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Hallandale refuses full cooperation in county probe; Which commissioners are targets?

By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org 

Commissioners Dorothy Ross, left, and Anthony Sanders

Hallandale Beach City Manager’s Office has refused to fully cooperate with the Broward Inspector General’s Office investigation into the city’s management of the Community Redevelopment district.

City Attorney V. Lynn Whitfield informed the Inspector General’s Office by letter Wednesday that City Manager Mark Antonio’s office will not voluntarily schedule requested meetings between county agents and city commissioners, who also serve as the CRA’s Board of Directors.

City Attorney Whitfield also sought in her letter to identify the target or targets of the investigation.

“As it relates to the members of the City Commission, it is imperative, in order to properly advise them as to the availability of legal counsel, that I know whether your investigation is directed to the actions of the City Commission as a whole or to the actions of only individual City Commissioners,” Whitfield wrote. “This will assist me in advising whether or not they need to obtain independent legal counsel.”

The Inspector General began an investigation in April of city management practices following numerous news stories in Broward Bulldog and elsewhere regarding the city’s poor record keeping of land acquisitions and loans through the CRA.

County investigators have been to City Hall at least twice. They are known to have met with Antonio, who retires June 29, and CRA executive director Alvin Jackson. The city also has responded to the Inspector General’s request for various documents dealing with the CRA and other aspects of city operations.

But in yesterday’s letter addressed to county Special Agent William Cates, the city refused complete cooperation – apparently until the county is willing to disclose which commissioners are under scrutiny.

Outgoing City Manager Mark Antonio

“It is my understanding that the City Manager’s office has notified you that they will not be scheduling those meetings and advised that all such requests should be directed to me or the CRA attorney Steven Zelkowitz,” Whitfield said.

Antonio, a 25-year city employee who has been city manager for the past two years, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Whitfield or his replacement, Renee Crichton, who is working alongside Antonio until his departure and has assumed administrative duties, according to a city spokesman.

Special Agent Cates also could not be reached for comment.

MEETINGS ANYWAY?

Despite the letter, two city commission members told Broward Bulldog that they are willing to be interviewed if asked. Two others indicated they would not talk without consulting with the city attorney.

Commissioner Keith London said he does not understand the suggestion that city officials refrain from cooperating with investigators.

“I will go as quickly as I can. I have nothing to hide and look forward to speaking with the IG about (the) CRA and Hallandale’s mismanagement of fund,” he said. “I look forward to the final report and the arrest and conviction of people who mismanaged taxpayers’ money.”

The Inspector General is not conducting a criminal inquiry. It can, however, refer its findings to the State Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution.

Commissioner Dorothy Ross was not aware of the city attorney’s letter, but said she was willing to meet with county agents. “I’m of the opinion there is nothing to investigate; there is nothing wrong,” she said.

Commissioner Alexander Lewy was more cautious. “If they subpoena me, fine,” he said, adding that the county was “fishing for information.

Lewy said city staff has told him that most of the information the county has sought predates his election to the city commission in November 2010.

Vice Mayor Anthony Sanders took a similar stance. “I would check with (the city attorney) if asked for an interview,” he said.

Mayor Joy Cooper did not respond to a request for comment.

QUESTIONABLE DEALS

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.

Many of the issues faced by the city happened before Antonio and Jackson were in their current posts.

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.  In March, 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 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.
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Latest comments

  • Dan and William;

    This is really amazing work. Wow! Truly good sh*t right here guys…

    A few random thoughts:

    1) I wonder if Andrew Jerkhoff considered getting a CRA loan to pay off his BOA debts.

    2) Commissioner Levy, as a person of interest, you’re not issued a subpoena — as the prosecutors don’t want to give you immunity. PS. Do you look good in orange?

    3) I didn’t realize Betsy Ross, I mean Dotty Ross, was still alive. How old is she now? 3 bajillion?

    4) That’s a nice picture of Sanders. I bet he won’t be smiling like that in his mug shot.

    5) Job well done Antonio! I’m so glad the taxpayers gave you that $15K bump. Good governance like yours is …er… priceless. Maybe you can move to Georgia and start a commune for failed HB City Managers.

    6) Mayor Cooper wasn’t available as she was conferring with that uber magician of politics – Bill Julian… They’re strategerizing their next move. Also, it’s buy one margarita, get four free at TGIFridays… Someone better hide the firetruck.

    Congratulations Commissioner Keith London for showing all of us how to do it the right way.

  • I have beeen living in Hallandale Beach only for the last 10 years, a result I think iy might not be proper for me to leave a reply, but I think itisa good idea,

    I always beleive taht if you do not have anything to hide, you shouldn’ be afraid to talk to the authorities.

  • I am very disappointed in the decision of the Hallandale Beach City Manager and City Attorney refusing voluntarily to cooperate with the Broward Inspector General’s Office. It seems to me, the City intends to play “hardball” with the IG. If you have nothing to hide there is no reason NOT to cooperate with the IG. No need to subpoena records or take 5th Amendment if you have nothing to hide. Just tell the truth, only the truth and nothing but the truth and let the chips fall wherever they may.
    In our city the City Commission makes the final decision as to how to handle decisions like this, not the CM or CA. Did the City Commission talk about this in “executive session”?
    The residents of Hallandale Beach deserve the truth. All current and former employees of the City that are involved must be deposed, if warranted tried and if found guilty, punished.
    Hallandale Beach will have an election in November, several current and former commissioners are on the ballot. The residents must have the truth NOW. It is no time to drag out the investigation, it is time to cooperate. The time to “hide the ball” is over.

    Csaba Kulin

  • The party’s over in Hallandale Beach. But they need to raid City Hall before s
    someone begins shredding evidence.

    The city needs Csaba Kulin on the Commission and Keith London elected Mayor.

  • The City of Hallandale is long known as a hot bed of corruption with in the ranks of past City Management and City Commission. That the City’s leadership are again under scrutiny this time by the Inspector General’s Office for possible self dealing under Mayor Cooper’s authority and oversight is of deep concern.

    The special deals to political supporters, the self dealing at outrageously favorable terms between Commissioners and Mayor Cooper; Mayor Cooper having failed to follow her own “Accepted Practices” in over 500 instances and then retrospectively passing rule bending exceptions covering some 300 of those instances, call to question if Mayor Cooper is capable of conducting business FOR the People. The only rule at Mayor Cooper’s City Hall is No Rules apply to her!

    Mayor Cooper having presided over massive numbers of suspect contracts and financial dealings is outrageous. That Mayor Cooper along with City Commissioners Sanders, Ross, Lewy and City Manager Antonio have refused to cooperate with the County Inspector General’s investigations is revealing and instructive to me. Interestingly, Commissioner London has stated he will cooperate! A dose of sunlight would reveal corrupt dealings.

    City Manager Antonio retires at the end of July, and Commissioner Sanders and Mayor Cooper stand for reelection in November. Ex Vice Mayor Julian, who is equally culpable in these dealings, is seeking election back on to the Commission after having been defeated in 2010. What I question is who among these under investigation will cut a deal with the IG’s office and roll over on the others, first. In a sinking ship, it’s every rat for himself and Sanders (and wife), Former Commissioner Julian and Commissioner Ross all seem to have something Big and Bad to hide. The IG’s office should step up the pressure to flush out the truth.

    I’m one very angry Hallandale resident.

  • Again the same 3-4 super honest “people of Hallandale”. Specially Charlotte Greenburg. Yes, Dear Party is over. Everyone knows your position. Why you choose to be a “people of Hallandale”? Why not of Hollywood? Super honest people cost us money I hope Inspector will count how much money real people of Hallandale where lost because Csaba and Charlotte and London blocked City improvement. How much jobs we lost, how much potential businesses we lost. How much potential rent we lost

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