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David Lybrand guest editorial
[Published on the Key West Citizen Opinions Page on July 27, 2009.]
Attempts to tear down the BCCLT
are only hurting the people it serves
Here’s a Board of Directors executive “Dream Team”:
- President: Cecil Bain, a respected lifelong resident of the community and past teacher of many among us (including the esteemed Commissioner Lopez),
- Vice-President: Claude Halioua, a planning commissioner and respected businessman with many civic contacts,
- Treasurer: Glenwood Lopez, community and church leader (and Clayton’s big brother)
- Acting Secretary (previously President): Bob Kelly, community activist and Key West dynamo.
Add the rest of the Board (no slouches there) and you get a team that should command a level of respect on par with other local housing-related organizations (e.g., Aids Help, Habitat for Humanity) or other community organization, period.
But…. through mistaken backdoor chatter, a local press more interested in manufacturing scandal than in finding the truth and an outspoken Mayor with other agendas, the organization managed by this dream team gets far from a fair shake. The Bahama Conch Community Land Trust (BCCLT) does not deserve this disservice.
The BCCLT, despite what you may have concluded, is far from mismanaged. For a dozen years prior to the infamous “double payment” it’s had clean external audits by respected local CPA firm Bishop Rosasco &Co. Its housing operations are by-the-book. It’s an expert at acquiring grants to aid the community. And despite having few resources to draw upon, the BCCLT preserves local housing stock (avoiding gentrification), provides affordable rental housing to many, drives cultural preservation and manages a well-planned project to develop waterfront land that the Navy targeted to Bahama Village.
Last year the BCCLT stumbled into an honest mistake. A BCCLT staffer, compiling a list of past expenses, missed an old record showing one charge already repaid. Standard checks and balances should have caught the error. But Bishop Rosasco &Co double-checked the list for us, and they missed that too! Further, the City itself failed to verify the charge, and went ahead and paid it. An unfortunate process breakdown by everyone involved. The BCCLT immediately acknowledged the error, and is working on getting straight with the City.
But what did YOU hear about this situation? Probably the inflammatory words of City officials throwing around phrases like “double-dip” and “fraud”. You probably heard nothing about how the City itself had failed to audit its own payments. Or the fact that the respected CPA had admitted its role in the mistake. Probably only negativity toward the BCCLT. Does this team really deserve such disrespect? How did we get here?
Could it be the inflammatory words of a Mayor who takes every opportunity to bad-mouth the BCCLT? Or a newspaper desperately looking for another “scandal” story to run? Oh yes, discord sells newspapers. You’re sure to see a headline every time the Mayor misuses the bully pulpit to attack the BCCLT. Anything the BCCLT does that could be spun, GETS spun.
Recently the City -– who never gave a public explanation why THEY paid a bill they shouldn’t have — decided that, despite 12 years of clean BCCLT audits, they wanted to do an expensive time-consuming major investigation of BCCLT. So they demanded the BCCLT provide them with virtually every document we ever produced. (Can you say “fishing expedition”?) The BCCLT has absolutely nothing to hide, but the effort to support this “expedition” would bring our operation to its knees.
Thus we requested the City assign its own resources to that task. Wouldn’t you? Of course the next day it’s in the paper how the BCCLT is stonewalling the City. Complete with another rude quote from the Mayor. Excuse me?
Meanwhile, the BCCLT continues its charter mission (affordable housing and job training) by qualifying for Recovery Act grants. The projects involved will put people to work throughout the Keys and will help many hard-up people to correct substandard housing issues. The projects fit the BCCLT’s experience and mission to a T. We’re already training young people in this very field, and we’ve done similar work under other grants. We’re proud to continue this noble task.
But how is this reported? As if we’ve stolen something from the City. Though the City didn’t even apply for the grants! Of course the Mayor adds his two cents, claiming we can’t cut it. Yada yada yada.
We know the Mayor has personality problems with our Executive Director, but please give it a rest. We have a lot of good work to do, and these constant attempts to tear down our fine organization are only hurting the people that we serve. We should be working TOGETHER.
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