In my last letter, I wrote about the Palm Beach County Office of the Inspector General, for which the county has budgeted $7.6 million from tax dollars and are seeking an additional $1.5 million from local municipalities. An inspector general was created to eliminate the stain of a news article that tagged Palm Beach County “Corruption County.” Now it is time to eliminate the stain of “unemployment city” and “crime city.” Who will do it and how?
The county has been ineffectual in eliminating the abject poverty that exists in Pahokee. It is a city 30 miles west of Wellington with 6,000 residents, and Matt Gutman of ABC News said, “It’s considered one of the poorest cities in the country, with unemployment sitting at nearly 40 percent. The average family earns about $26,000, or half the national average.” Next to Pahokee is Belle Glade. It has a crime index that is 109 percent higher than the Florida average.
Unfortunately, after years of unfulfilled promises of new high-tech companies and inland ports locating in or near Pahokee, there is still 40 percent unemployment. On the other hand, there are millions of dollars for the inspector general but no money for jobs for 2,400 unemployed workers in Pahokee. Law enforcement found three criminals in office. I found thousands of victims of crime in Belle Glade and 40 percent unemployment in Pahokee.
For the past three years, I have worked to change “unemployment city” and “crime city.” A few years ago, I was one of many volunteers who distributed Thanksgiving Day meals to residents in Pahokee. Many of the unemployed residents would not have had a meal if it were not for the hundreds of caring people who prepared and distributed meals. I was overcome by the conditions that I found. Everyone I prayed with wanted the opportunity to work. In one family, the only working member was a teen serving his country in the Middle East. He was sending money home to Pahokee in order to support his mother, grandfather and sister. I made a promise to that family that I would do what I could to create jobs for the jobless. I still intend to keep that promise.
I am pleased to say that Pahokee Mayor J.P. Sasser has been doing everything in his power for his constituents, but the money is just not there for him. When the Palm Beach County commissioners budgeted more than $4.2 billion to run the county, you would think that they could use some of those funds to create 2,400 jobs for unemployed residents of Pahokee? You would think that protecting hundreds of victims of violent crime might take precedence over a new and, in my opinion, unnecessary $9 million inspector general. Three years ago I proposed a program to deal with the poverty and crime in Pahokee and Belle Glade, and I know it will work.
I drafted new legislation for County Commissioner Jess Santamaria to sponsor. I am still waiting for him to sponsor it. A similar state proposal that I drafted was received favorably by the president of the Florida Senate three years ago. I also submitted that proposed legislation to State Sen. Larcenia Bullard. Last year she sponsored a modified version for Miami-Dade.
I submit that the government must fix its own mess. It is mostly responsible for the 40 percent unemployment in Pahokee. In large part, the 40 percent unemployment is due to the fact that a substantial portion of the western reaches of Palm Beach County have been purchased by the State of Florida, and the land has been taken over by the South Florida Water Management District. Land that used to supply seasonal jobs to workers in Pahokee and surrounding cities is no longer being used to grow sugarcane. This land is now fallow, awaiting funding to restore the land to its natural state in order to meet federal EPA mandates for clean water.
It is unethical to demand that the residents of Pahokee shoulder the burden of creating clean water for the rest of the county. It is immoral to deny jobs to residents of Pahokee, so that the residents of Palm Beach can have clean water; and it is incomprehensible that the county budgeted for a $9 million inspector general because of three convicted criminals but to date has not budgeted for a program that will create 2,400 jobs for residents of Pahokee.