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, August 8, 2011

When cities use taxpayers' money to pick winners & losers; Follow-up to my Public Records Request of July 22, 2011 to the City of Hallandale Beach

When cities use taxpayers' money to pick winners & losers; Follow-up to my Public Records Request of July 22, 2011 to the City of Hallandale Beach
This continues the tale of my email request of July 22, 2011 and subsequent blog post of July 26th titled, simply enough, Public Records Request of July 22, 2011: Debra Brown; Zamar, Inc.; Josh Brown; Lampkin’s Creative Arts 4 All; Joseph A. "Joe" Gibbons
I wrote and emailed my response to the city exactly a week ago today after getting something that in my opinion was completely non-responsive, and thinking that it was better to wait a while before sharing this with all of you, I've patiently bided my time.
But a week is long enough to keep you all in the dark, so now you'll know what's what.
Since I wrote this a week ago, thanks to concerned and well-informed friends, other upset HB residents and even some officials not from HB -elected and otherwise- I've learned even more troubling information, much of which I hope to share with you in this space in the near future.
Troubling, that is, if you are someone like me who believes that the city's own written rules and procedures must be followed whenever possible by everyone, not just some people.
Troubling if you believe as I do that the Hallandale Beach City Commission and the City Manager -past, present and future incarnations- should NOT be in the business of making excuses for those who consciously refuse to follow the rules or be entirely transparent with the public, whether applicants or city employees, when it comes to the use of taxpayer funds. Sunshine is almost always the best disinfectant!
Most of all, troubling , if you believe as I do that neither the elected City Commission or un-elected City Manager should be in the business of picking and choosing economic winners and losers in this community with taxpayers funds.

Crony capitalism as it has been practiced and honed to-a-T in Hallandale beach since Joy Cooper became mayor ten years ago, is NOT good for Hallandale Beach taxpayers, residents and business owners.
It's our money they're giving away, not their own.

For more on that subject of elected officials in Broward picking winners and losers with taxpayers' money, see the spot-on July 11th article by the Sun-Sentinel's Megan O'Matz and Georgia East following my response below.

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Chris Talmadge
City Clerk's Office
City of Hallandale Beach
400 S. Federal Highway
Hallandale Beach, FL 33009
August 1, 2011
Mr. Talmadge:
I find your official response to be my Public Records Request of July 22nd to be completely inadequate and borderline mendacious, besides just plain unresponsive.
In your so-called response, you do NOT provide me with any cost breakdown by individual item/request as I submitted it to you, something anyone would reasonably expect to see on any kind of invoice or bill, leaving me in no position to know whether I should do one or two items versus another, or none,
Or, frankly, whether you are simply trying to prevent me from getting the information I have a right to by intentionally sandbagging me thru vagueness.
1.) Debra Brown (a.k.a. Dr. Deborah R. Brown)
2.) Zamar, Inc.
3.) Josh Brown
4.) Lampkin’s Creative Arts 4 All, (a.k.a Lowell Lampkin)
5.) Joseph "Joe" Gibbons
I know for a fact that the funding two years ago for #2 Zamar, Inc., (for children's summer school), was for $25,000, and in fact went to #1, Debra Brown.
They're one and the same.
It was approved by City Manager Mike Good without a specific request by the HB City Comm., who, themselves, only found out about it a week after it was
approved.
I'm very interested in discovering how in this day and age a woman can simply ask for $25,000 in taxpayer dollars from a city, without ANY prior direction by an elected body, the City Commission, and have it all be approved and expedited by one un-elected person.
To me, that doesn't seem to provide much public accountability or much in the way of a checks-and-balance system to prevent financial abuse.
Logically, since Zamar IS, in fact, Debra Brown, the information should all be in one file or folder -or on one electronic disk- yet you see, to want me to imagine that there are, in fact, perhaps hundreds of documents associated with that one item request, since you do not even specify the number of extant pages.
In fact, to make it even worse, the city, thru the former City Manager, gave $25,000 to an entity that two years later STILL seems to have no known address or phone number according to the search engine Google, and you know what, lots of other residents and taxpayers in this city find that rather troubling, too.
No matter how long you look, there's nothing on Google that indicates the City of Hallandale Beach has even a single document with the word Zamar on it, despite the fact that they were given $25,000, or that Dr. Brown requested another $25,000 in March of 2010 for another purpose.
Hmm-m... how can there be no official record at all of $25k being disbursed?
Speaking of electronic disk, I never said in my request that I wanted a printout of every single document.
That would be ridiculous to agree to, sight unseen, and in any case, I did not ask you to copy a textbook from cover-to-cover.
I very specifically asked to have the documents "be made available for my inspection."
You also say nothing about the cost of providing information on an electronic disk even though I specifically asked about this.
As to Lampkin's Creative Arts 4 All, they were, in fact, asked to apply for city funds by Mayor Cooper within the past few weeks, a fact I know because she said so publicly at a public hearing, so how many documents could possibly have been created in about one month?
There's the original application, a few accompanying info, like IRS Form 990, for instance, and the letter of approval or disapproval.
Again, you do NOT specify in your so-called response the number of docs related to this specific request re Lampkin.
You also do NOT provide any information about my request for the mailing address used in documents sent to and from Hallandale Beach City Hall to Joseph "Joe" Gibbons in his capacity as a Broward County resident or property owner.
Mr. Talmadge, is that because Mr. Gibbons does not, in fact, live at the Hallandale Beach address he claims he does?
Does he, instead, receive any, some or all all official correspondence or documents from HB City Hall at his work address in Tallahassee, or, in the Jacksonville area,
where his wife and children actually live?
He's a former Hallandale Beach City Commissioner after all, Mr. Talmadge, so surely he receives at least one document a year from the City of Hallandale Beach.
But you don't say anything about that, do you, even though a simple mailing address in Hallandale Beach for Gibbons really ought to take no more than five minutes to find on the city's computer, given his unique status.
There's no confusion at all about who HE is.
In the matter of Joseph "Joe" Gibbons, you provide no information at all, not even a breakdown for costs associated with finding that simple address information I requested.
Given your completely inadequate response, Mr. Talmadge, I will have to re-think my options given your lack of salient information, and will be in further contact in the next ten days.
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South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Officials in South Florida cities donate to charities with taxpayers' money
Local schools, clubs and churches benefit -- and so may politicians doing the giving
By Megan O'Matz and Georgia East, Sun Sentinel
9:30 p.m. EDT, July 11, 2011
LAUDERDALE LAKES
This town is broke, but that didn't stop Commissioner Gloria Lewis from spending $1,440 in taxpayer funds in February for 140 T-shirts for fifth graders at Oriole Elementary School's spirit-boosting event coinciding with the FCAT exams.
It was hardly an exception. Since January 2010, city records show, the mayor and the six city commissioners have used thousands of dollars from their city-funded expense accounts for charitable donations to which their names often are attached.
Early this year, for example, Mayor Barrington Russell Sr. dipped into his expense account to buy a $75 ad featuring his photo in the program for Merrell United Methodist Church's Pre-Valentine's Day Banquet.
The funds may serve a noble purpose. Few would deny they also may buy voter goodwill.
From city to city, amounts vary. Davie has a Community Endowment Fund from which it will dole out $390,365 this year. Upscale Boca Raton's charitable outlay totals about $450,000 annually, and is part of the public budget-writing process. Hollywood allocated $191,500 in this year's budget to 17 community groups that assist children, the elderly, the disabled, battered women and the homeless. But next year's proposed budget recommends eliminating the grants. Hollywood, too, is in dire financial shape
The charitable expenditures appear to be perfectly legal. But in an era of diminishing public resources, taxpayer-funded donations are open to question, as is every other government expense. Why does this charity benefit, and not another? Why this much?
"I give to anything that benefits the kids. I give to the children,'' Lewis told the Sun Sentinel.
In Lauderdale Lakes, officials are grappling with a $9 million deficit for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The city has cut jobs and salaries and unsuccessfully sought a county bailout.
Since 2010, the mayor and six commissioners have spent more than $19,000 from accounts set up to pay their on-the-job expenses. A review of the receipts shows that about 75 percent of the outlays are not ordinary job-related out-of-pocket expenses, but donations –in the elected official's name -- to churches, clubs, schools and other organizations.
In August after this financially strapped municipality had run out of money to pay the Broward Sheriff's Office for police and fire protection, Commissioner Patricia Hawkins-Williams used $700 from her expense account to pay for 200 T-shirts for a city youth football program. At the time, Hawkins-Williams said, she and other commissioners were unaware of the fiscal hardships the city was facing.
Along with such out-of-pocket donations of public funds by individual commissioners, Lauderdale Lakes in recent years has allocated roughly $25,000 from its annual budget to about 10 community organizations, such as the Kiwanis Club and Meals on Wheels.
Groups requesting such assistance are required to show how many residents they serve. In 2011, the city scaled back, reserving nearly all the funds for one group: the Area Agency on Aging, which helps the city's Alzheimer Care Center.
The use of elected officials' expense accounts to aid charities differs from community to community, the Sun Sentinel found.
In Hollywood, Delray Beach and Boca Raton, local leaders aren't provided with expense accounts.
In Lauderhill, the city manager has proposed that the city not make its customary annual contribution in fiscal 2012 to the Area Agency on Aging or to Family Central, which provides day care and other services for low-income families. The city commission must make the final decision.
Like in Lauderdale Lakes, however, Lauderhill's mayor and four commissioners do occasionally dip into their administrative expense accounts to purchase tickets to local fundraisers or to help aid groups that have modest requests. "We're basically micro-gifting," Mayor Richard Kaplan said.
In Lauderdale Lakes, the mayor and commissioners have been provided with non-vouchered accounts that they can spend any way they like, without needing to provide receipts, usually to compensate for wear and tear on their personal cars. The mayor received $10,200 and the commissioners $9,600 annually. Those amounts were reduced by 10 percent this year because of the budget crisis.
The mayor and commissioners also have vouchered expense accounts of up to $5,000 yearly, for which they must provide receipts to show how the money was spent. These accounts also were reduced 10 percent.
The Sun Sentinel reviewed about a year's worth of these expense authorizations, and found most went to pay for donations to schools, clubs and churches for events or specific projects.
Money spent by commissioners included $500 for an elementary school teachers award; two $50 half-page souvenir program ads for the inauguration of the new pastor at the First Baptist Church Piney Grove; $100 for the Caribbean Bar Association's scholarship and awards gala; $300 for a half-page ad and five tickets for a Caribbean American Democratic Club's awards luncheon; $300 to help buy "audio books, Kindles, and padded headsets" for Boyd Anderson High School, and $50 to a women's club for a senior citizens' prom.
SOS Children's Village, a Coconut Creek facility for foster children, asked Russell, the mayor, by letter in August to earmark $1,000 for it in the city's annual budget.
In November, Russell gave the group $1,000 from his expense account. He is on the facility's board of directors.
In September, then-commissioner David Shomers donated $500 apiece to the Lauderdale Lakes Basketball Association, Lauderdale Lakes Sports Club, and Wheels of Excellence, a charity that repairs abandoned bicycles recovered by the Broward Sheriff's Department and gives them to needy children.
State corporation records show Shomers and six others formed Wheels of Excellence about 15 years ago.
Shomers, who lost a re-election bid in November, said he never sought or received publicity for his charitable gifts. "I can't think of any way it would have helped politically," he said.
Susannah Bryan contributed to this report.
Reader comments at:
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See also: Lauderdale Lakes officials took 4-star trip as city finances sunk

2 comments:

  1. I saw this article and had to laugh. Big whoopie that these cities are paying $1000 to a local charity...these newspapers are not paying attention. How long have we been writing about the city of Hallandale's crazy budget payments? Throwing money to charities...or even $1500 to a woman who happens to run races!!!? Its crazy...these newspapers act like they've discovered something. How about some real investigative journalism showing a list of all Broward county charitable donations...the total...and then a listing showing the ratio of admin costs vs. actual help the money provides to the needy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I saw this article and had to laugh. Big whoopie that these cities are paying $1000 to a local charity...these newspapers are not paying attention. How long have we been writing about the city of Hallandale's crazy budget payments? Throwing money to charities...or even $1500 to a woman who happens to run races!!!? Its crazy...these newspapers act like they've discovered something. How about some real investigative journalism showing a list of all Broward county charitable donations...the total...and then a listing showing the ratio of admin costs vs. actual help the money provides to the needy.

    ReplyDelete

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