By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Since July 1999 the CRA's "launch" expert has been Richard Judy, who from 1971 to 1989 was director of the county's aviation department, which runs Miami International Airport. Judy is currently one of the directors of a company called Miami Homestead International Airport, Inc., along with Carlos Herrera, Juan Mas, and Adrian Pedro. This latter threesome was also behind Homestead Air Base Development, Inc. (HABDI), which last year lost its seven-year struggle to build a sprawling international airport adjacent to the already-battered Everglades and Biscayne national parks.
Judy is known for his aggressive expansion of MIA as it became one of the busiest in the nation. As one long-time county government expert puts it, "He had a kick-ass, get-the-job-done kind of approach, sometimes running roughshod over the sentiments of elected officials." And sometimes over other things. He resigned in 1989 after county commissioners learned he had spent $300,000 without their approval. The money had gone for a feasibility study on building a racetrack at the Opa-locka airport. The commissioners soon also quashed a $74,000 contract Judy had signed with lobbyist Sylvester Lukis to persuade then-Gov. Bob Martinez to push for a new international airport in northwest Dade. The Miami Heraldpiled on with an exposé revealing that over the course of two decades at MIA, Judy had guided $32 million, in amounts small enough not to require commission approval, to consultants, some of whom were friends or former associates.
The planning side of the CRA was heavy indeed when Teele asked general contractor Bob Tyler to join the team in February 2000. "He said, 'Dick Judy is doing a great job at strategic planning but, Bob, no projects or programs are moving,'" Tyler remembers. "So he asked me to come on board and try to move the projects, basically. Get them from the planning stage to the construction stage." At the time Tyler, president of IGWT Construction, was working on projects at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport. He had met Teele in the early Nineties while working as a contractor at MIA and Teele was chairman of the county commission, which appropriates money for the airport. Tyler's work at MIA had also put him in contact with Judy. "It's really a small world," Tyler explains. "Everybody kind of knows everybody. All of the real players anyway."
Tyler agreed to work with Teele at the CRA for one year and then head back to the private sector. "You know, I'm thinking from a construction standpoint that all I've got to do is take a set of plans and go build what's there. I had no clue of this intergovernmental, quasi-governmental agency called the CRA," Tyler recalls. "I learned quickly when I came on board what was planned wasn't funded." Tyler was also struck how the CRA spent "a tremendous amount for legal fees, a tremendous amount for consultant fees, and a tremendous amount for salaries."
When Tyler started, he learned that Bermello, Ajamil & Partners had drafted preliminary plans for three little parking lots on NW Tenth Street in Overtown to service small businesses on Third Avenue. But engineering plans still had to be done. Legal matters involving acquisition of the land for the lots caused further delays. Tyler was disappointed and frustrated when his year was up -- the only brick-and-mortar projects that he actually saw built were the three lovely parking lots, with about eight spaces each.
"If you [calculated] what you spent on consultants and legal and technical and architectural [support] and staffing," Tyler notes, "those parking lots are multimillion-dollar parking lots. That's a sad story and a sad indictment of the process. But the numbers are what they are."
When New Times filed a public records request to review details of CRA expenditures, executive director/chief financial officer Lewis replied through an assistant that the agency didn't have sufficient staff to comply. The city's finance director, Scott Simpson, whose department actually issues the checks, promptly fulfilled much of the request, though. The only thing he could not provide was names of consultants who are on the CRA payroll. "The City has no detailed records for the human resource activities of the CRA," he noted. "The CRA retains all of these records." Simpson declined to comment on the state of the agency's record keeping. "I don't want to get dragged into this," he explained.
Lewis eventually offered the missing payroll information. Richard Judy, whom she calls her "Chapter 163 guru," referring to the Florida statute that governs community redevelopment agencies, currently bills the CRA $150 per hour "through" H.J. Ross and Associates, the CRA's consulting engineering firm. Judy's hours are capped at 32 per week, she noted, which would mean he gets only about $249,000 a year for his expertise. (Judy did not respond to several phone calls seeking comment for this article.) Cesar Calas, another H.J. Ross consultant, pulls in a mere $130 per hour from the CRA, the equivalent of about $220,000 a year on a 32-hour week.
Annual salaries of full-time CRA staff range from Lewis's $89,900 down to $25,000. The roster includes a construction management director, a legislation and policy administrator, an accounting clerk, a business developer, a special events coordinator, an architect-intern, a secretary, an administrative assistant, and a receptionist.