Recently, the Broward County Commission voted to end the Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs) run by the various cities county-wide. Given the discoveries made by the Office of Inspector General John Scott regarding mishandling and misuse of funds in several cities, this decision hardly could be termed “a surprise”.
Their ending will not come quickly, and in some cases is still many years in the future, as each city CRA contract completes, and is not renewed. When all is said and done, those funds which were going into the city CRAs will be flowing into the County coffers instead.
But what’s to say that the county level, or any other higher tier of governance will not be just as irresponsible or unscrupulous? Recent reporting indicates that we can expect the same bad behavior from elected officials in higher office as well. See if you agree.
Problems with the city CRAs go back several years. In 2010, the city administrators of Lauderdale Lakes raided their CRA of over $2.5 million in order to pay general operating expenses. This transfer of funds from the CRA accounts to city coffers was provoked by bundled budgeting on the part of city officials.
In April of last year, Margate City Commissioner David McLean was indicted for accepting bribes to use his position on the city’s CRA to influence the award of an August 2012 construction grant (money). A federal court eventually acquitted McLean of certain specific charges, but had there been no CRA, or more precisely, had the CRA in Margate not been under the direct control of the City Commission, would there have even been any appearance of impropriety?
In that same month, Hallandale Beach and it’s CRA were found by the Office of Inspector General(OIG) to have “grossly mismanaged” the pubic money entrusted to it. The amount that was “grossly mismanaged”? Over $2.1 million dollars. City Manager Renee Miller and Mayor Joy Cooper responded to the allegations of the Broward OIG, but both of their responses amounted to stating ‘… yeah, but it’s not really that bad’. Almost $1.5 million of the “mismanaged” funds was spent on things like music education, job placement programs, athletic events, and social awareness events.
Keep in mind that when we are talking about each city and it’s individual CRA, we are not REALLY talking about two separate entities. “Why is that?”, you say? Simple. The board of directors for the majority of CRAs just happen to ALSO be the City Commissioners. So if a city commissioner were to say “I would have to check with the CRA on that project…” what they’re REALLY saying is “I have to go talk to myself…” See how that could be a problem?
Since the mid-1980’s, various Broward county cities have received money for redevelopment of unsightly or “blighted” areas, but with over $300 millions spent thus far, these targeted redevelopment areas have had very little improvement- yet over $450 million more will be spent by the time the CRA’s are completely phased out. BUT FORTUNATELY, the city CRAs are being sunsetted! The Broward County Commission will be handling the funds so there will be no more problems with misspending, poor budgeting, “gross mismanagement”, questionable disbursements, or misappropriation of funds, Right? Hardly.
Because guess who are going to be the directors of the COUNTY Community Redevelopment Agency? You guessed it, the county commissioners themselves. Seem familiar? You’re right! It’s the same organizational structure that led to problems in the city CRAs.
This is not to say that problems with the County’s ‘Central Community Redevelopment Agency’ are inevitable, but the taxpayers of Broward should probably keep a close eye on how the funds are used, based on the attitudes of some of the County Commissioners toward taxpayer dollars.
To some of the Commissioners, once those taxed dollars go into the county coffers, it’s theirs to do with as they will. For instance, consider the statement of County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs statement when the Commission was voting to sunset the city CRAs:
“We’re not saying to you we want to control or hand pick your projects…What we’re saying is we’re using our money in order to do it, and we want to have a bit of a say in how those dollars are spent.” (emphasis added)
Really? “…our money…”? “…a bit of say…”? Though subtle, words and phrases like these should cause Broward taxpayers to worry, because of the mindset they represent: ‘I’m in office, so I can do as I like, because this money is now mine’.
Or the statement of Commissioner Dale Holness when soliciting funds on behalf of the Community Access Center in Miramar requesting $15000 from the County Commission to put on an event during Hatian Cultural Heritage Month:
Sure, because $15,000 going to a group that will then work to get Dale re-elected isn’t suspicious or self serving. As a side note, the money was awarded to the group, but to date there has been no audit of how it was spent). Get the picture?
Or the actions of the Commission regarding the brand spankin’ new scoreboard for the Panthers Hockey Club, purchased to the tune of $4.2 million. The Commission will quickly state that the scoreboard was paid for from “bed tax” funds, not county taxpayer funds. What they’re consciously ignoring though is that those taxed dollars are STILL not theirs to do with as they will. Technically, those “bed taxes” belong to the residents of Broward county. Then again, spending taxpayer dollars to help out the Panthers potentially gives commissioners a chance for some great photo ops, as well as a fairly significant source to call upon for campaign contributions when elections roll around.
The phasing out of the city CRAs was a good thing, with all the mishandling of funds that had taken place by certain city commissions. Handing those funds over to the County Commission though may prove to be just as dangerous. It is up to the residents of Broward to make sure that those funds haven’t just been pulled out of the frying pan, only to be thrown into a nuclear meltdown. At least, that’s the way I see it. and hopefully you will too.