The Only Mayoral Candidate Who's

NOT Under Criminal Investigation

Thursday, June 14, 2012

If Hallandale officials go to jail, who will run the city?

If they all go to jail, who’s going to run the city?

That’s the question many Hallandale Beach residents are asking as the city’s entire city commission, former city managers and other city officials are facing an investigation by the Broward Inspector General’s Office (BIG) for possibly misspending millions of taxpayer dollars. The investigation could result in criminal charges being filed.

At the core of the investigation are millions of dollars in Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds – a taxpayer-funded reserve that is supposed to be used to redevelop and improve Hallandale’s blighted and impoverished areas.

Over the past five years, the commission spent more than $28.1 million in CRA funds to purchase nine properties for the city, yet has not enacted plans for how to use eight of the parcels - properties which have since depreciated a staggering $9.1 million. CRA funds also were used to fund a $50,000 low interest, long-term loan to a local newspaper in which Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper writes a weekly column and whose owners each earn six-figure salaries. BIG also is investigating the city’s shoddy bookkeeping practices and other questionable loans made to private businesses.

Commission foes Mayor Joy Cooper and Commissioner Keith London, two of three candidates running for mayor in the November election, are once again pointing fingers at one another. But this time, BIG is looking at the hands of both Cooper and London to see if they were illegally in the city’s cookie jar.

“There are a lot of serious questions that need answering; questions that could lead to criminal charges against the mayor and commissioners,” said Bill Singletary, a Hallandale Beach resident.

While London has pledged to fully cooperate with BIG investigators, Hallandale Beach write-in mayoral candidate, Jay Schorr, says London is as culpable as other commission members who were present and participated in votes to spend CRA monies.

“London thinks that just voting ‘No’ on some of the deals under investigation is a manifestation of his innocence. But if he thought the deals were shady and illegal to begin with, why didn’t he report it to BIG or the State Attorney’s office? When you witness a crime, it’s not enough to say, ‘That’s wrong.’ You’re under an ethical and moral obligation to report it to the proper authorities.”

Other Hallandale Beach residents think there’s plenty of blame to go around for the mayor and each of the commissioners.

“Cooper is knee-deep in the corruption,” said Beverly Bounders, who has lived in the city for 10 years. “There’s always been allegations about her shadowy deeds, but this is the first time an outside investigative agency is actually following up on the allegations.”

Todd Kensington, a former Hallandale Beach resident who now lives in Gainesville, says the commission’s antics are at best, troublesome.

“Just look at Commissioner Anthony Sanders who knew that the city erroneously forgave an extra $7,500 on a property improvement loan he obtained before joining the commission. When apprised of the error, Sanders didn’t offer to give back the money … he asked for an apology from the city for making the error!”

Commissioner Alexander Lewy seemed to take exception at BIG's investigation, saying it was "fishing for information." Apparently someone forgot to tell the commissioner that's what investigative agencies do - investigate.

If criminal indictments are handed down against the mayor and commissioners, this November’s elections – in which the mayoral and two city commission seats are up for grabs – will be thrown into tumultuous uncertainty.

“If any and all of Hallandale’s elected officials are indicted and removed from office, the election takes on a whole new complexity,” said Diane Archer, a Broward political observer. “Eligibility will have to be reassessed and the proverbial can of worms opened.”


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