BEST POLITICAL COUP Miami 2004 - New regime at Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency
In recent years the CRA, created to revitalize long-suffering Overtown, routinely handed out taxpayer money for a plethora of intangible goods and services, often "with no evidence of board approval," as Miami's auditor general Victor Igwe put it not long ago. Like the $4250 a CRA employee received (on top of his salary) to photograph bus benches in the Bahamas. Or the $125,000 former county transit administrator Vernon Clarke was handed to study bus stops for eighteen months. Or the $200,000 per year in consulting fees that went to Richard Judy, ex-director of the county aviation department. (He was fired in 1989 after commissioners learned he'd spent $300,000 without their approval.) In all, some $17 million seemed to have disappeared over a period of years. Finally the FBI, the IRS, and the State Attorney's Office took notice, which concentrated the minds of city commissioners. In December 2002 they ousted executive director Annette Lewis, a protégée of Art Teele and a specialist in invisible-project budgets, pleasant obfuscation, and ignoring public-records requests. Lewis was replaced by former assistant city manager Frank Rollason, who looked around, didn't like what he saw, and began making changes, including firing Judy because he couldn't figure out what the guy was doing for $200,000 per year. This past January commissioners voted to create an independent oversight board for the CRA and to rotate the troubled agency's chairman, stripping Teele of the title he'd held and the fiefdom he'd controlled for six years.