Fort Lauderdale DDA Tries to Swap Federal Streetscape Grants for Lobbying Cash

 

Document1On Oct 20, 2015, at 4:23 PM, a Citizen wrote an email to Mayor Jack Seiler:

“Mayor,
This transaction sounds inappropriate if not unlawful. The City should not be in the business of purchasing the rights to Federal Grants at a discount. This sounds wrong on many levels. Please investigate the DDA.”
On Oct 20, 2015, at 4:28 PM, Jack Seiler  wrote:

We will investigate.images

Thanks

Jack Seiler

 

 

 City Manager Lee Feldman’s response was immediately forthcoming:
From:
Date: Tue, Oct 20, 2015 at 4:28 PM
Subject: Re: Fort Lauderdale DDA Swaps Federal Grant to City of Fort Lauderdale for Quick Cash
To: Jack Seiler <Jack.Seiler@fortlauderdale.gov<mailto:Jack.Seiler@fortlauderdale.gov>>
Safeea Ali <SAli@fortlauderdale.gov<mailto:SAli@fortlauderdale.gov>>, Maxine Singh <MSingh@fortlauderdale.gov<mailto:MSingh@fortlauderdale.gov>>, John Herbst <JHerbst@fortlauderdale.gov<mailto:JHerbst@fortlauderdale.gov>>

We are not engaged in this transaction.images-1

Lee R. Feldman, ICMA-CM
City Manager
City of Fort Lauderdale, FL
(iPad)

no-bs-ring-44001

Wren said “with the $100,000 the Board approved him helping the Federal aspect of the Wave out,  but they are pretty much out of money…”

At the February 12, 2015 Fort Lauderdale DDA Board meeting “Budget Update” DDA Executive Director Chris Wren told the Board that although the budget indicated some salary savings to replace a position, that he went another direction and hired an intern. He complimented staff and said the three of them are running the office and no balls have been dropped. Wren said “with the $100,000 the Board approved him helping the Federal aspect of the Wave out, but they are pretty much out of money.”

Wren said he was working on ways to get DDA  more money

Over the next several months, Wren came up with some creative ideas to keep the organization going.

At the March 31, 2015 Board meeting  Executive Director Wren told the Board if no changes were made to the current budget there would be no reserves or in the negative; if some changes are made, they could be $60,000 in the plus. Mr. Wren told them he would be recommending that the Board curtail activities for the Federal Courthouse and the Wave until they were more fiscally whole. Wren said  he was working on ways to get DDA  more money.

Mr. Wren offered to see if the City would take over the FTA Streetscape funds to add lighting which is approximately $600,000 as well as the $300,000 commitment already made for the Tunnel Plaza project in exchange for giving the DDA monies. Mr. Wren was given to go ahead to move forward.

 The discussion turned to the expenses involved monthly with the work on the proposed new Federal Courthouse.

The discussion turned to the expenses involved monthly with the work on the proposed new Federal Courthouse. The Board discussed approaching the City. They agreed that the DDA has been the lead in the project and would like to discuss it further at the workshop. Chairman Weymouth said regarding the Courthouse they should not spend any money until they have more information available after the GSA meeting and then go to the City. The Board said to move forward with the Mayor’s courthouse initiative going to Washington.

DDA in DC

The Board said to “move forward with the Mayor’s courthouse initiative going to Washington.”

 

C WrenOn Monday April 12, 2015  Mr. Wren confirmed to the Board that they were spending more than they are taking in although their financial consultant Mr. Adams indicated there were some monies on reserve in the general fund. Mr. Wren reported that he had looked into “brokering the streetscape monies with a short time horizon giving the City $600,000 of federal grants in exchange for $250,000 for two years in a row.”

On April 16, 2015, Wren and his staff received an email from Diana Alarcon, Director of Transportation and Mobility for the City of Fort Lauderdale. Alarcon indicated that she was “reviewing the grants you sent me to make sure we can get it done per the timeline”

On April 27, Alarcon’s staff sent her an email:

Diana-

DDA Federal Streetscape Funds – Recommendations

Here are thoughts on possible projects to exchange DDA federal funding:

Option 1

a. DDA provides the already committed $300K for the Tunnel Plaza as free and clear funds. This would leave a $565K balance.

b. Use Downtown Walkability FY 16 projects for the full $565K federal funds. DDA would have to just give us the $65K since we only have $500K. Charge 15% to administer the projects (project manager, grant coordination, etc.). This would give us $75K. We would then only transfer $360K to the DDA as an exchange.

Option 2 -lf they are still considering contributions to the Wave project as part of the recent ask from Broward, perhaps they could use the funding for improvements along the Wave route. This would not provide cash but might relieve another burden. This might also make the option above seem more palatable.

On May 14 Wren gave the Board another update on the grant swap. He told them “he had a meeting with Diana Alarcon yesterday regarding the grant monies and the conversation went well. He said within 90 days they should have it transferred to the City in exchange for funds.”

On June 22, Elizabeth Van Zandt, a Mobility Manager and former DDA staffer sent an email to her boss Diana Alarcon. In it, she described the makings of a deal to swap the DDA’s Federal Grants for cash. But now the verbiage has subtly shifted from “swap” to “exchange”. Her co-worker Deborah Griner advised, “Also, perhaps use “exchange” in place of “swap” in the document”

“Diana,

Per our meeting, attached is the proposal to send to Chris regarding the exchange of federal streetscape funds. To summarize, we are proposing to use FY 16 Downtown Walkability projects (DDA provides $565,536 in federal streetscape grants in exchange for $425,000 allowing us to hire a temporary Project Manager). This also assumes the DDA’s past commitment of $300,000 towards the Tunnel Plaza project.”

The following day Wren met again with his Board for a discussion on the DDA Budget.  Wren reported that “he had a meeting with the City last week regarding swapping the FTA grants to them in exchange for monies. He said there is no term sheet yet but it would sustain the budget forward almost five years with a maximum millage rate increase.”

“He said there is no term sheet yet but it would sustain the budget forward almost five years with a maximum millage rate increase.”

Mr. Wren went through the 2016 Revenue Estimates for general capital projects which he stated were the Federal Courthouse and Wave Extensions. Wren said this is where the $500,00 from the City in exchange for use of remaining FTA Streetscape Grant funds will come into play. He said this has not all been determined yet but there will be expenses. The Board briefly touched on the grants again and the proposed exchange with the City.

On July 30 City staffer and former Wren employee  Van Zandt sent a memo to Transportation Director Alarcon:

“Attached is the federal grants proposal we discussed with Chris Wren on 7/29/15. To summarize, staff is recommending exchanging City funds in the amount of $500,000 in exchange for $865,536 in federal streetscape funds the DDA currently has.”

On August 20  Mr. Wren said he has a partnership with the City to transfer the Federal grants in exchange for monies. He said although not done yet, the City Manager has approved it. He said the City will be giving the DDA $500,000 but wants $75,000 set aside for a staff position.

Board member Bodenhamer asked about billing for expenses related to the courthouse project. DDA Attorney John Milledge said they can try and discuss that when they speak to Mr. Feldman.

On September 9 Wren gave his Board their final presentation for a vote on the 2015/2016 DDA Budget.  Wren reported to the Board:

“For General Capital Projects, the $425,000 grant from the City in exchange for use of remaining FTA Streetscape Grant funds is shown as fully received in FY 2016. This is a $75,000 net reduction to the amount shown in the July presentation due to the City’s need to fund an engineer for the project.”

The Budget presentation goes on to state:

“Combining all three General Fund activities, the FY 2016 Preliminary Budget projects the General Fund to be net revenue positive. However, this is due to the receipt in FY 2016 of one-time money from the City, so the trend in net revenue continues to be negative over the five-year forecasted period.”

According to the DDA’s proposed budget for the fiscal year 2015/16,  once armed with the $425,000 cash from the City in exchange for handing over the Federal Streetscape grants the DDA will be about $288,000 in the black. Everything looked like it was a done deal. The money was locked and loaded into their new year budget, and just in the nick of time.

On October 6, 2015 City Manager Lee Feldman prepared Commission Agenda Memo #15-1160. In it, the City Manager recommended that City Commission approve the DDA’s millage rate and the accompanying budget. The item passed unanimously.

Then:

On Oct 20, 2015, at 4:23 PM, a citizen wrote an email to Mayor Jack Seiler:

“Mayor,
This transaction sounds inappropriate if not unlawful. The City should not be in the business of purchasing the rights to Federal Grants at a discount. This sounds wrong on many levels. Please investigate the DDA.”
On Oct 20, 2015, at 4:28 PM, Jack Seiler  wrote:

We will investigate.

Thanks

Jack Seiler

no-bs-ring-44001

And at almost the same moment City Manager Lee Feldman response was forthcoming:

Date: Tue, Oct 20, 2015 at 4:28 PM
Subject: Re: Fort Lauderdale DDA Swaps Federal Grant to City of Fort Lauderdale for Quick Cash
To: Jack Seiler <Jack.Seiler@fortlauderdale.gov<mailto:Jack.Seiler@fortlauderdale.gov>>
Safeea Ali <SAli@fortlauderdale.gov<mailto:SAli@fortlauderdale.gov>>, Maxine Singh <MSingh@fortlauderdale.gov<mailto:MSingh@fortlauderdale.gov>>, John Herbst <JHerbst@fortlauderdale.gov<mailto:JHerbst@fortlauderdale.gov>>

We are not engaged in this transaction.

Lee R. Feldman, ICMA-CM
City Manager
City of Fort Lauderdale, FL
(iPad)

Then a few days later….

Sent: Sunday, November 01, 2015 3:06 PM
To: Chris Wren <chriswren@ddaftl.org>
Subject: Budget Question

I have a question about your 2016 adopted budget.

According to the DDA 2016 Budget there is a $725,000 revenue item called “City Capital Project Grants”. What project(s) will be undertaken with these CIty Funds?

Can you please elaborate?

Thanks in advance,

 

On Mon, Nov 2, 2015 at 4:21 PM, Chris Wren <chriswren@ddaftl.org> wrote:

Good afternoon. This is Marti, Mr. Wren’s assistant. He is out today.

Below is an explanation of the monies you refer to in our budget:

1                   $300K (of the $725) is a grant from the CFTL to fund a portion of the Riverwalk extension project ( est. cost @ $571,250) being undertaken by the DDA.

2                   $425K was at the time of DDA budget adoption a proposed CFTL grant to fund  DDA initiatives related to the Federal Courthouse Project and the extension of the Wave Project.  The City decided after DDA budget adoption not to go forward with that grant to the DDA.

If you have any other questions, please let us know. Thank you.

Chris Wren (November 2, 2015):

“$425K was at the time of DDA budget adoption a proposed CFTL grant to fund  DDA initiatives related to the Federal Courthouse Project and the extension of the Wave Project.  The City decided after DDA budget adoption not to go forward with that grant to the DDA.”

As is often the custom, Mayor Seiler gets in the last word (for now).

Seiler

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Jack Seiler <Jack.Seiler@fortlauderdale.gov>
Date: Sun, Dec 13, 2015 at 6:18 PM
Subject: Re: Fort Lauderdale DDA Swaps Federal Grant to City of Fort Lauderdale for Quick Cash
To:
Cc: “Bruce G. Roberts” <BRoberts@fortlauderdale.gov>, Robert McKinzie <RMcKinzie@fortlauderdale.gov>, Romney Rogers <RRogers@fortlauderdale.gov>

We are not engaged in this transaction.

Jack Seiler

no-bs-ring-44001

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