I-Team: Dade City Mayor dodges questions about spouse's controversial grant money

Mayor may have violated Florida's ethics laws

A local mayor is in the hot seat after questionable taxpayer grant money was given to her husband.

The I-Team found the process went against the city's guidelines and critics say may have violated state ethics laws.            

Florida State Rep. Jake Raburn is concerned about tens of thousands of dollars in what he calls questionable grant money, the I-Team found was handed out to the mayor's husband in Dade City. 

"It doesn't look right for other taxpayers," Rep. Raburn says.           

When we asked Mayor Camille Hernandez about it on the phone she hung up, so we caught up with her at city hall.

When we confronted her she was evasive. We tried asking about her husband's grants and her role in the process, she replied, " I don't participate in fake news."  

The CRA, Community Redevelopment Agency, in Dade City issues grants to help fix up buildings downtown. 

We found the mayor's husband's company, ANPM enterprises, received more than $52 thousand in CRA grants since 2010. And the mayor may have broken state ethics laws during the process.

The mayor and four other city commissioners make up the CRA board.

When the mayor's husband, David Hernandez, applied for the most recent grant for $10 thousand in 2016, he never mentioned his relationship to the mayor on his application. 

We also listened to the meeting on a CD we requested. While she did recuse herself from voting, she advocated for the grant on his behalf and never stated on record their relationship.

 "This is something we are going to look to and be very proud of" she tells the board. 

According to State Ethics law Chapter 112, the mayor was supposed to fill out this 8b disclosure form. That didn't happen in this case.

Rep. Raburn tells us, "I absolutely think it should've been documented. If it were me and I was the mayor of the city and sat on a CRA board and my wife owned a business, I wouldn't have my wife come and ask for money from the CRA." 

According to the city's CRA guidelines each applicant is supposed to get three estimates for the work needed before applying. But the mayor's husband only got one estimate. Only one board member voted against it., city commissioner Nicole Deese Newlon.

She says, "We have never made an exception before and I wasn't willing to make one in this case."

Rep Raburn points out, "If you're gonna make a special exception it shouldn't be for the mayors husband." 

In 2010, the mayor, still on the CRA board, was listed as the registered agent of the company while CRA board members approved $42 thousand worth of CRA grants to his business, another possible violation of State Ethics Laws Chapter 112.

When we looked at the building $52 thousand taxpayer dollars later, we noticed boarded up windows and exposed plywood filling holes in the stucco. Window repairs was one of the reasons Hernandez applied for the grant. 

We also found in these recent documents, the mayor's husband has applied for another additional CRA grant, for about $10 thousand.

We're told the CRA board voted to table that vote until next month in order to see our investigation.

State Representative Raburn has filed a bill to eliminate CRA grant money abuse, and make the process more transparent.

He says this Dade City issue is exactly what he's trying to stop in the future.

Jarrod Holbrook is an Emmy and AP Award-winning Investigative Reporter for the ABC Action News I-Team. Do you have a story idea? Contact Jarrod on FacebookTwitter, or via email at jarrod.holbrook@wfts.com.

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