.
On Tuesday, two OIG investigators spent nine hours at city hall seeking records and interviewing City Manager Mark Antonio and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) director Alvin Jackson.
“We were there,” confirmed Dylan Hughes, an assistant inspector general. “I can’t comment on the nature of an ongoing investigation.”
City officials had no immediate comment.
Broward’s Inspector General investigates suspected misconduct, “including fraud, corruption and abuse and gross mismanagement,” according to its web site. The specific focus of investigators at city hall was not immediately clear, but for nearly a year Broward Bulldog has reported about questionable city loans to local businesses and land purchases through the CRA. Hallandale Beach city commissioners also sit as the directors of the CRA.
Last month, a report by outside auditors described poor recordkeeping and oversight at the agency during the tenure of former longtime City Manager Mike Good. Good was fired in 2010, and commissioners asked for the audit weeks later. On April 2, the city announced that it had selected Renee Crichton to take over as the next city manager when Antonio retires on June 29.
News of the Inspector General’s probe was welcomed by critics of city management.
“I’m delighted to hear that,” said activist Charlotte Greenbarg. “It’s long past due. What’s going on in Hallandale Beach needs a lot of investigation; it’s very welcomed.”
“I’m thrilled that Hallandale is being looked at by an independent agency,” said City Commissioner Keith London, who is running for the mayor’s seat. “I’ve been asking for this for about four years.”
The CRA was created in 1996 with a 30-year mission to facilitate redevelopment in the city. But while it has spent millions in tax dollars over the years, critics complain the city has little to show for it.
A number of controversial findings and actions regarding the city’s redevelopment agency have surfaced in the past year:
- An auditing firm reported in September that the CRA failed to properly track city land acquisitions totaling more than $28 million and loans to businesses exceeding $1.5 million. Last month, auditors said the city also failed to provide them with $20 million in vendor contracts for review, limiting the scope of their audit report.
- The CRA acquired nine properties for $23.5 million during the past five years – taking them off the tax rolls – yet the city has enacted no plans for how to use eight of the parcels. The value of those properties has also fallen by $9.1 million.
- A local weekly newspaper that regularly features a column written by Mayor Joy Cooper – and has touted her in front page puff pieces – received a $50,000 CRA loan in 2009 that only required the paper to repay half of that amount. The loan was made even though the South Florida Sun Times’ two top executives had made annual salaries averaging $200,000 for two years prior to the loan.
- Last month, the Sun-Sentinel reported that city officials acknowledged they erroneously forgave an extra $7,500 on a property improvement loan that Commissioner Anthony Sanders had obtained in 2002 before he joined the commission. That meant Sanders’ nonprofit Higher Vision Ministries didn’t have to repay $15,000 of a $46,000 loan. In 2009, the CRA brought the property from Higher Vision for $235,000, with Sanders abstaining, triggering a controversy because the price was higher than two city appraisals, the newspaper reported.
City Manager Antonio, a long time city employee and city manager for approximately two years, would not talk about the Inspector General’s investigation. Through a city spokesman, he declined comment.
Mayor Joy Cooper did not respond to requests for comment.
CRA Director Jackson, who took over at the agency in January 2011, had no comment.
William Gjebre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org