- By Tony Doris Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
A summer program to help teens gain job skills has come under state investigation, amid allegations City Councilwoman Lynne Hubbard played a heavy-handed role in its operations.
The city clerk’s office declined to provide copies of information the State Attorney’s Office requested or subpoenaed concerning the Summer Youth Employment Program, citing an ongoing criminal investigation that exempts the documents from public records law. Hubbard also confirmed the investigation, saying city staffers were questioned by the State Attorney’s government corruption unit.
Exactly what the State Attorney’s Office is questioning is not known. A spokesman declined comment.
The program, for which the city council approved $174,000 this year, was designed to give teens an introduction to available careers in the community, as well as test-taking skills to give them a better chance at succeeding in standardized tests needed to pass high school, and a chance to earn money, Hubbard said. As of mid-July, 32 students who completed it received $40,575.
The program came under question in July at a special meeting called by City Councilwoman KaShamba Miller-Anderson, who asked its official director, Valerie Grimsley, to detail how it was running. Grimsley ran the program last year and was supposed to be in charge this summer, as well.
Miller-Anderson said she called the meeting because she’d been unsuccessful getting information about how the program was running and how its money was being spent since the council approved its budget in April. City administration was in flux during that period, as the council had fired City Manager Jonathan Evans but not found a permanent replacement.
Grimsley told the council that the people she recommended to operate the program under her were not hired, while others picked by a committee involving Hubbard were.
Asked Friday who formed that committee, Grimsley said she didn’t know. “I was just notified to be on that board,” she said. It’s her understanding, she added, that council members are not allowed to hire.
Those who were hired failed to report back to her on its daily activities, Grimsley added.
In fact, Grimsley said, “boot camp was already going for almost an entire week before I found out.”
A month later the interim city manager, Karen Hoskins, fired the man that Hubbard’s committee hired, Program Manager Gregory Richardson, for failure to submit updates on time, Hoskins told the council.
Hoskins declined comment, citing the ongoing investigation by the State Attorney’s Office.
The city council decides policy and oversees budgets but council members generally do not participate in management, which is overseen by the administrative staff now led by Hoskins. But Miller-Anderson said it was clear Hubbard was heavily involved in the program’s daily operations.
“Everybody is aware, they would see Lynne’s car at the Lindsey Davis Center (where the program was conducted) all the time,” Miller-Anderson said. “We don’t work over there. It’s common knowledge she was there and overseeing it.”
But in an interview Tuesday with The Palm Beach Post, Hubbard denied wrongdoing and said she wasn’t involved in the day-to-day management. All council members participate in programs in which they’re advancing, Hubbard added, including Miller-Anderson.
“What gets me is, every program, every project that KaShamba has had, she has had her hands right on it. She had a community council, she was dead in the middle of it,” Hubbard said. “So for her to say something as ridiculous as that is a problem. I have every right to make sure my vision, my initiative, goes off in the manner I would like to see,” she said.
Grimsley was at a planning meeting for the program, made flyers for it and sat on the hiring panel, Hubbard added. “What they promised Valerie, to say the things she did, is beyond me. She knows we have emails and everything to substantiate her involvement.”
“I stand on my integrity and I wasn’t coaxed on saying anything,” Grimsley countered on Friday, declining to comment in detail.
Miller-Anderson called Hubbard’s account “deflection.” As for the description of Miller-Anderson’s involvement in a city program, Miller-Anderson called that “a big, fat lie.”
Miller-Anderson said her program was a workshop she put together, with department heads giving presentations. There was no hiring, no time sheets to oversee, she said, and the money it required came from a city council stipend that she had declined to accept as her own income.
The Summer Youth program, by contrast, was voted on and budgeted by the city council, and its hires should have applied through and been vetted by the city Human Resources Department, as other city employees are — not picked by a council member, Miller-Anderson said.
Hubbard has pressed for the employment program for more than a year.
When Evans was hired in March 2017, Hubbard had already been working with the then-interim city manager, Danny Jones, to put in place a youth employment program that would be run by the Urban League. Evans, though, found that the nonprofit’s administrative fees would cost the city tens of thousands of dollars more than if the city just ran the program with its own staff, especially since time was short and the Youth Empowerment Program directed by Grimsley already had a similar function.
Evans juggled the budget and came up with $300,000 for a program meant to address most of Hubbard’s criteria, and the council as a whole approved it. Hubbard, though, made it clear she wasn’t happy with the arrangement. She was one of three council members who voted for Evans’ surprise firing that September.
This year, judging by Grimsley’s description, Hubbard took a more active role. And despite the relatively few students who completed the program, about half of last year’s number, Hubbard counted it as a success in exposing youths to the world of work and giving them important testing skills. Riviera Beach has hundreds of students each year who get high school graduation certificates but not diplomas, partly because even those with “B” averages can perform poorly on standardized tests, she said. And those certificates help little when they apply for jobs she said.
Hubbard said she participated in a similar program when she was younger. “It did a world of good for me and I thought would be something great for our community.”