To understand the real nature of the allegations made against South Bay city manager Corey Alston, you need to visit that town on the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee.
I did that last week for a report on a criminal grand theft charge filed by the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office against Alston which accuses him of stealing $25,000 from the city by inflating sick and vacation leave. Alston lives in Broward County and is well-known here, where he serves as president of the Democratic Black Caucus and runs a charter school in downtown Fort Lauderdale called the Urban Academy. He once ran for State Senate and his brother Torey is the "chief of staff" for Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief. Both Corey and Torey are former student members of the Broward County School Board and Torey lost his race for the seat in November to Rosalind Osgood.
The brothers have seen some public controversy before, but the criminal charge against Corey Alston, 35, still shocked folks both in Broward and South Bay. The town of about 4,500 is as poverty-stricken as any you will ever see. The median household income there is about $23,000, less than half of the national average. The population is two-thirds black, 20 percent Hispanic, and about 12 percent white. About half the children in the town live in poverty.
Those are the dismal statistics, but as one upset resident told me, to grasp the sorry state of affairs in South Bay, you have to drive the neighborhood roads. I've never seen such pathetic city streets and it's not just potholes -- it's long gullies and slopes, a lack of any kind of uniformity of width, stretches that look as if the concrete was poured over the ground in the crudest fashion.
It's startling to see. Residents say they've been shortchanged for decades by their government and there's plenty of evidence in plain sight that they're right. Now South Bay has little government to speak of -- along with the suspension of city manager Alston, three commissioners, including the mayor and vice mayor, have also been suspended for allegedly violating the Sunshine Law when they agreed to allow Alston's illegal payout in secretive talks. That leaves just two commissioners.
"We don't have a government," said former Commissioner Willie Marshall.
What makes the Alston's actions so despicable, if the charge is true, is that he has taken advantage of those with so very little. But Marshall told me that it's not just the allegation of stolen money that has him upset, but that he noticed Alston was rarely at work to earn his $105,000 annual salary.
"I would never have approved that salary," said Marshall. "Corey’s not there … we need somebody who is going to be in the city of South Bay."
One of those two remaining commissioners in South Bay, Joe Kyles, said he's been complaining for months that Alston is rarely in the city to earn his salary. He lists his address in Lauderhill, more than an hour's drive from city hall. But when I went to that address to try to speak with Alston, the woman who owns the house said she doesn't know anyone named Corey Alston. And she said she's been living in the house for five years.
Soon after the video above aired, I heard from others who had dealings with Alston. The ensuing report will come to the blog soon.