And telling about the local politics of race.
On Dec. 2, Gossip Extra broke the story that the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was investigating the handling of HUD grants that West Palm Beach’s administration funneled to the Redemptive Life Fellowship Church.
Between 2002 and 2010, the city handed over $1.6 million to the church-owned corporation for the construction of homes in Coleman Park. But while thirty houses were built for low-income buyers, mismanagement of the program by both the city and the church’s corporation could force West Palm Beach taxpayers to fork over $4.1 million to HUD.
Redemptive Life founder Bishop Harold Ray, meanwhile, is accused of directing a small amount of the project’s cash into his own pockets. He recently admitted to taking a salary and was recently asked by the city to pay back $66,450.
But the real scandal here is how city commissioners handled the news!
They found nothing better to do than focus on who leaked the news of the probe to Gossip Extra. Rookie Commish Keith James, a Redemptive Life member who represented the bishop in previous legal matters, even called for an investigation! Fellow politico Bill Moss nodded like a bobble-head. And their colleague Sylvia Moffett accused the city’s own auditor, Imogene Isaacs, of leaking the information.
Of course, Moffett had no proof of anything – and she will never find out where the leak came from.
But the commission obviously decided that it’s more urgent to figure out how the news got out than documenting the conflicts of interests involving the city and the church. And Keith’s squawking about the leak is just one.
You’d think the commission would be more interested in the reasons why the project lacked proper oversight.
How about looking into the involvement of former mayor and current U.S. Congress candidate Lois Frankel? The duration of the program, after all, coincided with the length of Frankel’s terms in office.
Then last week, the two heroic city employees who found the discrepancies, Housing Division boss Valmarie Tuner and her sidekick, Jessica Parrish, conveniently quit for jobs in Podunk Seminole County. I’m told by sources at City Hall here that no one in a position of authority even attempted to keep the women — even though they were in the midst of straightening out a department rife with incompetence.
Then there’s the deafening silence radiating from State Attorney Michael McAuliffe’s office. The man’s supposed to be the new Mr. Clean. Isn’t it time for him to impanel a group of citizens to look into the local handling of HUD’s cash?
To understand why he won’t, and why city officials are doing everything they can to shift the focus to mid- to low-level city employees, one only has to know the basics about Redemptive Life.
And it’s not something you mention in politically-correct company.
Bishop Ray’s flock happens to be composed mostly of African-American faithfuls.
And the bishop’s flock – one of the largest in the county – votes.
Translation: No local politician with aspirations, especially Democrats like McAuliffe or James or Frankel, would work up the courage to antagonize the bishop.
The church reminded the city of that fact on Dec. 7 when Ray – whose family lives in a $700,000-house in a golf community while dragging a $40,000-credit card debt from the purchases of fancy cruises and jewelry, Gossip Extra also revealed – called a press conference.
Standing in the bishop’s shadow that morning was Stuart lawyer Willie Gary, a master at the game of racial politics who’s currently considering a discrimination lawsuit against the town of Palm Beach.
Gary called whistle-blower Turner a “loose cannon” without naming her. But he swore the bishop did nothing wrong, except maybe for a few accounting mistakes.
Apparently, the mistakes didn’t surface when housing department hacks, one of which was hired by Redemptive Life when she was driven out of city government, were asleep at their desks.
The bishop ought to be commanded for accepting the daunting task of building homes in a crime-infested area.
But questions about his stewardship remain.
And it’s not by shifting the focus on city employees who didn’t cause the crisis that those questions will be answered.
Catch up with the story: