Hallandale Beach Blog -A common sense public policy overview offering a critical perspective on the current events, politics, govt., public policy, sports scene and pop culture of the U.S., South Florida and Europe, especially the UK and Sweden. In particular, Broward & Miami-Dade County, and the cities of Hallandale Beach, Hollywood & Aventura. Trust me when I tell you, this part of Florida is NOT the Land of Lincoln. Pictured in upper-left is Hallandale Beach's iconic beachball-colored Water Tower on State Road A1A; September 2008 photo by me, South Beach Hoosier. © 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Updated; Why do Carrie Meek Foundation Directors still get free pass from South Florida's news media? Miami-Dade County's deal with Wackenhut, Carrie Meek's wearing of two hats, Kendrick Meek's time with wackenhut; Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper's ego and chicanery won't ultimately succeed -except in making this city much-worse than it needs to be; Michael Butler's Public Records Request leads to him being sued by Cooper & City, so where's the coverage in the Miami Herald?

2013 Update: Unfortunately, Michael Butler's Change Hallandale website is no longer in operation.
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This is an excerpt from a longer email I sent early Friday morning to some public policy friends and acquaintances around Florida and up in D.C., many of whom share my own incredulity on this particular subject, and wonder how much longer the obsequious media will allow Carrie Meekour region's "Dear Leader," to get away with her antics.


Please read this news story from South Bendvia their CBS affiliate, WSBT-TV

Local Shelters Lose Food Aid Because Of Fees

http://www.wsbt.com/news/local/48557542.html


Frankly, I can't help but wonder if this is going on somewhere down here, given the truly haphazard track record of actually following the spirit and letter of the law among many South Florida non-profits, who don't (always) train their own front-line personnel properly, often with devastating or tragic effects.

Or even the higher-ups, who ought to know better!

Look at the Carrie Meek Foundation's Board of Directors hardly being grilled a whit publicly in the local news media about what they knew -and when- about the very curious things that took place there.

Notice anything unusual about the foundation's Directors web page above?

Correct, it lacks any information identifying who those very people are, with no photos, no
biographical info about them, nada.
It's a simple list of names, not unlike an elementary school honor roll.

Consider these two sentences from Charles Rabins's excellent article in the Miami Herald from November 16th, at bottom, seven months ago:

The audit accuses the Meek Foundation of using money from business-tax receipts intended for development to pay its former executive director.
The group's contract called for it to pay the director from a trust fund, the
audit said.

MMAP never addressed why trust fund money wasn't used, only saying it
was involved in a joint venture to build an apartment complex on Northeast Second Avenue that should be "ready for occupancy" soon.

Well, the foundation's executive director, Anthony Williams, was able to snag a Herald Letter to the Editor less than a week later, on November 22nd, and -shocker!-
Williams never addressed that very simple question.

Is the general indifference down here among the media to follow-up on this story because of sheer laziness, or because of who the individual directors are, and what those people represent in the greater South Florida community, such as it is, including Carrie Meek's current role as one of Miami-Dade County's Washington lobbyists, and mother of a local Congressman?

If you didn't already know, that move was made at the explicit direction of M-D Commissioner
Sally Heyman, as CBS4's Stephen Stock mentioned in his excellent I-Team stories on
the M-D Commissioners' discretionary funds, which is nothing but a taxpayer-funded political
patronage slush fund, with zero oversight.


More than just the usual reasons why certain people in the community are asked to join such
efforts, I can't help but wonder if it's actually their very ubiquity that explains why they were chosen in the first place.

Sad to say, but speaking for myself, I can't help but wonder if that element explains most of the lack of interest among South Florida media for following that story further along.
After all, some of these people can CLOSE lot of doors to reporters on other, perhaps, more important stories...

I'm no News Director... but it might be a good time to head out and see what's what, months after Miami-Dade County gave a no-bid deal to lease 121 acres of Opa-locka Executive Airport to a foundation like Meek's, with ZERO track record to speak of with large-scale development.

So far, the only constant for the foundation's website is the same photo of Meek that appears
on every single page, yet when you click the Economic Development link, naturally,
assuming that there'll be something there of substance about the situation at the airport,
there's only "Coming Soon."

Wow, the same exact thing it said 3-4 months ago. Que pasa?

By the looks of things, they haven't added anything to the website since December 11th,
2008, and that was here:

It also seems to me like it's high time to ask the foundation's well-known Directors, who are
faceless on the foundation's own website, if they have any earthly idea what's going on.

Personally, having grown-up here, I have my doubts.

For good examples of what's been going on with the Meeks, including the MMAP, take a look at what ever-vigilant Eye on Miami has written about them in the past:

Earlier this year I found myself in a professional situation where I was in the company of some very well-informed media folks that were down here in South Florida while I was working up in the Washington, D.C, area during the 1990's.

People who were frequently at County Hall downtown and over on Dinner Key and all the usual locales where we've grown accustomed to seeing on LIVE stand-up shots for the 6 and 11 p,m. local newscasts.

Well, among the more interesting things I learned that day were that one of the many knocks on Kendrick Meek before he first got elected to public office, was that he had a reputation for often being a 'no-show' while working for Wackenhut, who was unable to complain
about this for reasons that should be patently obvious by now.
I was told this was "common knowledge."

Not that this probably will surprise many of you, but for the record, I have never voted for any of the Meeks and never will.
In 2006, rather than simply ratify Kendrick MeekI voted for myself for Congress.

Last November, rather than ratify Meek-supporter Joy Cooper, I voted for my friend and fellow Hallandale Beach civic activist, Michael Butler for mayor of Hallandale Beach.

Michael is the moral force and number cruncher extraordinaire behind the popular website,

In my own modest way, I describe his site thusly on my blogroll:
"Change Hallandale -New fact-based website by Hallandale Beach resident Michael 
Butler that goes directly after the longtime cronyism and incompetency at Hallandale Beach City Hall with cold hard facts, figures, graphs, charts and videos. See 'em for yourself and you'll see what's really going on!"

For his hard work at trying to ferret-out useful and compelling information and make it publicly
available for local residents to analyze, he's being sued by HB Mayor Joy Cooper and 3/4ths of the HB City Commission, the very people I so often -and accurately- refer to on my blog as The Rubber Stamp Crew, for obvious reasons.

Michael's particular crime?
Making public records requests for information that is specifically allowed under Florida's
Sunshine Laws by legal precedent, but which is particularly embarrassing to Mayor Cooper.

In this state, the actual content defines what's public, not the mayor's own desires or opinion.
Especially when she uses the HB City Hall office address and phone number and signs
them, "Mayor Cooper."

Mayor Cooper has engaged in subterfuge and chicanery on the dais of the City Commission in order to hide her own appalling personal failure to exercise proper judgment, and NOT mix personal, political and official business when sending emails.

(In fact, Mayor Cooper railed against Michael Butler and myself at Wednesday night's City Commission meeting, and though she didn't mention us by name, it was crystal clear to everyone whom she was referring, a fact not lost on any of the many people in Hallandale Beach who've contacted me in the days since, to see if I'd heard about it -yet.
Well, I was there, sitting in the back of the room taking note of Cooper's faux umbrage and false modesty.

I will try my best in the near-future to get video of her remarks posted here, so you can see for
yourself what she's really like when she gets on a smug, self-serving rant like Wednesday night's.

Hubris?
Joy Cooper not only can't spell it, she doesn't even know the meaning of the word.

No doubt Joy Cooper's been warned many times over the years that she courted legal trouble if she persisted in her unethical behavior with emails, but if she's nothing else, Joy Cooper is very, very stubborn and very, very egotistical, so other people's words of advice just bounce off of her like rain off a duck's back.

Rather than openly admitting her past mistakes and taking her punishment for not abiding by the laws of this state, per her sworn oath of office, she's trying to turn the tables on someone who IS genuinely interested in getting the truth out.

That's the main reason why HB taxpayers are now being billed -bilked- for $185 an hour for an outside attorney in the person of Jamie Cole, who, it would seem, has to literally make a mockery of both the State of Florida's Sunshine Laws and court precedents in order to make their case.

Oh, and did I mention here yet that the Miami Heraldin its infinte wisdom, has NEVER once reported on this sad and queer little story of South Florida in the year 2009?
A South Florida city that's actually suing one of its own citizens -and charging its own taxpayers for
the dirty deed- at the behest of a dishonest and
power-hungry poltician?
Now I have.

For more information on the absurdity of this lawsuit, orchestrated by and for the personal benefit of Mayor Joy Cooper, go to Michael's website, Change Hallandale, and look for his May 22nd post titled, CITY SUES ME TO DENY TRANSPARENCY
under Blog/Updates at http://www.changehallandale.com/

Be sure to also see my April 21st post on it, re Hallandale Beach City Hall fights blogger
seeking mayor's e-mail list
The latter includes the entire account written by the Sun-Sentinel's Ihosvani Rodriguez.
Reader comments for that story are still at:


Miami Herald

SECURITY CONTRACT DEBATE: Carrie Meek seeks to remain a lobbyist in Miami-Dade security contract debate - Former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek is asking Miami-Dade officials to let her continue lobbying for both the county and Wackenhut Corp. despite their dueling positions on a security contract

By Beth Reinhard
May 17, 2009
In the escalating showdown between Miami-Dade County and Wackenhut Corp., former congresswoman Carrie Meek is on both sides.

She lobbies for Miami-Dade, which is accusing Wackenhut of bilking the county out of $3.4 million. And she lobbies for Wackenhut, which is suing the county for $20 million in damages.

"It's kind of hard to represent two masters," said Robert Meyers, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.

But Meek is asking county officials to disregard the conflict of interests and allow her to continue representing both Miami-Dade taxpayers and the security company. She has received $150,000 from the county since mid-2007. She declined to disclose her Wackenhut pay.

"I don't see any reason why I can't continue to represent Wackenhut, and I've always been a strong proponent of the county," said Meek, a civil-rights pioneer who represented Miami-Dade in Congress from 1992 to 2001.

Allegations that Wackenhut was doctoring timesheets and leaving county transit stations unguarded go back to a whistleblower's civil lawsuit filed in 2005. The county auditor found evidence of overbilling in 2006 and released a report in 2008. In early April, County Manager George Burgess said the Palm Beach Gardens-based company should be barred from doing business with Miami-Dade.

Meek didn't file her conflict-waiver request until April 27 -- a year after the audit became public. She said she didn't know the county requires its lobbyists to give notice immediately in case of an "actual or perceived" dispute with a private client.

"I can tell you that Wackenhut feels that they're being unfairly judged," said Meek, who added that she did not know the lawsuit was coming. "I can't tell you who is right or wrong."
LONG-STANDING TIES

Meek and her family have long-standing ties to the Palm Beach Gardens-based security company.

Her son, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, sold security contracts for the company from 1994 to 2002, and his Senate campaign has received the maximum $10,000 donation from Wackenhut's political action committee. Meek's wife, Leslie, registered with the county to lobby for Wackenhut in 2004, according to public records.

The former congresswoman began lobbying for Wackenhut in April 2007, the same month the county hired her to focus on transit issues. She asked the county if she could continue representing both clients after she was reminded last month about the county's policy regarding lobbying conflicts, said Joe Rasco, director of the county Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

"I think it's time we asked and that they proferred," Rasco said. "I think it's a fair question and we'll be taking a look at it."

Miami-Dade's lobbying contract describes a conflict of interest as a position contrary to county policy or its financial interests. Representing a client at odds with the county without permission "shall result" in the lobbyist's contract being thrown out and/or the lobbyist being barred from working for the county for up to three years.

"It is incumbent on the consultant and its employees, partners and subcontractors to remain mindful of the county's policy and fiscal interests and positions vis-a-vis other clients," reads the agreement.

Meek didn't make the initial cut in 2006 when the county decided to scale back its Washington lobbying team from eight to three firms and put the contracts out for bid. The county had been spending nearly $1.2 million a year.
'SIMPLY UNACCEPTABLE'

"Paying this much for this many people was simply unacceptable," County Commissioner Sally Heyman said in March 2006.

But two months earlier, Heyman directed staff to add Meek and former state Rep. Mike Abrams -- who came in fourth and fifth place -- to the lobbying team. "This was coming out of nowhere," Rasco told county investigators, who concluded Heyman did not violate the ethics code because the lobbying office reports to the commission.

The commission unanimously approved hiring Meek and Abrams on an "as-needed basis" and set their pay at a maximum of $75,000 a year. County officials said the money would come from reserves set aside for hiring outside experts in case of an emergency, such as a terrorist attack or major hurricane.

Two years later, Heyman now says the county should consider paring down to two lobbying firms. The county pays two full-time employees in Washington to lobby the federal government, in addition to the team of three law firms plus Meek and Abrams.

"Are we getting our money's worth?" Heyman asked. "Originally, I thought so. I don't know right now, to tell you the truth."

Miami Herald

AUDIT SCANDAL: Tug of war for troubled Metro Miami Action Plan - Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and county commissioners are vying to control an organization created as an economic driver in the black community.

By Charles Rabin
November 16, 2008
After three terrible days of rioting in 1980, Miami civic and political leaders aimed to heal the city through a 21-member group that would lay the foundation for an inner-city rebirth.

But more than two decades later, despite successful programs helping scofflaw teens and first-time home buyers, the Metro Miami Action Plan remains wracked by management breakdowns and intermittent scandal.

And now, with a scathing 76-page audit outlining millions of dollars of questionable deals, the MMAP may be stripped of control in a power struggle between the county mayor and commissioners.

This much Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez and county commissioners agree upon: If the agency is to survive, fundamental change must come. The real battle involves the fine print of that change and who will oversee the group. The mayor wants it; commissioners don't want to give it up.

Armed with the audit, which reaffirms old problems and unveils new ones, County Manager George Burgess said the agency must become a county department under the administration's eye. "Action must be taken to stabilize the organization and to ensure its effectiveness in advocating for the needs of the black community," he wrote.

Commissioners, who appoint the agency's board members, responded by creating a nine-member task force of high-powered black community leaders. Its mission: to press recommendations that would lift the agency out of its hole.
AGENCY'S MISSION

"The agency got off to a wonderful start, but somewhere along the way it lost direction," admitted Commission Vice Chairwoman Barbara Jordan. "But under the mayor's watch, it takes away from the original intent. How can you have it as a county department? You're dancing to the tune of one leader."

The agency's origins date to the 1979 beating death of Arthur McDuffie, a one-time Marine killed while handcuffed after a chase by white police officers. When the police were acquitted a year later by an all-white jury, a three-day rampage ensued that cost 18 lives and $100 million in damage.

MMAP was formed in 1983 to rebuild a torn business community. Among its goals were economic development, housing and education. Though its employees work for the county, it reports to county commissioners.

About $1 million a year of MMAP's $5 million budget comes from the county's general fund, the remainder from fees and a surtax.
TROUBLED BOOKS

Since management issues surfaced last year, 15 of the 21 appointed members have left the Trust, leaving only six to run the quasi-county agency.

Late last year, Miami-Dade prosecutors entered MMAP's Flagler Street office and hauled away computer files. There's been little word on that investigation, but the new audit, released last week, raises questions about spending.

Entangled in the audit are several church leaders, the Carrie Meek Foundation -- named after the longtime former U.S. congresswoman -- and Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.

The audit accuses the Meek Foundation of using money from business-tax receipts intended for development to pay its former executive director. The group's contract called for it to pay the director from a trust fund, the audit said.

MMAP never addressed why trust fund money wasn't used, only saying it was involved in a joint venture to build an apartment complex on Northeast Second Avenue that should be "ready for occupancy" soon.

Some of the agency's housing initiatives also came under fire.

In 2006, MMAP allocated $2.85 million for a lottery system in which first-time home buyers were given 0 percent loans that would be forgiven after 20 years if payments were kept up and the homeowner didn't move.

The audit found that notices of the lottery were placed in newspapers so late that applicants only had two days to respond. Despite public notices of applications available at several locations, they were only available at one.

"The lottery provided significant subsidies to only a handful of individuals, in effect awarding them homes as gifts," wrote county auditor Cathy Jackson.

Action Plan Chairman John T. Jones said the county's ethics commission investigated the lottery -- and found no misuse of funds. He also noted that the application deadline was extended a month at the public's request.
FUNDS IN QUESTION

And, the audit delved into deals that had been reported in The Miami Herald.

For instance, it requested that Karym Ventures, a Liberty City company owned by Spence-Jones' family, return $75,000 of Local Business Tax Receipts that the audit said were improperly used.

Spence-Jones called the auditor's request for restitution "totally wrong." She wouldn't comment further.

The audit questioned the $25,000 awarded to Liberty City's Friends of MLK, money that was to develop promotional material, outreach and build a website. The company couldn't provide documents to prove how the money was spent, the audit found.

"This contract and its principals are currently involved in a criminal proceeding," responded Jones, the trust chairman, saying the group would seek a return of any improperly spent money.

Friends of MLK director the Rev. Gaston Smith was arrested earlier this year on theft charges, accused of misspending the $25,000 county grant and passing along $4,000 to Karym Ventures.

Miami-Dade Police Director Robert Parker said Smith used the money for "his own personal gain." More than $10,000 was taken out in ATM withdrawals over three months, including $500 at a martini bar at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas.

Smith's attorney, Michael Tein, said his client used the money to promote the organization, for travel to religious conferences and to pay an employee. Smith awaits trial.
UP FOR DISCUSSION

Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, who created the new task force, admits MMAP needs major reform and wants it placed under "management watch," akin to County Hall probation.

Her push to add oversight but retain control will be discussed in a Thursday meeting likely to spur debate. Ultimately, whether the agency's oversight is transferred to the mayor may well be decided by commissioners who still control its purse strings.

Either way, Edmonson said the agency's core mission must remain.

"The problem is there was a lot of conflict going on in the board," Edmonson said. The name "gets a sour feeling now among some people. But what it stands for is really needed in our community."

Miami Herald staff writer Michael Vasquez contributed to this report.

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