Dale Holness & Burnadette Norris-Weeks at Denver convention

A REDBROWARD investigation has found Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief and other well-connected officials received low interest loans from a public policy agency. The South Florida Regional Planning Council (SFRPC) gave the low interest loans to Sharief as well as Broward Supervisor of Elections attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks. Created by Florida statute, the SFRPC’s mission “is to identify the long-term challenges and opportunities facing Southeast Florida and assist the Region’s leaders in developing and implementing creative strategies that result in more prosperous and equitable communities, a healthier and cleaner environment, and a more vibrant economy.” However, these loans to appear to have added little to the local economy.

The loans are part of the SFRPC’s Revolving Loan Fund (RLF). The loans can range between $50,000 and $300,000. The SFRPC website states its RLF strategy is “to make general business development loans designed to meet the credit needs of businesses not entirely served by conventional lenders while at the same time encourage these lenders to complete project financing by allowing these funds to fill the gap.” Companies in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties can apply for these loans. While the SFRPC is  governed by a 19 member Board comprised of elected officials, governor’s appointees and ex-officio members representing Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, the “loan related activities are reported to and accountable to a completely independent Loan Administration Board (LAB).”

SHARIEF PEDIATRIC HOMECARE BUSINESS RECEIVED LOANS IN 2006

Records from 2008 show South Florida Pediatric Homecare, Inc received two loans from the RLF. Barbara Sharief is the owner of South Florida Pediatric Homecare. On August 3, 2006, South Florida Pediatric Homecare received a $200,000 loan from SFRPC. On August 9, 2006, Sharief’s company received a $237,000 loan. Each loan carries a five percent interest rate. In 2009, Sharief won a seat on the Miramar city commission. In 2010, Sharief was elected to the Broward County Commission.

On her campaign website, Sharief claims South Florida Pediatric Homecare has created hundreds of jobs. The website says, “The company provides jobs for approximately 600 professionals in South Florida and has done so by providing an invaluable service.  The company is considered one of the top home health care agencies in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties for care of medically complex children and adults.” Under the “Community Benefit” section of her loan application, Sharief claimed 97% of her staff was minority female. Sharief was seeking $160,000 for “working capital” and $40,000 for a “collections clerk.” As collateral, Sharief offered land, a building and over $1,000,000 in accounts receivable.

The most current report from the SFRPC shows Sharief still owes over $190,000 on her $237,000 loan. The report does not list the $200,000 loan.

BROWARD SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS LAWYER GOT $220K LOAN FOR SMALL LAW FIRM

While Mayor Barbara Sharief created hundreds of jobs for South Florida residents, attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks promised to create just two.  In February 2004, Burnadette Norris-Weeks and Valerie Kiffin-Lewis, managers of the Right Perspective Development Group, LLC, sought a $220,000 loan from the South Florida Regional Planning Council. Norris-Weeks needed $170,000 for “land improvement” and $50,000 for “construction.” The application states Norris-Weeks and Kiffin-Lewis contributed $100,000 to the business.

Norris-Weeks was opening a new office for her legal practice at 401 N.W. 7th Avenue in Fort Lauderdale.

Under the “Community Benefit” section, Right Perspective Development Group LLC stated the new legal services business would create two jobs. It appears those two jobs were given to Norris-Weeks and Kiffin-Lewis.

Norris-Weeks continued to seek public funds to help build her new office. In September 2004, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Norris-Weeks received money from the City of Fort Lauderdale Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). Reporter Brittany Wallman wrote, “[The Fort Lauderdale CRA] Gave Burnadette Norris-Weeks and Valerie Kiffin Lewis, as Right Perspective Development Group, $78,980 to renovate a building they bought at 401 NW Seventh Ave.”

Norris-Weeks received nearly $300,000 in public funds to open a two-person law firm.

DALE HOLNESS ALLIES & OTHERS RECEIVED THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS FROM SOUTH FLORIDA REGIONAL PLANNING COUNCIL

In August 2009, the SFRPC gave $300,000 to Dickey Consulting Services. This Fort Lauderdale public relations/social media company is owned by Sheryl Dickey. REDBROWARD reported the February 2008 Northwest/Progresso/Flagler Heights Implementation Plan stated Dickey Plaza would receive $300,000 in “development assistance” and $213,624 in “value of land contribution” from the City of Fort Lauderdale. Broward County Property Apprasier records show Dickey Plaza is currently valued at over a million dollars. Now called The Midtown Commerce Center, the land located at 1033 Northwest 6th Street is valued at $308,240 while the building is worth $1,158, 170. As of 2014, Dickey Plaza is valued at $1,466,590.

REDBROWARD exposed how Dickey leases office space to Democrat politicians like President Barack Obama, Congressman Alcee Hastings and former Governor Charlie Crist.

REDBROWARD reported Dickey, an appointee of County Commissioner Dale Holness, received a percentage of a government funded bicycle sharing program in Broward. Dickey Consulting Services helped fulfill the minority participation component of the County’s agreement with B-Cycle of Wisconsin. Nothing in Ms. Dickey’s resume and work experience indicates knowledge of bicycles or bicycle sharing programs.

In May, REDBROWARD reported the Children’s Service Council of Broward County paid the CEO of local non-profit organization for television advertisement just days before it terminated the group’s contracts for a “substantial and insurmountable cash flow crisis.” On March 10, 2014, the Children’s Services Councilpaid $2000 to the Haitian Broadcasting Network of America to produce television commercials. According to State records, Francois Leconte is the president of the Haitian Broadcasting Network Of America, Inc. Official State records show Leconte is also the president/CEO of Minority Development and Empowerment, Inc. (MDEI). On March 20, 2014 the Children’s Services Council of Broward County terminated its contracts with MDEI.

The “substantial and insurmountable cash flow crisis” at MDEI might be related to the actions of the City of Fort Lauderdale Community Services Board. On December 9, 2013, the Community Services Board voted to defund MDEI as “quickly as possible.”  MDEI had received $118,000 to assist in HIV/AIDS testing and housing for people with HIV/AIDS. According to the board meeting minutes, City of Fort Lauderdale staff stated monitoring of MDEI was “problematic.” The Housing Administrator said, “Invoicing issues occurred when some receipts did not match the amounts requested, and payments were stopped. MDEI was instructed that canceled checks must be submitted with all reimbursement requests; however, some vendors did not have canceled checks, which resulted in rejection of those invoices. Other difficulties include receipt of incorrect documents and MDEI staff issues.” Staff stated, “The City Attorney’s Office has been made aware of MDEI’s issues since July 2013. He clarified that the $118,000 provided to MDEI was for assistance in staffing: none of these funds went toward a financial housing subsidy.”

In September 2009, the SFRPC gave a $200,000 loan to Paramount Broadcasting in Pembroke Pines. The CEO of Paramount Broadcasting is Francois Leconte.

WELL-CONNECTED FEED AT BROWARD PUBLIC TROUGH

While the loans to Sharief and Norris-Weeks appear to be perfectly legal, they are the latest in a troubling pattern of well-connected officials benefiting from public funds and contracts.

Is the SFRPC in the business of helping government lawyers remodel their offices? Norris-Weeks had no experience but she still made big bucks off the airport concessions contract. People connected to County Commissioner Dale Holness received questionable funding from the Children’s Services Council of Broward County. Broward School Board Member Rosalind Osgood receved funding from the Children’s Services Council and the Fort Lauderdale CRA. County Commissioner Chip LaMarca fights the repeal of the local business tax which funds the elite Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. Then, LaMarca doesn’t even bother to pay the local business tax. The Alliance uses the taxes from mom & pop businesses to offer tax breaks to big corporations.

In 2011, The Broward Inspector General blasted the practices of the Broward Office of Economic and Small Business Development. The Broward OIG, “zeroed in on a program set up to help small businesses win county contracts. The program is designed to give a competitive edge to home-grown small businesses, to help them thrive and expand.” The investigation found a business was awarded a government contract even though they had no employees, no equipment and no office.

The public dollars are meant to help the economy. Real businesses with real employees. Real Customers. Real overhead costs like insurance, equipment and workers comp.

Some folks may call this “crony capitalism.” Whatever it is, it’s hurting the average citizen. It needs to stop.