Tuesday , 25 November 2014
Breaking News
Readers have questions about the Beacon Council

Readers have questions about the Beacon Council

Grant Miller
Publisher

The final hearing on the Miami-Dade County budget is Sept. 20.

We all know that the Miami-Dade County Police budget is getting cut. The Parks Department budget is being trimmed, and so is pay for longtime county employees. Miami-Dade County must be transparent, efficient, and fiscally responsible to all the people of our community.

We have received hundreds of calls, emails and texts in response to my first column about the Beacon Council. Only one supported the Beacon Council — Merrett Stierheim, whom we all know and respect as a veteran of county government.

While we all are in favor of sustaining a strong business development effort on a countywide level, it’s time for us to become more familiar with how our tax dollars are being invested in this effort.

Here are some of the questions Community Newspapers received from readers, the people of Miami-Dade County, asking us about the relationship between the county and the Beacon Council. We publicly ask our county commissioners to help us get answers to these questions, and we will publish them in a future issue.

1. Is the Beacon Council, which receives revenue from the county (public funds), required to adhere to the policies and regulations that all community-based organizations must abide by in order to compete for and receive county funds for rendering services to our local communities and businesses?

2. Should the Beacon Council, which has received approximately $20 million from the county in just the past five years, be able to spend it without having its expenditures pre-approved and reviewed by county commissioners? What input does the county commission have in setting yearly goals or performance benchmarks for the Beacon Council?

3. Does the Beacon Council co-mingle public funds with private funds? Should its accounting principles be transparent? Should it be held to the same reporting and monitoring requirements to which local community-based organizations are held?

4. Is it fair that in a county in which more than 80 percent of small business owners (minorities, mom and pops, etc.) are required to pay the economic development surcharge on the Local Business Tax (of which a high percentage goes directly to the organization), yet are told they do not qualify for services from the organization and instead should contact another county department or other economic development groups directly?

5. Should such an organization of just 28 staff members who reportedly work 37.5 hours per week on average have a budget of approximately $6 million and have more than 20 percent of its staff making six-figure salaries with some apparently receiving “other compensation,” including incentives and bonuses every year? How many county employees are receiving bonuses? Should the county seek to trim the Beacon Council, its employees and expenditures, to the same level that county departments and its employees have recently undergone?

6. Should the CEO’s compensation (including a wide range of benefits) far exceed that of our own county mayor who is charged with overseeing more than 25,000 employees and a budget of $6 billion? What is the salary for the mayor versus the salary for the CEO of the Beacon Council? Is there a “golden parachute” put aside for the CEO?

7. When the county leadership decided to freeze hiring, administer 5 to 20 percent salary cuts and eliminate positions resulting in some layoffs, should the organization have kept giving many of its staff raises and “other compensation?”

8. Should the Beacon Council be able to use membership’s in-kind contributions for its benefit? For example, golf membership to Doral Golf Resort, Miami Heat tickets, Marlins tickets, etc. What do county commissioners do with their in-kinds?

9. Who pays for spouses and prolonged stays when the organization travels (for years) to the Paris Air Show in France and on missions to Italy (every other year)?

10. Should the process of becoming a member of the board of directors of this organization be transparent?

11. Do county commissioners have the authority to appoint board members who could best represent the interests of their communities and oversee the organization’s expenditures? Do the board members represent all businesses, areas of the county and all commission districts fairly?

12. Did the Beacon Council spend approximately $1 million to remodel its one story office in a building it doesn’t own? Who paid for this? Was it tax money? Or was it private money? Was there a public bidding process for all the work? Did local companies benefit from this project?

13. Who is the Beacon Council hosting in its newly renovated million-dollar offices? Does the office help mitigate travel expenses?

14. Who pays for the legal services provided to the Beacon Council? Was the firm selected through a competitive bidding process? Are the legal bills available for public viewing?

15. How are the services provided by the Beacon Council evaluated each year? If so, is this a public process? Are goals set and, if so, who sets the goals? Are there competing groups who are available to provide the same services? Who performs the evaluations and are the evaluations available for the public to view?

16. How do county commissioners ensure that all businesses and areas throughout Miami-Dade County receive a fair share from the Beacon Council rather than just Downtown as well as in Doral and Coral Gables? All businesses pay in regardless of where they are located; what input does the average business have in determining where the focus of the Beacon Council is placed?

Times have changed and everyone, every organization that receives tax dollars should step up and demonstrate that it provides the best return on the public dollar, rather than receiving funding merely because it has in years past. Isn’t it time that county leadership changes or updates its own mandated Resolution R-1066-88 and allow for other organizations or agencies in Miami-Dade County to receive or compete for some of the funds to oversee economic development strategies that will best serve their local communities.

Times have changed drastically since 1986, but for an organization that seems to have been enjoying the fruits of another’s labor, that may not be so apparent.

Commissioners, thank you for serving our community. You may contact me any time by emailing me at grant@communitynewspapers.com. We look forward to your addressing our readers’ concerns this budget year.

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12 comments

  1. I think it is great that the community is asking questions about the council. That is definitely the mark of an egaged community. However, I also know that many of our citizens can be quite fickle, and are ready to throw the baby out with the bath water the minute times get "rough". What I am suggesting is that we need to be careful and fully deliberate what we want our future to look like before we make rash decisions or sudden moves.

  2. This is absolutely one of the best articles I have ever seen in your newspapers. YES! We question the Beacon Council and its seemingly unlimited budget. They need to be held accountable!!!! I guarantee you that most small and minority business owners throughout Miami-Dade can't tell what the exclusive Beacon Council is or what they do. GREAT EYE-OPENING ARTICLE!!!

    – Charles

  3. GREAT ARTICLE. SEE MY REPLY IN CAPS.

    1. Is the Beacon Council, which receives revenue from the county (public funds), required to adhere to the policies and regulations that all community-based organizations must abide by in order to compete for and receive county funds for rendering services to our local communities and businesses? YES

    2. Should the Beacon Council, which has received approximately $20 million from the county in just the past five years, be able to spend it without having its expenditures pre-approved and reviewed by county commissioners? IT SEEMS LIKE THE REASONABLE THING TO DO.

    3. Does the Beacon Council co-mingle public funds with private funds? IF IT IS PROPERLY ACCOUNTED Should its accounting principles be transparent? YES Should it be held to the same reporting and monitoring requirements to which local community-based organizations are held? ABSOLUTELY

    4. Is it fair that in a county in which more than 80 percent of small business owners (minorities, mom and pops, etc.) are required to pay the economic development surcharge on the Local Business Tax (of which a high percentage goes directly to the organization), yet are told they do not qualify for services from the organization and instead should contact another county department or other economic development groups directly? BEACON SHOULD HAVE A SMALL BUSINESS GROUP THAT ASSISTS SMALLER COMPANIES.

    5. Should such an organization of just 28 staff members who reportedly work 37.5 hours per week on average have a budget of approximately $6 million and have more than 20 percent of its staff making six-figure salaries with some apparently receiving “other compensation,” including incentives and bonuses every year? SEEMS VERY HIGH.

    6. Should the CEO’s compensation (including a wide range of benefits) far exceed that of our own county mayor who is charged with overseeing more than 25,000 employees and a budget of $6 billion? THERE IS A SERIOUS DISCONNECT, THAT SHOULD BE INVESTIGATED.

    8. Should the Beacon Council be able to use membership’s in-kind contributions for its benefit? For example, golf membership to Doral Golf Resort, Miami Heat tickets, Marlins tickets, etc. IT DOES NOT SEEM FAIR, HOW DOES THE IRS TREAT IT?

    9. Who pays for spouses and prolonged stays when the organization travels (for years) to the Paris Air Show in France and on missions to Italy (every other year)? THIS WOULD INTERESTING READING.

    10. Should the process of becoming a member of the board of directors of this organization be transparent? YES

    11. Do county commissioners have the authority to appoint board members who could best represent the interests of their communities and oversee the organization’s expenditures? Do the board members represent all businesses, areas of the county and all commission districts fairly? WELL, I THINK THIS WOULD CHANGE THE WAY BEACON OPERATES…PROBABLY FOR THE BETTER.

    12. Did the Beacon Council spend approximately $1 million to remodel its one story office in a building it doesn’t own? I UNDERSTAND THAT IMAGE IS IMPORTANT FOR COURTING LARGE COMPANIES, BUT $1.0 M IS A LOT ON MONEY Who paid for this? Was it tax money? Or was it private money? Was there a public bidding process for all the work? Did local companies benefit from this project? ALL GOD QUESTIONS THAT SHOULD BE ANSWERED.

    15. How are the services provided by the Beacon Council evaluated each year? If so, is this a public process? Are goals set and, if so, who sets the goals? ISN'T THAT WHAT "ONE COMMUNITY, ONE GOAL" IS SUPPOSED TO DO? Are there competing groups who are available to provide the same services? I THINK THERE NEEDS TO BE STABILITY WHEN IT COMES TO LONG-RANGE PLANNING. Who performs the evaluations and are the evaluations available for the public to view? SHOULD BE A NEUTRAL THIRD PARTY.

    16. How do county commissioners ensure that all businesses and areas throughout Miami-Dade County receive a fair share from the Beacon Council rather than just Downtown as well as in Doral and Coral Gables? All businesses pay in regardless of where they are located; what input does the average business have in determining where the focus of the Beacon Council is placed? BEACON SHOULD REDUCE SALARIES ACROSS THE BOARD, AND USE THE MONEY TO SET COMMUNITY-BASED SATELLITE OFFICES…MAYBE AT LOCAL CHAMBERS.

  4. I read the attorney's letter and the council's letter to Grant Miller. I tried to access the website where they indicated I could find the compensation information for Frank Nero – which the letter simply stated was less than Grant claimed without giving the actual amount. When I went to the site, I could only access a preview report for free which did not give the information. I would have had to pay for the detailed report. Really? I support the entity with my taxes and yet am expected to pay to find out where the money goes. Can the Community Newspapers get the information through a Freedom of Information Act request?

    • Dear Richard (and Grant): Please make the FOI request and get this info.

      Everyone: Please, Visit Charity navigator to see the impressive compensation CEOs of "non-profits" make. Non-profits are NOT non-profit to their employees, the employees are lot working fro free, break-even, or at a loss (nor should they, but then, what they make should be open knowledge and easily accessible so we can decide if it is reasonable.)
      I am a supporter of WLRN and WPBT, and I would like to see the details of the employee benefits, at all levels, for many popular non-profits, such as organizations like WLRN, WPBT, that are quasi-governmental / non-profit, and rely on government funds and grants as well as public donations.

  5. Grant Miller – our community watchdog at large. Please keep writing about anything other than the Palmetto Bay Vice Mayor race.

  6. Fernando Figueredo

    Grant,

    Good job in capturing the concerns from our residents and your readers. We’ll have to do a bit of research to respond to some of them but I will get back to you hopefully early next week.

    Regards. — Fernando

    Fernando Figueredo
    Director – Communications and External Affairs
    Office of the Mayor
    Miami Dade County
    111 NW 1 Street, 29th Floor, Miami, FL 33128
    Communications Office: (305) 375-1545 / Direct Line: (305) 375-1297

  7. Congratulations on this well written, informative article.
    I have long had my doubts and concerns about the Beacon Council.
    On the few occasions, over the years, when I tried to get their assistance or involvement, I never felt comfortable with them.
    Wouldn’t it be nice, and appropriate, if an independent investigative report was completed on the history of the Beacon Council to show, for each year:

    1. Budget
    2. Staff and Payrolls
    3. Fringe Benefits
    4. Specific Accomplishments
    5. Value to Community (annually)
    6. Cost Benefit Analysis

    Best regards, Ed.

    Edmund J. Mazzei, Sr., RPA, CAM
    Capt, USMC, Retired, SDVOSB
    President/Broker
    Mazzei Realty Services Inc.
    1550 Madruga Avenue, Suite 150
    Coral Gables, Florida 33146
    Ofc (305) 446-5348 – Cell (305) 282-0339

  8. Dear Grant:

    OUTSTANDING!!! Is there any way you could get this to WLRN / Miami Herald, or TV news, for even more exposure?

    These are important questions and deserved to be answered.
    In an era of belt-tightening, those Beacon jobs look pretty good!
    How do they account for their “draw” on our tax dollars? Are the “earning” it?
    Grant, keep fighting the good fight.
    Best wishes, James McGhee II

  9. Virgilio E. Alvarez

    Mr. Grant:
    You have asked many of the questions I have had in mind for a while.
    Thank you and keep up the pressure.
    Sincerely,
    Virgilio E. Alvarez, PE

  10. great article, great insight into something I hadn't given much thought but I'm sure a lot of local businesses have – I hope this gets some action from the Mayor and county commissioners. thank you

  11. Good morning Grant,

    Thank you for always opening the eyes and ears if you will, of all your fervent readers as you continue informing us on issues that affect our livelihood.

    It is a shame to see so much waste and abuse on our own backyard and nobody, other than you, demanding transparency. Is it due to lack of knowledge of what is going on or simply total indifference ?

    Grant, please feel free to share my opinion if you see it fit.

    Warm regards

    Thank you.

    Fernanda Katz-Junkins
    President
    Ecoelectric