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Miami Herald - Jan. 09, 2004

Assailed agency gets oversight

Miami commissioners OK a panel to monitor the Community Redevelopment Agency, which is accused of wasting vast sums in its mission to aid Overtown and its environs

By Charles Rabin

With little discussion, Miami commissioners unanimously agreed Thursday to create a board to oversee the city's much-criticized Community Redevelopment Agency -- which is accused of mismanagement and is under criminal investigation.

The new seven-member panel will report every three months to the CRA board of directors -- the city commissioners. After a year, the oversight board will be dissolved.

Oversight board members will not have the power to control CRA spending, which will remain under the directors' authority. The new board doesn't yet have a starting date for its mandate.

The measure sponsored by Commissioner Joe Sanchez allows each commissioner to choose a member and Mayor Manny Diaz to choose two.

The CRA ''has shown a lack of fiscal responsibility and integrity,'' Sanchez said. ``The board will monitor efficiency and existing contracts. This is a step in the right direction.''

Before Sanchez could continue, Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr., serving his first day as commission chairman, asked for a motion. The proposal quickly passed, and no discussion followed. Teele is the longtime CRA board chairman.

''There's nothing wrong with oversight for the CRA. I support it,'' Teele said after the vote.

Sanchez's proposal follows a series of Herald reports and a scathing internal audit that detailed millions of dollars in questionable spending by the tax-supported agency created to redevelop Overtown, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, as well as Park West and the Omni area.

The state and federal governments are investigating the agency, which has spent $35 million in the past 10 years but has little to show for it.