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TC Palm
February 16, 2010

About 1,300 sign petition seeking to reinstate Fort Pierce Community Services Division

By Laurie K. Blandford

FORT PIERCE - More than a thousand residents want to see the temporarily closed Community Services Division back in business.

About 1,300 signatures were gathered for the city commission meeting Monday night as members of the Afro-Americans Council of Ministers and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined residents in filling the City Hall commission chambers.

The division faced allegations of showing favoritism to employees and their family members with state and federal housing money. City Manager David Recor shut the division down earlier this month.

"Everything that has happened recently is a step backwards," said Pastor Jerome Rhyant, the founder of the Love Center Regeneration Ministries. "I see the city moving in the wrong direction."

Rhyant said the people who signed the petition want to keep the division's programs, put the division's employees back to work, save state and federal housing money and restore the names of singled-out employees.

He also asked for the resignation of Recor. He said Recor should have consulted the commission before temporarily suspending the division.

While Mayor Bob Benton said the commission was consulted, Commission Rufus Alexander said he wasn't.

Rhyant asked the commission to compare the different results of the two audits of the division: one by the Florida Housing Coalition and one by Kessler International of New York City. He suggested performing a third audit.

The city hired Kessler International of New York City, a company that specializes in uncovering white-collar crimes and corruption, to conduct a forensic audit after allegations of favoritsm erupted in the Community Services Department over two city employees getting questionable mortgage loans.

Recor temporarily shut down the division and its programs after the Kessler audit called the division "a corrupt organization." Full-time employees of the division were placed on administrative leave with pay, and temporary employees of the division were let go.

Benton said the commission's job is to look into the validity of the allegations.

"Because of the cloud surrounding Community Services," he said, "we've had to do what we've had to do."

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