Two months ago the Northeast Task Force, a 35-member advisory board whose mission is to revitalize Miami's northeast neighborhoods, was wracked with dissent. A few weeks ago nearly half the city-appointed task force's membership had resigned. A week from today, the organization more than likely will cease to exist.
The nearly five-year-old task force is among 13 of Miami's 46 advisory boards destined to be recommended for dissolution by the city's Boards and Committees Review Committee, a special body formed to devise a new system of appointing and overseeing advisory boards. The review committee's suggestions will be presented to the City Commission at its next regular meeting, on February 17. That same day, if the commission approves the recommendations as expected, will be the Northeast Task Force's last.
"Internal conflict was preventing [the Northeast Task Force] from functioning at a level of performance that would provide benefit to the city," explains attorney Albert Maloof, Mayor Steve Clark's appointee to the review committee. The resignations, Maloof says, are only the latest evidence that the body has outlasted its usefulness.
The exodus followed the task force's January 4 meeting, at which attorney Scott Warfman presented a report about the conduct of another member, realtor Judy Clark. For months the task force, whose members represent several area homeowners' and civic groups, had clashed internally over a June 1993 property purchase Clark made in partnership with Herbert Bailey, director of the city's Department of Housing Development and Conservation. (The controversy and its fallout were covered in a pair of New Times stories entitled, "Mr. Bailey's Neighborhood," published December 8 and 15.) The residential property, a fourplex on NE 62nd Street that has since been rehabbed and rented, was adjacent to an area that had been selected for a redevelopment project funded by a $500,000 city grant. Some members of the task force claimed the purchase constituted a conflict of interest for Bailey, whose department was responsible for administering the $500,000 in funds, and for Clark, who was a leading advocate for the redevelopment plan. Their reasoning: If the ambitious plan were successful, the value of Clark's and Bailey's rehabbed property would rise, and the pair might profit handsomely when they sold it (which they are encouraged to do under the terms of their federally secured mortgage and rehab loan).
Confronted by her peers at a task force meeting this past fall, Clark acknowledged the property purchase but declined to discuss accusations that she had kept it a secret even while lobbying for the redevelopment project in the adjacent area (the project never materialized). Unable to agree about whether Clark should be required to formally disclose financial interests that many viewed as relevant to her work as chairwoman of the board's economic development committee, task force members voted to authorize Scott Warfman to investigate possible improper conduct. Two task force members wrote to city officials at the time, complaining about Clark and Herbert Bailey.
City Manager Cesar Odio, Bailey's boss, responded. He ordered an investigation by the Miami Police Department's internal affairs unit, which referred the case to the State Attorney's Office, as well as an independent audit of the housing department run by Bailey, an eleven-year city employee highly regarded for his efforts to rejuvenate blighted neighborhoods.
Both Bailey and Clark strongly denied any conflict regarding the property purchase, asserting that they had bought the dilapidated fourplex in an attempt to clean up the neighborhood, which has long been a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes. They were vague, however, about their business partnership. Bailey is listed as co-owner of the fourplex, along with a general partnership called SF Properties. But that company is not registered with the Office of the Florida Secretary of State, nor has it obtained a Dade County occupational license, which is required for entities that do business here. Its address, as listed in county records, is that of Clark's home on North Bayshore Drive; its phone number rings at Bailey's city office. Further, Bailey neglected to disclose the 62nd Street property purchase on city financial disclosure forms as required by law (he has since amended the relevant form).
No findings of significant wrongdoing have emerged so far from the state attorney's investigation of Bailey, according to David Maer, the assistant state attorney handling the matter.
While the official scrutiny was aimed solely at Bailey, the task force had dispatched attorney Scott Warfman to determine whether any member of the board had violated the city's code of ethics. In his report, Warfman concluded that Clark's failure to reveal her financial involvement in the 62nd Street property was a breach of the city's conflict of interest code, which requires city officials (including appointed members of city boards) to disclose financial interests in any project they are publicly promoting. After Clark declined to respond to Warfman's presentation, a vote was taken, the majority opting to drop the matter entirely.
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Clark's foes were incensed. "I cannot abide the task force's decision to seek no further information and to take no action regarding the asserted conflict of interest issue," begins a letter addressed to the task force from attorney Douglas Broeker, who tendered his resignation. Like many ex-task force members, Broeker says he would welcome the board's abolishment. "We haven't accomplished anything new in over two years," he says. "It was appropriate in its time but now it's dysfunctional."
Judy Clark and her allies agree the task force hasn't been productive lately, but most don't feel it should be disbanded. "I think it has great potential," Clark asserts. "We've accomplished some great things. Unfortunately, we got sidetracked over some very personal issues."
If the coalition is dissolved by the city commission, the formation of a new neighborhood umbrella group seems unlikely, given the deep divisions in the community. Several ex-task force members and their homeowners associations are talking about forming a new federation of property owners; others may become active within the Biscayne Boulevard Chamber of Commerce or the Little Haiti Housing Association, a well-regarded nonprofit economic development corporation that rehabs housing in the area for resale to low-income buyers. "I would hope, since there are other organizations in the area," says Douglas Broeker, "that each active member of the task force would find an organization that fits their needs and objectives.