Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez
December 29, 2010
By David Arthur Walters
Miami Beach, Florida
An investigation by the Miami Mirror has uncovered evidence corroborating a May 11, 2010 Miami Herald report that Miami-Dade County Carlos Alvarez’ South Florida Workforce Investment Board is not providing adequate and competent administrative oversight over workforce training funds granted to its so-called partners, some of whose representatives sit on the South Florida Workforce Investment Board. Olivia Almagro, spokesperson for South Florida Workforce, has objected to Miami Mirror’s references to the Miami Herald report, ordering us to delete our references to the report because it is false; however, she has declined to provide any information whatsoever of the falsity so our references stand with the Miami Herald stance, and she has not responded one way or the other to our independent findings.
Our investigation proceeded with an allegation by a student at Miami-Dade College that South Florida Workforce had sold her on the idea of taking a “free” i.e. grant-funded course in Interior Design at Miami-Dade College in order to obtain the degree necessary for licensure by the Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design. There was some initial wrangling over the credits she wanted transferred from superior art and design schools up north; however, that issue was settled, and she pursued her studies, becoming an honor student. Caseworkers and counselors with South Florida Workforce and its partner Miami Dade College were involved at all times in this process, which was supposed to end when she finally accelerated her studies to obtain the degree as agreed.
The student stated that many of the courses she had to take had nothing to do with interior design, an art in which she already had many years of experience and formal education, but she went along with the program in order to get her degree. But in the end, instead of giving her the degree, Miami-Dade College told her that she would have to start from the beginning because its transfer credit policy had been retroactively changed. She said that other students complained of the same behavior to her. It appeared that the college was simply manipulating its policy to obtain more revenue i.e. maximize its grant income.
On August 25, 2010, she addressed South Florida Workforce and Miami-Dade College, and asked that she be granted the degree as promised or that the granted money be returned to the grantor. No response was forthcoming from South Florida Workforce Executive Director Rick Beasley and staff, who are defined as “employees” of Miami Dade County, except evasiveness and stonewalling. When the matter was taken upstairs, to the state level, it was simply referred back down to Rick Beasley in a manner indicating that the South Florida workforce region governed by Miami-Dade County is given too much autonomy.
Our subsequent investigation discovered that the Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design had not even approved of the Miami-Dade College Interior Design Curriculum because the college had never bothered to apply for approval. Furthermore, it appeared that Florida law provided for immediate licensure of this person because she already had three years of experience and three years of education outside the state. However that may be, both her time and the grantor’s funds were wasted – Rick Beasley would not reveal the names of the grantor(s), citing privacy concerns, and spokesperson Olivia Almagro declined to identify the grantor(s) of the funds unless $50 is paid for the information.
The performance of South Florida Workforce in respect to its training and education partners have been the subject of longstanding criticism, which came to head in a report produced by seasoned Miami Herald reporter Toluse Olorunnipa and posted on the Internet by the Miami Herald on May 11, 2010 under the heading, ‘Has South Florida Workforce training done the job?’ Money was not being refunded by certain providers who had not met performance standards. And conflicts of interested were rife: “The Miami-Dade school system is itself an SFW training provider that receives about $500,000 annually in training funds. Donna Jennings, dean of workforce education and development at Miami Dade College; Maria Cristina Regueiro, founder of the private trade school Florida National College; and Perez, owner of The Academy of South Florida, also hold positions on the board. Their organizations accepted $1.7 million in SFW training money last year alone.” Board member Carlos Manrique of Miami-Dade County Schools reportedly told the Miami Herald that Rick Beasley had let devastating data slide, doing nothing about it although it indicated millions of dollars may have been lost.
The use of the term “slide” is particularly interesting in the light of information received from Miami-Dade Transit employees about an informal policy called “Just Let It Slide” invoked to keep the transportation system going. It does appear to competent but unemployed individuals in the area that government is filled with persons who should be replaced by them.
The Miami Mirror emailed Miami-Dade College executive Donna Jennings on December 14, stating that the fact that she sits on the SFWIB while her college is receiving Workforce funding creates an appearance of impropriety which, if our reading is correct, Miami-Dade County Commission Resolution R-315-06 would prevent by automatic removal of any local (regional workforce) board member with an apparent conflict of interest. We also noted that one Olivia Almagro, who has been representing South Florida Workforce in regards to our investigation of the student’s allegations, is also an adjunct professor at Miami-Dade College. Dr. Jennings was asked whether or not the issue had been taken up on her Workforce board, and asked her for comments on the conflict of interest issue. She has not responded.
Again, the conflict of interest issue is not new. Florida’s statewide overarching public-private workforce oversight entity, Workforce Florida, Inc., had at one time refused to charter the South Florida workforce board, which was then operating as South Florida Workforce, Inc., a Sec. 501(c) (3) non-profit corporation, unless it was restructured to eliminate conflicts of interest between it and the providers of public services, including counties, municipalities, and businesses profit and non-profit. The ideally independent corporation was discarded in favor of the creation of just another government board, South Florida Workforce Investment Board, doing business under the fictitious name South Florida Workforce. Thus the potential for conflicts was augmented when the independent corporation was trashed; however, South Florida Workforce, Inc. approved of the restructuring.
Neither South Florida Workforce, Inc, nor South Florida Workforce Investment Board, nor Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, nor Miami-Dade County’s mayor have thus far been able to explain why the non-profit corporation was trashed – many local workforce boards throughout Florida and the nation are non-profit corporations. We note that the corporation was administrative dissolved by the Florida Division of Corporations for failure to file its annual report. Apparently the formality of filing for dissolution as provided by law was not followed by the corporate directors. Mr. Beasley sent a letter to the Division saying that the corporation was just a government board not subject to filing requirements. We have been unable to ascertain whether or not the affairs of the corporation were wound up in an orderly fashion and what happened to any funds and property in its possession at the time of dissolution.
Today, after the restructuring, the South Florida Workforce Investment Board is the local Florida workforce board for region 23, created pursuant to the federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998 as implemented by Florida’s Workforce Innovation Act, and locally by an Interlocal Agreement between Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties as adopted by Miami Dade County Commission Resolution R-315-06. Its members are appointed by the chief elected official of Miami Dade County; currently, Carlos Alvarez. That Resolution states, in part:
“Representatives of businesses appointed to the SFWIB [South Florida Workforce Investment Board] by the Chief Elected Official of Miami-Dade County or Monroe County shall not include representatives of business which are providers of public workforce services with funds provided through or from Workforce Florida, Inc. Representatives of business appointed to the WFWIB by the Chief Elected Official of Miami-Dade County or by the Chief Elected Official of Monroe County shall automatically forfeit membership on the South Florida Workforce Investment Board if the business so represented provides public workforce services with funds provided through or from Workforce Florida, Inc. during the representative’s period of membership on the South Florida Workforce Investment Board.”
Mayor Alvarez was queried by The Miami Mirror on December 8, 2010, referring him to the November 25, 2010 Miami Mirror editorial ‘The Conflict of Interest Inherent in South Florida Workforce,’ and informing him that a source had identified him as “the strong man behind South Florida Workforce.” He was asked what he had done to remove members with conflicts of interest as per R-315-06, and why the non-profit corporation had been discarded.
Mayor Alvarez responded, irrelevantly, on December 16, with: “Dear Mr. Walters: Thank you for your e-mail. I’ve attached the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners Resolution R-315-06, which details the restructuring of the South Florida Workforce Investment Board (SFWIB). We take allegations of impropriety very seriously. If you have information that warrants an investigation into SFWIB, I encourage you to contact the Miami-Dade Police Department Public Corruption Unit. Sincerely, Carlos Alvarez, Mayor, Miami-Dade County.”
State law does provide for a procedure for dealing with conflicts of interest on workforce boards where there are representatives of institutions receiving workforce funds sitting on the boards, but it would appear that the local rule might prevail since it is more stringent than state law, especially given the workforce act’s emphasis on local autonomy. The state statute implementing the federal workforce act provides that, “If the regional workforce board enters into a contract with an organization or individual represented on the board of directors, the contract must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the entire board, and the board member who could benefit financially from the transaction must abstain from voting on the contract. A board member must disclose any such conflict in a manner that is consistent with the procedures outlined in s. 112.3143.” See Section 445.007 Regional workforce boards
We are unable to ascertain whether or not any rule dealing with conflicts of interest has been followed. Indeed, getting a straight and relevant answer out of Florida officials and bureaucrats who are supposed to be accountable and from those who are supposed to hold them accountable is exceedingly difficult if not impossible regardless of the issue involved. Of course positive public relations statements are made. Any negative statement about their behavior is simply denied as “inaccurate” or “false,” and nothing is done to clear up the alleged inaccuracy and falsehood by providing accurate and truthful statements. Perhaps no answers are given by the authorities because they do not have the time to answer, or are ignorant and incompetent to answer, or they simply do not have to answer short of judicial process. This much is obvious: they have held their jobs for far too long, and are in dire need of replacement and retraining.