Born to Lose

Created after the 1980 riots, the Metro Miami Action Plan was supposed to level the playing field for blacks. What happened?

A year later MMAP's funding dropped to $2.4 million. Stierheim's successor Sergio Pereira argued that it was an unfocused waste and proposed cutting its budget for the following year by twenty percent. (Program funds for MMAP dropped from $2.1 million in 1987 to $1.9 million in 1988.) Despite the concerns that MMAP's role was too broad -- part advocacy group, part conduit for funding -- no one wanted to take the heat for killing the "commitment" to the black community, especially when inner-city conditions had not noticeably improved. The attitude expressed by MMAP partisans ran along the lines of "it might be flawed but it's all we got." No one could deny the obvious and pressing need for the help MMAP promised.

"The fact that it was focused exclusively on African Americans, it became to the black community a symbol of public commitment, and as such 'don't mess with it,'" Stierheim acknowledges today.

In 1991 allegations surfaced that MMAP board members funneled money into their own institutions and pet projects. County Commissioner Larry Hawkins accused Ed Hanna of the West Perrine Community Development Corporation, who sat on the MMAP board, of voting for projects that benefited his CDC. Hawkins produced minutes that showed the vote. MMAP board members claimed the minutes contained a typographical error and that Hanna actually had recused himself. The county commission temporarily delayed a vote on MMAP's funding, which was to be $1.2 million. Five days later commissioners approved the budget. Shortly after the allegations arose, Hanna resigned from MMAP. (Hawkins refused to comment for this article.) Responds Hanna: "[The record] shows that I even left my chair when votes in which I was involved came up."

Hawkins proposed that MMAP be abolished and in its place a group called the Black Disparity Council be created. This time then-County Commissioner Arthur Teele came to the rescue with a stay of execution in the form of a new plan for the organization. Teele says he studied MMAP and its accomplishments and concluded that it had a positive impact. "I figured out that MMAP has done a thousand little things but in terms of ... reducing the disparity between blacks and all other groups, MMAP has done very little," Teele says today. "But the fact of the matter is ... you would need a checkbook the size of Fort Knox to tackle [that]."

In 1992 in a six-to-one vote, the commission passed Ordinance 92-12, which transformed MMAP from a county agency to a public trust, giving it quasi-independent status. As a public trust MMAP could now look for other sources of funding outside the county. The ordinance slimmed down MMAP's board from 35 to 21 members, who would be chosen by a nominating board. In addition the legislation insisted that MMAP create and execute five-year strategic plans. The ordinance tried to wean MMAP from its dependence on the county. It set the year 2001 as the time by which the organization was supposed to be able to stand on its own. The commission did, however, leave open the option of a ten-year extension.

"We went through a process which was not popular by any standard, of trying to ensure that MMAP ... focus more in priority areas," Teele says.

Five years later, in February 1997, then-Commissioner Bruce Kaplan asked for an audit of the organization. It took more than a year, and by the time it was released in July 1998, Kaplan was no longer around to see the results. (He resigned in April 1998 as part of a deal in which he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of filing false financial disclosure forms.)

The county's audit described an office in disarray. During work hours the phone went unanswered. One staffer had been allowed to work at home with little monitoring. The employee, who had been ill, billed the organization for 180 hours during a five-month period. MMAP's president DuBose, who earns a base salary of a little over $100,000, describes the case as a management decision he still stands by. "I was satisfied with what was being done," he insists.

County auditors disagree. "We were not getting sufficient evidence to justify the individual being paid for that entire time," says Cathy Jackson, director of the audit department. "Based on the information that [MMAP] did furnish, I think she worked at best, and we were being somewhat liberal, two weeks."

DuBose took issue with much of the audit findings, noting that a staff member who was observed sleeping takes medication and that MMAP does not have the money to pay for a receptionist. "The audit does not point out that MMAP is understaffed to carry out its mission," DuBose replied as a stock answer to many of the audit's conclusions.

Auditors did not disagree that MMAP was underfunded for its goal of eliminating disparity between the black and wider communities, but unlike in the past, that was no longer an acceptable excuse. "From time to time MMAP has said they have not had sufficient personnel so they can effectively accomplish their mission," Jackson observes. "Our goal was to bring to their attention that they have some productivity issues that certainly needed to be addressed in order for them to be able to go forward and justify the need for additional personnel."

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