Public Comment

November 5, 2021, Story published in WPB Watch, and a comparison will be made between Cohen Brothers development of the Tent Site and City property discussed at the City Commission meeting held 9/6/2022.

“The Tent Site is a piece of city owned property that has been dormant and a terrible eye sore for 24 years, until the Cohen Brothers has a vision to build “West Palm Point”

It’s the end of the meeting and Commissioner Peduzzi, James was absent, asks the City Clerk if there are any comments emailed to the City. Well, yes there are. In fact there are 77 comments to be read. Due to the amount the Clerk is advised to just read the names and addresses, and if they are in favor or opposed to the project. I listened and wrote every name and address down.

All 77 comments were opposed to the project, and if that’s not surprising to readers this should be. The vast majority who opposed live in my area, District 2, called the Villages and live many miles from the Tent Site.

Sept. 6, 2022 City Commission Meeting.

8.4. “Resolution No. 240-22 finding that City property located at the corner of Quadrille Plaza Drive and Clematis Street is not needed for City purposes, declaring the property as surplus, and authorizing the conveyance of the property through negotiation of the sale with NL 512, LLC.”     Who are they?

Mr. Rodney Mayo sent email to the City on Tue, Sep 6, 2022 @ 4:24 am, and can be read below. If you own and love a dog as many of us do, please take the time to read the email. The picture was included with Mr. Mayo’s email. Click to enlarge.

“Dear Commissioners,

Although I do not oppose the sale of this strip of land in hopes that it will be put to a better use I must express my disappointment over our repeated attempts over the past 4 years to utilize this public property as an art installation and most recently a dog park.

In 2019 we first approached the CRA who claimed ownership and control over this strip of land. We proposed an art wall installation similar to the Wynwood Walls in Miami’s art district. We offered several different proposals at no cost to the city or the taxpayers. We just wanted to create an inviting environment for residents and visitors to downtown. As the entrance to the 500 block from the east, that strip of land is the first thing people see heading west. We have tried over the years to make the 500 block a destination by creating entrance planters, weekend street closures and events. We offered all the usual criteria , safety plan, liability insurance, agreement to remove and restore the lot. We asked the DDA for help to get it approved but was told it was CRA property and they could not help.

After some time waiting for approval we were told we could not use the lot and that the CRA had plans they could not disclose.

We then approached the CRA and the DDA together to create a dog park on that site. Again paid for by private business and at no cost to the city, CRA, DDA or taxpayers. After a few months of getting bounced around we were finally told that the lot belonged to the city and we would have to contact them. I am confused as to why for 3 years we were told by the CRA the lot was under their control.

We proposed a dog park with irrigation, dog bag dispensers, obstacle course, seating and shade. We offered to do this as a pop up with no strings attached. If the lot was sold or needed for another use we would remove everything and restore to its current state. (Currently the lot is not maintained, it is half sand and mud, there is no irrigation and the hedges are dying.)
We were told no by the city representative.

Even if this lot sells or goes under contract to a private entity the time frame for construction is Atleast 12-18 months away.

We would like the opportunity in that time, for what ever time, to create a pop up dog park for our community. The lot currently is used as an impromptu dog park, we would just like the opportunity to beautify , maintain and perhaps save a puppy or 2 from the barrage of sand spurs that currently exist.
After all this is taxpayer property and it would be nice if the taxpayers could actually benefit from it before it is disposed to a private developer.
Sincerely

Rodney Mayo
Subculture Group”

9/6/2022 Discussion by City Officials on the piece of surplus land.

The area under discussion is the red section on the right. Click to enlarge.

Jennifer Ferriol, Director of Housing and Community Development, made the presentation for Resolution No. 240-22.

James: “Now we have a number of items that came from the portal and have been distributed to you Commissions. Madam City Attorney, are we obligated to read these out loud with comments coming from the portal?” City Attorney: “You have the comments in front of you so you can read them and take into consideration as you make your decision. We will keep the comments as public record.”

Residents who took the time to email the City with their comments and submit them by 2pm requesting a dog park were ignored, their name, address and comments were not read out loud for their opinion as was done at the Cohen Brothers project when 77 residents asked the City to deny their project. It appeared to me James did all he could to keep Cohen Brothers away from the Tent Site.

We don’t know how many emails were sent, and I will go out on a limb and suggest all emails were in favor of a temporary dog park. Did City Commissioners have the time to read residents emails in the Portal before making their decisions?

The Parcel proposed for surplus is 25’ wide and when Commissioner Fox asked the length of the property. Ms. Ferriol admitted she didn’t know but would have an answer when they meet for the second vote.

So, who is NL 512, LLC.    See definition of LLC below.

NL 512, LLC is a Florida Domestic Limited-Liability Company filed On August 25, 2022. The company’s filing status is listed as Active and its File Number is L22000372131.

The Registered Agent on file for this company is Jones Foster Service, LLC and is located at 505 South Flagler Drive, Suite 1100, West Palm Beach, FL 33401. The company’s principal address is 285 Banyan Boulevard, West Palm Beach 33401 and its mailing address is 285 Banyan Boulevard, West Palm Beach, FL 33401.
The company has 1 contact on record. The contact is Navarro Lowrey, Inc. from West Palm Beach FL.

NAVARRO LOWREY, INC. 285 Banyan Boulevard West Palm Beach, FL. 33401

“Navarro Lowrey is a focused commercial real estate provider that owns, develops, leases and manages commercial real estate properties from its corporate headquarters in West Palm Beach, Florida.”

What is the meaning of a limited liability company?
“A limited liability company (LLC) is a business structure in the U.S. that protects its owners from personal responsibility for its debts or liabilities. Limited liability companies are hybrid entities that combine the characteristics of a corporation with those of a partnership or sole proprietorship.”

Jones Foster Service, LLC filed On August 25, 2022 with the Florida Department Of State Business Registration, 13 days before the City Commission met to decide on a piece of surplus City owned property. If I didn’t know better I would think Jones Foster or Navarro Lowery had a heads up. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence both have the same business address: 285 Banyan Boulevard. Will the City request an appraisal and accept bids on the land, or has the decision been made?
https://www.bizapedia.com/fl/nl-512-llc.html

The end.

 

Possible reason the WPB CRA Is Losing Millions!

Below is a section of the City’s IA (Internal Audit) the City’s watchdog who reports on waste, fraud and abuse was release June 22, 2020, and is the first report issued. The audit is ongoing.

Community Redevelopment Areas are established by local governments to carry out redevelopment activities that include reducing or eliminating blight, improving the economic health of an area, and encouraging investments.

The WPB CRA works with residents, property owners, businesses, developers and other community organizations to foster redevelopment within the CRA Districts.”

CRA Funding:

The primary funding source available to the CRA consists of Tax Increment Revenues. Tax Increment Revenues are a unique tool available to cities and counties for redevelopment activities and are used to leverage public funds to promote private sector activity in the targeted redevelopment areas.

4. Contract Procurement can be read on page 14.

First Contract:

“After a competitive bidding process, the City entered into an agreement with RMA to staff the CRA with an initial term of three years that was extended by an additional two years, for a total of five years, thereby exhausting all available extensions.

The contract was executed in December 2013 and was scheduled to expire in December 2018. However, in 2016, the Palm Beach County Inspector General’s Office (IG) issued Investigative Report No. 2016-0002 that included a review of the procurement process for this contract. We reviewed the IG report and the City’s procurement documents related to this contract. We found that the IG report was sufficiently reliable to provide an independent assessment of the procurement process for this first contract. A copy of the IG report including the related documents can be found in the Attachments section of this report. We note that the IG report recommended reviewing the contract and taking appropriate action. Thus, we focused our efforts on assessing the procurement of the second contract.

Second Contract:

We reviewed the documents related to the second contract with RMA and found that in September 2018, a new contract was executed between the City and RMA without going through a competitive bidding process and was approved by the Commissioners. We found that the contract value after five years was about $6.4 million to a single vendor. This contract was brought before the City Commissioners for approval in August 2018, as Resolution No. 242-18, which did not meet the Procurement Code requirements. Specifically, the requirements not met were placing an RFP/RFQ for vendors to competitively bid on the contract. We found that the supporting documents did not clearly indicate that 1. New competitive bids were required to obtain a new contract, and 2. The Commissioners were being asked to waive this particular requirement. We acknowledge that it is within the Commissioners discretion to waive procurement requirements, however, requests made to Commissioners should be clear and transparent, particularly in high-dollar contracts to single vendors.”

CRA Audit 6-22-2020

“Rasing questions about contract awarded to RMA”

By: Niels Heimeriks Posted at 3:19 PM, Sep 28, 2016 and last updated 3:20 PM, Sep 28, 2016

“A report by the Palm Beach County Inspector General’s Office released today is highly critical of the city of West Palm Beach, its former spokesperson Elliot Cohen and a city contractor in charge of redevelopment.

The Inspector general concludes that former city spokesperson Elliot Cohen disclosed classified information to the public; that he used his position and city resources to run his private side business, and that he improperly had a side job with a city contractor.
But the county watchdog goes even further, saying that Cohen misused his position to solicit business for his private firm.
As a result the O.I.G. brings into question whether the more than $3 million the city has paid RMA was wasteful, or even fraudulent spending, and recommends the city review its contract.”

Below is the story written by WPTV Chanel 5 Niels Heimeriks

https://www.wptv.com/news/region-c-palm-beach-county/west-palm-beach/inspector-generals-report-slams-west-palm-beach-elliott-cohen-and-private-contractor

Jon Ward was the Executive Director of the Community Redevelopment Agency before Mayor James replaced him with city employee Christopher Roog, although RMA employees are still on the job.

I placed a PRR (Public records Request) for information on how much money the City actually paid out for the still closed Sunset lounge, and received an invoice for $150.00 for the information, which I am not willing to pay.

“Jon Ward, executive director of the Community Redevelopment Agency, noted that several significant projects are getting underway, after years of studies by urban design consultants.”
https://rma.us.com/just-in-west-palm-beach-digs-into-clematis-street-makeover/

What is the hourly salary?

Urban Design Assistant $105.00/Hr; Urban Designer 1 $115.00/Hr; Urban Designer 11 $125.00/Hr; Sr. Urban Designer $150.00/Hr; Director- Urban Design & Planning $185.00/Hr.

A reader of WPB Watch also placed a PRR and received the response below which was shared with me, and I am now sharing with readers. Click on the picture to enlarge.

 

A PRR Will Cost You $150.00 In WPB

CRA Organization Chart Information received from WPB Dept. Internal Auditor.

CRA Board Mayor Keith James, Commissioners Fox, Lambert, Peduzzi, Ward and Warren.

Executive Director Christopher Roog

RMA Principals

Deputy Director &  Administrative Assistant
Marketing Manager  &  Northwest Project Manager
Special Events Coordinator & Northwest/Pleasant City Manager
Real Estate Associate

“We note that the CRA structure has changed and the new Executive Director is now a City employee. All other personnel are employed by Redevelopment Management Associated (RMA) and are assigned to the City’s CRA by RMA.”

A resident sent a PRR on Mon, Aug 15, 2022 @ 1:00 pm which reads  “part 2 Internal Audit Report on page 5 there is a Organization Chart that includes a Real Estate Associate. Please Name of Real Estate Associate, resume and salary”   Received a response from the City, except the information he requested was not provided. See City response here.  Sunset Lounge A.L. PRR

Mayor Kith James stated it is costing the City $26,000/month to operate the vacant Sunset Lounge at a CRA meeting when discussing the  disqualified bidder (Vita) in what I believe was an attempt to push the Commissioners into a decision to decide on Mad Room. I can’t believe James is truthful and spending that amount of money on an empty building and placed a PRR.

My PRR sent 8/15/2022 @ 8:39AM. ” Please send me all invoices and receipts paid for the Sunset Lounge for the months of May, June and July for year 2022. Thank you in advance for your help.”

City responded Tue, Aug 16, 2022 @ 8:56 am with an Invoice. PRR will cost me $150.00. $75.00 deposit to start process and $75.00 on delivery. City states $200.00/per hour and apparently it will take 45 minutes. See invoice here.  Sunset Lounge Invoice $150.00

CRA Management and Staffing Contracts:

“Up until 2013, the CRA was managed and staffed by the City of West Palm Beach. In 2013, a competitively bid contract to manage and staff the WPB CRA was awarded to Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) for a three-year term to commence on January 1, 2014 for the amount of $41,000 per month from January 1 – February 28, 2014 and increased to $78,000 per month on March 1, 2014, for the remainder of the agreement. This monthly fee was subject to a 2.5% increase, effective October 1st of each year. Per the contract, the City of West Palm Beach had the option to extend the term for up to two additional years by the execution of a written amendment to the contract. After the extensions, the first contract was set to terminate on December 31, 2018. However, in September 2018, a new contract was entered into with an effective date of October 1, 2018, and it was not competitively bid. This contract, like the prior contract, is currently in effect for three years with the option to extend for an additional two years through the execution of a written amendment. The compensation for this contract is $99,750 per month and is subject to a 3% increase, effective October 1st of each year, which comes to a cost of about $6.4 million over five year.”

I attended the meeting in 2013 and recall when the CRA contract was discussed and approved and that was the first and last time a “Request For Qualification” and not a “Request For Proposal” process, meaning that the city wouldn’t attach a specific dollar figure to the bidding process. The City automatically renewed the contract, the only difference was RMA received a substantial raise every time, and there is no need to wonder why the City ” wouldn’t attach a specific dollar figure”

At the time Mayor James was Commissioner James and voted for approval.
The City may have placed Mr. Roog as Executive Director of the CRA although 7 employees of RMA are still running the show. Where are taxpayers dollars, now gone missing?

James and Johnson, the two that run the City with an iron fist is throwing good money after bad. A City where employee moral is at a all time low, many in fear losing their job.

Commissioners I write these stories for you as well as the residents of WPB for no other reason than to bring to your attention to what is happening in our City that “Staff” conveniently leave out of presentations. If James and Johnson want it staff better sell it or become another Phyllis Brooks, fired after 38 years of service.to a City she loved.

As far as the Sunset Lounge, which belong to the black community, in my opinion only a black management firm can properly run it.

I placed a call to Mr. Roog on Tues. 8/16/22 @ 11:22AM and left a message with my name and phone no. and requested a call back. I’m still waiting for the call.

The end

IA Report May 6, 2021 Part 2 + Surprise

West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency Audit Part 2 Released May 6, 2021.
Unlike Part 1 of the audit, this report contains 23 pages, and sums up the report. Below are excerpts from the report and I urge readers to read it in it’s entirety.

1. Inadequate Controls and Oversight of CRA Expenditures

Condition Page 6

“Expenses Without A Project Code: 93 (15%) expense items were not allocated to a project code. We found that the project code assigned to these items was zero, instead of being allocated to a project code where costs could be tracked and accounted for. The CRA paid approximately $731,341 for the invoices related to these expenses.” Read the entire report for Criteria, Cause, Effect and Recommendation.

2. Insufficient Oversight of the Incentive Grant Program.

Condition Page 12

“The CRA offers Incentive Grant Programs that have specific guidelines and an application process that must be followed. Each Incentive Grant Award must be approved by the CRA board, We reviewed all 85 grant projects that were provided to us by the CRA including all 101 invoices submitted for reimbursement and found the following discrepancies:” Read the entire report for Criteria, Cause, Effect and Recommendation.

3. Fixed Assents Variances.

Condition Page 15

“During our review of the CRA’s fixed assets, we identified an area of concerns related to the City’s fixed assets. As of September 30,2020 the City had a balance of approximately $85 million of land recorded in the General Government and the balance included all departments that own land as well as the CRA. We found that $26 million (32%) of the $85 million was recorded as a lump sum value.” Read the entire report for Criteria, Cause, Effect and Recommendation.

4. Lack of Tracking and Monitoring of CRA Properties.

Condition Page 17

“We found that the process to track CRA owned properties was inadequate and ineffective. As such, the CRA could not confirm with certainty that the list of 95 properties that they identified as CRA owned properties was inclusive of all CRA properties.” Read the entire report for Criteria, Cause, Effect and Recommendation.

The IA (Internal Audit) Report could not have come at a better time due to the timing of the report and the controversy over the Sunset Lounge, and who will be chosen to manage it.

Below you will find the story by Investigative Reporter Terri Parker of WPBF (25) and Ms. Parker apparently requested a PRR (Public Records Request) from the city concerning the emails. Ms. Parker has included a three page letter dated 8/3/2022 from the Procurement Division to Mr. Ben Bush, Mad Room Hospitality, LLC and states Mad Room “violated the terms and conditions of the RFP” (Request For Proposal)        Ben & Zach Bush are co-owner’s of Mad Room Hospitality.

Email from: Zach Bush to Keith James sent 6/27/2022 @ 11:15AM

Email from: Zach Bush to Joseph Peduzzi sent 6/28/2022 @ 9:04AM

Email from Keith James to Zack Bush sent 6/28/2022 @ 11:00AM.  James points Mr. Bush to a project coming down the road and suggest he check it out.

The CRA should be abolished, there are many millions not accounted for and millions more spent in 2 areas of the city with no oversight. Easiest department to pilfer money from. No one watching.

https://www.wpbf.com/article/second-firm-sunset-lounge-bid-disqualified-lobbying-west-palm-beach-mayor/40863190

Below is the IA Audit dated 5/6/2021

IA Report on CRA 5-6-2021

The end

Sunset Lounge–Starting Over!

Below are excepts from a newly released story on the Sunset Lounge and the ignominious failure the City made in their attempt to find an operator.  My comments in Italic, entire story can be read below, and it contains links to stories on Channel 5 which makes for interesting reading.

FOX 29 WFLX

“Both potential operators of Sunset Lounge disqualified by city”

“It’s back to the drawing board to find an operator for a signature West Palm Beach redevelopment project.”

The latest twist comes after the city disqualified both of its bidders over alleged lobbying violations.

The city said Vita Lounge LLC, the minority group first selected, “blatantly violated” an ordinance against lobbying for the contract through Facebook posts and e-mails.

Vita denied the accusation and filed a lawsuit.

“The city then disqualified Mad Room Hospitality for allegedly making “courtesy contact with the mayor and a commissioner during the prohibited contact period.” Commissioner Peduzzi was the lone vote to approve Mad Room Hospitality along with Mayor James. Can we presume he was the Commissioner contacted?

In a statement to Contact 5 Thursday afternoon, the co-owner of Mad Room Hospitality said they were “improperly disqualified by a technicality.”
As a result of all of this, the city canceled the request for a proposal meant to find an operator to run the Sunset Lounge.

“The city’s community redevelopment agency said it costs about $26,000 a month to maintain the empty building.” $26,000 a month maintenance for an empty building. A PRR (Public Records Request) needs to be made. Readers were sent the Internal Auditors report on the CRA where millions were unaccounted for, what’s a few more thousand? Think about that when your trying to buy gas, food, money for the parking meters.

“A city spokesperson told Contact 5 that the CRA board will meet in the coming weeks to discuss the next steps and future operations of the Sunset Lounge.” Will meet in the coming weeks, not in a hurry to do what needs to be done, and give the contract to Vita who 4 Commissioners originally voted on before Commissioners Lambert and Ward changed course. Commissioners Fox and Warren stuck to their convictions to stay with Vita.

“Mad Room Hospitality was improperly disqualified by a technicality and the city, in my opinion, realized its error which is why they changed their course in posting the letter it did to DemandStar.”   DemandStar, a company that handles Government Contract Bids, RFPs & Procurement. A PRR needs to be made to view the letter the city sent to DemandStar.

“We have requested from the City a letter rescinding their improper cancellation and we expect this to be forthcoming.”

“The city of West Palm Beach allows a responder to communicate with the city at the execution of a contract/agreement or once the solicitation stage has ended. It was clear then and remains clear now that the solicitation stage had ended.” Contract not signed.

“Ultimately, the City has to do what they feel is best for the community and we only want the best for the Sunset Lounge and the Historic Northwest District. Mad Room is not interested in pursuing this project further at this time.” 

“For what it is worth, which we also made abundantly clear to the City–(which seemed to ruffle some feathers)-Mad Room does not feel Vita was treated fairly by the City of West Palm Beach.” Wow!

We certainly wish the City the very, very best in moving this project forward as the Community deserves and needs this project to flourish.”
https://www.wflx.com/2022/08/11/both-potential-operators-sunset-lounge-disqualified-by-city/

In closing the CRA has spent in the Downtown City Center a total of $174,271,223. Northwood/ Pleasant City $19,101,585. for a total of $ 193 million, 372 thousand, 808 dollars. I recently received part 2 of the Internal Auditors Report on the CRA, and that story will be coming shortly. Here are a few lines from the audit released.

Opportunities for Improvement
1. Inadequate Controls and Oversight of CRA Expenditures.
2. Insufficient Oversight of the Incentive Grant Program.
3. Fixed Assets Variances.
4. Lack of Tracking and Monitoring of CRA Properties.

In my opinion the city should seriously consider disbanding the CRA and stop wasting taxpayers dollars.

The end!

IA Report June 22, 2020 Part 1

My comments in Italic

IA (Internal Audit) report is lengthy and below is what jumped out at me. I have included the entire report below for your review. If you take the time to read it something may jump out at you that I missed.

The Internal Auditor (IA) dept. is overseen by the City Commissioners and the report (part 1) was issued when the dept. was severely understaffed.

IA Responsibility:

“Perform audits and provide services to help the City achieve the highest level of effectiveness and efficiency with uncompromised integrity. Promote compliance with laws, rules, regulations, policies, procedures, contracts, and agreements through reviews and analyses of the City’s services and activities.”

Contents: Page 3:
BACKGROUND    Page 1
STATEMENT of SCOPE Page 2
STATEMENT OF OBJECTIVES Page 3
STATEMENT OF METHODOLOGY  Page 3
STATEMENT OF AUDITING STANDARDS  Page 3
AUDIT CONCLUSIONS AND SUMMARY OF FINDINGS Page 4
NOTEWORTHY ACCOMPLISHMENT  Page 4
CRA ORGANIZATION CHART   Page 5
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT  Page 6
1. STAFF ASSIGNED TO THE CRA  Page 6
2. MONITORING PURCHASES   Page 9
3. COMPREHENSIVE OVERSIGHT OVER CRA ACTIVITIES   Page 12
4. CONTRACT PROCUREMENT  Page 14
RESPONSE FROM CITY ADMINISTRATION   Page 16
RESPONSE FROM RMA (CONTRACTOR)   Page 17
AUDITOR’S COMMENTS   Page 18

ATTACHMENT A – PBC INSPECTOR GENERAL (IG) REPORT  Page 25

ATTACHMENT B – GOVERNOR’S EXECUTIVE ORDER AND RELATED DOCUMENT  Page 26

Page 1: Community Redevelopment Areas in the City of West Palm Beach:

“The CRA consists of two separate Redevelopment Districts the City Center Community Redevelopment Area, more commonly known as the Downtown CRA, and the Northwood/Pleasant City Community Redevelopment Area.”

CRA Funding:
“The primary funding source available to the CRA consists of Tax Increment Revenues. Tax Increment Revenues are a unique tool available to cities and counties for redevelopment activities and are used to leverage public funds to promote private sector activity in the targeted redevelopment areas.”

Page 2: CRA Management and Staffing Contracts:

“Up until 2013, the CRA was managed and staffed by the City of West Palm Beach. In 2013, a competitively bid contract to manage and staff the WPB CRA was awarded to Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) for a three-year term to commence on January 1, 2014. In September 2018, a new contract was entered into with an effective date of October 1, 2018, and it was not competitively bid.”

CRA Revenues:

“From 2014-2019
“Downtown City Center CRA: $174, 271, 223” Appears to me the City considers Downtown the only area in need of improvement. The City should look at areas of the city that are pitch black at night. I’m sure residents would appreciate lighting.

Northwood/Pleasant City CRA:   $19,101,58”  Home of the Sunset Lounge. City (James) is concerned the City is paying a few thousands a month while waiting for MadMen LLC although the Commissioners approved Vita LLC  the contract.  He was a City Commissioner for 8 years, was not concerned about millions.

Total spent in 2 areas: $193,372,808.00, click to enlarge.

 

 

 

Page 3: Statement of Scope:

“The scope of the audit was from January 2014 through December 2019 (audit period) which is the period of time since the City outsourced the management and staffing of the CRA to RMA.”

Statement of Objectives:

“The objectives of the first part of this audit were to:
a. Determine whether the CRA was adequately staffed and had sufficient oversight over day-to-day operations; and
b. Determine whether CRA funds were used for CRA activities and properly accounted.”

Statement of Methodology & Statement of Auditing Standards.  Also on page 3.

Page 4: Audit Conclusions and Summary of Findings:

“We concluded that there were opportunities to improve internal controls and management and oversight of the CRA operations. Specifically:

1. We found that some RMA employees assigned to the City’s CRA did not meet minimum qualifications for the positions they filled.
2. We found that there was inadequate oversight over the purchases made on City PCards such that p-cards were issued to non-City employees, purchases were not allocated to projects, purchases did not have sufficient justifications, and some purchases were not permissible under the P-Card policy.
3. RMA employees, acting as CRA staff, did not have comprehensive documented and/or established project management processes and procedures, that would have allowed them to independently provide comprehensive information on all CRA activities and the associated public funds.
4. The second contract with RMA did not go through a competitive bidding process, though it was approved by the Commissioners. We found that the supporting documents did not clearly indicate that a). a new competitive bidding process was required to obtain a new contract, and b). the Commissioners were being asked to waive this requirement. The procurement of the first contract was assessed by the Palm Beach County Inspector General’s Office and the report has been attached.”

Noteworthy Accomplishments:
“We acknowledge that the CRA under RMA’s management has been instrumental in improving various streetscapes and increasing community engagement through marketing and special events such as Bowties and Bourbon, the Heart and Soul Festival, and BBQ, Blues and Brews. We commend the Finance Department for taking immediate corrective action and deactivating the P-Cards.”

Page 6 – 8 Opportunities for Improvement

1. “Staff Assigned to the CRA

“Auditing standards indicate that disclosures should be provided when there are limitations or uncertainties with the reliability or validity of evidence. As such, we provide the following disclosures.
Over the course of audits, multiple attempts are made to obtain the data necessary to complete the review. Further, auditors follow up with audit clients to ensure that the data obtained is accurate. During the audits, we notify the audit client when we identify potential concerns and we provide sufficient information to facilitate a candid discussion. Specifically, we found the following concerns at the time the individuals were hired by RMA:”
Pages 6 -8 contain more info; and I encourage readers to take the time to read these 3 pages and notice the lack of over site from City leaders, concerning the contract with RMA not honoring the contract with unqualified employees earning from $95 to $155/hr. Two Employee closely related to RMA partner. It’s disgraceful.

Page 9-11:
Monitoring Purchases:

Condition

“The City’s Procurement Card Policy states that employees who have regular status with the City are eligible to obtain a purchasing card (P-Card). RMA’s contracts did not grant regular City employee status to RMA employees. RMA’s contracts clearly stated that some expenditures were subject to reimbursement and administrative fees and other expenditures could be paid for directly by the City. The contracts did not mention P-Cards. Based on our review, we found that an average of two RMA employees were issued P Cards with monthly spending limits of $10,000 per card and the majority of purchases were placed on an administrative assistant’s P-Card.”

Inadequate Oversight of Purchases

“From 2014 through 2019, there were about 1,040 P-Card transactions totaling about $253,000. Based on our review, we found insufficient oversight of purchases made as follows: For example, we identified purchases for:
1. Award luncheons/banquets and applications for awards (over $4,000),
2. Gift Cards (over $2,000), and
3. Work pants and shirts for RMA Employees (over $2,500).”

Once again I ask readers to read pages 9-11 for more shocking disclosures of the CRA and RMA.
As I have mentioned multiple times the importance of the WPB Internal Auditor Department, and Beverly Mahaso, Chief Internal Auditor, and her limited staff, who gave the City a straight forward and balanced report to help the city with it’s problem solving. If not for them we would not be aware on the millions of taxpayer dollars wasted, and/or missing. The good news is the City has not renewed the contract with RMA, and it is now being overseen by Christopher Roog, Executive Director of the CRA. Will the City do anything to re-coop money wasted by abuse? I doubt it. Let sleeping dogs lie.

CRA Audit 6-22-2020

The end!

 

Sunset Lounge CRA Meeting 7/25/2022

There are 2 item’s for discussion: (1) Sunset Lounge Operations & (2) 314 Clematis St; ended the meeting.The entire meeting ran for 1:07:57, and it’s included at the end of the story. Please take the time to listen to nearly 50 min. of conversation on the Sunset Lounge. Listen to the Mayor push his agenda, and the 2 Commissioners (Fox & Warren) who refused to be pushed and stood strong. Commissioners Lambert & Ward joined James, and made the vote 3 -2 to move forward with MadMen.

Commissioner Peduzzi was absent from this important discussion.

6/27/2022 CRA Meeting Discussion on Sunset Lounge. The vote on which company would receive the contract. Commissioners Fox, Lambert, Ward and Warren voted for Vita LLC, a local company owned and operated by African Americans. James and Peduzzi voted for MadMen LLC from Miami.

7/12/2022 Local group disqualified from operating Sunset Lounge for violating rules, city says. 15 days after Commissioners approved Vita LLC James found a way to disqualify them.

7/25/2022 28 days to overturn the vote. 13 days later, back before the Commissioners

What this meeting was all about is James wanting the Commission to vote to move forward with MadMen, and I honestly never saw the man push so hard to make his point, or Commissioners find it tough to stand their ground.

If you are inclined to listen to the meeting Commissioners asked questions and again Commissioner Warren had a problem with residents in attendance not being able to comment. James assured her when it was brought back before the Commission for a vote to approve a contract with MadMen that is when residents have 3 minutes to comment and share their thoughts. And I assure Commissioners and residents if it is brought back for a vote and 5,000 African Americans showed up to speak it would be to late. At this point it’s a done deal, and MadMen have the contract.

As predicted, Vita LLC has filed a lawsuit against the City of WPB, and Channel 25 (WPBF) who realized the importance of the Sunset Lounge, had their camera rolling at the meeting. Investigative Reporter, Terri Parker reported the story and below are excerpts. The entire story can be read below.

“Vita Lounge LLC files lawsuit against West Palm Beach for disqualifying it from running historic Sunset Lounge

Vita Lounge LLC, a local company that was abruptly disqualified from running the newly renovated Sunset Lounge after winning the bid, has filed a lawsuit against the city of West Palm Beach.

Vita Lounge LLC says it was improperly removed from the agreement to run the historic Black jazz club and is also preparing an emergency injunction asking a judge to stop any negotiations with other companies.

Meanwhile, in a special Community Redevelopment Agency meeting, commissioners decided to move forward with negotiations with the runner-up — Mad Room Hospitality, a Miami company that some local residents from the largely Black northwest community don’t want.”

There is hope the court’s involvement will bring some justice to the African American community.

Sunset Lounge is located in the Historic Northwest section of the city, and this is important as readers will be made aware of at the end of the story.

The Sunset Lounge was owned and operated by African Americans, a place of their own in which they had a great amount of pride and still do. The more I research, the more I learn. Let me share.

Thelma Starks, who died in 2018, often shared memories of the Lounge with the media. “My husband always insisted you dress properly at the Sunset,” she told a reporter, in 2002. “You didn’t come in looking like you were going to a picnic. He wanted you to come in with a coat on, a tie on and no hat. …When Louis Armstrong performed, more whites than anyone else turned out to attend. Everyone dressed up to go there. It was so glamorous.” With its 16-foot-high ceilings, polished wood walls and red drapes, the Sunset sought to rival whites-only ballrooms in its scale and elegance. Its sense of propriety extended to guests’ behavior. As longtime patron Emmett Cooper recalled to the Palm Beach Post in 1990, “There were certain things you just did not do at the Sunset, like swearing or using profane language and things like that.” Click picture to enlarge,

The picture is a list of upcoming weekly meetings being held in the City. BKJ (Before Keith James) the list was automatically sent to residents who signed up to receive them and made it easy to mark your calendar if you wanted to attend. If a meeting was cancelled you also received notice. I draw your attention to the only meeting dated for today 7/28/2022 @ 5:30PM. “Education Advisory Committee” Click to enlarge picture.

While I was looking for information on the City website I ran across this notice listed under ‘Events” July 28 Historic Northwest Community Meeting 6:00PM It has the word “Meeting” in the title, so why is not listed in the weekly meetings, afraid the black community would attend? Another event noticed for Aug.4,2022 “National Black Business Month Community Mixer” Is there no end to the City’s hypocrisy? Click to enlarge picture.

Chanel 25 (WPBF) Terri Parker Story  https://www.wpbf.com/article/vita-lounge-llc-lawsuit-against-west-palm-beach-disqualifiying-historic-sunset-lounge/40711215

CRA meeting held 7/25/2022 can be seen & heard below.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEG39fp1EPA

The end?

Need Abuse-Visit City Hall

Update 7/27/2022 @ 11:42AM

 

The next story was intended to inform WPB Watch readers on the CRA meeting held July 25,2022 @ 3:00PM, which I attended, and was off to a bad start soon after I entered City Hall.

I walked into City Hall, went through security to attend the CRA meeting and the discussion on the Sunset Lounge.

For those of you that are not familiar with City Hall let me set the stage.

After entering the building, City Commission Chambers are located at the first right. Walk a few feet down the corridor and you will notice a table where the agenda’s are laid out, and residents pick one up, and if they park in the city garage a machine will validate their parking ticket.

The second door on the right you will find the City Clerks office where they are responsible for distributing the agenda’s. When a larger than usual crowd attend a meeting they may run out of agendas, which they did.

I walked back and started for the clerks office to inform them and ask for the agenda when I heard screaming. I stopped and someone was screaming at the front door. There were a few people standing around, couldn’t see any fighting so I continued into the office. Next thing I know a PSC guard is standing next to me yelling I was supposed to be at the meeting, not the clerks office. Told him I was there for an agenda. The clerk was in the process of printing up more when the guard approached him and demanded he not assist me.

He came back to me and started yelling again which I didn’t hear half of what he said due to the mask he was wearing but decided to ignore him. He left and next thing I know there is a WPB cop standing next to me asking what was going on. I explained to him what had occurred when the clerk walked up and handed me an agenda, left the room to place the others on the table.

So when the PSC storm trooper guard couldn’t stand being ignored or stop the clerk from doing his job, he ran and got a real cop who listened to my explanation and handled the situation easily. No problem.

I learned the guards name is Brandon, from another employee, after he refused to give me his name, stating it “wasn’t my concern”  a tall man of color, and built like he could put a bull down and sporting a beard under the mask. He should not be assigned to city hall. He has no idea how to interact with residents and I learned it was me he was yelling at from the front door. Not professional. There are cameras all over and his actions should be investigated. Brandon may be more suited for a city park where he could bully and intimidate the homeless.

Story on the CRA meeting will be posted later today or tomorrow.
The end!

Sunset Lounge

Updated 7/23/2022

Mayor James and the 5 City Commissioners oversee the CRA, and it’s similar to the City Commission with Administration (James & Johnson) directing staff to sell a particular project to insure the Commissioners make the right decision, many times not being told the entire story, or what could possibly go wrong.

Where administration run into trouble is when companies make a presentation in order to be selected for a project for example the Sunset Lounge.

Channel’s 5 (WPTV) and 25 (WPBF) have both reported on this very important issue. Much of what you are about to read are excerpts from media stories, and the story links can be found below.

Let’s begin with a little history.

“The Sunset Lounge was one of the premier African American entertainment venues in the South during the 1940s and 1950s and featured such notable artists as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Ike and Tina Turner, Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles and James Brown to mention a few African American entertainers who appeared.”

“Often dubbed as the “Cotton Club of the South,” the Sunset Lounge is a historic music and entertainment venue located in the Historic Northwest District in the city of West Palm Beach, FL.”

“I have been in West Palm Beach since 1962, and that was the only place that persons of my ethnicity were allowed,” recalls Ike Robinson, former city commissioner of West Palm Beach. “We couldn’t go to the Breakers. We couldn’t go to Bradley’s. We couldn’t go to the Everglades Club. A lot of people think the Sunset was the entertainment mecca, and it was,” Robinson adds. “But I think the Sunset was the cultural equator. The Sunset provided for the community to come together, intermingle, socialize and learn. I’m talking about the bougies, the potentates, the workingman, the people who serve the people in Palm Beach.” Mr. Robinson’s quote can be found below in the bocamag and I encourage readers to read the entire piece.  Readers now have an idea of how important the Sunset Lounge was, and still is to the African American Community.

City (Procurement) issues RFP (Request for Proposals) F/ Sunset Lounge

Two companies responded, Mad Room Hospitality and Vita LLC, made their presentation at the CRA meeting on 6/27/2022, and the City did not allow enough time for both presentations, questions and answers. The regular City Commission meeting on 6/27/2022 started at 5:00PM and Commissioner Lambert asked for the CRA meeting to continue immediately following the City Commission meeting. Both CRA meeting are included with the story, and I ask readers to view:

CRA Meeting 6/27/2022 Discussion on Sunset Lounge Part 1

Commission Chambers where the majority of residents were African Americans. After the meeting progressed and the camera panned out many more African Americans can be seen in the back of the room. If you want to see/hear James condescending and demeaning remarks please listen from time frame 6:15 to 12:26. 6 min & 11 sec. of trash talk and don’t let his facial expressions go unnoticed.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBkN7lEwlUk

The City Commission Meeting ran for 2:50:27 and when Commissioners returned to the CRA meeting much of the audience had left.

CRA Meeting 6/27/2022 Discussion on Sunset Lounge Part 2

Part 2 contains questions and answers and the vote on which company would receive the contract. Commissioners Fox, Lambert, Ward and Warren voted for Vita LLC.
Mayor James and Commissioner Peduzzi voted for Mad Room Hospitality.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ecu0PkVn_BA

Who are these two companies?
Mad Room Hospitality operates in the heart of Miami’s most vibrant and cultural neighborhood, Little Havana, and appears to have filed a $27.9 million dollar lawsuit against  the City of Miami in 2021
https://dockets.justia.com/docket/florida/flsdce/1:2021cv23485/600932

Vita Lounge LLC Is a locally owned and operated minority company, and I searched the web for lawsuits and any disparaging news and found none.
Congratulations to Vita LLC and the 4 Commissioners who voted to award them the contract.

Not the end!

Channel 25 Terri Parker reports:
West Palm Beach cancels agreement with local company to run historic Sunset Lounge

“Just two weeks after Vita Lounge LLC won the bid to operate the historic Sunset Lounge in West Palm Beach’s largely Black northwest neighborhood, their agreement has been abruptly canceled.”

In a statement to WPBF 25 News, the city writes:
”Vita Lounge LLC blatantly violated the anti-lobbying provisions of the RFP (request for proposal)”
“According to a city procurement investigator, before the vote, Vita supporters posted an appeal on Facebook and sent emails to residents, asking them to email the city recommending they choose the locally based Black-run company rather than the competing company from Miami.”

“Send emails asap to commissioners@wpb.org. Let’s get them across the finish line and keep the sunset in our community where it belongs.”

“Not everyone was convinced – Commissioner Joe Peduzzi and Mayor Keith James voted for the other company.”

“The last thing I want is to be here two, three years from now with somebody saying we just can’t do it,” James said.  Is James saying a local black company isn’t capable of successfully fulfilling their contract? Is he dooming them without giving them a chance? What’s wrong with residents emailing their Commissioners?

Recently Posted on the city website:

“Bids List Important: Contact by a Bidder (or anyone representing a Bidder) regarding any active or pending solicitation with the Mayor, any City Commissioner, officer, or City employee other than an employee of the West Palm Beach Procurement Division is grounds for disqualification.”

I wondered how James would get around to eliminating Vita from competition, and here you have it.

This reminds me of a story I wrote for WPB Watch in Nov. 2021 Let’s review.

Tent Site:

The Tent Site is a piece of city owned property that has been dormant and a terrible eye sore for 24 years, until the Cohen Brothers has a vision to build “West Palm Point”
8/17/2020 City commissioners, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency board, voted unanimously for the West Palm Point project to rise on the 2.4 acre property at the corner of Okeechobee Boulevard and South Dixie Highway.
8/17/2021 Planning Board recommended approval.

In my opinion Administration did not want Developer Charles Cohen anywhere near this property and did everything possible to discourage them.

City Commission Meeting held to discuss Tent site:

Commission President Peduzzi heads the meeting due to James absence. It’s the end of the meeting and Commissioner Peduzzi asks the City Clerk if there are any comments emailed to the City. Well, yes there are. In fact there are 77 comments to be read. Due to the amount the Clerk is advised to just read the names and addresses, and if they are in favor or opposed to the project. I listened and wrote every name and address down.
All 77 comments were opposed to the Cohen project, and if that’s not surprising to readers this should be. The vast majority who opposed live in my area, District 2, called the Villages and live many miles from the Tent Site.

Someone please explain to us why it was OK for 77 residents to email the city and oppose the Cohen Brothers project, but emailing the city to ask for their support for a black owned company Vita LLC disqualified them.

City Commissioners:

In my opinion you listened to residents and made the right vote to approve Vita.
What do you do now? I know of 3 commissioners who opposed James and all 3 decided not to seek re-election. That speaks volumes to me.

https://www.wpbf.com/article/florida-west-palm-beach-sunset-lounge-vision-historic/40459091        channel 25

https://www.wpbf.com/article/west-palm-beach-cancels-agreement-company-run-historic-sunset-lounge/40628055#     channel 25

https://www.wptv.com/news/region-c-palm-beach-county/west-palm-beach/sunset-lounge-operator-disqualified

https://www.bocamag.com/into-the-sunset-the-story-of-the-sunset-lounge-in-west-palm-beach/         Ike Robinson’s quote

https://wpbwatch.com/2021/11/tent-site/

My money’s on the belief James action in cancelling the Vita contract will bring another lawsuit to the City. Keith’s not worried, it’s only taxpayer’s money. Readers judge for yourself the leadership of WPB and decide if you want to continue with the status quo and give James another term as Mayor of WPB

The end!

Homeowner fined $50.00 /day for placing artificial turf in her front yard!

A story on channel 5 (WPTV) tells the story of Judy Barron, a homeowner, who is being fined by the City of WPB $50.00/day for placing artificial turf in her front yard, and when you are done reading the story you will read who has not been fined for the same violation. Below are excerpts from the story and you can read the entire story below. My comments in Italic

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. —” During these hot summer days, keeping lawns green can mean higher water bills, prompting some residents to turn to artificial turf. But not every city is on board with this decision.
Homeowners don’t have to water it, put down fertilizer or cut it every week. It’s similar to what you see at sports stadiums.

But in West Palm Beach, as good as it may look, there are restrictions.

Judy Barron loves her artificial turf lawn.”It’s very comfortable on my feet, like walking on carpet,” Barron said. Stretched across the front of her house on Alpine Road, it has the look of a well-manicured golf course.

Lush and green, she said she often gets compliments but not from City Hall.
“Oh yes, $50 a day I’m being fined since the end of March,” she said.”
Elsewhere in the city, in public places, it seems artificial turf is allowed. WPTV spotted it in areas in and around Rosemary Square.” Rosemary Square is owned and operated by Related Group, Real Estate Developer, the City’s favorite developer for high rise buildings.

Barron said she plans to keep on fighting the fines.” Between 3/31/2022 and July 15,2022 there are 106 days X $50.00/day = $5,300.00 in fines and growing.

On June 30, 2021 WPB Watch posted a story on the subject titled “Artificial Turf Has Residents Damn Mad.”

The City allows homeowners to place Synthetic grass in the back yard, and both sides of their home. The City does not allow Synthetic grass in the front of their home. To my knowledge the City does not explain it’s reason.

Synthetic lawns help in saving the surrounding air and soil from further pollution of harmful chemicals that usually come along with keeping a well-manicured, natural lawn.

Water conservation: Synthetic grass makes it easy to comply, dramatically reducing water usage without sacrificing aesthetic standards set by homeowners’ associations. Conserving water is not only Eco-friendly, it’s budget-friendly, in a big way.

Non-allergenic, Synthetic grass doesn’t grow. Goodbye, grass pollen.
No harmful chemical residues. Synthetic turf requires no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers to remain beautiful and bug-free.

That’s safer for your family, and safer for the environment. thanks to eliminating the expense of ongoing lawn care. After that, it’s all savings. Plus, an attractive grass lawn boosts the resale value of your home.

City Commission Meeting held on June 28, 2021 residents waited for a chance to address the Mayor and City Commissioners and complained about Code Enforcement filing complaint’s against homeowners for installing Synthetic grass in their front yard.

City Commissioner Lambert after listening to residents, asked the Mayor to set a workshop to discuss the issue. The audience applauded her realizing someone not only heard their concerns, but was willing to discuss it. Good for her.  Over a year later was the workshop scheduled, or did it fall through the cracks?

A fine against a business on Clematis St. who removed three tree’s without a permit was fined a total of $37,500.00. Double click picture to enlarge.

The City of West Palm Beach will hold a General Municipal Election on Tuesday, March 14, 2023 to vote for the mayor of WPB. That’s less than 8 months away, and someone will step up to challenge Mayor James and if he is re-elected it’s not by the people who voted for him, but by the people who didn’t cast a ballot. Please think about that.

https://www.wptv.com/news/region-c-palm-beach-county/west-palm-beach/artificial-lawn-results-in-50-a-day-fine-for-west-palm-beach-resident

The end!

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