Teele’s (Or)Deal

A nightmarish chapter in the annals of Miami government ends. Or does it?

But he didn't stop there. Teele had come armed with a resolution ingeniously crafted to allow all branches of city government to share in the CRA debacle. It instructed Mayor Manny Diaz and City Manager Carlos Gimenez to form a team of experts that would review the CRA's finances, accounting methods, and staff structure and then make recommendations. The measure passed 5-0. A new bureaucratic process was born to ameliorate another dysfunctional, bureaucratic process. Thanks to Teele and his fellow commissioners, Diaz and Gimenez would be in this together.

As CRA board members who had only recently rebelled, Winton and Sanchez had little choice but to strike a harmonious chord. With Teele's "creative, chairman-of-the-board vision," Winton offered, "I think we can do wonders."

At the July 29 CRA meeting, however, held in the stuffy VIP Room on the ground floor of the old Miami Arena, there was more bad news. Details of a new tardy audit, from Fiscal Year 2001, were finally released. The CRA was not in a financial emergency, KPMG concluded, but it had exceeded its budget by at least $300,000, a violation of city law. Again the auditors noted an "absence of qualified staff" in the agency's finance department. And the CRA did not have a proper system in place to document each expenditure for goods and services.

The CRA players (top to bottom): Arthur, Mickey, Minnie, and Johnny; redevelopment guru Judy; and Lewis flanked by a CRA lawyer
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
The CRA players (top to bottom): Arthur, Mickey, Minnie, and Johnny; redevelopment guru Judy; and Lewis flanked by a CRA lawyer

Teele played it cool, listening patiently as Winton and Sanchez grilled CRA staff to their hearts' content. They had qualms about a vague request to approve a $1.4 million bid by an asphalt company for a CRA project dubbed the Ninth Street Mall Extension. Annoyed, Winton and Sanchez told the CRA director of construction management David Hernandez to come back with an itemized budget detailing specific costs. The commissioners tabled a proposal to pay a Memphis lobbying firm up to $78,000 to create a Beale Street-style tourist strip between Tenth and Eleventh streets.

After the meeting, Teele distanced himself from the problems the audits uncovered. "The one thing I don't assert is insight over the finances," he warned. "The budget, yes. The finances no. And I've always said I'm not going to deal with the finances of the agency." But he was confident that, although the auditor found certain records unavailable, none were actually missing. He added, "I specifically ask and we have always asked, 'Are there any matters relating to fraud or mismanagement that we need to be aware of?' And the answer has always been no." For her part, Annette Lewis says she inherited many of the problems and has already taken steps to correct them.

Teele prefers to talk about the future. After two years of apparent indifference toward Terem and his alliance of investor-bohemians north of the overpass, the CRA chairman is now jazzed about their efforts. "As biologists say, life will find a way," Teele had joked during the meeting. "Fourteenth Street is going to be the hot street the way this is going to develop."

"A new wind is blowing through the CRA," Terem gleefully pronounced outside the old arena after the meeting.

But when would it finally blow through one of the most godforsaken zones in all of Miami? Very soon, Teele insists. "The important thing is that we're not going to be Santa Claus to Overtown," he cautioned. "The main thing we're doing is we're spending money for capital projects. And that's what had to happen in Overtown. As corny as it may sound, you build it, they will come. If you put the infrastructure in there, the right lighting, the right sidewalks, the parking amenities, the right landscaping. And you see? The Dairy Queen guys are here now."

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