April 01, 2015

Key Biscayne lawsuit vs. Miami threatens to entangle the county as well


Update: Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Lindsay said that despite statements from County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, the village is not moving to include Miami-Dade County in the village's lawsuit against the city of Miami. Lindsay said she'd not seen Suarez's letter, but appreciated his efforts  as a mediator with the city and village.

"We have not discussed that. We have not contemplated that," she said. "It’s something that he may think is an appropriate strategy or he may be concerned about but it’s not something we’ve contemplated or discussed at all. We do feel that our lawsuit is squarely with the city."

A lawsuit between the Village of Key Biscayne and the City of Miami over plans to renovate and redevelop the Miami Marine Stadium and surrounding land is now threatening to put the squeeze on Miami-Dade County.

On Tuesday, in a letter to Miami Commission Chairman Wifredo "Willy" Gort, County Commissioner Xavier Suarez said Key Biscayne village officials are asking county commissioners to choose sides in the lawsuit. Meanwhile, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado is asking the county for an extension on a deadline to come up with a plan to use a $3 million grant the county gave the city five years ago to help renovate the historic but run-down stadium.

Key Biscayne village officials sued the city in February. They alleged that Miami's $16 million plan to create an outdoor exhibition space east of Marine Stadium would choke the only road in and out of Key Biscayne, and violate the city's zoning code and a county deed restriction on the property.

Late last month, following a fruitless mediation session, village officials voted to seek an injunction stopping the city from moving forward with construction of the event space, which must be completed by December in order to host the Miami International Boat Show. Suarez says the village council also asked Miami-Dade commissioners to "take a position" on the city's plans," and "are preparing to include the county in the pending litigation with the City of Miami." 

To avoid that, Suarez asked Gort to allow him to appear at Miami's April 9 commission meeting and hash out a series of concessions requested by Key Biscayne. Gort said Wednesday morning that he hadn't seen the letter, but wasn't inclined to agree to a public mediation.

"That's something we have to be careful about," he said.

In his letter to Gort, Suarez said he will support the city's request for a deadline extension. Otherwise, the city would have  to submit a plan to the county by Monday on how to use the money. Regalado says the city won't use the money to fund the creation of the outdoor event space.

March 31, 2015

Judge: Ex-Miami Lakes mayor can return to office

via @Paradise_Afshar

Former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi has won his reinstatement lawsuit against the town and current Mayor Wayne Slaton, although the judge who ruled in his favor issued a 30-day stay to allow the town time to appeal.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely ruled Tuesday afternoon that Pizzi can return immediately to his duties as mayor, and receive back payments, allowances and benefits from Aug. 13, 2013 to the present. The mayor’s position earns $18,000 annually, but that doesn’t include the cost of the benefits, which Pizzi figures exceeds $40,000 a year when tallying salary and benefits.

“This a total and complete victory for democracy and the constitution and rule of law,” Pizzi said following the ruling. “The big winners are the people of Miami Lakes, who are getting their rightfully elected mayor back where he belongs, in town hall — where I should have never left.”

Pizzi has been fighting to return to the mayoral seat since being acquitted of federal bribery charges in August 2014.

More here.

Miami Commissioner Willy Gort draws a challenger in reelection campaign


Looks like Miami Commission Chairman Wifredo "Willy" Gort will have to campaign to keep his seat after all.

Gort, who is running for his second consecutive term representing Miami's District 1, stood unopposed until Monday, when Miguel Angel Gabela filed to challenge him. Gabela, formerly a member of Miami's Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board, briefly filed to run against Gort in 2011 but quickly withdrew.

Although Gort only just now drew a challenger, he hasn't rested on his laurels. The incumbent had raised $86,000 as of the last campaign report, filed March 10.

Hialeah mayor pleads 5th more than 30 times in ethics deposition, calling it a 'circus'

via @jayhweaver

Accused of lying to the public about his high-interest loans, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez told Miami-Dade County ethics officials in a recent deposition that their case against him was a “political witch hunt.”

Hernandez pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination more than 30 times as he was peppered with questions by a lawyer for the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. “I don’t want to be part of this circus,” the mayor responded repeatedly in his March 16 deposition.

The commission’s lawyer, Michael Murawski, grew so frustrated with the mayor that he urged a Miami-Dade circuit judge on Monday to hold Hernandez in “contempt” because he refused to answer questions about his series of exorbitant loans totaling $180,000 to a convicted Ponzi schemer.

Circuit Judge Bertila Soto stopped short of issuing a “show-cause” order requiring Hernandez to explain why he should not be held in contempt for repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment during his deposition. Soto said she understood the mayor’s “fear” that he could be caught in a “perjury” trap if he answered the questions, but also said the ethics commission had a right to hear his responses before he faces a civil ethics trial later this year.

More here.

March 30, 2015

Tragedy drives father to change law to prevent pool electrocutions

Pool2On a warm day last April, exactly one week after his seventh birthday, Calder Sloan plunged into the pool behind his North Miami home.

He raced underwater toward the light in the deep end, as he had done dozens of times before. But when he reached out his arm and touched his target, an intense electrical current shot through his body, springing him airborne and stopping his heart.

One year later, the boy's father is on a quest to ensure Florida law prevents similar tragedies.

Chris Sloan arrived in Tallahassee this month intent on passing legislation that would ban high-voltage lights from backyard swimming pools. He was told his bill had no chance — only to find it revamped and thrust back in play last week.

Since then, a handful of powerful lobbyists and South Florida lawmakers have rallied around his proposal, giving it new momentum.

He doesn't know if the bill will become law, or if it will end up among the hundreds of ideas that are discarded at the end of every legislative session. He just wants to honor his son’s memory.

"It's so important that his life mean more than seven years," Sloan said.

More here.

MDX overhaul plan gains ground

NunezThe Miami-Dade Expressway Authority’s recent pledge not to hike tolls hasn't stopped state lawmakers from attempting to restructure the agency and impose tougher ethics regulations.

State. Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, are pushing legislative proposals that would shrink the MDX board from 13 members to nine. The bills (HB 989/SB 1276) would also prohibit anyone who has represented or done business with a government agency over the past decade from being appointed to the board.

"There is a group of board members who do not represent my constituents, and they have the authority to vote routinely for toll increases," Flores said, adding that some residents of her district pay more than $50 in tolls each week to get to work.

The Senate version of the bill is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday before the Ethics and Elections Committee. Its counterpart in the House has just one more committee stop before it can be considered on the floor.

Nuñez sponsored a similar proposal last year, after the MDX board defied opponents and raised tolls on the busy Dolphin Expressway. But the bill met resistance from the Miami-Dade County Commission and several key state lawmakers, and failed to make it across the finish line.

Nuñez said she filed a new MDX bill because the board is still too big.

"More board members does not equate to better board members," Nuñez said, pointing out that the board that governs Jackson Health System has been much more efficient since shrinking from 17 members to seven in 2012.

"Look at the Osceola and Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authorities," she added. "None of them have more than nine members."

More here.

March 28, 2015

Nuñez to lead Hispanic Caucus

NunezState Rep. Jeanette M. Nuñez, R-Miami, has been named chair of the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus.

In a statement Thursday, Nuñez thanked her predecessor, Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

"I'm looking forward to continuing his efforts to promote issues important to Hispanics and to continue focusing on the furtherance of opportunities for our Hispanic constituents," she said.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, will serve as vice chairman.

Reps. Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah, and Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, were elected treasurer and secretary, respectively.

March 26, 2015

Have lawmakers flushed the transgender bathroom bill?

There just wasn’t time Monday to hear the Senate counterpart to a bill by Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, that would ban transgender people from using restrooms for the gender they identify as, unless it’s on their driver’s license.

But other bills that weren’t heard in this week’s Criminal Justice Committee meeting are scheduled for hearings next Monday by the panel, chaired by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker. Among them: a plan to penalize sexting, which was inadvertently decriminalized.

Without a first committee hearing before the sixth of nine weeks in the legislative session, the Senate bathroom bill (SB 1464) by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, could be dead. Without a Senate version moving forward, so could Artiles’.

It’s worth noting that Dean’s bill doesn’t address gender, the main source of controversy surrounding the House proposal, which critics say would require transgender men and women to use the restroom they don’t identify with, possibly putting them at risk.

Instead, Dean’s bill would have banned entering “a public facility with the intent to harass or engage in harassment, lewd behavior, assault, battery, molestation, rape, or voyeurism. Now, though, he’s changed his tune on the matter.

“I feel we have adequate statutes covering issues of safety,” he said Tuesday.

Artiles’ bill (HB 583) has passed two House subcommittees and is slated to be heard in the Judiciary Committee next but has not yet been put on an agenda.

March 25, 2015

Opa-locka taxpayers may foot legal bills for commissioner’s corruption case


Taxpayers may end up paying the legal bills for Opa-locka City Commissioner Terence Pinder, who served probation on minor charges after his arrest in a corruption case.

The commission on Wednesday night will consider a resolution authorizing the payment of "reasonable fees" to Pinder's criminal defense attorney, Ben Kuehne. The city is also pondering giving Pinder back pay for the several years he spent out of office after his arrest.

Pinder was first arrested in 2006. Prosecutors had alleged that Pinder over the years engaged in a series of schemes, including accepting cash and gifts from a lobbyist working for a construction company doing business with the city. But after years of winding through the court system, the case fell apart.

Last year, Pinder pleaded no contest to four misdemeanor counts, while prosecutors dropped racketeering and unlawful compensation charges. Pinder was granted a “withhold of adjudication” – meaning no conviction appears on his record. He had to pay fines and was sentenced to probation, which he finished last month, according to court records.

Voters returned Pinder to office last fall, several months after he accepted the plea deal.

More here.


March 19, 2015

Friends call memo smearing David Rivera prosecutor untrue

@PatriciaMazzei @jayhweaver

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera wrote a purported memo to himself last year that portrayed the prolonged criminal investigation against him as a political witch hunt — and the lead prosecutor as an ambitious lawyer who put his career ahead of his ethics.

But the memo appears to be largely fictional — at least the malicious allegations Rivera makes about the veteran federal prosecutor, Thomas J. Mulvihill. Two men named in the explosive memo strongly disputed to the Miami Herald the alleged conversations they had with Rivera and Mulvihill a few years ago to plot out the prosecutor’s quest to become U.S. attorney in South Florida.

“I can guarantee that that never came up,” said one of the men, Felix Rodriguez, an ex-CIA officer and Bay of Pigs Veterans Association president.

“David missed his calling,” said the second man, Sergio Pereira, a longtime government lobbyist who once served as Miami-Dade County manager. He then made reference to a celebrated author who counts a novel about Miami among his top works: “He’s a regular Tom Wolfe.”

The memo claims Mulvihill, while investigating Rivera for suspected tax evasion in 2012, wanted the congressman to put in a good word with Rivera’s friend, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has the power to recommend candidates for U.S. attorney. Rivera never took Mulvihill’s request to Rubio, according to the memo, which also noted that Republican nominee Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election.

More here.