By Betty Wells
    
A state senator says he will find a way to get a second, clearer, attorney general’s opinion about whether it’s legal for community redevelopment agencies to fund projects for nonprofit organizations.
    Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, who chairs the joint legislative audit committee, made the statement in the wake of the findings of an audit of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency. Audit results were released Sept. 12.
    Of 19 citations, the primary one questioned the authority of the agency to fund nonprofits.
    When Abruzzo ordered the audit last spring, it was to review how the CRA is spending its funds — specifically, whether it’s legal for the agency to give money to the Arts Garage, a nonprofit music and theater venue. The request came in a letter from Delray resident Gerry Franciosa.
    An opinion issued in 2010 by former Attorney General Bill McCollum said CRA grants to “promote tourism and economic development, as well as to nonprofits providing socially beneficial programs, would appear outside the scope of the community redevelopment act.”
    Abruzzo said on Sept. 27 that he’s going to seek a clearer ruling. The Delray Beach CRA and other CRAs have continued to fund nonprofits since the 2010 opinion.
    “I believe for the good of all CRAs across the state, I need to get a very clear opinion,” Abruzzo said. He said he would discuss it with the state auditor, and use the proper channels for seeking clarification.
    The joint audit committee hearing on the Delray Beach CRA audit is scheduled for Oct. 7 in Tallahassee.
    Abruzzo said that he was “very concerned and alarmed about the audit. Nineteen findings is an unusually high number of findings.”
    But, he said, “Most likely, the CRA will have adequate time to fix them. The procedure is we give them 18 months and then check back.”
    Of the citations, the primary issue was the CRA’s giving of funds to nonprofits. The other findings included how the agency leases space from the city, purchases property and administers grants.
    The CRA answered each one of the findings, noting for the majority that the issue was already addressed, or would be.
Abruzzo said that the findings support his request for the audit in the beginning — and that Mayor Cary Glickstein’s criticism of the review at the time was unwarranted.
“The mayor acted extremely negative about this,” Abruzzo said. “I feel that the mayor, by facts now, was very much off base.”
Glickstein in response said that Abruzzo would laud “nineteen findings of improper use of paperclips,” that the audit was politically motivated and that the state should review why an audit that found nothing substantailly wrong was performed in the first place. The CRA uses funds for nonprofits based on the advice of its own lawyer, Glickstein said. “Whether we need another opinion to clarify that, I don’t know.”
Glickstein said Abruzzo has not been honest about the origin of the audit, but “it doesn’t benefit our CRA to get into a dog fight.”
    CRA Executive Director Diane Colonna and CRA Commissioner Bill Branning bristled at the notion that the agency has committed any major errors.
    “(Abruzzo) is continually bringing up that ‘19 is so many, 19 is so many.’ Well, Riviera Beach had 25, and Daytona Beach had 22,” she said of audits of other CRAs.
    “After three auditors examine every piece of paper and spent four months doing it, finding 19 things is probably to be expected.”
    Branning said, “If this was a test, where we could score 1 to 100, I would say our staff scored 93.”
    Branning said the auditors found “no misconduct, no mismanagement, no fraud, no misuse of money. Our staff is professional and the one goal is to make Delray Beach a better place.”
    Colonna also said that the procedure following the hearing would be that the CRA would have 18 months to correct the findings.
    She declined to comment on Abruzzo’s statements about seeking a new attorney general’s opinion on CRA funding of nonprofits.

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