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6-28-02 - Miami Herald

Miami City Commission debates future of CRA

by Oscar Corral

Responding to criticism by external auditors who said Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency is a financial quagmire, City Commissioner Angel Gonzalez suggested Thursday that the CRA's board of directors be dissolved.

Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr., chairman of the CRA, rejected the notion of resigning, insisting the agency is the ''envy of every CRA in the state'' and suggesting its director be given a raise.

''Let's take the skunk out from under the table now and get this out,'' Teele said. ``I am not going to quit.''

The CRA -- an agency formed to help economically develop the Overtown area -- has come under fire recently by some leaders in the black community who say it's doing more harm than good.

''It's all vacant land filled with trash and we've seen nothing,'' said Irby McKnight, chairman of the Overtown Advisory board, at a meeting Monday.

Bernice Butler, director of real estate finance and development for the Collins Center for Public Policy Inc., a nonprofit group working to rehabilitate Overtown, said the nebulous nature of the CRA has caused people to ''not really have faith'' in it.

''A lot of people in the CRA areas are disenfranchised with the purpose,'' Butler said.

Kenneth Deon, a partner in KPMG, the external auditor of the CRA, sent the commission, which alternates as the CRA's board of directors, a blunt warning.

''You don't have enough staff there to handle the accounting and financial reporting,'' Deon said.

``The CRA has grown and you're getting a lot more complicated transactions, and you don't have the staff available for good bookkeeping.''

Commissioner Johnny Winton said he felt Teele was the only person on the CRA board who truly understood the agency and suggested that he had to share more information with other commissioners.

Teele stopped him cold, saying the conversation sounded as though former Mayor Joe Carollo had scripted it.

''The old Miami agenda is still alive,'' he said. ``This is the ghost of Joe Carollo coming back.

``It's well-known the previous mayor wanted the CRA out of existence.''

But Commissioner Angel Gonzalez, not dissuaded by Teele's defensive remarks, suggested that having the commissioners sit as the CRA's board may be an inherent conflict of interest and should be replaced with volunteers from the community.

Teele again rejected the idea, saying he would make sure the CRA would function more transparently and asked the commission to do a search to find a permanent agency head.

''There is not an organization in this town that deals with public policy issues in a more transparent way than we do,'' he said.