By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
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.
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.
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 email@example.com