Similar to what is happening around the country, many South Florida cities are fighting to stay afloat as the fiscal year comes to an end. In the coming weeks, countless municipalities will begin holding budget meetings, and it won’t be pretty. With the exception of West Park in Broward County, where City Administrator Russell Benford says the city is financially sound, most other municipalities are struggling. In Homestead, located in Miami-Dade County, there are rumors of employees being offered buyouts to cope with revenue shortfalls. Deerfield Beach City Manager Mike Mahaney is expected to present his budget proposals within days. In Sunrise, City Manager Bruce Moeller is recommending tax hikes, and is cutting 58 vacant positions. From Miami to Belle Glade, in Palm Beach County, elected officials are mulling tax increases, raising the costs for services, and instituting layoffs. We’re in a mess. If this is not a depression, it’s certainly a Great Recession.
In response to declining membership across the country, Bishop Janice Riggle Huie and the United Methodist Church are making changes and using new methods of reaching people. Calling it their “Rethink Church” campaign, congregations around the country, including many in South Florida, are looking for ways to better connect with families and young people. They are reviewing “alternative” ways of being Christians through economic assistance, feeding the poor, mentoring programs and other types of assistance to those in need.
Palm Beach County
ALLEGED WOMAN BEATER
Eric W. Williams, 40, of Riviera Beach, is being sought in connection with the alleged sexual battery and beating of his live-in girlfriend, according to police. Williams restrained the woman on Tuesday, July 7 at their home in the 100 block of East Heron Blvd., where he used a kitchen knife to cut off her hair, police said. He also beat, strangled, and sexually assaulted her throughout the night, according to police. She suffered minor, non-life threatening injuries. Williams is described as 6-feet-4 and 260 pounds, with light brown eyes and short hair. He has gold teeth and several tattoos. He faces armed domestic battery, armed felony battery by strangulation, armed false imprisonment and armed sexual battery charges, police said. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-458-8477.
Cleveland Morgan, 44, of Riviera Beach, is accused of selling hundreds of DVD movies stolen from the Palm Beach County Library system to area thrift stores, according to police. Investigators say it is unclear exactly how many DVDs were taken, or from which branches, but 216 movies sold to Thrift Store Items at 6831 N. Military Trail in West Palm Beach were valued at more than $4,000. The caper was discovered when a library employee was browsing inside the store and saw the movies, which still had “Property of Palm Beach County Library” decals on them. Employees at the thrift store identified Morgan as the person who sold them the movies. On Wednesday, July 2, police went to Morgan’s home in Riviera Beach and found more movies from the libraries. Police have not been able to locate Morgan. Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Sgt. Pat Galligan at 561-882-3514.
KIDDIE PORN ARREST
A multi-agency task force headed up by Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael F. McAuliffe arrested Alexander Louis Colletta, 21, of West Boynton Beach, a student at Palm Beach Community College. Colletta was charged with 49 counts of possession of child pornography on Tuesday, July 7. The materials were taken by sheriff’s deputies, who executed a search warrant at his home in the 7000 block of Palazzo Reale. Authorities tracked Colletta using new software that follows items that are being downloaded or emailed. Investigators say he surfed kiddie porn sites over the Internet. The pictures include pornography involving children as young as 3 years old.
BRUTAL KILLER CONVICTED
Ralston “Jay” Davis Jr., 24, of Sunrise, was convicted on Tuesday, July 7 of three counts of first-degree murder after a two-week trial and two days of deliberations. Jurors will return to court on Monday, July 20 to recommend whether he should get the death penalty. The case unfolded on Dec. 2, 2005 when Davis went to Myosha Proby’s Lauderhill apartment in a rage, investigators say. Davis allegedly ordered Proby, a woman he once dated, onto her knees. He then fired 20 shots from an assault rifle into her body, investigators say. He then traveled to an Exxon gas station about five miles away at the intersection of Northwest 31st Avenue and Sunrise Boulevard in Lauderhill, according to investigators. There, he allegedly tapped on the window of 29-year-old Ravindra Basdeo, who was sitting in his own car. After Basdeo rolled down his window, Davis stuck the rifle into Basdeo’s mouth and killed him, investigators say. Then, Davis went into the store part of the gas station to buy snacks. Upon exiting, he encountered Carlos Jones, 26, ordered him onto the ground, and fired several shots into his head, according to investigators. Prosecutors told jurors Davis was in a rage brought on by crack cocaine. Davis’ lawyers said their client was having a psychotic episode, and that he heard voices telling him to rid the world of evil, but jurors did not buy that. Book’em, Dano!
SCHOOL DISTRICT, CHEATED?
Dennis Brown, a carpenter with the Broward School District, lodged widespread complaints with supervisors over concerns that contractors hired to make repairs after Hurricane Wilma in 2005 were gouging the system. Now, an audit conducted by the district has found hundreds of thousands of dollars in overbillings. The report, which will be finalized next week, calls for investigations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the IRS and other agencies. Brown says district officials still are not acting on his complaints of fraud surrounding the instances when he and other employees were loaned to the St. Lucie County School District to assist with hurricane repairs there, in 2005 and 2006. School Superintendent Jim Notter has his hands full with this one, and heads are expected to roll.
It took 90 minutes of deliberations for jurors to convict Mario Primavera, 44, of first-degree murder in the September 2006 killing of Helen Cozan, an 81-year-old Sunday school teacher. Cozan was found dead inside her condo, in a pool of blood, with at least 18 stab wounds over her body. She was close friends with Primavera and his family, and was killed after opening her door, and refusing to give him money for crack cocaine, according to a confession he gave police, but later recanted.
The site of housing units under construction at the corner of Northwest 71st Street and Interstate 95 in the Lemon City neighborhood of Miami is actually a black cemetery, more than 100 years old. Even so, Mayor Manny Diaz, city commissioners, and developers have no intention of halting the project. Pioneers such as Enid C. Pinkney are fighting to have the grave sites preserved and designated a historical site, but they are getting little, if any help. City of Miami preservation official Ellen Uguccioni advises that the burial ground is not historic because there is no building on it, which is hogwash.