In 10 years as head of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), Stephen Auger didn’t do much to solve the chronic, critical problems of people who work hard, play by the rules, and still can’t afford a decent place to live.
But he won the hearts and minds of millionaire senators like Dennis Baxley and Dan Raulerson, who think that buying steak dinners for people who do business with FHFC is a good use of taxpayer money.
Auger is among the casualties of Gov. Rick Scott‘s pre-session purge of agency heads caught in the act of frivolous, selfish, useless and stupid expenditures of public funds.
If government was really “run like a business,” Auger would have been gone years ago, when a Tampa Bay Times reporting team led by Susan Taylor Martin first began turning the rocks over at FHFC and finding an embarrassing pile of misfeasance and nonfeasance. But Auger held on to his $183,000 job until December, when the legislature’s own auditors weighed in on FHFC’s miasma of mismanagement. Highlights include $443,000 in criteria-free staff bonus payments and a $52,000 “lender appreciation” dinner which featured broiled lobster tails, filet mignon and a nice “display” of tasty “imported and domestic cheeses.”
State audit manager and Master of Understatement Christi Alexander formally presented audit findings last week to the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, noting that such expenses “did not appear to be clearly necessary” to FHFC’s affordable housing mission. Raulerson tried to stick a fork in Auger’s critics by pointing out that the real cost of the Festival of Filet was “only” $36,000, thanks FHFC’s ability to attract corporate “sponsorships ” from folks who very, very much appreciate the money they make doing business with FHFC.
Raulerson has no problem with FHFC blowing more taxpayer money on one dinner than many of his constituents make in a year.
But he is upset that “[Auger] lost [his] job over this, and that’s not right. I don’t think (FHFC) did anything wrong … What they did was entirely within reason.”
Baxley dismissed the audit as so much “nitpicking” over “an opinion that they had too nice a dinner. “
“I feel like we overreact to things sometimes,” Baxley said. “I believe in hospitality; I believe in recognition ceremonies for my employees … An audit to me is, I want to know if they’re stealing money or wasting money. But if they’re doing a function they’re allowed to do, part of their authority is to decide how big a dinner to have.”
Raulerson and Baxley delivered a depressing and not terribly subtle warning. It may be a cold day in Florida before we see another “nitpicking” audit of public officials like Auger who party like Marie Antoinette.