Longtime West Palm Beach City Commissioner Kim Mitchell blames the city’s administration — not the Redemptive Life Fellowship church and Bishop Harold Ray — for the scandal that could cost the city’s taxpayers $4.1 million.
In an exclusive interview with Gossip Extra, which broke the story Friday, Mitchell said her gut-feeling is that incompetence at city hall’s Housing and Community Development office, not outright theft, sparked the federal investigation into the city’s relationship with the church.
The amount that West Palm Beach could be forced to reimburse includes $1.6 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money was turned over to the church for it to build low-income housing. Also under scrutiny: $2.5 million in proceeds from the sale of those homes. That money was supposed to be reinvested by the church but a city audit couldn’t document that it did.
“For the longest time, the Housing division of the city has been the home of every inept worker who couldn’t be fired,” Mitchell said. “It is an important department that handles millions of dollars. But under every administration, it was total incompetence.”
Mitchell actually gave props to ex-Mayor Lois Frankel. While the grants made to the church to build in West Palm Beach‘s crime-infested Coleman Park were made during the Frankel years, Frankel also hired current director Valmarie Turner a year ago to clean up.
“HUD grants are very hard to manage,” Mitchell said. “Lois knew the division was staffed inadequately with mediocre employees. It takes a great administrator to manage grants and now we have a great one. Valmarie’s the one who figured all this out.”
Frankel, who is running for U.S. Rep. Allen West‘s seat, isn’t commenting on last week’s discovery of the scandal. She is close to the church — it can deliver a large number of black votes in citywide elections — and often lauded the project as one of the proudest moments of her two terms.
Church officials are accused of lining their pockets with some of the grants. City officials accuse Ray and his wife, Brenda, of taking a salary from the grants in addition to a cut of the building contracts, listings and sales of the homes. Ray started defending his institution, saying the church cooperated fully with the city’s request for thousands of pages of documents.
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