Below is an email that I sent this afternoon to Hallandale Beach City Commissioner Keith S. London, with cc's to Broward County Commissioners Sue Gunzburger and Barbara Sharief -both of whose districts include Hallandale Beach- County Inspector General John W. Scott and Thomas Donnelly of the Broward State's Attorney Office. I also sent a copy of it to about 50 people in the community with a strong interest in reforming what goes on at Hallandale Beach City Hall.
Friday September 23rd, 2011
Dear Comm. London:
Having attended your Tuesday night monthly Resident Forum meeting and heard you describe in broad strokes some of the more egregious problems caught and flagged by the city's contracted Auditor, I had some thoughts to share as well as a request.
These are the audit issues I could remember off the top of my head:
a.) insufficient number of third-party appraisals on city land purchases,
b.) chronic lack of documentation on many items to substantiate what actually happened to the monies,
c.) consistent failure by the city to follow their OWN rules and requirements regarding loan and grant programs, with the city NOT even doing basic credit checks on applicants who
want to walk away with tens of thousands of dollars from taxpayers.
That the City of Hallandale Beach has purchased SO much land is troubling enough, esp. since they have so often overpaid for it. But the fact that they have done so WITHOUT an actual City Commission-approved written strategy or plan that makes sense or shows some awareness of the logical consequences of what they are doing -a plan that taxpayers could read- is very, very troubling indeed, since it makes you wonder why some people's land is bought and others is not, even when the latter's might make more sense to some positive public policy.
To cite but one obvious example of this strange process, consider the land that was purchased by the city for more than it was apparently worth that was owned by present-day Hallandale Beach Commissioner Anthony A. Sanders and his wife.
That purchase literally seemed to fly thru the city's bureaucracy, because it was, apparently, so key to some grand plan of the city.
Well, what exactly was THAT plan? Why all the urgency? Why the need to over-pay for the property? And now, three years later, the reality for HB taxpayers is that the city rents the property they claimed at the time was so important, to someone for one dollar a month.
Where is the logic and common sense in any of this, and why WON'T/CAN'T the City Manager, the Mayor or the City Commission logically explain this episode three years after the fact?
What's the plan?
Me, I don't think there is an actual plan.
As you are well aware, I've personally spoken against all of these practices in the past during the public comments portion of HB City Commission meetings, or when an agenda item came up, as have many of the people who showed-up at your meeting Tuesday night.
I know that you must be very frustrated to usually be the only person on the dais who actually asks probing questions about these unsound and improper practices.
To be the only one on the dais who simply wants to see the city follow common sense AND it's own written rules and protocols, and to have them enforced uniformly, regardless of who in the community is seeking approval for an item or request, rather than constantly creating exceptions to the rules.
Year-after-year of this has had the cumulative effect of creating a very strong impression among Hallandale Beach residents and business owners of a system of crony capitalism run amok at HB City Hall -with their tax dollars- with no proper controls or oversight by the HB City Manager or the HB City Commission.
Like many of the other attendees Tuesday night who spoke and other HB citizens I know who have shared their own frustrating experiences with me in the past, I believe that the public's
perception that there's a stealthy, anti-taxpayer culture present at HB City Hall is based on facts, not merely isolated incidents.
It happens far too often to be merely be 'coincidence.'
To me, too many 'coincidences' make a fact-pattern.
That entrenched culture at HB City Hall gives lip service to notions of professionalism, transparency and accountability, yet it's forever making excuses for the consistently high-level of unresponsiveness among HB city employees to the public, including providing public documents to taxpayers like me when specifically requested.
That includes often asking for astronomical charges for public documents -that in other cities are already on their websites for the sake of both transparency and common
sense- with little reasonable explanation or justification for the costs, which makes it seem as if they are only interested in erecting barriers to the public's access to PUBLIC documents, not lowering them.
It's a city government, NOT an espionage agency, but sometimes, you have to wonder.
Given that long history of non-cooperation that I and so many other HB citizens have dealt with first-hand, it's hardly surprising to me to learn that the auditor chides the city for often NOT providing it with specific docs when requested, and doing so very slowly when it does.
No, it comes as no surprise to me.
I would appreciate getting a copy of this Draft Report so that I can read it in more detail, and share some of it with other interested parties I know in the community.
I look forward to hearing from you and hope that you can provide that report to me fairly soon.
I'm available to come by City Hall to pick that up whenever it's convenient for you, so just call and let me know.