The first in a multi-part series of reports on the Children’s Services Council of Broward County
In 2000, Broward voters approved the creation of an independent taxing authority known as The Children’s Services Council of Broward County (CSC). The CSC claims its mission is “to provide leadership, advocacy and resources necessary to enhance the lives of the children of Broward County and empower them to become responsible, productive adults.” Simply put, this year, CSC gets to dole out $54,620,588.58 worth of Broward taxpayer dollars to groups it deems worthy. Thanks to Florida law, Broward voters will get a chance in November to curb the excesses of the Children’s Services Council. The reauthorization of the CSC will appear on the November 4, 2014 ballot. If approved by voters, the CSC could exist indefinitely.
Last month, the CSC submitted reauthorization language to the Broward County Commission which read:
A RESOLUTION OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA, PROVIDING FOR A REFERENDUM ELECTION TO BE HELD ON NOVEMBER 4, 2014, THE BROWARD COUNTY GENERAL ELECTION, TO DETERMINE WHETHER TO RETAIN THE CHILDREN’S SERVICES COUNCIL OF BROWARD COUNTY SO THAT IT WILL CONTINUE EXISTING AS A DISTRICT WITH VOTER-APPROVED TAXING AUTHORITY UNTIL DISSOLVED PURSUANT TO LAW; AND PROVIDING FOR SEVERABILITY AND AN EFFECTIVE DATE.
The resolution passed 8 to 0. Commissioner Stacy Ritter was absent.
Included in the County Commission agenda item was the CSC budget for fiscal year 2014. The information details how the CSC spends nearly $55 million of taxpayer dollars. CSC says public dollars are used to keep kids safe. “On average, the CSC gets less than 2 cents of every dollar paid in property taxes, which fund a wide variety of programs designed to help children lead a healthy, safe and productive life.” However, under “child safety” there is one single entry. The CSC gave $25,000 to the United Way anti-bullying program.
The budget shows CSC spends 34 times more marketing itself to Broward residents.
The budget shows CSC spends $864,987.00 of taxpayers’ dollars on “public awareness & advocacy.” The CSC spends close to one million dollars of your money on public relations to tell you how they’re spending your money.
The CSC spends $30,000 on “sponsorships” and $10,000 on “sports marketing.” The CSC spends $31,600 on a television program hosted by the CSC President/CEO Cindy Arenberg Seltzer. She hosts Future First: Focus on Broward’s Children, which airs on BECON TV. This public access type channel is operated by the School Board of Broward County.
CSC gives $50,000 to WPBT Channel 2/Kidvision. They spend $111,100.00 on “resources guides.” The CSC spent $25,000 on a survey conducted by the Rose Research firm and paid $55,000 to the Bitner Goodman public relations firm.
Now, The Children’s Services Council CEO is urging friends to “like” the Facebook page of “Citizens For Broward’s Children.” The newly created political committee claims it is interested in Broward County ballot issues regarding “children’s services in Broward County.”
Promotion material obtained by RED BROWARD, shows the committee is headed by Fred Lippman. While he currently serves as an official with Nova Southeastern School of Health, Lippman was a longtime Democrat member of the Florida legislature. Citizens for Broward’s Children, Inc. says it is a “countywide group of community, business, civic and political organizations and leaders who are working together to support the reauthorization of the Children’s Services Council of Broward County. Citizens for Broward’s Children was created by a group of concerned Broward County residents who want to ensure the Children’s Services Council is reauthorized by voters in the 2014 Election. Membership in Citizens for Broward’s Children is free and open to anyone who shares our goal of supporting the reauthorization of the Broward County Children’s Services Council.”
Kim Lee Bove, treasurer of Citizens For Broward’s Children, works for Cornerstone Solutions of West Palm Beach. According to their website, Cornerstone Solutions helps “clients win political or issue campaigns, or pass/defeat ballot initiatives or legislation. We do it with award-winning strategic and integrated communications plans.”
In November 2013, the founder of Cornerstone Solutions, Rick Asnani, attending a meeting of the Children’s Services Council. The meeting minutes state, “Mr. Rick Asnani, Principal at Cornerstone Solutions, who was hired by the Community Foundation of Broward to look at the referendum process and landscape for CSC’s success, summarized the findings and thought process behind their recommendation of the 2014 general election for the CSC retention question.”
Asnani has done work for other groups including the Broward Workshop. RED BROWARD obtained a Cornerstone Solutions email touting their work for The Broward Workshop, “Services included GOTV and absentee chase efforts including direct mail and phone banks for the No on Amendment 4 effort in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.”
It appears these groups are willing to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps even millions, to make sure the CSC reauthorization passes in November. Yet, they give just $25,000 for child safety. Sure, they spend lots of money on other programs. But it’s our money. We deserve a full accounting of what it is being spent on. Millions should be spent on safety instead of consultants, cronies and well-connected groups.
NEXT: Is the Children’s Services Council funding partisan outreach programs?