The battle between state Sen. Joe Abruzzo and the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency is getting hotter, and Abruzzo wants the Florida Attorney General’s Office to weigh in – one way or another.
Abruzzo, chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, demanded Monday that the CRA comply with a state audit’s recommendation that it get an opinion from the attorney general’s office about whether its spending complies with state law.
And If the CRA board won’t ask for that opinion from Attorney General Pam Bondi, Abruzzo said, he will.
Abruzzo made the demand after CRA attorney David Tolces appeared before Abruzzo’s committee to defend the CRA from a state audit that found 19 areas where the CRA engaged in spending practices auditors criticized, including funding the non-profit Arts Garage and acting as a sponsor for the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.
At issue are a gray area of the state law that created community redevelopment agencies and a 2010 opinion from former Attorney General Bill McCullom that specifically stated the Community Redevelopment Act did not allow agencies to fund tourism promotions or nonprofit organizations that don’t primarily benefit the areas they are supposed to serve.
“I cannot say that the use of community redevelopment funds would be so limited that the expenditure of funds for the promotion of a redeveloped area would be prohibited,” McCollum wrote.
“However, grants to entities which promote tourism and economic development, as well as to nonprofits providing socially beneficial programs would appear outside the scope of the Community Redevelopment Act.”
The CRA maintains that McCollum’s opinion and state law leave room for the spending decisions questioned in the audit.
In their report, auditors indicated otherwise.
They recommended the CRA get another opinion from the attorney general’s office to clarify whether its spending on tennis tournament, Arts Garage and other non-profits and promotional activities was legal.
During his appearance, Tolces turned that down — drawing an audible response from the committee.
“We don’t think another attorney general’s opinion is necessary,” Tolces said in an interview afterward.
In an interview after the meeting, he said he will contact CRA board members to see if they are willing to get a new opinion from Bondi’s office.
If they refuses, he said, he will try to get an attorney general’s office opinion through a formal request from the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.
“Then it’s going to open up a whole new issue in Delray,” he said.