$575,000 suggests recall of CRA
Date: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 @ 13:35:51 EST
Topic: Editorials

$575,000 suggests recall of CRA

“I’m concerned that Southport isn’t asking for more money.” Matt Tompkins

Editorial by William Coakley

Quick Summary  -  3 companies responded to a request for proposal put out by the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) for a piece of property the CRA is paying $15,000 a month for the owner not to sell it to anyone else.  One company (Southport) offered to pay the CRA more for the property and didn't ask for the CRA to give them any money.  The other companies offered the CRA less for the property and wanted $575,000 of taxpayer money to proceed with the project.  The selection committee (a volunteer board created to rate the three bidders) rated Southport number one but in a peculiar reversal of logic... Southport lost the deal and the CRA agreed to take less for the property and pay the developer $575,000 of your money.

With congressional earmarks receiving so much attention these days it's no wonder a number of concerned Lake Worth residents are suggesting that its time to recall the CRA from its Disney tour where it is reported that money is found reappearing on trees everywhere and ready for spending.

With $575,000 of your taxpayer money given to a developer by the CRA last night (concerning the Pugh property on sixth avenue south)— it is hard to know where to begin to explain this irrational behavior that just cost taxpayers $575,000 in addition to the $128,000 already wasted. The money was requested by two of the three bidders for the project leaving the top rated Southport the lone bidder who wasn’t looking to dip their hands into taxpayers pockets… yet they didn’t get the deal.

The 4 to 1 vote (the single dissenting vote was made by Brendan Lynch) went against the volunteer selection committee and all their work. So what on earth would make a board decide to spend more money for the same thing? Residents listening to the meeting were stunned when they heard chairman Matt Tompkins cast doubt on the leading bidder's integrity when he said he was concerned that the company wasn’t asking for more money… as if to say, no good deed should go unpunished.

But since the CRA is not accountable to anyone including the public or the commission, we may never know the explanation.  But this behavior is just further confirmation that a serious lack of incentive to curb CRA wasteful spending simply doesn't exist.  The CRA came under heavy criticism for the $15,000 a month payment so the owner of the property wouldn't sell it to anyone else.   It has long been established that there was no good reason or advantage to holding this option. And experts are still puzzled as to how it came about… but former board member Doug McIntee stated very clearly how he thought it had happened. On the record last October, he said that he originally voted for it based on the information he was given... turns out, he said, the information was misleading, incomplete and incorrect and he then completely withdrew his support for the project. Mr McIntee has since resigned.

During last nights meeting, interim CRA executive director, Mr Franke, led the charge to overturn the selection committee’s choice and opt for the more expensive bidder raising speculation about the possibility that he would benefit from such a switch.  Possibly.  If Southport (who didn’t request a half million from the CRA) had won the bid, then Mr Franke’s work might have come to an end and it therefore might be difficult to justify his additional $7200 charge for finishing an RFP that could have been written for nothing... zero dollars. In October, Mr Franke the interim director, managed to award himself a $12,500 contract for writing an RFP that more than one board member described as a “no brainer” and "a basic copy and paste.” The offer was made privately to the chairman by more qualified individuals to do the work for nothing… but the chairman chose not to reveal that to the board and so $12,500 was thrown away on that occasion with a happy Mr Franke delighted to do the work.

Without any accountability to the public who pays for all this nonsense, any oversight of this board has taken a backseat to the higher priority of maintaining an autonomous sub-government that lacks accountability and good fiscal management. Months ago LWM reported on the lavish spending on CRA office space. In addition to paying top dollar rent for a 1200 sq ft stripped core ($25 a sq ft per year), the board elected to heap upon itself all the grandeur that $80,000 would afford to impress the few visitors that happen to stop by. And this money is all being spent on someone else’s building.

But spending that much tax payer money at a time when we can’t afford a veteran’s day parade added to throwing an extra $575,000 to a developer; has now caused weary taxpayers to suggest a recall of the CRA board and to put it back under direct commission control in order to stop the wasteful and mindless spending. All government spending--even that financed by borrowing--must eventually be paid for with taxes. The real cost of government therefore is how much it spends, not how much it taxes. Low taxes are possible only with low spending and low spending means eliminating waste.

It is time to step back and think about the role of government and the fundamental obligations of volunteer boards to serve the public interest. A clear delineation needs to be established between the social and redevelopment priorities of the CRA, so in the midst of a crime spree with residents feeling insecure and violated… we should never again hear a CRA chairman coldly state… that redevelopment is more important than fighting crime.

For those interested in lean, effective government with low taxes, consider having an independent “waste commission” that would present the commission with a list of all wasteful spending.

Either way, we need policies that can promote accountability and more effective public control over redevelopment by eliminating the mandate on ‘how to have fun while spending all the money in your budget.’ The CRA should ultimately be accountable to the public and not itself. We continue to see wasteful practices in full swing and we still have no measure of successful performance. How successfully has our tax money been spent toward relieving blight, crime and how much of an improvement to the quality of life has it made?  We still have no performance reports on how effectively our money is being spent.



This article comes from Lake Worth Media

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