HELP FOR HOMEOWNERS
President Barack Obama’s administration has unveiled a new program intended to force lenders to renegotiate home loans instead of foreclosing on families. Several organizations have been urging the White House to take action against companies that have received government bailout funds but are refusing to renegotiate troubled mortgages. U. S. Treasury Department Secretary Timothy Geithner released the information on Monday, Nov. 30 in a statement, but he was short on specifics. Lenders who refuse or do not begin to reorganize those mortgages will face sanctions under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Consumer groups have been highly critical of lenders, who they say prefer to foreclose on homes for immediate profits, rather than restructure the loans. HAMP requires banks that took federal aid to help homeowners by lengthening repayment terms, lowering interest rates and other changes to the mortgages. This could add beef to the $75 billion the administration has already put up to help homeowners with foreclosures.
IT’S OVER, FOR NOW
The official end of this year’s hurricane season passed on Monday, Nov. 30. Florida and the nation were spared, as hurricane activity was much lower than anyone predicted, or could have expected. The number of hurricanes was less than any year since 1997. We were spared, but don’t let your guard down, because there could still be a late-developing storm. In any event, give thanks, because we have truly been blessed.
Josefina Tax Barrera of Port St. Lucie, who also goes by the name Diana L. Aguirre, was arrested Friday, Nov. 27 and charged with lewd and lascivious battery. Investigators say the 22-year-old woman had sex with a 14-year-old boy, and also regularly exchanged sexually explicit text messages with him. She is being held in the St. Lucie County Jail on $30,000 bail.
STUDENT KILLING TRIAL UNDERWAY
Nearly a year has passed since Teah Wimberly, now 16, gunned down and killed Amanda Colette, a fellow student at Dillard High School who rejected her romantic advances, according to police. Wimberly is charged with one count of second-degree murder. Her trial started on Monday, Nov. 30. If convicted, she faces the possibility of life in prison. Wimberly's attorney, Larry S. Davis, plans to tell jurors his client was insane, and that her actions are the result of her being molested and beaten as a child.
MANGO FESTIVAL FRAUD
Yet another complaint has been filed with the Broward State Attorney’s Office alleging fraud and theft of proceeds from the highly regarded Mango Festival, held annually in Deerfield Beach. The event has received an estimated $1 million from governmental agencies over the last decade alone. But its tax returns do not reflect much, if any, profits from the proceeds of ticket, vendor space and parking sales.
NO ACTION ON CORRUPTION
Miramar city officials still have not addressed their loose and wanting procurement processes, which allowed hapless former City Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman to allegedly collect kickbacks and steer contracts to crooked developers, who paid him. Salesman was arrested in September for his alleged shenanigans, but there is still no action yet. The same thing applies to Broward County, where suspended and disgraced County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion was nabbed in October for allegedly favoring a developer’s projects before the commission. The developer, in turn, compensated Eggelletion with a few crumbs, according to investigators. Then, we also have the Broward School Board, which saw School Board Member Beverly Gallagher indicted after she took kickbacks, investigators say. School Superintendent Jim Notter put together a three-person ethics panel, which is useless. The panel has no subpoena or other powers. At least Notter has tried to do something, but school board members are the policy makers. These politicians are missing in action, and the people deserve better.
MANAGE WITHOUT HIM?
Just over two weeks have passed since Fort Lauderdale city commissioners decided not to renew City Manager George Gretsas’ contract, which is set to expire in June 2010. Grestas apparently underestimated the amount of resentment employees came to develop for his administration. His managers seemed to be indifferent to the criticisms and concerns of residents, but what happens now? Gretsas has been reduced to lame-duck status, and pent up information from employees is flowing out of city hall. There are also hoards of high-price staff members whom Gretsas hired and/or promoted during his tenure, ballooning the ranks of senior management. Among them are Robert Bates, director of the city’s Office of Professional Standards; Ted Lawson, an assistant city manager; and David He`bert, another assistant city manager. Who knows what will happen, but commissioners will have to decide whether leaving Gretsas and his staff in place – or asking him to leave early – is the in the best interest of taxpayers.
COMMERCIAL PROPERTY CRASH
Over the last several years, countless companies have cut back, closing stores, while still more have gone out of business altogether. Analysts have predicted a commercial real- estate crash due to empty shopping centers and office space left vacant. The first signs of these fears being realized have landed in South Florida. FirstBank Puerto Rico, a commercial real estate lender, filed foreclosure lawsuits targeting commercial projects in Miami and Oakland Park. One suit demands a $4 million judgment against Grove Station Development, on properties located at 2900 and 2940 S.W. 28th Lane in Miami, on 1.1 acres of land near a Metrorail station. A mixed-use retail, office, hotel and residential complex was planned for the site. The other suit is for $2.3 million, filed against Palasan Properties over a vacant 2.5-acre plat of land in Oakland Park, on Northwest 23rd Terrace and just north of Oakland Park Boulevard. The axe is swinging, and banks are now foreclosing on commercial properties.
Less than a month after a slate of newly elected city council members took their oaths for office in Homestead, they are confronting all sorts of internal issues in city hall. One of those issues is the city budget that was recently passed, with few specifics or details provided to the public. Mayor Steve Bateman is said to be poring over financial and other records, and I hear there are concerns about what is turning up.