Undercurrents | Undercurrents | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


When it comes to tossing taxpayer cash into the toilet, Piper High in Sunrise is tops. An audit submitted to the Broward school board this week shows Piper administrators misplaced equipment that cost $328,396 in public funds. Most of the stuff was lost (read S-T-O-L-E-N) during the tenure of principal Roma Adkins, a former home economics teacher who was at the school's helm from 1994 to 1999. Auditors turned up the problem during an investigation completed this past January.

What they found, or rather, didn't find, is astounding. The missing hardware includes 19 extremely portable laptop computers purchased just two years ago for $48,412. Then there were eight Motorola radios, the kind used by kleptomaniacal hall monitors, worth $6665.95. And $6417 worth of carpet sweepers got swept out the door. Gone also were a cash register ($875), a euphonium (a tubalike instrument with a $1047 price tag), and several older camcorders ($4419), as well as tens of thousands of dollars in computer equipment. Then there was Undercurrents' favorite, an $830 mannequin used to teach girls about pregnancy -- seems she just ambled out one night. Overall, auditors failed to find 193 items each purchased for more than $750 since 1987.

School auditors are none too pleased. They note some of the missing stuff was outdated high-tech equipment -- like Apple computers purchased in 1990 -- and they say better inventory procedures have been instituted under Adkins' replacement, Janet Ward. They gave the school several months to find the stuff before issuing the report. "That's real bad control over the years, isn't it?" comments Pat Reilly, director of the school system's audit division. What happened to Adkins? A formal reprimand? Nope. Try a promotion. She now earns $89,690 per year as a director in the division of human resources development. Forget McCain-Feingold. Forget Al Gore's pledge to ban soft money. If tiny Dania Beach can't reform campaign spending, the rest of the country might as well resign itself to the status quo. The other day, when commissioner Bob Mikes proposed capping individual contributions at $200 for city commission races, three of his four colleagues killed the idea. One of 'em was vice mayor John Bertino, who received 42 checks for more than 200 smackers each in 1998 and 1999. Most of his big money came from builders, attorneys, and Dania Jai-alai. The givers came from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Coconut Creek -- only a tiny fraction hailed from Dania. Bertino wasn't greedy, though. He returned one $250 contribution to Lester Boggs of Hollywood. Then there was Jim Cali. He took home 23 handouts that would have been outlawed by Mikes' measure. His big backers? Unions, builders, and lawyers. Finally there was John Etling, with only 10 of the questionable-size gifts -- mostly from lawyers and Jai-alai. Neither Bertino nor Etling returned calls seeking comment. Cali had a plethora of excuses. First he said reviewing the campaign reports would eat up too much staff time. (It took Undercurrents all of 25 minutes.) Then he complained Mikes voted against his watered-down counterproposal. ("Commissioner Mikes just can't compromise," he said.) Then he said the change was just too radical. So c'mon Jim, what do you really think? "I don't see it to be a problem," he concluded. There is some good news. Cali's not running for reelection.

Save Willie! Willie Brown is 43 years old, legally blind, and HIV-positive. He spent 17 years in the National Guard and served on the frontlines during the Gulf War, where, he says, some glass blew into his eye. Since March he has lived in a publicly owned, cramped apartment on NW 12th Avenue. He lost his landscaping job April 8 and hasn't found other employment. "It's tough to get a job when you can't see," he comments. It gets worse: Because of a bureaucratic glitch, he hasn't received disability payments. Thus he hasn't been able to pay his $214-per-month rent for the past few months. So several weeks ago, managers of the New Citrus Park Apartments moved to evict him. "We don't have to consider his disability under federal rules," comments Kaye-Ann Baxter, an attorney for the Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority, "but... we have allowed him to stay for a while, even though he's not paying." Says Willie: "I don't want to move out. I can't see and I know this apartment."

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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse