Neither city staff nor elected officials have yet to explain the lack of oversight that resulted in more than $500,000 in debt to Margate taxpayers who footed operating expenses for the Family Alzheimer’s Center over the last 15 years, maybe longer.
“The city of Margate based on history...we fronted the money for the very startup in 1986,” Margate City Attorney, Eugene Steinfeld, said at the July city meeting. ____________
Nearly four months after the Margate city manager announced the 15-year mystery debt to commissioners, elected officials have failed to explain to taxpayers how or why the city enabled the bizarre expenditure.
“I’m very upset about the $511,000 that nobody wants to talk about, but I’m more upset that we as residents don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know who - if anyone - is being held accountable,” Margate resident, John Hall, said at the meeting.
The debt started as a handshake agreement with the Center in year 2000 and continued to grow after a signed agreement in 2007.
Though Hall would like to see the money returned to the city, he also wants to know who on city staff allowed the debt to grow in the first place, in particular after an agreement in 2007 put a yearly cap of $75,000 on expenditures. Senior executives knew the debt had exceeded $300,000 in 2013, he said, but didn’t make commissioners aware of the debt until it reached $511,000 in 2015. Hall insisted somebody in the city is responsible and commissioners are lax in holding parties accountable.
“It seems like the commission has lost control of the city to the staff. It seems like the staff does what they want when they want. Somebody is doing these things and it really upsets me that nobody on the commission wants to hold anyone accountable,” said Hall.
Hall told elected officials that they can expect a complaint filed with the Broward Inspector General as a means of finding out who in the city was allowed to misappropriate taxpayer monies without oversight.
In response, Commissioner Lesa Peerman, said she would accept responsibility for the debt. But namely was not in office at the time agreements were made, nor was she employed by the City.
“As far as taking the blame I accepted responsibility two commission meetings ago. I’ll accept responsibility so when you write the OIG (Office of the Inspector General) feel free to throw my name in there because what happened in 2007 was the city had no formal written documentation on what they had been doing for a number of years. In 2007 they finally put it down on a piece of paper that they were going to do it. The document said that they 'may' cancel the contract if it goes over $75,000 not that they 'would,'” Peerman said.
Like Hall, Margate resident and city commission candidate, Anthony Caggiano, wants to know who in the city allowed the debt to get out of hand. After being told by the city’s finance director that the mess was dropped in her [finance director] lap when she took the job last year, he believes Peerman is covering up for fellow commissioner, Frank Talerico, one of four commissioners who unanimously approved the 2007 agreement after which the debt ballooned.
“I use the word ‘may’ because this is a word a certain commissioner uses as a life vest to protect the commissioner that still has not come clean on why this group got a deal that no one else in our city has ever gotten,” said Caggiano, a candidate running for Talerico’s commission seat in 2016. “The word ‘may’ to use as a shield for overpaying invoices 6.6 times beyond what we know now as the soft limit [75,000]. The word ‘may’ that we might all still get our money back. The word ‘may’ that enough time will pass and I will stop talking about it.”
Caggiano said he regrets the previous finance director and city manager are not readily available for in-depth questioning and referred to Talerico as a “political crony” who has been less than diligent in finding out who in the city enabled the massive debt.
“We need to celebrate commissioners who treat our money like it was their money... and commissioners who want to get to the bottom of odd behavior and not paper it over. If that was to happen we might have something special and worth celebrating,” Caggiano said.
Talerico denied accusations of cronyism. He said commissioners had nothing to gain by fronting operating expenses to the Alzheimer’s Center when agreements were made.
“I don’t know what any commissioners got out of the Alzheimers’ Center other than helping people in the community with Alzheimer’s disease. It was a good organization. In retrospect there were some problems, but deep down inside they were doing a great job helping these people. Even now nobody wants to pull the plug on the Alzheimer’s Center when all those people are in need of help and hopefully we’ll get this thing straightened out,” he said. “Political cronyism, that’s a tough one to swallow.”
City Manager, Doug Smith, gave commissioners a progress report on Alzheimer’s negotiations.
“I don’t have a conclusion to report back publicly at this time, but at the point that our negotiation process is completed we will be bringing that back publicly to the commission. It’s not going to be something that will be pushed aside and forgotten about,” Smith said. ________________
· 06/09/2015 Semantics and Answers in “Gone” Alzheimer’s Funds. Corrupt practice lingers
· 06/07/2015 Elected Officials Mock Public’s Right to Know
· 05/17/2015 Commissioner Contemplates Investigation over Missing Half Million
· 03/29/2015 Margate Loses Half Million Cash. Commingles Funds
By Margate Resident on 07/23/2015
Le's silence is deafening.
By Rich Popovic on 07/23/2015
The City Attorney was there and I wouldn't be surprised if he wrote the agreement. Tobin hired him and they were pals. I have said many times the inmates are running the asylum. The past City Mangers, retired Navy officer, Budget Director, Fire Chief, Senior Center Director, Police Chief. 30 years of bullshit what do you expect. The best thing about Peerman she admits she doesn't have a clue what is going on, and sad to say I don't think the other Commissioners do either. It is called INCOMPETENCE.
By Hmmmmmmm on 07/23/2015
"In March of this year, Margate City Manager, Doug Smith, who admittedly was aware of the financial indiscretion since 2013 - informed elected officials for the first time that misappropriations amounted to a half million dollars."--------------"the original people who allowed this to get out of hand are no longer with the city"
By on 07/23/2015
I think that people are at least expecting some answers since this did all start back in March.
By Tony Spavento on 07/23/2015
I may have missed it, but I still don't understand the gap between when the present city manager learned about this (2013 we're told) and when the commissioners learned about it (2015 we're told). This is a current employee that is actually the top employee of the city and is actually responsible for running the city. Please tell us why that is not an issue.
By John Hall on 07/23/2015
Le is giving more of the same “political” answers like she always does. She never gives a direct answer to a question, she only says what most politicians say, a lot of nothing. It only takes a minute to file a complaint but I took my time to do my research, get as much information as possible (not much was available from the city), get all my ducks in a row and cross my t’s and dot my i’s. If that is a problem for Le, tough. Yes there have been three City Managers in Margate since Le was elected (what does that tell us) and none of them have been held accountable for their actions. We don’t know who was responsible because the Commission doesn’t want to know. I would have thought by now one of the Commissioners would have requested an outside investigation by the FDLIC but no, that might lead to the truth. If our Commission was in charge of the Clinton Prison, no one would have been questioned, suspended, or terminated and nothing would have been done to prevent future escapes. They would have just waited for someone to file a complaint hoping that whoever was responsible would either quit or retire before an investigation. The only investigation that was done was by our former Chief of Police/City Manager who found nothing wrong occurred. Duh. Le, no one asked why Mr. Mclean got away with anything, I asked why the Commission did not find out what Staff knew what was going on and chose not to advise the Commission. This went on for years. Now there is a policy to help prevent this from happening again, but you still don’t know (and don’t want to know) who was involved in the approvals, payments, and cover-up that occurred for all of those years. As we can all plainly see, the some of the City Staff is still covering-up important issues with in the City and hiding it from the Commission. I want a Commission that will not tolerate this type of behavior from the City Staff. I want Commissioners who hold City Staff responsible for their wrongful actions as well as rewarding their good actions. Le continues to call blame non-productive. It is only non-productive if nothing is done to punish or terminate those found guilty of doing wrong. This thread will continue to “go down the headline list” until gone. I wish there was an open comment section of this newspaper that would keep these important issues around.
By Le Peerman on 07/23/2015
Yet I am the only one talking about it here. I do not have all the answers, I answer to the best of my ability. If something has been found to be illegal by the people who investigate these things then and only then will I decide what to do. Until then this is still America and people are innocent until proven guilty. Le
By John Doyle on 07/23/2015
If people from the past are responsible whether city staff or elected officials they should be held accountable. Lots of pension money out there to take back. The incessant back peddling by Ms. Peerman either makes her unqualified to serve as commissioner or not knowledgeable enough of how the system works. She has an answer for everything but really no answer at all.
By Le Peerman on 07/22/2015
Mr. Donaldson It was asked and answered as to why Mr. McLean got away with doing what he did. There was no policy in place and the people telling him not to do it were his employees. Since that incident a policy is in place that no commissioner gets anything more than any employee or resident. Le
By Le Pperman on 07/22/2015
Mr. Hall being late for the party means save yourself the trip. It takes less than a minute to file an OIG complaint. As has been stated before. It was past City Managers that made the call to allow it to go over the $75,000. As to their reasons as to why you will have to ask them. There were 3 since I was elected. I did not say I was tired of talking about this, retread what I said. It is not rocket science people, the original people who allowed this to get out of hand re no longer with the city. The ones now with the city is trying to solve the problem. A lot more checks and balances are occurring. As I said when an investigating office makes a determination, then the city commission will deal with it. Until that time all the guessing and blaming is non productive. Le
By Terry Donaldson on 07/22/2015
Thank you John Hall. I think you and the "Hmm" guy have summed up my frustration perfectly. I can't understand why the commission is more interested in moving on instead of finding out why the city staff allowed this to continue. They are elected to do just that, what point is there in having them if they all they want to do is approve site plans or who gets to serve beer past 2AM? Like you I wondered why no one was ever asked why Mclean was allowed to go so long when any intelligent person would know what was going on was wrong. Like you I want to know who failed miserably at their job by allowing this debt to grow wildly out of control. Our commission needs to hold staff and the manager accountable, instead Peerman wants to be the punching bag and Talerico wants to shame the public into not questioning expenditures made to a non-profit. This is unacceptable, it's not what they were elected to do. I really wish Peerman would stop acting like any voice that is contrary to her view is an enemy and an ally of her enemies. Some of us are just residents that want to see this thing resolved and the reason it happened corrected. This is why I am glad that someone wants to bring in an outside party, I just can't trust the city to investigate itself anymore. I have no faith in them at this point.
By Ryan on 07/22/2015
We were hoping Le would grow a set but now she needs 2 other commissioners or she is not allowed to ask a question . What a joke .
By John Hall on 07/22/2015
My OIG complaint should be ready to file by Monday, July 27th. I will try to file it in person but may have to mail it. I am more upset that the Commissioners are not holding anyone accountable that I am about the $511,000.00. This is the “M.O.” of most of our Commission. I wonder if they are not pressing the issue until anyone that was involved is retired and gone. The fact that NONE of the Commissioners knew about this is a sign of a Staff cover-up. Le says “ask the City Manager about it” She was sitting there when I asked why the City Manager why he waited until the amount owed rose to over a half a million dollars when he knew about it when he took over and the amount was around $300,000.00 to advise the Commissioners. Not one of the four Commissioners present asked him to answer. There have been no updates provided at the meetings. The night I spoke, the City Manager was asked for an update and responded there was nothing new to report. Le stated at the meeting that “we” (the residents) know as much as she knows. I said from my chair that I hope that is not true. If it is true, all of the Commissioners need to start getting more involved with the operation of the City. I am wondering why Le refers to the situation as a “party”. She states that I am “late for the party”, I was waiting and giving the Commissioners time to investigate the situation for themselves and report to the residents/voters. There is no satisfying Le, either I’m too early or too late. The same thing happened years ago when information about a Commissioner using the city credit card to give himself a “payday loan”. This went on for 3 and a half years but to this day no one was ever held accountable. Someone on the city payroll checked off each monthly credit card statement, authorized payments, cut a check and mailed it out but our Commissioner never asked why this went on for so many years without the Commission being notified. If Le is “tired” of discussing this issue, too bad. That her job.
By Hmmmmm on 07/22/2015
Maybe this has been answered, but I haven't seen it. However, in these comments here and from what I've heard others talking about it seems be the question that keeps getting repeated. Who was in charge of the bookkeeping for the Center? When did it go over the $75K? What did that person or persons do to notify the city of the issue? Per a prior article in the first meeting to discuss this, Mary Beazley, told commissioners that the debt appears in the City's 2014 CAFR as a receivable on the books, but didn't say if it appeared years prior, has it been found that it was appearing in years prior? If it was not, why not? Has the former director, Gail Gargano, been contacted regarding it's exclusion if it was excluded? If it was excluded by foul means or by error (for a long time) then it needs to be found out why. If this is a big cock up then we need to know how it happened so it can be avoided in the future. Simply taking the blame as a commissioner and moving on doesn't solve the issue in the finance department if there is one.
By Hmmmmm on 07/22/2015
I'm not interested in just making scapegoats of people to do it, so just piping up and saying "I'll take the blame" doesn't cut it because it doesn't fix the core problem. If you were being told about this constantly since you took office and did nothing, I'd agree to blame you. But you as you say, you JUST found out, so who's responsibility should it have been to tell you and the others all this time? As as been shown in the past, there seems to be a disconnect between staff and commissioners. As I recall people in the finance department knew for some time that Mclean was abusing his credit cards, yet it didn't come to light until much later. You said recently that it's hard to get things done with staff because if you don't ask enough times their other four bosses needs might get pushed in front of yours. So, it sounds like maybe you need to stop trying to take blame for something you weren't responsible for and start trying to see why this city seems to run so backwards when it comes to issues like this.
By open mouth insert foot on 07/22/2015
thanks le for the reason why you should not reelected.
By Le Peerman on 07/22/2015
First of all. Have you met me I don't cover up for anyone. Second of all, I do not know how many times it has to be repeated that none, NONE of the commissioners knew about this before we were all told at the same time. I even asked Pam Donovan and she did not know. The city is not being silent feel free to ask the city manager about it. Unless it has to do with ongoing negotiations he can give you all the information. Which has been done at commission meeting. What has been silent and not reported on is that the AFC in it's 2013 audit admitted it owed the city money. So the director that said she knew nothing about should be asked again. And it is the 2013 audit that the city just received from them, in 2015. I don't really care what anyone is speculating as to why I accepted responsiblity. I said it that night I will say it here, once we were made aware of the issue it is my belief that we as commissioners are responsible, and as I said the night Mr. Hall spoke there is not a week that goes by that I do not check on where we are at. Mr. Hall is late to the party. If an investigating office finds that something was done illegal or shades then we as a commission will deal with it at that time. I don't get the luxury of saying I am satisfied and I won't be talking about this again.But understand those are my beliefs and what I feel a commissioner should do. I didn't make the deal, I didn't sign the contract but once we were told it became my responsibilty. Le
By Hmmmmm on 07/22/2015
Hasn't enough time passed for these commissioners to have provided some answers already? All we have so far is one commissioner trying to redirect blame by touting how good the Center is as if that should wipe away any wrong doings made by the City staff and/or commissioners. Then we have another trying to shift attention by saying blame me, blame me. Neither are doing the residents a service by doing this. I'd prefer an outside agency to investigate this and if certain staff or commissioners are to blame either by corruption or by incompetence then they should not be in a position to handle taxpayer money and should be shown the door.
By MargateResident on 07/21/2015
Can we not start a written complaint and demand for answers here and locally in the City of Margate. Perhaps with more residents finding out about this misappropriation of funds and potential loss, we can band together to demand proper and immediate attention. Perhaps, just perhaps the leaders in Margate have and continue to sweep the matter under the rug to protect them from error and even gross negligence. We don't know what has been shared outside of the public especially when the commission meets outside of the public.
By Ian on 07/21/2015
Also, the argument of "may" really just backfire on the the commission and the city because now it means that someone is responsible for allowing the debt to balloon. Yes, the city "may" still handle the books once the $75K has been exceeded. Then who decided that city would not stop? Since $75K is the point where the decision would be made, who was supposed to alert the commission, was that done, and if so who decided to let the bill grow?
By Ian on 07/21/2015
Peerman acts like her act of taking responsibility is a grand way of throwing herself on a grenade for the city but all it does is muddy the waters and create more issues. If she once asked a commissioner to step down for misappropriating a few thousand dollars, shouldn't she follow that lead and so the same if she truly wants to take responsibility?
By bjm on 07/21/2015
Nice to hear that finally someone has the cojones to report this to OIG !! It's about time !
By Stephen on 07/21/2015
According to Le a commissioner can't find out anything unless 3 of them ask the question. So we will never know the truth .