LAUDERDALE LAKESThis 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 shapeThe 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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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
Topflight Photography view of Hollywood, Hallandale Beach at Ocean Drive/A1A
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