North Miami, which has raised more than $100,000 to help Haiti with funds purportedly earmarked for the Red Cross, decided to disburse the money to three groups, including an inactive nonprofit.
Council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to give $50,000 to the Red Cross for its Haiti relief efforts. They also voted to give $50,0000 to United Way of Miami-Dade, which is planning to build 20 semi-permanent homes in Haiti.
But the United Way sent a letter to the city on Wednesday afternoon declining the money. Instead, it asked the city to give its funds to the Red Cross.
``We were unaware that those dollars had been raised on behalf of the Red Cross,'' wrote Jacquie O'Malley, vice president of development for the United Way of Miami-Dade.
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The council gave the remaining $16,000 to Nord Ouest Environmental to fix an inoperable water supply system at the Immaculate Conception Hospital in Port-de-Paix, Haiti. According to state records, Nord Ouest Environmental is an inactive nonprofit organization. The group's name does not appear in the Internal Revenue Services database of tax-deductible organizations.
``We do not play with people's money,'' said Marc Jacques, president of the organization. He acknowledged the group's nonprofit status has lapsed because he failed to file an annual report.
``It doesn't matter to me; the money is still going to the city of Port-de-Paix,'' Jacques said, noting he is working to reinstate the organization's not-for-profit status.
Council members said they wanted some of the money to go to Nord Ouest to improve the hospital water supply, especially given Haiti's recent cholera outbreak.
The council has been criticized by residents for not disbursing the money immediately after the January earthquake. The funds, donated by residents and local businesses, have been sitting in a city bank account since March.
North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre went to Haiti in July to present an oversized $200,000 check to the Haitian government -- $84,000 more than the city had actually collected. Pierre has said the check was symbolic.
Many donors said they thought the money was going to the Red Cross. For nine months, North Miami's website stated funds raised for Haiti relief would go to the Red Cross.
Council members said they were concerned that some donors did not want the funds to go to the Red Cross, hence their decision to divide the money among the three groups. The Red Cross designation was only online; if people came to City Hall to donate, they wouldn't have known about the Red Cross.
Tuesday night, City Attorney Lynn Whitfield said the city would not be in an unfavorable position legally if it decided not to give the funds to the Red Cross. The money, she said, just has to go toward Haiti relief and recovery.
Two weeks ago, North Miami officials removed the Red Cross name from the city's website. ``You are an embarrassment to the citizens of this community. You lied to the people,'' resident Ellen Abramson told the council.
The council approved the United Way donation without anyone on the dais noticing that United Way named the wrong city in its proposal. The Miami-Dade chapter wrote that it would affix ``the North Miami Beach logo'' to the homes it will build, confusing North Miami with North Miami Beach.
Some council members appeared to be testy about the city's handling of the funds. ``I think it's a shame on us to make a big circus out of that little bit of money,'' Councilman Jean Marcellus said.