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My name is David Arthur Walters. I am an independent journalist.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ethics Commission Report in re Miami Beach Fire Marshal Sonia Machen

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Irregularities in Miami Beach lobbyist registrations questioned

26 November 2014

Rafael Granado, Esq.
City of Miami Beach
via email

Re: Scott Robins & Lobbyist Registration Irregularities

Dear Sir:

I have discovered three lobbyist registration irregularities during my cursory research into the affairs of prominent public figure Scott Robins:

Date:               13 September 2010
Lobbyist:         Scott Robins, Developer
Principal:         Scott Robins Companies (SRC Properties LLC)
Issue:               Sunset Harbour Parking Garage
Lobbied:          City Commission
Violation:        Failure to identify person(s) who hold 5% of more interest in principal

Date:               12 February 2012
Lobbyist:         Michael W. Larkin, Attorney
Principal:         Bay Road Partners, LLC
Issue:               Parking District for Sunset Harbour Neighborhood
Lobbied:          Undisclosed
Violation:        Failure to identify person(s) who hold 5% of more interest in principal. Failure to disclose officials lobbied.

Date:               1 March 2013
Lobbyist:         Les P. Bellison, Architect
Principal:         Espanola Way Associates Ltd.
Issue:               Downsize hotel rooms at 405-419(b) Espanola Way
Lobbied:          Board of Adjustment
Violation:        Failure to identify person(s) who hold 5% of more interest in principal.                                          

As you know, the failure to identify persons who hold a 5% or more interest in principals lobbied for is a fundamental therefore most serious violation of Sec.2-482 (c) of the Miami Beach Code of Ordinances. The Preamble of Enabling Ordinance 92-2777 clearly states the intention of the legislation:

“WHEREAS, all citizens of the City of Miami Beach have the right to know how their elected and appointed officials make decisions and carry out their functions in a manner that guarantees all actions are taken in the best interests of the City; and WHEREAS, this right of the people to know includes ascertaining the names of all parties having an interest in the outcome of a legislative or administrative decision, and who meet with the elected or appointed officials outside of the public's view; and WHEREAS, in order to continue to restore confidence in the citizens of Miami Beach that the current Mayor and city Commission will undertake reforms of past practices that sometimes left in doubt the fairness, openness and honesty of Government, the Mayor and City Commission wish to pass into law measures to assure that special interests do not obtain a greater voice in the decisions of the City than the voice an opinion held by any individual. NOW THEREFORE BE IT ORDAINED….”

Twenty-two years later we still have good reason, rooted in long experience with human nature, to doubt the integrity of our government: it is likely to be unfair, closed, and dishonest if we fail to question it and get the answers we need.

The following comes to mind in respect to the irregularities I noted above.

The downsizing of the rooms upstairs at 405 thru 419B Espanola Way, to increase the number of rooms stated from 36 to 44, in order to gain revenue from an additional 8 rooms, was approved by the Board of Adjustment, File No. 3622.  The deed is done: it is too late to have the lobbyist registration corrected so the public would know everyone who was involved. Curiously, the county appraiser publishes the total number of rooms for the entire parcel, including the Espanola Way Suites at 433 Espanola Way, which has another 12 units not counted for the adjustment, as numbering only 24 units (Folio 02-3234-015-0010). Public access to Permit Manager has been denied for nearly two weeks now, with no regrets expressed by IT, so I am unable to ascertain whether the remodeling of the ancient suites, as evident in advertised photographs, was permitted by the city.

Espanola Way Suites had its application for a certificate of use denied, yet it has been allowed to operate continuously for nearly three years without a certificate of use or business tax receipt license, yet the operator of the Sadigo hotel was arrested and had his tenants thrown onto the street for not having the right kind of license for his hotel, allegedly in retaliation for previously exposing the corruption of city officials. Mr. Robins was reportedly asked for some missing engineering information on a change of use, and failed to provide it. Perhaps his secretary missed the request, and, city officials, having the computer software to blame, forgot to follow up for three years.

The same goes with the done deal with the city at Sunset Harbour—I recall that the agreement between Mr. Robins’ interests and the city prohibits the public/private relationship from being called a partnership. The deed is done; the public is deprived of its right to know: it would be inutile to cure the defective registration by filling in the blanks now. As you may know, Commissioner Ed Tobin did reveal that he had a conflict of interest in the Tremont Towing property on Bay Road because his firm represented Scott Robins Companies, also his campaign fund contributor.  The county ethics commission, after the investigator reduced the charges to violating the cone of silence in respect to bidding, dismissed case C08-32 with a patronizing letter instructing officials to seek its advice before doing things that might generate complaints.

It should not just be assumed that Scott Robins owns 100% of every entity lobbied for. It should be sworn to under penalties of perjury. For all we know, Mr. Tobin or some other deciding official may have owned either directly or indirectly an interest in the Robin’s firms that were involved in the development of the Sunset Harbour neighborhood.

All this is intended to illustrate the gravity of the disclosure requirement, and not suggest any lack of integrity on the part of Mr. Tobin, for whom the commission waived an ethics requirement so he could realize his lifelong dream of being a police officer.

I certainly do not question the personal integrity of contractor/developer Scott Robins, who is publicly heralded as a foremost savior of South Beach’s dilapidated historic structures, and lauded as a most generous philanthropist, a virtuous and diplomatic gentleman of exceeding integrity.  

Nor do I question the integrity of the lawyer and the architect who lobbied for the sake of Mr. Robins’ interests in business entities that shield him from personal liability.

No, the issue here is not Scott Robins et al, but due process of law, that the city’s officials, including city clerks, should be most diligent in seeing that everyone, even Scott Robins and his architects and lawyers, comply with the ordinance, which provides, in part, that the city clerk may report violations to the county ethics commission for investigation and prosecution.

I do question the integrity of the city government in hopes that my questions will help integrate the words of its legislation with its deeds. To that end I thank you for your excellent service, and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving,

Very truly yours,

David Arthur Walters


Raul Aguila, City Attorney
City of Miami Beach

Nelson Bellido, Chairman
Joe Centorino, Director
Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Miami Beach Police Ticket Bicyclers on Ritzy Lincoln Road

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Miami Dade Ethics Commission Stonewalls the Public

Political Cartoon by Marian Del Vecchio
Secrecy may be maintained until Doomsday
22 November 2014
By David Arthur Walters
Miami Beach—Nelson Bellido, Esq. Chairman of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust (COE) did not respond directly to the Miami Mirror’s inquiry yesterday as to whether or not it had taken or would take any action on an Information filed on 15 October with Joe Centorino, Esq., the director of its staff, in regards of the failure of several lobbyists for Miami Beach real estate developments to either register as lobbyists or to disclose the names of the persons heading the limited liability companies they represented, and the identities of anyone holding a 5% or more interest in those entities, as required by the city’s lobbyist ordinance 92-2777.
Certain kinds of artificial persons are commonly organized not only to shield their officers, investors and beneficiaries from personal liability, but to conceal the identities of such natural persons. Therefore, the commission of the City of Miami Beach, observing that all citizens have a right to know what their officials are doing, a right that includes knowing the names of parties influencing legislation and administrative decisions, mandated that:
"If the lobbyist represents a corporation partnership or trust the chief officer partner or beneficiary shall also be identified. Without limiting the foregoing, the lobbyist shall also identify all persons holding directly or indirectly a five percent 5 or more ownership interest in such corporation partnership or trust." (Ordinance 92-2777, as adopted 4 March 1992)
Instead of responding directly to a member of the legitimate press who serves the public as a delator* i.e. a common informer, Mr. Bellido was purportedly bound to take cover behind the skirts of the county code as summarized by COE Communications Director Rhonda Sibilia.
“When information is received by this office regarding a possible violation of any ordinance under this agency’s jurisdiction, it is confidential,” Ms. Sibilia advised.  “Once probable cause is found, the case is closed or the complaint is dismissed, we can acknowledge it publicly.  Until either of those things occurs, we can neither confirm nor deny our participation.  I hope you understand that these are parameters we must operate under according to the enabling ordinance that established the Ethics Commission.”
Indeed, Sec. 2-1074(e) of the Miami-Dade Code of Ordinances states that, “All proceedings, the complaint, and other records relating to the preliminary investigation as provided herein shall be confidential and exempt from the provisions of Section 119, Florida Statutes, either until the alleged violator requests in writing that such investigation and records be made public records or the preliminary investigation is completed notwithstanding any provision of Chapter 120, Florida Statutes, and Chapter 286, Florida Statutes. As provided in Section 2-1074(b), the preliminary investigation is completed when the probable cause determination is made. All other proceedings conducted pursuant to this subsection shall be public meetings within the meaning of Chapter 286, Florida Statutes, and all other documents made or received by the Ethics Commission shall be public records within the of Chapter 119, Florida Statutes.”
A complaint was not filed with the COE. Public information—lobbyist registration forms with inadequacies acknowledged by the city clerk—was simply brought before the director with this underlying statement: “The City of Miami Beach has evidently been remiss in diligently enforcing its lobbyist ordinance in crucial provisions, at least in respect to these lobbyists and their principals. It may also be negligent in providing for effective penalties and adequate remedies so that the goal of compliance will more likely be obtained in the future. This communication comprises an Information, and not a Complaint, therefore you are left to act on your own initiative according to your conscience while the lobbying industry and the public watches.”
Nothing in Sec. 2-1074(e) prohibits the COE from affirming or denying that an investigation has been opened or will be conducted into information brought before its staff. Even if a formal complaint were filed, nothing would prohibit the commission from acknowledging that one has been received or that an investigation has been or will be initiated, while, at the same time, refusing to provide any specific record such as the complaint itself or investigative documents.
The Florida Bar has a rule similar to the county ordinance, yet it will acknowledge to the press that an investigation of an attorney is underway providing that the request provides specific identifying information. In the United Kingdom, the agency that handles complaints publishes online the names of lawyers against whom current investigations are pending. The failure to publish this kind of information may prevent members of the public from coming forward to testify against miscreants before their cases are decided.
Hopefully every civilized citizen knows that people are innocent until proven guilty. The type of secrecy employed here is designed not only to protect the innocent, but officials who wish to protect their colleagues and/or cloak their negligence and other forms of malfeasance.
We may reasonably infer from Ms. Sibilia’s statement in this instance that damning information could be received by the COE, never inquired into, or, if inquired into, never acted upon, and anyone following up to see if the behavior of officials were appropriate would be confronted by a boilerplated stonewall.
Now let us imagine, arguendo, that Mr. Centorino, a former public corruption prosecutor, looked at the Information filed with him, and decided that no action should be taken since it was not a complaint filed by the city clerk, the process provided for by the local ordinance, which the city clerk, Rafael Granado, Esq., decided not to follow, instead electing to ask the lobbyists to file corrected forms long after the issues lobbied on were decided on information hidden from the public view.
If that were the case, then Mr. Centorino, and Mr. Bellido as well, since a copy of the Information was filed with him, could be in violation of Florida’s public records law as well as the county’s Citizens Bill of Rights and the very rule referred to by Ms. Sibilia, since the decision to take no action would in effect be a dismissal or finding of no probable cause.
Indeed, a common complaint against investigative bodies, especially bar regulators, is that officials dismiss most complaints they receive without investigating them and entering them onto a public record for everyone to view. The Florida Bar keeps a record of complaints it does investigate and dismiss for a year before destroying them. Police departments make records of dismissed complaints against police officers public, but some departments have begun to destroy the records when a short period of time expires, so private watchdogs attempt to collect them beforehand because they might indicate a pattern of misconduct by certain officers even though the complaints were dismissed.
On the other hand, let us assume that Mssrs. Centorino and Bellido comply with the law. Then we may interpret the silence here as an affirmation (qui tacet consentire videtur) that an investigation has been initiated. Still, if the investigation is never concluded, the public shall be kept in the dark forever and ever or until Doomsday when officials are judged.
# #
* The Common Informer, with his eyes constantly fixed on the flaws and crookednesses of the statutes, and feeding upon them, contracts in his features an habitual sharpness and wary meanness of expression…. The Common Informer may be an injured goodness, a real benevolence under a cloud of odium; inasmuch as his labours, suspected and despised as they always are, may, in many instances, enforce the working out of legislative wisdom…. A celebrated Informer laid an information against the servants of our maiden queen for having failed to emblazon her initials on the vehicle….  And why have we thus dwelt upon this ancient folly,--this grim absurdity of our law-makers? Simply, that it is to their love of the obscure--to their admiration of the dim twilight of sense, in preference to the broad daylight of truth--that we owe nearly all the labours of the Common Informer…. Bentham has declared the functions of the Common Informer to be most honourable: in truth, Cato, with his sour face and bare feet, might have plied the trade, gaining a civic wreath for the energy and utility of his practice.... (Jerrold, Douglas, ‘The Common Informer,’ in HEADS OF THE PEOPLE, PORTRAITS OF THE ENGLISH, Vizetelly & Co., London: 1840

Miami Dade Ethics Commission Secrecy May Protect Miscreants Forever

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Will Miami Dade Ethics Chairman address lobbyist irregularities?

21 November 2014
Nelson Bellido, Esq., Chairman
via email
Follow Up: Information Filed re Lobbyist Law Violations in City of Miami Beach
Dear Mr. Bellido:
Attached you will find a self-explanatory copy of an unacknowledged Information filed on 15 October with Commission on Ethics (COE) director Joe Centorino, Esq. regarding cause to believe that five lobbyists violated the lobbyist ordinance of the City of Miami Beach.
I understand that the COE has jurisdiction over lobbyist issues, and, upon information found or provided, the COE may, without a complaint being filed by any member of the public or public official, proceed with an investigation if the information includes reason to suspect that lobbyists have violated relevant codes.
Please advise in writing whether the COE has taken or will take any action on the Information filed, and, if so, the nature of that action.
 If I receive no response by deadline on 1 December, I shall assume that silence confirms that it has not and will not act on the Information (Qui tacet consentire videtur).
Very truly yours,
David Arthur Walters
Joe Centorino, Esq. Director
Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust
Raul Aguila, Esq., City Attorney
City of Miami Beach
Rafael Granado, Esq., Clerk
City of Miami Beach

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Past Due Process and the Princes of Miami Beach

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Miami Beach Resident Says South Pointe Park a Friggin Mess

Republic Bike Crawl at South Pointe Park

A resident whose name is withheld for fear of retaliation again visited South Pointe Park in South Beach after reading our reports of the scofflawry there including but not limited to people riding bikes on elevated walks, riding in organized bicycle groups with dozens of members riding on walkways, riding prohibited motorized vehicles on the sidewalks, allowing dogs to run loose in the park, failing to clean up after dogs, obstructing sidewalks with photo-shoots, erecting signs on fences, and obstructing park areas with large commercial exercise classes.
"I finally visited the new pier at South Pointe. Segways and bicycles dominated the pedestrian walkway, It's a friggin' mess. You are correct, no police or park security in sight, just thousands of tourists."




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Police Nice to Code Violating Bicylists on South Beach's Lincoln Road

Edinburgh classifies bicycling in restricted areas "antisocial behavior"

It appears that the police power of the City of Miami Beach has adopted a lenient, non-enforcement attitude toward violations of ordinances prohibiting bicycles on crowded Lincoln Road. A resident reported to me that on 14 November a half dozen bicyclists passed her by on Lincoln Road, one pushing her aside, at which time she observed a "nest of police officers," so she asked one of the officers  why police officers were not enforcing the prohibition of bicycling at the pedestrian mall. She herself bicycles, and is long aware of the prohibition and the plethora of complaints about the illegal activity. A big electronic notice was recently taken down at Lincoln Road. She said the officer told her the fine was too big so the officers were handing out warning flyers, not tickets. Last week I actually thanked two officers for ticketing a bicyclist, but now I realize he was smiling because he was just given a flyer. I informed brass of the event, and no effort was made to correct my perception that a ticket was handed out. She said she asked the police officer if she would get a flyer instead of a ticket if she ran a red light, at which retort the officer became extremely serious as if his authority were being challenged. Of course he was just doing his duty as commanded from the top down; the mayor, manager, the chief, I presume. This lenient policy should be published to ameliorate the misunderstanding that Code and police officers are not doing their jobs in respect to quality of life issues in the south district.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Miami Beach Code Compliance Gets Gold Star from Chronic Critic

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