Commissioner calls for State Attorney to Investigate Fort Lauderdale CRA

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Revelations of misconduct and mismanagement came yesterday from the leaders of the third most racially segregated city in Florida.

According to Fort Lauderdale City Auditor John Herbst, the CRA Redevelopment Trust Funds have been raided to pay for routine City expenses. In one instance, the Beach CRA Director was being paid from the Northwest Trust Fund. This is illegal.

 

Vice Mayor McKinzie:

“If you look at the audit report that came out, it clearly indicated that we were not in compliance in some cases with the law……”

“It’s clear that the new organizational structure that we have in place has violated certain rules, regulations, policies, and procedures and its not functioning the way the intended definition of the CRA is spelled out….”

 

 

Commissioner Dean Trantalis:

“we’re seeing an enormous amount of that money in the CRA going towards administration. ….Now are those amounts accurate? Are they appropriate? Should administrative costs equal 50 or 60% of the total budget?

Mayor Jack Seiler:

“I have always been frustrated by the CRA……..”

“We reorganized City staff, we reorganized the CRA, we reorganized departments…..

“Ever since we did the restructuring in an effort to try and fix what happened in the first decade of this century I think we’ve created an agency that doesn’t have anybody where the buck stops. We’ve got….24 people with their hand in the pocket….24 people that are cooking in the kitchen…with nobody that’s the head chef……”

“It’s much more pronounced in the Northwest. There doesn’t seem to be a point person for purposes of getting things done….”

“My problem I have observed since the restructuring….and we saw it a little bit with the Mosaic thing…..everyone is touching it, but no one is owning it. Someone’s gotta own now the Northwest CRA….”

 

 

Commissioner Dean Trantalis:

“What was of concern to people in the CRA, whether east side, or west side has been the amount of money that was allocated towards administrative costs versus the amount of money spent on actual projects…..”

“I feel, I know the Vice-Mayor has felt this, and everyone in the community that has connected with this….the stakeholders and so forth, have felt that these CRA funds have been drained for administrative purposes…..”

“If you were to ask anyone now connected with the CRA and ask them how much money has been spent in 2015 for administration costs and how much has been spent for projects you will see a lop-sided disparity and that’s not good….”

“We have to stop spending money for salaries and so forth when we’re not actually fulfilling the mission of the CRA…….”

“There is very little response from our City staff when people inquire about investments. There’s very little money to apply to projects that need seed money….”

 

 

 

Vice Mayor Robert McKinzie:

“The model didn’t work. There was misconduct, misspending, non-compliance…there were a series of things that took place….it didn’t work and the audit clearly states that.

 

Commissioner Dean Trantalis:

“Unless we focus on trying to make better use of the funds that we’re collecting, the whole program is going to collapse…it’s going to implode and that’s not fair to the people that live in our city…”

“I’m very frustrated by this. Here we are 20 years later into the CRA and how far have we really gotten in the Northwest. I’m sad to say we haven’t gotten very far…”

 

Commissioner Romney Rogers didn’t want to change anything. He thinks we should study things first.

Commissioner Bruce Roberts asked for an investigation by the State Attorney

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Feds Investigating City/DDA Grant Swap

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You won’t read about this in the Sun-Sentinel. 

We learned yesterday that the Feds have launched an investigation into the FTA Streetscape grant swap between the City of Fort Lauderdale and their Downtown Development Authority.

The DDA needs additional funds to stay solvent while lobbying for more federal funds to expand the WAVE Streetcar and to get a new Federal Courthouse Built. 

With that it mind, DDA and City Staff came up with a scheme to convert Federal Transit funds into cash for more lobbying. The City planned to swap $500,000 in cash for an $865,000 FTA Streetscape Grant that the DDA received via Broward County. The DDA planned to use the converted funds to lobby the Feds for more money.

The Sun-Sentinel refused to publish the story. 

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City Manager Lee Feldman and Mayor Jack Seiler claimed: “We are not engaged in this transaction”…..

DDA in DCThe City is demanding $2900 for…

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Seiler demands $5600 for copies of emails from DDA Director

 

“It is estimated to take 251.96 hours at a rate of $22.60 per hour, which equals $5,688.19”   images

ShowImageWe have a feeling the whole story has not yet been told about the relationship between Mayor Jack Seiler and his crony Chris Wren at the DDA. We’re most interested in how the City and the DDA schemed to swap the $865,000 FTA Streetscape grants for $425,000 cash to pay the lobbyists in Washington working the Mayor’s pet project – a new Federal courthouse.

Now that the grant deal is off the table (a legal no-no for sure), the new deal is for the City to rent DDA Plaza for $500K – this will pay back the $260K “negative prior-year carryover” that appeared and then disappeared in this year’s DDA budget. The $260K went to the D.C. lobbying firm of Akin, Gump and to KPMG and came from the DDA’s Capital Fund – the account where all the Federal grant funds are held..

Seiler’s latest stunt has really got us wondering. Are there one or two emails that he really doesn’t want us to see, or are there really so many that it would take a person over 8 weeks working full-time to provide us with an electronic copies?

We asked the City for: “Any emails, or other correspondence to or from Mayor John P. “Jack” Seiler and DDA Director Mr. Chris Wren. This includes any draft agreements, work files, appointment or meeting notes, or other records generated during the period from Jan. 1, 2012 to this date”

The City responded requesting a deposit of $2844.10 to begin the copying:

“It is estimated to take 251.96 hours at a rate of $22.60 per hour, which equals $5,688.19”   

Apparently Wren and Seiler have a lot more going on then meets the eye..catch a whiff…….

We told the Feds about it the Mayor’s quote for the work. They told us they think they may be able to get the Mayor to give them a lower price for the records. 

 

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Jeff Modarelli <JModarelli@fortlauderdale.gov>
Date: Mon, Jan 4, 2016 at 1:08 PM
Subject: CPRR 15-434 Request for Records

Good afternoon.

Based on your request below, there is a special service charge for the gathering of the e-mails.  We are authorized to charge a special service charge pursuant to the statute below:

119.07(4)(d)

If the nature or volume of public records requested to be inspected or copied pursuant to this subsection is such as to require extensive use of information technology resources or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance by personnel of the agency involved, or both, the agency may charge, in addition to the actual cost of duplication, a special service charge, which shall be reasonable and shall be based on the cost incurred for such extensive use of information technology resources or the labor cost of the personnel providing the service that is actually incurred by the agency or attributable to the agency for the clerical and supervisory assistance required, or both

If you want us to proceed, please provide us with a check made payable to the City of Fort Lauderdale in the amount of $2,844.10,  which represents half of the estimated cost.  It is estimated to take 251.96 hours at a rate of $22.60 per hour, which equals $5,688.19.   Please mail a check made payable to the City of Fort Lauderdale and mail it to Office of the City Clerk, 100 N. Andrews Avenue, 7th Floor, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. Please indicate the Clerk’s Public Records Request No. on the check, CPRR 15-434.  Upon receipt of the check we shall proceed to gather the e-mails.

 

Jeff

Jeffrey A. Modarelli

City Clerk

City of Fort Lauderdale

100 N. Andrews Ave.

Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

954-828-5010

jmodarelli@fortlauderdale.gov

Congresswoman Frankel’s Cronies Overcharging Fort Lauderdale DDA for $1.2million No-Bid Contract?

 

Last year Willie Perez and PSC got a no-bid contract with the Fort Lauderdale DDA to staff their Downtown Ambassador service.  Congresswoman Lois Frankel was there every step of the way to make sure the DDA knew how important it was for Willie to get the Fort Lauderdale contract. For some reason, Pompano Beach put the same work out to bid and got PSC to do it a whole lot cheaper.

Since 2013, Perez’s Company PSC has contributed at least $11,000 to Congresswoman Lois Frankel’s Campaign Committee. PSC is one of Frankel’s “Top 100” donors.

PSC Founder Moshe Alon has personally donated $4400 to Frankel since January of this year.

The City of Pompano Beach has a $300,000 a year contract with PSC. Pompano issued an RFP and took competitive bids. Congresswoman Lois Frankel was apparently uninvolved. In May 2014 the City agreed to pay PSC $14.51 per hour for “Officers” and $17.43 per hour for “Supervisors”Pompano

 

The Fort Lauderdale DDA just announced plans to spend an additional $1.2 million on its Downtown Ambassador program. No bids will be taken. This is not open to the public.

 

 Congresswoman Lois Frankel earned the praise of DDA Board Chairman Michael Weymouth for her role in orchestrating this lucrative no-bid contract. She even appears in PSC’s Powerpoint presentation.

“Chairman Weymouth reminded the Board that Lois Frankel introduced them to PSC.”

The Fort Lauderdale DDA plans to use tax dollars to pay a bit more than Pompano Beach for the same services from the same vendor. PSC is charging Fort Lauderdale $16.18 for “Officers” and $19.12 for “Supervisors”

Fort Lauderdale

Are our tax dollars are being used to fund Congresswoman Frankel’s campaign?

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City Study Finds Fort Lauderdale Third Most Segregated in Florida

According to a recent City sponsored study entitled “Impediments to Fair Housing Choice”,  the City of Ft. Lauderdale ranks third in Florida, having the highest level of segregation between Whites and Blacks in Florida with a dissimilarity index of 80.5. The City of Pompano Beach, part of the same metropolitan statistical area as the City of Ft. Lauderdale, ranked second with a dissimilarity index of 80.8. A total of seventy- six Florida cities were included in the state ranking.

The dissimilarity index is a tool utilized in measuring levels of segregation by indicating whether one particular group is distributed across census tracts in a metropolitan area in the same way as another group. The index assigns values that range from 0 to 100. A high value on an index of dissimilarity indicates that two groups tend to live in different census tracts.

A value of 60 or higher is considered very high in that 60% or more of one group would have to move to a different census tract in order for the two groups to be equally distributed. Values of 50 to 40 are typically considered to be a moderate level of segregation. Values of 30 or below are considered to be fairly low levels of segregation.

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Brown University’s “American Communities Project” analyzed 2010 Census Data and ranked the City of Fort Lauderdale 26th in the nation for Black/White segregation. 

Fort Lauderdale’s segregation is declining (albeit like a glacier melt on an all Republican planet). The recent All American City award winner’s segregation score dropped to 57.6 in 2010, down from 61.5 in 2000, and 69 in 1990.

Looking at 2010 Census data over two adjacent zip codes tells a story of even greater disparity. Fort Lauderdale’s 33311 zip code is 85% Black. The 33301 zip code neighboring to the east is 87% White. The population in 33311 is over 60,000.

 While Fort Lauderdale may still struggling with segregation, it’s reassuring to know that it’s leadership can continue to brag about the lowest millage rate of the 25 largest cities in Florida. Rich people don’t like high taxes. It’s good to be King (especially if your first name is Charles 🙂

Mayor Seiler recently said (over and over again)…….

“We’ve got a 4.5 percent unemployment rate in Fort Lauderdale. We’re knocking it out of the park in terms of jobs and the economy and the budget.”

 

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Seiler’s claim is true, except in 33311. In that part of Fort Lauderdale the unemployment rate is almost three times higher at 14%. In that part of Fort Lauderdale  32% of the population is living in poverty. 

Movoto, a nationwide online real estate database ranks Fort Lauderdale as one of the Top 10 Snobbiest Cities in the US.

Happy Birthday Dr. King.

 

Fort Lauderdale DDA may sell Huizenga Plaza: “We went into a little arrears”

On January 5 the Fort Lauderdale City Commission discussed leasing, or possibly purchasing Huizenga Plaza from the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority. The agenda item was specifically posted as a discussion about the City considering a five-year $500,000 lease of the park where the City would also take over all ongoing maintenance and operating costs.

The conversation turned quickly to a potential sale of the property.  It looks like the DDA had issued an ultimatum to the Commissioners before the meeting: rent it from us, or we’ll sell it to the highest bidder.

 

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The discussion revealed that the DDA might be forced to sell their prime land if the City doesn’t come to their financial rescue. 

Commissioner Dean Trantalis said:

“My only concern is, it seems to me the DDA is looking to raise money to maintain their operation and this is a methodology they have chosen. My concern is if we don’t accept this, I don’t want to see them go down the path where they sell the property”

Trantalis asked if there might be other ways to shore up the DDA’s ailing budget.

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Commissioner Romney Rogers said:

“even if that property was sold off, I think it’s in our best interest for it to remain vacant as a park”

Vice-Mayor Robert McKinzie asked for an appraisal of the property so the City could further explore both purchase and lease options. Absent the City as a tenant or buyer, the land is prime for a high-end high rise development. The County tax assessor values the DDA’s land at over $5.5 million. It would likely sell for far more. 

Commissioner Bruce Roberts said the DDA has been a “good partner” and all is well “If it’s a legitimate quid pro quo”.

 Mayor Seiler said there were three important things to consider:

  1. The land at DDA Plaza has to remain open space.
  2. “Whether you want to say it or not, it is a part of Riverwalk”
  3. The DDA has been a “good partner”

In conclusion Mayor Seiler said: “I think there has to be some common ground here where we get to the right dollar amount”.

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Commissioner Trantalis asked Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Chris Wren why the DDA needs $500,000. Wren said they are in arrears and they have spent funds outside their District. This raises some concerns as to what the DDA has been doing with the taxes they collect. It is unusual for special taxing districts to expend funds outside their boundaries.

DDA Executive DIrector Wren stated:

“we’re in the process of building our strategic plan, and we have done some things as partners (as you all have said). We went into a little arrears in those, but I’ve never asked for money. But as we’re moving forward with this strategic plan it dawned on me that the plan should also be looked at by you all cause we do things outside of our district……..We’ve done some things outside of here, we’ve spent some money we didn’t collect but we spent it anyhow. I think we should get going and not get hung up on those kinds of details….it’s a higher good for the community”

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The DDA is short on cash in spite of charging downtown property owners the highest taxes allowed under the law. This year the DDA was expecting $425,000 in City cash in exchange for $865,000 in Federal streetscape grants.  In October, after the City Commission ratified the DDA’s 2016 Budget including these funds, Fort Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman abruptly announced “We are not engaged in this transaction”. The DDA announced the City had backed out of the deal. This apparently left the DDA “a little in arrears”.

We are wondering if the DDA’s going “into a little arrears” might have somehow involved the manipulation of Federal Streetscape Grants to fund the high-powered DC lobbying firm of Akin Gump to pursue Mayor Seiler’s Federal Courthouse initiative “for the greater good of the community…..”

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We Ask the State Attorney to Investigate Allegations of Criminal Conduct by Fort Lauderdale City Officials

Three weeks ago we reported that an internal investigation at the City of Fort Lauderdale found that two high-ranking Officials in the Public Works Department may have committed multiple crimes while on the job. The allegations include, Bid Tampering,  Unlawful Compensation, Official Misconduct, and Misuse of Confidential Information. On December 10, the City decided to “close the file” simply because both employees resigned during the investigation.
In Fort Lauderdale appearances are everything:  it’s better to look good than to be good. This story was headed to the shredder until we found out about it and reported it to you. Three weeks later the Sun-Sentinel picked up on it. 
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We think this kind of funny business should not get swept under the rug…….. so we sent this email to State Attorney Tim Donnelly.
Via Email
Mr. Tim Donnelly
Broward State Attorney’s Office
100 N. Pine Island Road #200
Plantation, FL   33324

Dear Mr. Donnelly,

Please see the attached cover letter dated December 10, 2015, and the report dated October 9, 2015 from the City of Fort Lauderdale.
The October 9, 2015 report concludes
“The actions by Mr. Pedram Zohrevand and Mr. Hardeep Anand may have violated the following policies and Florida Statutes copied below. Further, this investigation has raised serious questions surrounding the legality of proposals and invoices submitted by Engin-Ovation for the work done on the South Gordon/Laguna design plans even though those plans were copied from existing City created plans.”The October report cites the following Florida Statutes that the City believes may have been violated by Mr. Zohrevand and Mr. Anand may have violated:
FS 838.016. UNLAWFUL COMPENSATION OR REWARD FOR OFFICIAL BEHAVIOR
FS 838.022. OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT
FS 838.22. BID TAMPERING
FS 839.26. MISUSE OF CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION
Please restore public trust by investigating these allegations of misconduct and criminal behavior.
Thanks for your service,
mrk
High ranking Fort Lauderdale City Officials in Public Works, the Department of Sustainable Development, and Transportation and Mobility have all been found engaged in shady deals lately. The Feds are already investigating the DDA’s shady Federal grant swap with the City. 
The good news: Mayor Seiler reports his 4.119 millage rate is still one of the lowest in the Florida and………..
nerdwallet.com has distinguished Fort Lauderdale as one of America’s
“TOP 10 Best Cities for Parking”
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Feds Investigating City/DDA Grant Swap

You won’t read about this in the Sun-Sentinel. 

We learned yesterday that the Feds have launched an investigation into the FTA Streetscape grant swap between the City of Fort Lauderdale and their Downtown Development Authority.

 

The DDA needs additional funds to stay solvent while lobbying for more federal funds to expand the WAVE Streetcar and to get a new Federal Courthouse Built. 

With that it mind, DDA and City Staff came up with a scheme to convert Federal Transit funds into cash for more lobbying. The City planned to swap $500,000 in cash for an $865,000 FTA Streetscape Grant that the DDA received via Broward County. The DDA planned to use the converted funds to lobby the Feds for more money.

The Sun-Sentinel refused to publish the story. 

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City Manager Lee Feldman and Mayor Jack Seiler claimed: “We are not engaged in this transaction”…..

DDA in DCThe City is demanding $2900 for copies of the past two years emails between Feldman and DDA Director Chris Wren. They want almost $6000 for emails between Seiler and Wren. 

While Feldman is known as a tough negotiator, we’re betting that the Feds will persuade him to cut his prices on the public records.

 

Lauderdale wants $2900 for Emails between City Manager and DDA Director

We requested copies of emails for the past two years between Fort Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman and Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Chris Wren. 

 “We’re not engaged in this transaction…..”

https://fortlauderdalefreepress.wordpress.com/2015/12/17/feldman-seiler-were-not-engaged-in-this-transaction/

We got a prompt response from the City Clerk:

 If you want us to proceed, please provide us with a check made payable to the City of Fort Lauderdale in the amount of $1,481.66,  which represents half of the estimated cost.  It is estimated to take 131.12 hours at a rate of $22.60 per hour, which equals $2,963.31.  

To accumulate this many emails, Feldman and Wren must have been working pretty closely together at some point over the past two years. 

According to the City Clerk, the cost is reasonable. 

What do you think?

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Sent: Wednesday, December 23, 2015 8:29 AM
To: Jeff Modarelli
Subject: Request for Records

This is a public records request.

Please provide all emails to and from Lee Feldman and Chris Wren from Jan. 2014 to date.

Jeff Modarelli
3:37 PM (3 hours ago)
to me, Laura, Karen

Good afternoon.

Based on your request below, there is a special service charge for the gathering of the e-mails.  We are authorized to charge a special service charge pursuant to the statute below:

119.07(4)(d)

If the nature or volume of public records requested to be inspected or copied pursuant to this subsection is such as to require extensive use of information technology resources or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance by personnel of the agency involved, or both, the agency may charge, in addition to the actual cost of duplication, a special service charge, which shall be reasonable and shall be based on the cost incurred for such extensive use of information technology resources or the labor cost of the personnel providing the service that is actually incurred by the agency or attributable to the agency for the clerical and supervisory assistance required, or both

If you want us to proceed, please provide us with a check made payable to the City of Fort Lauderdale in the amount of $1,481.66,  which represents half of the estimated cost.  It is estimated to take 131.12 hours at a rate of $22.60 per hour, which equals $2,963.31.   Please mail a check made payable to the City of Fort Lauderdale and mail it to Office of the City Clerk, 100 N. Andrews Avenue, 7th Floor, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301. Please indicate the Clerk’s Public Records Request No. on the check, CPRR 15-452.  Upon receipt of the check we shall proceed to gather the e-mails.

 

Jeff

Jeffrey A. Modarelli

City Clerk

City of Fort Lauderdale

100 N. Andrews Ave.

Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

954-828-5010