It is breathtaking to think how county auditors failed to clamp down on this operation since other recipients of county grants -- and especially ones related to environmental education -- have to run a gauntlet of eye-popping audits by county staff.
I know because the organization I represent as volunteer board chair, Friends of the Everglades, has been the recipient of a tiny grant in order to provide education about the Everglades to school age children.
This year, inexplicably, the award of environmental grants has been "held up" by county staff causing a number of organizations, not just Friends, to miss the school year.
For a few thousands, we are not only accustomed to rigorous audits and monitoring, but for scrutiny making sure every single "T" is crossed and "i" is dotted on our application and follow through. For example, our by-laws state that our organization should have at least four board meetings a year. An auditor recently required us to amend the by-laws so that we would have at least one of those board meetings every quarter, as though we might just try to cram four meetings into one quarter.
Fair enough. But the message this sends if you read the news, is that if you want a no-bid airport contract worth $65 million or if you want to "improve business" in Homestead, no one gives a good damn whatever you do.
On the one hand, you might think of environmental education -- OK, these are tax dollars (or in our particular case, the moneys collected from polluters or fines) and so, yes, we want a high level of scrutiny.
On the other hand, the ability of sham organizations to collect far greater sums of money -- or of no-bid contracts totaling tens of millions of dollars -- means something else: it is not just a double-standard that operates where environmental education is concerned, it is a corrosive antipathy to its aim.
Nor can we forget that a few years ago, the Miami-Dade police department commandeered millions in moneys collected through a federal environmental crimes unit and mis-spent the funds without any penalty whatsoever on SUV's and other "quality of life" for its top officials.
If you put a business friendly name together with a politically influential name (Carrie Meek had nothing to do with the Homestead scam according to the Herald), you can sail through the county's audit functions without a whiff of concern. If you want to reach out to kids or minorities on the environment, every single alarm bell in county government goes off.
How this happens is going to be very hard to prove, of course.
Environmental grants management might be "Understaffed" or "disconnected" from other county audit functions. There will be no paper trail saying, "make life difficult for those small organizations involved with the environment." Nonetheless, the comparison is instructive and explains, in part, why public confidence in our own government can't lift itself off the ground.
This isn't just a double-standard, it is a symbol of so much that is wrong in Miami-Dade.