Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon fought hard last year to set aside $1.25 million in city funds to combat poverty in one of the nation’s poorest major cities.
Now, after securing $500,000 for his district, which includes some of Miami’s most hard-up neighborhoods, he believes he’s found the right organizations to make an impact. His convictions are so strong that he’s asking his fellow commissioners to waive a requirement Thursday for competitive bids in order to distribute most of that money to three organizations of his choosing — with half the money going to a non-profit chaired by his uncle and campaign manager, Billy Hardemon.
Some $260,000 would go to the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation (MLKEDC). The money would fund a wheels to work program providing cars at low costs primarily to single parents without a means of accessible transportation, and would help establish a commercial kitchen where mom-and-pop cooks can set up a base for cooking and hawking their wares.
Commissioner Hardemon could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But his chief of staff, James McQueen, noted that the MLKEDC, which hosts a well attended event every year on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, has been around receiving government grants for decades. He said the programs they’re planning to administer address serious transportation problems in the inner city, and should support struggling entrepreneurs and encourage business.
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“Anything as it relates to his uncle, it’s very important to point out that he’s a volunteer. It’s not a paid position,” McQueen said.
Christine King, an attorney and president of the MLKEDC, said it’s unfair to the organization to question their programming because of the Hardemons’ familial connections. She said Miami’s city attorney recently opined that there’s no conflict in her organization receiving city funds.
“Our board is more than Billy Hardemon,” she said. “We take serving the community very seriously.”
Billy Hardemon did not respond to a message left with his wife, Barbara, who runs B&B Professional Consultants. He has been listed as board member off and on for years, and as chairman dating back to 2012, before Keon Hardemon began his campaign to win Miami’s District 5 commission seat.
In the fall, the city included the $1.25 million for anti-poverty initiatives in the 2015 budget at Commissioner Hardemon’s request. Commissioners then chose to divvy the money up by district earlier this year, with the funds weighted by poverty levels, giving Hardemon the greatest amount.
Last month, commissioners agreed to waive the competitive process in granting up to $100,000 from Commissioner Francis Suarez’s anti-poverty account to the Miami Foundation. In this case, City Manager Daniel Alfonso said Hardemon wants to release the money quickly.
“He wants it to be phased in this summer and there’s no time to do that through a regular procurement process,” Alfonso said.
Hardemon also wants to distribute $134,000 to the Foundation of Community Assistance and Leadership for a student vocational, language and summer mentoring program, and $39,000 for a senior feeding program. He previously gave $100,000 to the cash-strapped Police Athletic League, though some of that money will be pulled back and distributed to the aforementioned programs.
Commissioner Hardemon comes from a large, politically connected family. Last summer, he negotiated and steered money from the operator of Bayside Marketplace to a city-tied agency governed by a board on which a different uncle, Roy Hardemon, was a board member. After The Herald ran an article noting the ties, Commissioner Hardemon said he asked his uncle to step down to defuse any perception of conflict.