The Miami Mirror
- Name: David Arthur Walters
My name is David Arthur Walters. I am an independent journalist.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Miami Beach City Attorney Strip Club OpInion
Miami Beach Selective Enforcement, Due Process and Equal Protection
August 26, 2014
George Castell, Administrator
CODE COMPLIANCE DEPARTMENT
City of Miami Beach, Florida
Subject: Selective Enforcement, Due Process & Equal Protection
Dear Mr. Castell:
Thank you for your diligence in following up on almost all of my specific concerns over the years. You are the only person in Compliance whom I trust.
You referred me to the city’s Communications Department for a response to some of my main concerns; for example, selective enforcement, and a want of proactivity in enforcement, excused by lack of staffing resources because staff is allegedly too busy responding to complaints, and, when that is not the case, as it is often not according to my surveillance, then the objective is compliance not punishment.
Nannette Rodriquez, Director of Communications, has evaded my questions on policy with a virtual no comment.
Attached you will find images I took last evening at around 1920 hours of furnishings strewn and stacked at a restaurant on the southeast corner of 5th Street and Washington Avenue. Several months ago, I sent along images of the same situation, along with images of heaters stored on the sidewalk on Washington Avenue, plants overgrown, et cetera, not because I personally had any objections to the restaurant but because on several occasions I had noticed various kinds of violations enforced against only one or two establishments while the same situation at restaurants all over South Beach, including this one, were ignored.
As you know so well, I have been informed by restaurateurs that they were harassed on these issues and others in retaliation for their objections to the selective enforcement policy and other Code Compliance behavior.
Those phenomena gave me the impression that your officers might be engaged in a pattern of civil rights violations. However, as you may recall, I like to give them the benefit of the doubt because of my personal experience with the great job you have done in your supervisory capacity whenever I made inquiries.
Still, I have a nagging suspicion that something stinks in the Code Compliance Department despite the number of times it has been washed. I hope you will get it cleaned up before more magicians are called in to work their magic on both sides.
David Arthur Walters
Collins Park Area Parking Fiasco
August 26, 2014
Philip Levine, Mayor
Jimmy Morales, Manager
|CITY OF MIAMI BEACH
Subject: Collins Park Area Parking Fiasco
Businesses in the Collins Park area have called to my attention a serious shortage of parking space that you may want to alleviate: Hundreds of construction workers are absorbing all the parking space in and around the Collins Park area before the normal workforce and their customers arrive to do business.
No effort to carpool is made by the construction workers. Virtually all parking spots—on 21st Street west of Collins to Washington; 22nd Street west of Collins Avenue to Washington Avenue; Liberty Avenue north of 22nd; Park Ave north of 21st Street; and parking lots P48, P49, P51, P52—are filled with construction workers’ cars and trucks from seven o’clock in the morning to four o’clock in the afternoon.
That leaves no parking spots for any other workers in the area. Furthermore, customers are lost because they are frustrated and disenchanted by the complete absence of parking spots.
For example, employees and patrons of the three major public institutions around Collins Park must park over a mile away from their workplaces after driving around for an hour searching for a parking space. Parents who pay a premium prince for their children to attend dance classes at City Ballet School innocently cause gridlock to the area because they have nowhere to park to pick up and drop off their kids. Patrons of the new Regional Library have had their book holds rerouted to other branches because they cannot find parking to go into the library to get their books, and parents can no longer bring their children to programs during the day, thus impacting the important statistics which keep libraries viable in our community. And I understand that Bass Museum attendance is down.
Everyone concerned hopes that you will develop programs to alleviate this troublesome condition given your interest in maintaining the quality of life during rapid real estate development. For instance, perhaps construction workers could be encouraged to carpool. Perhaps the lot behind city hall, which is vacant ninety-percent of the time, could be utilized to park construction workers cars, from whence the construction companies could shuttle the workers back and forth to their work sites. And so on.
David Arthur Walters
PARKING "VULTURES" ATTACK SOBE CONSTRUCTION SITE
Saturday, August 23, 2014
South Beach Restauranteur Accused of Making Money Legally
South Beach Flame Restaurant Vandalized by Discriminatory Code Enforcement
Third World Code Enforcement in Miami Beach
Miami Dade Ethics Commission Lobbying Code Questioned
23 August 2014
Nelson Bellido, Esq., Chairman
MIAMI DADE COUNTY COMMISSION ON ETHICS AND PUBLIC TRUST
RE: Uncoordinated Miami Beach & Miami Dade County Lobbying codes
Preliminary to spot-checking the records of the clerk of the City of Miami Beach for violations of the city’s lobbying ordinance in respect to failures to register, failures to withdraw, and failures to submit annual statements, I encountered what seems to be a failure of the city code to refer to a provision in the county code that would provide county penalties for ethics violations. My August 11 inquiry to the city attorney on the matter has not been acknowledged to date.
The Miami Beach Code of Ordinances, besides specifying fines for failure to file disclosure and expenditure statements, provides for penalties as follows:
“Sec. 2-485.1. Penalties. (a) A finding by the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust that a person has violated this division shall subject said person to those penalties set forth within subsections 2-11.1(s) and (z) of the Metropolitan Dade County Code, said penalties including admonition, public reprimand, fines, as well as prohibitions from registering as a lobbyist or engaging in lobbying activities before the city….”
Subsection 2-11.1(s) (Lobbying) of Section 2-11.1. (Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics Ordinance), provides for the following under 2-11.1(s)(9):
“(9) The Ethics Commission shall investigate any person engaged in lobbying activities who may be in violation of this subsection (s). In the event that a violation is found to have been committed the Ethics Commission may, in addition to the penalties set forth in subsection (z), prohibit such person from lobbying before the County Commission or any committee, board or personnel of the County as provided herein….”
However, Subsection 2-11.1(z) is not relevant to penalties, reading as follows:
“(z) Prohibition on participation in settlement negotiations. Neither the Mayor, a County Commissioner nor any member of their staff shall participate in settlement negotiations of claims or lawsuits, including but not limited to contract scope or compensation adjustments involving the County without prior approval of the Board of County Commissioners….”
Since (z) as referred to in the ordinance is irrelevant to penalties in the county ordinance, it appears that there is in fact no consequence for violations other than the fines specified in the municipal ordinance.
The county code, under 2-11.1(cc)(1) reads:
“(cc) Penalty. (1) Proceeding before Ethics Commission. A finding by the Ethics Commission that a person has violated this section shall subject said person to an admonition or public reprimand and/or a fine of five hundred dollars ($500.00) for the first such violation and one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) for each subsequent violation. Where the Ethics Commission finds that a person has intentionally violated this section and determines that a fine is appropriate, said person shall be subject to a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) for the first such violation and two thousand dollars ($2,000.00) for each subsequent violation….”
However, the city code does not refer to (cc). Again, if the city code fails to gibe with the county code, and respective codes are strictly read, there appears to be no county penalty under the city code because the latter refers to a county section that does not so provide.
Please advise if my understanding of relationship between the city and county codes are correct. If so, Miami Beach complainants should be advised by the media that the Ethics Commission has no statutory remedy in the form of penalties.
And I have a related question: The city ordinance excludes from the definition of lobbyist unpaid representatives of neighborhood associations, but they must, prior to communicating with subject city personnel, disclose in writing to the city clerk, their name, address, and principal on whose behalf they are communicating. What is the penalty for the willful failure of a representative of a neighborhood association to make such a disclosure? Would that an issue for the ethics commission consider?
Very truly yours,
David Arthur Walters
Rhonda Victor Sibilia, Community Outreach
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Miami Beach Code Compliance Performance Questioned
August 21, 2014
Director of Communications
CITY OF MIAMI BEACH
Director of Communications
CITY OF MIAMI BEACH
Subject: Specific Question No. 1 in re Code Compliance Performance
Thank you very much for asking me for a specific question in response to my plea for your sophisticated comments regarding my perspectives on the performance Code Compliance Department, which was lately a Division of the Building Department.
I shall start at the top, with the administration of that department, which is supposedly responsible for the behavior that members of the community have been wont to criticize from time to time, and not always negatively. Lest my specific question be taken out of context and curtly dismissed with an irrelevant answer, you shall find below a brief History of the Question. Since the Question is loaded, a Proposition that I do not endorse is given.
Why were the top two administrators of Code Compliance promoted to permanent and more powerful positions as heads of a new standalone department without any overall empirical evidence of improved performance in the field and considerable evidence to the contrary?
A political insider friendly to the previous administration has proposed that the director of the Code Compliance Department and his assistant are “Untouchables” regardless of the administration in power because the director “is FBI” and the assistant “has something on everyone,” therefore they will remain in their positions as long as they like regardless of the performance of their department in the field.
HISTORY OF THE QUESTION
The Police Department and the Building Department, of which Code Compliance was a division, have been the most scandalized city departments in recent history, so much so that the Building Department has been characterized as a racketeer-influenced corrupt organization.
City Manager Jimmy Morales, a very nice guy and a political insider without city management experience who was appointed on April Fool’s Day 2013 to clean up the city after the most recent scandal broke, has bragged that he has fired scores of employees to that end, the great number of them lower echelon workers.
As for department heads, he did not fire the building director and his assistant; he simply placed a friend of his from the troubled Miami Building Department over them as director, and they instituted a “successful phased permitting” process to boom construction for big developers without a full, comprehensive permit, utilizing private inspectors, on the condition that the city be held harmless for any damages—the program is basically a confession of incompetence to handle the workload. There have been little or no empirical verifications of overall improvement in the performance of that department that I am aware of.
Although the police chief and his deputy had done a remarkable job of responding to the cries for sorely needed reform in their department, they were resented for past behavior and punished for their good behavior with dismissal or forced resignation. And now the unelected political insider who actually runs the city by default has brought in outsiders to the police department, a celebrity chief, from Colorado, and the city’s first black female deputy chief, from Texas.
Completely untouchable have been the heads of the Code Compliance Division of the Building Department. Most of the community had nothing but contempt for the performance of the division; clamors were repeatedly raised for reform to no avail. Robert-Santos Alborna, a financial analyst and planner whose most extensive administrative experience appears to be setting up an animal services department for the county, was transferred from the troubled Building Department by former city manager Jorge Gonzalez on November 1, 2010, to head the Compliance Division until a new director could be found. Shortly thereafter, on May 24, 2011, Mr. Gonzalez appointed him Director of Code Compliance based on his resume and alleged devotion to customer service.
“Robert will continue to report to the Building Department's Assistant Director,” proclaimed Mr. Gonzalez, who would soon be forced to resign in disgrace, “but will work closely with my executive staff on issues that remain a priority for the City, and provide support in the review of the City's code compliance processes when that is initiated.”
Whether or not Mr. Santos-Alborna deserved it, he became despised by several people intimate with Compliance operations even before he became the subject of a fruitless F.B.I. investigation. Even Commissioner Ed Tobin engaged in heated email exchanges with Mr. Gonzalez criticizing the performance of Code Compliance under Mr. Alborna.
“We must ask why we have all this corruption,” Mr. Tobin emailed Mr. Gonzalez on April 24, 2012. “Corruption in this instance is a byproduct of the lack of oversight and accountability. The waste and mistakes we have pointed out over the years is staggering. I must hold you accountable for a host of matters both in and out of the news papers of late that bear on your ability to manage. I am sure that this latest scandal involving the code inspectors will NOT be our last. What will we say when the next scandal strikes. Who will we hold accountable? Many of the residents wanted an audit, and you suggested we wait a while since your Director, Robert Santos was new to the job and by all accounts the department was doing well. The residents thought the unfounded rate was suspiciously high and you assured us no corruption existed. You were a strong advocate for no audit.”
Hernan Cardeno, Esq. a sworn police officer, was transferred from the police department or demoted to be appointed commander of Compliance in 2012 while Mr. Santos-Alborna “assisted” the F.B.I. with its investigation. Upon the completion of that investigation, both remained, with Mr. Cardeno in charge.
Rick Falls, a part-time code compliance employee who agreed to wear a wire and to record telephone conversations with his superiors for the feds after four code compliance officers and two firefighters were arrested on April 11, 2012, said he was harassed for helping the feds, that Mr. Cardeno called him a troublemaker, retaliating against him after Mr. Alborna returned to his duties. However, you (Nannette Rodriquez) said you did not “think” there had been any retaliation. (New Times, April 9, 2014) Mr. Falls transferred to another department, where he is highly regarded as an excellent worker.
On January 15, 2014, the Code Compliance Division of the Building Department was converted to its own standalone department. Mr. Cardeno was appointed its first director, with Mr. Santos as his assistant, based on Mr. Cardeno’s resume, without any critical or empirical assessment of his performance. City Manager Morales’ recommendation confessed his faith in Mr. Cardeno: “I believe that the Code Compliance Department is starting to come out of the shadows of past scandals, which namely, I attribute to Mr. Cardeno's extensive experience in law enforcement and leadership skills.”
“Jimmy L. Morales, City Manager, explained that there were issues with the Code Department some time ago, and previous management asked Mr. Cardeno to come from the Police Department. Mr. Cardeno has been working closely to clean up the Department along with Robert Santos-Alborna. Many changes have been made. Code is currently part of Building Department and the City Manager is suggesting creating Code as a separate department; and as a result, Mr. Cardeno has been acting as the Director of that subgroup, and he has earned the opportunity to work as Director of Code, due to his integrity and transparency. He has committed to the City Manager that he will be 100% dedicated to work in this function and recommends approval of his appointment.” (Afteraction, January 15, 2014)
The City Commission, without any factual evidence of the “changes” alleged by Mr. Morales, or of any concrete improvements, rubberstamped the formation of the standalone department, which provides its director with more executive authority than a division head, and the appointment of Mr. Cardeno as its director.
Indeed, Commissioner Michael Grieco stated to the Miami Herald that the commission “almost always” blindly follows the recommendations of the city manager, a formula that is a virtual prescription for dictatorship under an unelected official.
Commissioner Ed Tobin, his attitude apparently changed since the removal of Jorge Gonzalez from office and his alliance with the reformist majority on the commission sponsored by wealthy businessman Mayor Philip Levine, stated that “Mr. Cardeno is a person of great integrity with an extensive law enforcement background. The City is lucky to have him and he congratulated him.” (Afteraction, January 15, 2014)
On April 28, 2014, eager for some factual basis for this profound restructuring, I asked City Clerk Rafael Granado for “any reports supplied to the City Commission supporting, with measureable i.e. objective evidence of improved performance of the Code Compliance Division, the City Manager's January 15 appointment of Hernan Cardeno as Director of the to-be-created Code Compliance Department. Attached you will find the Commission Memorandum supplied to me by Mr. Cardeno wherein Mr. Morales urges a resolution confirming his appointment of Mr. Cardeno. I see no reference therein to measurable empirical improvements of the Code Compliance Division itself since Mr. Cardeno was appointed its commander about two years ago. I suppose that was given as an attachment to the Administrative Recommendation, or separately, and I would like to have a copy.
On April 29, 2014, the Mr. Granado informed me that “The Office of the City Manager has notified us that there are no records responsive to your request.”
Although Mssrs. Cardeno and Alborna have always been courteous and helpful to me personally, their service as administrators has been less than satisfactory, in my opinion, except in their ability to smooth ruffled feathers while not effectively improving customer service in the field.
However, I am only one person. Supporters are inclined to praise the “new” Code Compliance Department and its officers. That praise may or may not be due to the honeymoon effect, the fact that people, who are charmed by the charisma their high expectations have endowed their new set of leaders with, are disinclined to criticize their own judgment unless something goes terribly wrong. Like Commissioner Tobin, I believe it will go wrong unless that attitude changes quickly; unlike him, my skepticism will not be diminished by a change of guard, handsome resumes, and the “integrity” of team players.
Therefore, since my observations of ineffective supervision and misconduct in the field are anecdotal, I asked high officials and the city’s internal auditor to conduct a thorough audit of the records to compare the results with the results of the previous audits to see if there has been any improvement.
I was greeted with absolute silence. Need I ask why?
David Arthur Walters