January 09, 2015

New Miami-Dade commission chairman hires top mayoral critic as policy adviser


In one of his first moves as chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, Jean Monestime plans to hire a top critic of Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Terry Murphy, a former aide to ex-Commissioner Natacha Seijas, would serve as policy adviser to the office of the chair, according to a Jan. 7 county intent-to-hire memo. Murphy would start Jan. 19, with an annual salary of $101,000, the memo says.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to serve the Chair, and am grateful for the opportunity," Murphy said in a text message Friday afternoon while he was in meetings.

Monestime's chief of staff, Gerard Philippeaux, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Murphy's hiring raised eyebrows around County Hall, where insiders wondered whether Monestime, a Democrat, was sending the Republican Gimenez a message. Murphy, who has a doctorate in public affairs and is an adjunct professor at Florida International University, has been working as a government-relations consultant to county labor unions, who have locked heads repeatedly with Gimenez over contracts and employee benefits. 

However, Gimenez's communications director, Mike Hernández, congratulated Murphy in a statement to the Miami Herald and made no mention of those disagreements.

"We look forward to working with Mr. Murphy and the entire commission staff," Hernández said.

January 06, 2015

Miami-Dade mayor attends Gov. Rick Scott's inauguration


Florida Gov. Rick Scott invited Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to his inauguration in Tallahassee on Tuesday, and Gimenez went -- by land.

Gimenez and his chief of staff, Alex Ferro, carpooled in one vehicle Monday, according to Mike Hernández, Gimenez's spokesman.

Google Maps lists the drive from County Hall to the Governor's Mansion at 478 miles -- 6 hours and 43 minutes shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday, though anyone who's driven between the two cities knows the drive can be longer than that if there's bad traffic (here's looking at you, Greater Orlando area).

The trip could cost the mayor's office travel budget about $1,800, Hernández said, taking into account the cost of two hotel rooms for one night and a $556.71 mileage reimbursement. (He later said the total would be actually be closer to $1,000.)

But Gimenez might have some relationship-building to do. He toyed with leaving the Republican Party a few days before the Republican Scott was reelected -- an idea that made Scott's campaign less than happy, given that it highlighted the fact that Gimenez had not publicly campaigned with the governor.

Gimenez did fundraise for Scott, though, and said he planned to vote for him.

December 22, 2014

Miami-Dade police union wants to subpoena mayor, county commission chairwoman in labor dispute


During a 12-hour Miami-Dade County Commission hearing a year ago, Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa spoke for about five minutes, on the dais but away from the microphones.

That conversation has become a focal point in a legal dispute between the county and its police union, which contends the two elected officials broke the law when they spoke privately during a public meeting.

A hearing officer for Florida's labor appeals board ruled last week that the Dade County Police Benevolent Association could subpoena Sosa and Gimenez to compel them to disclose what they talked about. The Dec. 5, 2013, hearing ended with commissioners voting to eliminate an unpopular worker healthcare contribution.

In her Dec. 18 orderSuzanne M. Choppin of the state's Public Employees Relations Commission, opined that the conversation is relevant to the PBA's case -- and that only the politicians who took part are in a position to disclose what was said.

"It is evident that, in this unusual case in which it is a private off-the-record- conversation between two high-ranking government officials that is at issue, the best and only reliable evidence on that crucial issue is the testimony of the participants in that conversation," Choppin wrote.

The county had argued in an earlier filing that the conversation was irrelevant to the union's complaint because it took place hours after the PBA was addressing the county commission -- and because Sosa ended up voting to eliminate the healthcare concession, as the union wanted.

Miami-Dade also argued the PBA should not be allowed to subpoena elected officials without first exhausting every other option. For example, the union could have compelled the mayor's then-deputy chief of staff, Alex Ferro, who was sitting next to him during the conversation with Sosa, to testify.

"Mr. Ferro is a lower ranking official who appears on the video as a person who may have knowledge of the conversation at issue," Candela wrote Dec. 16. "Notwithstanding, the PBA did not take even the most basic of steps to determine whether Ferro had knowledge of the alleged conversation."

Choppin dismissed that argument, saying Ferro was too far away from Gimenez -- and apparently not paying attention to the mayor's discussion with Sosa -- to be a likely source of accurate information.

The union is pursuing an unfair labor practice complaint against the county over its handling of the collective-bargaining impasse that resulted in last year's vote. 

Miami-Dade plans to appeal last week's order, Assistant County Attorney William Candela said Monday. 

December 11, 2014

Miami-Dade mayor's deputy takes on additional role as head of public works department


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has filled a vacancy atop the county's public works department -- by tapping one of his deputies to permanently take on the role.

Deputy Mayor Alina Hudak will serve as director of the Public Works and Waste Management Department in addition to her existing work, the mayor told county commissioners in a memo Thursday.

Hudak becomes the third Gimenez deputy to pull double duty. Ed Marquez also serves as finance director, and Jack Osterholt heads the Regulatory & Economic Resources Department.

The practice saves the county money -- Hudak didn't get a raise for taking on the new job, according to Gimenez's office -- but also piles onto each deputy mayor's plate. Each deputy is also charged with overseeing other departments and agencies.

Public works has been under Hudak's portfolio for three years, and she's been the department's interim director since October 2013. The previous director, Kathleen Woods-Richardson, is now the Miramar city manager.

"I have full confidence that Ms. Hudak will continue to lead the department successfully and smoothly," Gimenez wrote.

December 09, 2014

Miami-Dade mayor heads to New York for CBS News interview on race relations


Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez will be traveling Tuesday to New York, according to his office. The purpose of the trip: a "CBS Evening News" interview on how mayors handle race relations in the wake of national unrest about policing in minority communities.

Gimenez will be one of four mayors interviewed by anchor Scott Pelley, said the mayor's spokesman, Mike Hernández. The other mayors are from Seattle; Gary, Ind., and East Orange, N.J., he said. 

As Miami-Dade mayor, Gimenez oversees the largest municipal government in the Southeast. He's also  a former firefighter/paramedic who was working during the 1980 riots that followed the acquittal of a group of county cops for the beating death of motorist Arthur McDuffie, who was black.

The day trip will be paid for from the mayor's office budget, Hernández said. The cost of the plane tickets for Gimenez and Hernández, who is traveling with the mayor, was about $975, according to Hernández's office.

Dec. 11 update: Here's a link to the CBS Evening News report that aired Wednesday.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed the name of one of the cities represented by the four mayors. It's East Orange, N.J., not East Lawrence.

February 26, 2014

Carlos Lopez-Cantera earns his LG spot, headlines Rick Scott fundraiser with Miami-Dade mayor


Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 7.46.28 PM copyLess than a year after Rick Scott was elected governor, he was so disliked in South Florida that Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Carlos Gimenez said he didn't even vote for his fellow Republican.

What a difference a few years -- and the addition of Miami son Carlos Lopez-Cantera to Scott's ticket -- makes.

Behind the scenes, the newly minted lieutenant governor worked now-Mayor Gimenez to back Scott publicly and to hold a joint fundraising event for him on March 6 in Coral Gables. Here's the fundraising email from Gimenez backer Rafael Garcia-Toledo:

Continue reading "Carlos Lopez-Cantera earns his LG spot, headlines Rick Scott fundraiser with Miami-Dade mayor" »

April 23, 2013

PolitiFact: Gimenez's remark about the Dolphins' taxes is False

The Miami Dolphins are attempting to score what would be an incredibly fast political touchdown: a one-month campaign to convince Miami-Dade County voters to sign off on a stadium construction deal.

After nearly around the clock negotiations at the stadium and county hall, fueled by frequent runs for Cuban cafecito, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez hammered out a deal with the Dolphins.

During the county meeting on April 10, 2013, when commissioners signed off on the referendum, Commissioner Sally Heyman asked if the stadium would continue to pay property taxes. During the negotiations, the Dolphins proposed turning over the stadium ownership to the county. The team had also appealed their property taxes two years in a row but then dropped the appeals.

Gimenez replied:

"Commissioner, as far as I know the Miami Dolphins are the only professional team in the state of Florida that actually pays property taxes. And, as far as I know, the Dolphins are the only NFL team in the entire nation that pays property taxes. This does not change."

At PolitiFact Florida, our ears perk up when we hear that something is the "only" one in the country. Are the Miami Dolphins the only NFL team to pay property taxes? Read the answer at PolitiFact.com 

March 25, 2013

Miami-Dade mayor stumps for Coral Gables mayoral candidate

By Howard Cohen

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez popped over to the Biltmore Hotel’s Fontana Courtyard Tuesday evening to host a fundraiser for Coral Gables commissioner Ralph Cabrera.

Cabrera, who is term-limited, is seeking the Gables mayor’s seat in a race against incumbent Jim Cason.

Gimenez and Cabrera, two old pals who once coached football together at the Coral Gables Youth Center, swapped stories amid the politics.

Gimenez said he supported Cabrera’s campaign because of their personal connection — “Ralph and I have been friends a long time” — and because he feels that fiscal accountability will be a primary goal to tackle in Coral Gables.

“We have to bring in fiscal accountability and accountability in general, and he’s the better person for the job,” Gimenez said. “Not to take away from the current mayor, but Ralph would do a better job and we’ve known each other longer.”

More here.

March 21, 2013

Miami Dolphins: We'll use county money for stadium renovations only if we get 50th or 51st Super Bowl


The Miami Dolphins on Thursday committed to making a proposed special election to finance $400 million stadium renovations conditional on being awarded the 50th or 51st Super Bowl.

Dolphins CEO Mike Dee announced the team's position after returning from NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, an indication that a majority of owners support awarding the 2016 or 2017 Super Bowl to South Florida when they meet again on May 22.

"We have great confidence that South Florida will be awarded a Super Bowl on May 22," Dee told reporters at a Sun Life Stadium news conference.

When the team agreed to the referendum last month, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he might require the NFL to award South Florida a Super Bowl as a condition for spending mainland county hotel taxes on part of the stadium renovation.

"I don't want to be eligible for anything," Gimenez said at the time. "I'd like to see the results and actually land something."

Dee characterized adding the Super Bowl condition to a referendum as a "risk" the team is prepared to take. He rejected suggestions that agreement is a sign that the time-pressed Dolphins are trying to move along ongoing negotiations with Gimenez over a potential funding deal and efforts in the Florida Legislature to approve a hotel-tax hike and an additional state subsidy.

"I don't think it's a Hail Mary," Dee said.

Dee made the announcement along with Rodney Barreto, chair of South Florida Super Bowl Committee and one of the Dolphins' most vocal backers, who said "core" Super Bowl activities will take place in downtown Miami. The last time Sun Life Stadium hosted a Super Bowl, in 2010, most official NFL activities took place in Broward.

Last week, the committee rejected an NFL request to exempt league employees from local hotel taxes in exchange for landing a Super Bowl -- unlike South Florida's rival for the 50th game, Santa Clara, Calif., where a new $1.2 billion stadium is under construction for the San Francisco 49ers.

Miami-Dade mayor asks Florida whether Dolphins can pay for special election on stadium renovations


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez formally asked the Florida Division of Elections on Thursday to opine on whether a private entity -- the Miami Dolphins -- could cover the costs of a county election.

The Dolphins have agreed to a special election to ask Miami-Dade voters to raise mainland hotel taxes to partly fund a proposed $400 million renovation to Sun Life Stadium. The county elections department estimates the referendum would cost $3 million to $5 million.

When the team accepted his referendum condition, Gimenez said the county would have to bear the election expense because an existing state opinion from the 1980s prohibiting private companies from funding an election.

But in his request to Maria Mathews, head of the elections division, Gimenez also noted that state law was amended in 1992 to require parimutuels to indirectly pay for elections by depositing a sum with the county to cover the costs.

"I do not believe...that the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County should be forced to shoulder the costs (estimated between $3-5 million) of this election brought about by a request from a private party," Gimenez wrote. "I therefore intend to require the Miami Dolphins organization to pay for the costs of such an election."

Racetracks indirectly reimbursed Miami-Dade and Broward for nearly $7 million spent on a special gambling election in 2005.

Several county commissioners have said the Dolphins should pay for the election.