The State of Florida Commission on Ethics has found “Sufficient Evidence” to investigate Fort Pierce City employees for their involvement in acquiring city property.
On November 11, 2019, the City of Fort Pierce declared the property at 1134-1138 Avenue D surplus and began accepting proposals for redevelopment. The property sits in the heart of the Lincoln Park Community.
On February 10, 2020, Rooted in Change, doing business as Lincoln Park Young Professionals, submitted a proposal to develop the land.
The non-profit organization proposed “The Root,” a community engagement space that would include shipping containers turned into pop-up businesses.
Allegany Ministries, a Catholic Charity of Franciscan Sisters, awarded Lincoln Park Young Professionals a $500,000.00 grant for “The Root” and included a Partnership Agreement between the two organizations in their proposal to the city.
In a Fort Perce Redevelopment Agency (FPRA) meeting on May 26, 2020, city staff voted to move forward with “The Root” and entered into a five-year lease with Lincoln Park Young Professionals on October 27, 2020.
The lease agreement spelled out the city’s expectations. Within one year of the lease, Lincoln Park Young Professional was supposed to finalize the site and engineering plans and have permits pulled. They did not.
The original proposal to the city said the project would be complete by January 2021. With no permits pulled, Lincoln Park Young Professionals held a ribbon cutting on February 27, 2021. “It’s hard to believe it’s been that long,” Fort Pierce City Commissioner Jerimiah Johnson said during “The Root” update at the November 8th FPRA meeting.
Citizens began questioning the project and learned that some city employees were interested in “The Root” outside of their employment with the city.
In corporate filings obtained from the State of Florida, Fort Pierce City employees Vennis Gilmore, Caleta Scott, and Lashonda Henderson are all listed as executive officers for Rooted in Change. Mr. Gilmore is the Assistant Director for the City of Fort Pierce Planning Department.
During the November 8th FPRA meeting, the city’s Special Project Coordinator, Audria Moore-Wells, acknowledged Lincoln Park Young Professionals missed their deadlines. Vennis Gillmore was on a Caribbean vacation during the meeting.
The St. Lucie Post reached out to the City of Fort Pierce and learned permits were pulled for the “The Root.” And that’s it.
Bruce Lewis, project manager for “The Root’ assured the St. Lucie Post the project would be complete by the first quarter of 2023 and said permitting delays along with staffing and material shortages are to blame. “No public funds are being used in the project,” Lewis told The St. Lucie Post.
Upendo Shabaaz, Regional Vice-President of Allegany Ministries, told The St. Lucie Post she was not concerned about any conflict with city staff soliciting their employer for surplus land.
According to the State of Florida Code of Ethics, city employees can not transact business with organizations of which they are officers, directors, agents, or members.
This month, landscaping, lighting, fencing, and seating were supposed to be installed on the Lincoln Park property, “Since construction has not started, we do not have any progress report to give at this time,” Ms. Wells-Moore told the FPRA Board.
Ms. Wells-Moore told Fort Pierce City Mayor Linda Hudson she was “hopeful” but not confident the project would move forward.
The investigation by the State of Florida continues.
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