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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.

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Latest comments

  • Yes, we knew this. Too bad this report didn’t come out before the election, although considering the mentality of too many HB voters, they’d probably be the lemmings still.

    So, is anyone with the power going to do anything about the illegal actions? One never knows in Broweird, where the politically connected seem to be coated in teflon, not to mention the conviction problems we’ve seen.

  • The OIG Office report explodes the myth created by Mayor Cooper that she has had a great administration. More to the point, it focuses with “laser like” specifics that she has been incompetent in her use of tax payer funds and her duty of oversight of the City Managers actions in protection of the the citizens of Hallandale Beach.

    Her insistence on pandering for the NW Quadrant in Hallandale for their vote has led her to highly questionable acts and liaison with people in her with difficulty doing the right thing. It would appear that Mayor Cooper has in fact treated the quest to buy the minority votes in the NW quadrant over a very long period has led her astray.

    To be sure, the CRA by intent is mission tasked to improve the living conditions in the CRA designated communities and enhance the use of property and values.

    But that does not mean to be wasteful, imprudent, and outright irresponsibility with the tax payer’s investment in the CRA funds. The buck stops at her desk. She led the charge fpr the Commissioners in these abuses and misuse in the name of vote buying.

    It has to stop. It is time to ask Governor Scott to remove her from office as it is the only way the Citizens can be assured of good government here in Hallandale.

  • Chad, we have a council-manager form of government in Hallandale Beach, as do most municipalities in the state and elsewhere with populations under a few hundred thousand or so. The Mayor does not have an “administration” in Hallandale, and “the buck” does not stop with Hallandale’s Mayor.

    The Mayor in Hallandale only has one vote just like every other city commissioner. The Mayor is tasked with chairing the meetings and with ceremonial duties. It is the City Manager who is effectively the CEO of the city running about a hundred million dollar operation (a little less). The City Manager has an administration, and the buck stops with the manager. The commission is made up of ordinary residents who meet minimum qualifications and choose to run for a seat. The commission provides oversight and vets the policies and ordinances put on each agenda by the City Manager.

    The administrative problems we’ve seen in the recent past in Hallandale have been actually very typical, especially in regards to huge pensions and DROP’s. Over a couple of decades, this entire country broke open the piggy bank at the initial push by Ronald Reagan and then continuing on until the economy collapsed toward the end of 2007. We can’t continually blame city administrators for believing that economic good times were ahead when that belief had been pervasive across the country. Hallandale has seen the same kinds of troubles that residents of other towns and cities across the country and throughout Broward County have seen, but Hallandale has come through with fiscal reserves and a far more consistent managerial structure that has allowed this city to boast continual potential.

    As for how the city commission and the Mayor handled administrative problems, you and Charlotte Greenbarg and Frustrated in Hallandale and a few other right-wingers continually insist that nothing has been done and that the city has been hiding this, that and the other thing. The opposite is true. Despite whatever progress the commission and the interim as well as the new City Manager have implemented and however they have audited and discussed and examined practices and no matter how professionally and diplomatically they have removed and replaced key personnel, you and your fellow members of the Cult of Keith London continue to assert that nothing has been done and that all has been in secret.

    Mistakes, oversights, willful misconduct and malfeasance have all been and will be attended to, but without the overt outrage and the public finger-pointing that has been exhibited in other cities with too-frequent management changes and amateurish elected officials. Hallandale Beach has handled matters more professionally in an effort to continue to attract investment in our city and a desirability for property and for new business. That’s the appropriate way to handle things. That’s certainly the way any mayor or commissioner should handle things. Keith London got that part all wrong.

    Charlotte Greenbarg continues to be perplexed about the choice of voters to continue with a Mayor who has worked extraordinarily hard in so many areas of all of Hallandale Beach’s communities rather than a sociopathic politician who has and had done absolutely NOTHING other than sow discontent, suspicion and division in the city. Keith London does not recreate, converse, associate or mingle amongst those who are not members of his right-wing cult of negativity and resentment, however.

    Keith London had voted against every single Code of Ethics implemented in the city- every one- and he had never brought a single bit of change to anything in the city other than to foster an outrageously negative portrayal of the city to the public (good luck to those trying to sell properties or attract customers to their businesses or rent out business and residential space) and to persuade the commission to implement evening commission meetings.

    You, however, want to continue to believe that Hallandale voters were just duped and stupid. You and Mitt Romney and the GOP think awfully alike. Fortunately, despite missteps and failures and could-have-beens, most people around here know that whatever needs to be made better is not going to be improved by the likes of Keith London.

    No one should be shocked or dismayed by the IG’s report. Citizen government is never going to be perfect. Democracy and capitalism are flawed systems. Most of us prefer what we’ve got to the alternatives, however, and the very same can be said about our commission and the Cult of Keith London. What is found in the IG report is pretty typical. There’s always going to be someone who chooses to be able to finally make that payment on that timeshare that never should have been bought in the first place using money meant for public use, and there’s always going to be managers everywhere who misunderstand and misuse a CRA. We just have to be vigilant. But it takes the cooperation of an entire commission to be able to provide the necessary oversight and to take the necessary actions to keep administrative matters in line.

    Dr. Jackson is gone, as is Mike Good and Mark Antonio (who kept things generally very stable in the interim) and the recent Finance Director and others. As usual, Hallandale Beach is moving on, but the Cult of Keith London will never see that or acknowledge it. Hallandale Beach has one of the most outstanding city managers in the state if not the nation now, and we should be proud of that. We have an excellent City Attorney. Our current commission works well together. We have outstanding plans for quality of life improvements already voted on and in the process of implementation. There are always learning curves and mistakes that will be made, but continually trashing our city and the officials the voters selected achieves nothing more than enhancing the foul dysfunction engendered by Keith London for his cult of naysayers.

    The submision of the IG report is an opportunity to move foward, not to look back. There are only a few people who don’t believe that best practices will be identified and implemented. Those few dance to the tune of Keith London. I certainly hope that his political future is as bad as his own past has been, a past that had never included successfully running businesses as he’s claimed or understanding anything about helping people’s lives through government.

  • Ask you’re self what has been the one constant over the last ten years.

    Not Mike Good, Mark Antonio, Renee Crichton, Richard Cannone, Pattie Ladolcetta, or Dr. Jackson.

    Joy Cooper is the common denominator in the CRA governance disaster.

    Joy Cooper has never once said the “the buck stops here” instead she makes excuses for abuses during her time in office. Millions of dollars wasted with nothing documented to prove the money produced anything of real value.

    She even stated “Hallandale can use the CRA money in direct conflict to a Florida Attorney General Opinion”

    Joy Cooper what have you done with our $50,000,000 million dollars?

    Joy Cooper take responsibility for once in your political career!

  • Andy, Andy, Andy,

    Your fixation and fascination with regards to Commissioner London is exhausting for all of us. What happened? Did he rebuff your advances; you behave like a high school girl whose advances are not reciprocated?

  • Mayor Cooper sucked the JOY and the MONEY out of Hallandale…..dont complain, you voted for her, knowing all the CRA governance disaster. My heart goes out to the residents for having such elected “officials”. Cant wait to say …………ciao bella.

  • So typical that Gjebre would use the most inflammatory headline he can think of, including the word “slams,” when he could have focused on one particular take-away from the IG report:

    “We are encouraged by the remedial steps taken by the City and the CRA in the last year.”

    That’s because the recommendations in the report had been implemented by the CRA Board of Directors prior to the report being issued.

    There has been a learning curve for that board, made up of elected residents, and while some mistakes were a result of nefarious motives and some a result of incompetence, alarm and outrage is probably not the reaction that a reporter should be engendering in regards to this story.

    What an objective reporter should highlight is what readers and citizens might expect now and in the future from Hallandale Beach’s government and from oversight of the CRA. New manager just passing her first year, a brand new CRA director and a new commission since last November. Few reading posts by Gjebre would ever be aware of such changes for the present and the future, and I think he likes it that way.

    The past may have been slammed, but that past was quite a while ago. Mayor Cooper has been on the forefront of implementing reforms. Meanwhile, the latest CRA director to go due to apparent incompetence had been aggressively pushed by Keith London to be the city manager. Now both are gone from Hallandale government and from CRA oversight.

    The most unfortunate aspect of this kind of blogging is that posts on BrowardBulldog are then re-printed as if Gjebre is a reporter in the Miami Herald and.or the Sun-Sentinel. This isn’t reporting. It’s slamming for the sake of outrage and a lack of confidence in citizen government.

  • Andrew. Your posts are longer than the article which in itself is obnoxious and self-indulgent. Who can or wants to read all of that nonsense? You have come under an article written about the malfeasance and ineptitude of Cooper and her cronies in order to defend them which shows your not too bright. Why on earth would you come under an article about the IG’s report–not London or any of his “cult followers”, but the IG’s report and defend them? Can you not READ? Or is the IG one of London’s cult followers also? Maybe the IG is secretly in love with London also. Reducing all negative press to the work of London is getting a little stale. I think that the IG can make up their OWN minds, don’t you? London, London, London–what did he do to you? Or rather what DIDN’T he do to you??

    Here is the forum for those who understand what a tragedy it is the London didn’t win, Cooper still there with Lewy so far up her tail and Sanders not too far behind. It is so obvious to anyone paying attention that Lewy is still a follower and not a leader. He is one of the worst liars there is. Sanders is simply ineffective as usual. The man cannot think for himself. Maybe Lazarow and Julian can make a difference, but I doubt they will have much luck with the “Three Stooges” in cahoots STILL.

    Andrew you may have someone somewhere who reads your posts but no one here will. Go cut your grass before someone calls code on you.

  • Andy,

    Take a deep breath and get off your Mayor Cooper fag hag horse.

    Now take a look at the picture at the top of this article and read what the OIG wrote and where Bill Gjebre found the title for his article:

    “GROSS MISMANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC FUNDS BY THE CITY OF HALLANDALE BEACH AND THE HALLANDALE BEACH COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY”

    Sounds like a “slam” to all the intelligent people out here in the real world.

    So If you can write better than the Bulldog let us know when can we start reading your articles in the Miami Herald and Sun Sentinel?

    Good luck with that.

  • “The OIG’s review of bank records and other materials reveal that only 323.00 of the money was spent on the trip. Dr. Brown caused the remainder of the funds to be used for unrelated expenses including over 200.00 in cell phone costs; a 683.00 payment for a time share Condo she owns in the Westgate in Orlando; a Dollar Rent-a-Car in the charge charge amount 258.00; a two thousand dollar cash withdrawal; and payroll payments to her and her brother.”

    Andrew here is what you wrote: “That’s because the recommendations in the report had been implemented by the CRA Board of Directors prior to the report being issued.” “The past may have been slammed, but that past was quite a while ago. Mayor Cooper has been on the forefront of implementing reforms.”

    Really reforms? The ones like when the CRA Board of Directors almost handed over ANOTHER 50,000 two months ago to Brown’s BS charity. If it had not been for a RESIDENT who caught the mistake, that money would have been stolen also. But not even stolen–just handed over. Cooper, Lewy and Sanders give it away like it is not theirs to spend. OH WAIT. It ISN’T theirs to spend. It is OURS. Cooper can’t wait to give money away. I don’t blame Sanders for running again. More money (50,000) for Eagles Wings. A group who has no WEBSITE at all in the age of social media. And Palms Action Coalition who has not updated their wensite since 2011.
    Please shut up already, Andrew. As long as Cooper sits in her chair of tyranny, they will continue to throw our money away. It won’t stop until the three of them are gone. Lewy, by the way, has already stated that he believes the majority of the remaining CRA money should go to the NW. Don’t believe it–go ask him. I am sure that he will lie through his slimy teeth like he always does. I wonder if he would be willing to state that from the dais. Probably not. The three of them are spineless and have the ethics of a used car salesman.

  • Please also keep your focus on the CRA of Lauderdale Lakes. Their response to the apparent “missing” of estimated $1.5 million dollars was “oh, we dont think it was stolen….” well, did it just grow legs and go prance itself into someone’s bank account in the Caymans? that’s not “stealing” right.? that’s merely ‘going for a stroll…’

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