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Venice Florida! dot com

Hunt in Hell
Bad karma is catching up fast with our former city manager in the form of financial revelations -- both here in Venice and in Barefoot Bay, where he can't balance the books because there are no books to balance

-- John Patten, 08/04/06, REVISED 08/05/06
--
jpatten.venice@gmail.com

VIDEO CLIPS AT BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE

Got a comment? Make it here.


George Hunt, Venice's former city manager (file photo from 2003)

A new look back at the Hunt administration in Venice: expensive financial foul-ups
Early last month, current Venice City Manager Marty Black issued a memo to council that summarized some peculiar financial practices that have gone on over the years here in Venice, practices involving undocumented and/or improperly documented loans between city departments that total around $10 million. According to Black, it's a serious problem, one that is going to be very expensive to fix. Quite a bit of this, actually most of this (in dollars, anyway), happened during former city manager George Hunt's watch, this according to Black.

The Venice Taxpayers League has been watching these developments very closely for a very good reason. There is one unanswered question from the league's perspective: where did all that money go after it was loaned?  VTL prez Herb Levine has just begun to go over some of the figures with Venice's new finance director, Jeff Snyder, and Levine is still scratching his head. Some $9 million of it was loaned to utilities, an amount that stunned Levine for immediately obvious reasons that would probably not be readily apparent to anyone else.

On September 24, 2002, Levine was arrested at a city budget meeting, this after Hunt and Levine had both called each other liars (well, the word Hunt used was actually "fallacious"). At that meeting, Hunt was claiming that utilities had almost $9 million in surplus due to impact fees from development:

"The multi-million dollar surplus, $8,771,000 of it, is in the utilities department. One thousand three-hundred and ninety-eight thousand [sic] of it is in the airport. $4,444,000 is in solid waste for $14 million. There's two ironies here. Number one is you obviously can't use those to lower taxes, those are Enterprise Funds and you can't do it. It's against the law. What they [Herb Levine's article in a VTL newsletter] are suggesting is illegal. The other irony is that of the $8,771,000, almost $7 million of it is impact fees collected from new construction over the last ten years. So if it was true that we were using this surplus to lower the tax rates, it would be because of new growth because that's where most of the money has come from."
-- George Hunt, from the audio of 09/24/02 city budget meeting (
MP3 audio file - 2.5 MBs - 3:44 ).

Levine wasn't believing a word of it and said so, for which he was promptly arrested and jailed by former police chief Joe Slapp. The charges were subsequently dropped by Assistant State Attorney Kurt Hoffman as he couldn't find any laws on the books that Levine could have broken. Levine has a malicious prosecution lawsuit currently pending against Hunt, Slapp, former mayor Dean Calamaras, and the City of Venice.

There's two ironies here. Number one is that Levine had no knowledge of the ongoing undocumented/improperly documented loans and Hunt wasn't letting on that this was an ongoing practice. How much of that stealth money was propping up Hunt's figures at the time is something that we have no way of knowing. Yet.

So when Black's memo came out, the first thing I did was remember the argument between Hunt and Levine that led to Levine's arrest. I immediately called up Levine and told him he was right all along and now Black has just proven it.

The other irony is that within a couple of weeks of Black's memo, Levine would receive an appellate court ruling tossing Hunt back into Levine's false arrest lawsuit against the city and various former city officials.

 

Meanwhile back at the Barefoot Ranch...
Of course, there are also Hunt's pending lawsuits against myself and Sylvia Parish, a 72-year-old resident of the Recreational District of Barefoot Bay where Hunt is currently community manager. A recreational district is a mini-municipality run by elected and appointed small-government officials -- it's the smallest form of government you'll find in Florida that is still a legitimate government.

Hunt is suing us, claiming that he is a private citizen and not a public figure, and that Parish and I have defamed and libeled him. Hunt's lawsuit goes on to basically complain that we have conspired against him, etc., etc., that he is a great administrator and that the bad vibes we have sent out are solely responsible for him not being able to land a job in bigger government.

The Board of Trustees of Barefoot Bay are backing Hunt in his defamation lawsuits, this from a letter of support posted to TCPalm.com's web site by (and as) Trustee Bob Carillion. The letter has been taken down from the web since, but rest assured, printed copies still exist. Carillion wrote that the lawsuits were a good thing as the result should be to quiet things down in the district so that Hunt and the board could work more effectively.

In other words, Trustee Carillion admitted open and tacit official support of a SLAPP lawsuit. Not the brightest move in the world on Carillion's part, but as we'll see later, there appears to be a marked shortage of patterned neurological activity among the district's elected.

You with me so far? Because this is where things really start to take a left turn.

 

You are now leaving the suburbs and entering downtown Bizarroland
OK -- take the questions that we now have about Venice's recent financial history and add one more thing into the mix: Barefoot Bay is currently undergoing a bloody and painful audit of its financials for the past year. It's a total mess. It is so bad that even the district's board of trustees can't seem to wrap their minds around how bad it is.

As part of gathering info for Hunt's lawsuit against me, I acquired a video tape of the July 14, 2006 trustee board meeting. At that meeting, Yvonne Clayborne, a CPA for the firm Bray, Beck and Koetter, was trying to tell the trustees how incredibly bad the situation has become. Clayborne is performing an audit of the district's finances, this in compliance with state regulations regarding the district. On the video tape, Clayborne was being blatantly open, sometimes brutally so, about the district's financial problems.

In spite of Clayborne's exhaustive presentation, the video shows that the trustees remained absolutely clueless throughout.

Well, all but one, anyway: trustee chair Wilma Weglein. Weglein is low key in the video tape but two things become readily apparent -- she fully comprehends what is going on and she is surrounded by absolute and total idiots. I give credit to Weglein, both for sticking to her guns and for her failed attempts at being diplomatic with her surrounding cast of Jello-headed catatonics.

"In the first place God made idiots. That was for practice. Then He made school boards." Mark Twain wrote that. After watching a bit of Barefoot Bay's government in action, it is painfully obvious that God has made remarkable improvements in the manufacturing process since Twain's time.

 

So how bad is it?
For starters, the district's bank statements (I.e., the checkbooks) haven't been reconciled and balanced since September 2005, this according to Clayborne.

Then there's all kinds of other accounting SNAFUs (in the traditional sense of that acronym) that Clayborne pointed out, including depreciation percentage figures that Hunt apparently pulled out of the back of his boxers. In fairness to the district's board, even I missed the significance of this when I watched the tape for the first time. Friends who understand this accounting biz kind of stuff were floored when they heard the same statements from Clayborne [video clip #1, below].

Then my friends clued me in: playing games with depreciation numbers can be a surface method to compensate for otherwise unexplainable losses, especially if the books aren't being balanced properly, if some expenses aren't being recorded and if nobody is taking a close look.

 

How much would you pay for all this? But wait, there's more
According to Clayborne, there is no general ledger: "There is no possible way that the district can be reconciling to a complete general ledger because you don't have a complete general ledger at this point" [Clayborne makes this statement about three and a half minutes into Clip #2 below].

In other words, the district couldn't balance their books if they wanted to right now because there are no books to balance. Moreover, this is hardly a new situation, this has apparently been ongoing since Hunt's arrival in the district back around September of 2004.

The district's attorney, Richard Torpy, stated yesterday that no money was missing from the district's accounts, this in a quote given to TCPalm.com. I don't quite understand how anyone at this date could make such a sweeping authoritative statement, but that's what he said.

TCPalm's account in today's paper of the district's accounting woes seemed surprisingly upbeat and positive, seemingly ignoring the problems pointed out by Clayborne in mid-July.

TCPalm's coverage of Clayborne's July 14 presentation was almost equally upbeat, almost a PR whitewash of the entire debacle.

 

So what does this have to do with Venice?
Maybe a lot. Probably a lot.

Herb Levine has been studying these clips closely -- he's looking for parallels in the way Venice has handled its funds in the past years. While Levine is in the process of focusing in on the loan policies that Venice has recently fessed up to, he never thought to look at how depreciation was factored in to Venice's budgets until after watching the Barefoot Bay videos. "That's something worth looking at," Levine stated.

 

Below are four video clips from the July 14, 2006 Barefoot Bay Board of Trustees meeting
The first two contain CPA Clayborne's summary of the district's financial woes. These are followed by shorter clips featuring two residents: longtime Hunt critic Loretta Lynch and Min Bolon. Bolon's husband, Bruce, had just resigned from the board over disagreements with other board members -- his resignation letter was read at the beginning of this meeting.

Clip 1: CPA Yvonne Clayborne explains the disaster, Part 1
While it's a quirky video with a Hill Street Blues feel to it, thanks to the jerky use of a single camera, it is, nevertheless, quite jarring in its specificity of governmental ineptitude. Note that Clayborne had been scheduled to appear and speak at the meeting, but that Hunt, when introducing her, hints hopefully that maybe she doesn't really want to speak before the board. Clayborne ignores the rebuff and gives a presentation that should have caused a cardiac arrest in any normal sentient being. If you know anything about accounting (which I don't, but I'm told this is important), pay very close attention to the details about depreciation. 8:56
Larger screen size of this clip is available here.
Clip 2: Yvonne Clayborne, Part 2
Trustee Sue McCahan dominates the Q&A of Hunt and Clayborne and still can't seem to come to grips with the fact that the Bay is in serious, serious deep doo doo. McCahan's mind-blowing dimness is a fine example of how truly dumb this whole bunch is. Note the explanations that Hunt tries to come up with, how he gets shot down by Clayborne and how nobody seems to catch any of the real underlying story. 9:04
Larger screen size of this clip is available here.
Clip 3: Barefoot Bay resident Min Bolon
As stated earlier, Min's husband, Bruce, had been on the board and had just resigned, stating he could not, in good conscience, continue to serve with the rest of Barefoot Bay's trustees. Gee, George, I thought you were a financial wizard... Hunt's response is hilarious. 2:45
Larger screen size of this clip is available here.
Clip 4: Barefoot Bay resident Loretta Lynch
Hunt has reportedly previously threatened to toss Lynch into his defamation lawsuit pool. That's trustee Harry Bailey at the end --  Bailey angrily suggests that Lynch's questions get swept under the rug with a reply by mail from Hunt. Bailey's response is proof of Ron White's axiom: "You can't fix stupid." 3:47
Larger screen size of this clip is available here.

Not shown in the clips above but of serious note:
Later in the same meeting but some time after the events shown in the above clips, Bailey ranted at audience members, rankled over the fact that many in the community of Barefoot Bay have the opinion that the board is inept and has looked the other way while the community's government has been falling apart. Bailey was specifically outraged that residents had contacted government officials outside of the district to seek aid and wanted to know what could be done to stop that from happening in the future.

 

John Patten is the editor and publisher of Venice Florida! dot com and had previously worked in broadcasting for over 12 years. He can also be incredibly rude at times. This was obviously one of those times.

 


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