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TC Palm
February 5, 2010

"Corrupt" city of Fort Pierce division could be renamed

By Laurie K. Blandford

FORT PIERCE - Since the city temporarily suspended the Community Services division after the negative results of a forensic audit, officials are beginning to work on restructuring and possibly renaming the division.

The City Commission and other city officials and staff spent Friday at the River Walk Center, formerly the Fort Pierce Community Center, discussing the city and its departments in a strategic planning workshop.

A couple hours of the day were dedicated to discussing the division's programs and activities in the wake of the audit that called the division "a corrupt organization."

The discussion came a day after a special agent from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of the Inspector General informed the city of a criminal investigation into the allegations of corruption.

But City Manager David Recor said the department isn't taking away its federal entitlement money because of the city's quick response to accusations of favoritism to city employees with federal housing dollars.

"Now is the time to demonstrate our commitment to change the way we do business," Recor said.

In a presentation about the division's restructuring, Community Development Director Matt Margotta said the division is reorganizing staff, developing new strategies, establishing policies and procedures, and continuing cooperation with federal and state agencies.

Margotta proposed continuing some of the division's housing programs and organizing staff for new strategies, such as renaming the division and elevating the role of grant writers.

He also proposed using some of the uncommitted dollars of the $688,570 Community Development Block Grant the division received this year to address the city's infrastructure needs.

The uncommitted amount from both grant administration and public facilities and improvements is $250,000. All of the funding for public service projects is committed.

But Commissioner Eddie Becht said if the program is administered properly, more people would receive funding. He said the amount given to individuals must change.

"The delivery system is broken," Becht said.

Meanwhile, Recor said he doesn't think the division had any criminal activity, and its staff members being overwhelmed led to errors.

He said the federal money allocated outside of the target area looked bad because the amounts were $250,000 and $133,000.

"We don't have a very good track record in administering those programs," Recor said.

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