MELBOURNE – Detectives investigate the circumstances of a controversial roof repair at the city’s Liberty Bell Memorial Museum.
In April 2015, a Melbourne roofer completed repairs at the Oak Street Museum and billed $ 30,600 for the work. A taxpayer-funded matching grant approved by Melbourne City Council was $ 15,000. Honor America, the nonprofit that runs the museum, covered the rest.
After receiving complaints from Honor America board members, Councilor Paul Alfrey inspected the roof in March. Alfrey, a certified roofer and past president of the Space Coast Licensed Roofers Association, thought the repairs were inferior and began investigating the matter.
It turned out that the repairs were being carried out without a building permit, so the city inspectors did not look at the work. Additionally, in April Melbourne construction officials estimated the repairs were worth only $ 14,800.
Alfrey said the city was “betrayed”.
“We missed $ 15,800 out there that our council approved a few years ago. For me, it’s about following the money and being fiscally responsible for our voters, ”Alfrey said during the May 9th city council meeting.
Melbourne Police are investigating the $ 30,600 bill in collaboration with the Brevard County’s Sheriff’s White-collar Crime Task Force, said Cheryl Trainer, Melbourne Police Commissioner. She declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
The board of directors of the Liberty Bell Memorial Museum ousts Tice as director
The contractor was Lewis Barnhart Roofing. Greg Eisenmenger, the Viera attorney who represents the company, said his client was cooperating with the criminal investigation.
“We’re pretty confident that my client didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, he was trying to do something to give something back to the public,” said Eisenmenger
“It was originally intended to be a contribution in kind and a monetary donation was later asked for,” he said of the roof repairs. He said the request was made by a museum employee.
Eisenmenger declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Honor America was chartered in Melbourne in 1974 and opened the Military Museum in 1985 in the city’s former water storage tank. In 2004 officials dedicated a 2,600-square-foot extension to the Freedom Hall.
Honor America operates the museum and Melbourne Military Memorial Park next door, and the patriotic nonprofit organizes Melbourne’s July 4th and Veterans Day parades. The group leases the museum from the city for $ 1 a year, and the lease runs until 2045.
Melbourne Councilor Betty Moore is Honor America’s chairwoman of the board. West Melbourne Councilor John Tice was Honor America’s executive director when the roof repairs were being made. He was later fired, effective February 2016, following disagreements over finances and his Brevard Hall of Fame, a separate non-profit based in the museum’s library.
City manager Mike McNees said Honor America managed the rooftop project, not the city. If the job was overwhelmed, he recommended that the city work with Honor America to get the money back through a letter of application or lawsuit.
On Monday, McNees said such legal action was on hold pending the outcome of the law enforcement investigation.
The Liberty Bell Museum displays the World Trade Center I-Beam
Tice was contacted Monday and said he was unaware of the museum canopy controversy and that he had done nothing wrong.
“From what I knew there was a $ 30,000 worth of roof repairing. There was still a lot of work to be done,” Tice said.
Honor America’s annual budget is $ 72,000, and the nonprofit typically receives an annual city grant of $ 6,200 for museum activities. On December 30th, the group applied for an additional $ 6,200 grant for the 2016-17 period.
However, the general counsel of the Florida Commission on Ethics ruled on January 20 that Moore’s position as chairman of the board could create a conflict of interest. Moore said the news was “a huge shock to me,” and she withdrew the $ 6,200 grant application to avoid such occurrence.
Melbourne politicians have served on Honor America’s board of directors in the past, and the group still received grants for the city. When Moore was chairman of the board in 2015, she said Melbourne officials “no questions asked” approved Honor America’s $ 6,200 funding request.
During the May 9 meeting, Alfrey called on Moore to step down as Honor America’s CEO, citing conflicts of interest. She did not resign. Rather, she said she would continue to serve as president on Monday until her term ends in October. After that, she plans to remain a board member.
Moore said the nonprofit books are open to anyone who wishes to see them.
“Honor America responded with the best interest so as not to change the city in any way. We’re just overboard. We don’t want to take money out of town, ”Moore said during the meeting.
On Monday, Moore said the museum was suffering from a financial crisis and the two paid employees had volunteered for free over the past few months.
Before he was released, Tice’s attorney put forward a proposed separation agreement in which Honor America would pay Tice $ 6,000. In June 2016, Honor America’s board of directors sent Tice a letter claiming he owed $ 8,493 in overpayments and unauthorized charges.
On Monday, Tice said the board members had a vengeance against him and were conducting a political witch hunt.
“I totally deny this. It’s totally wrong,” Tice said of the board’s repayment request.
Contact Neale at 321-242-3638, [email protected], or follow RickNeale1 on Twitter