April 29, 2015

Jeffrey Garcia, suspected ringer candidate plead not guilty to campaign-finance offenses

via @jayhweaver

The former chief of staff for Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia pleaded not guilty Wednesday to secretly giving money to a suspected ringer tea-party candidate in 2010.

Jeffrey Garcia, who surrendered to authorities Wednesday, was charged with conspiracy to give a campaign contribution of less than $25,000, a misdemeanor offense.

Federal prosecutors say Garcia, no relation to the former congressman, put up the $10,440 qualifying fee for the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, to siphon votes away from Republican rival David Rivera, who ended up winning the 2010 congressional election.

Arrojo also surrendered Wednesday and pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor offense as Garcia in Miami federal court.

Garcia, 42, and Arrojo, 41, were released on personal surety bonds. They are eventually expected to change their pleas to guilty in the hope of receiving lenient prison sentences.

More here.

Florida Supreme Court wants stiffer penalty for 'Go f--- yourself' judge

@PatriciaMazzei

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday gave a Miami-Dade County judge a surprise taste of her own bitter medicine.

Tasked with signing off on Judge Jacqueline Schwartz's recommended punishment for telling a store owner last year to “go f--- yourself,” the state’s high court told Schwartz — politely — to do the same.

Instead of letting the judge go with a public reprimand and apology letter, the court opined Schwartz should also be suspended without pay for 30 days and fined $10,000 — a far harsher penalty.

“Upon consideration of the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s Findings and Recommendation of Discipline and the parties’ Stipulation, the Court rejects the Stipulation and disapproves the proposed sanctions,” the court wrote in its 4-3 decision.

Schwartz and the qualifications commission, which had agreed to the recommended sanctions, have 30 days to accept the court’s stiffer terms. Otherwise, the case would go back to the commission for a new hearing.

“Judge Schwartz respects the Supreme Court and will follow any decision that they render,” said her attorney, Richard Baron.

More here.

Talk of roaming potty for Miami goes down the pooper

via @NewsbySmiley

A proposal to have the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust pay for roaming toilets downtown has devolved into pot-shots and suggestions of cronyism between the Trust's chairman and a member of Miami's Downtown Development Authority.

On Tuesday, DDA board member Jose Goyanes sent an email urging the Trust to pay for a pilot program to implement the $100,000 toilets. Trust Chairman Ron Book responded that the program was a "downtown" issue and should be funded by the DDA, causing Goyanes to accuse Book of turning a blind eye to Miami's homeless problems.

"Mr. Book maybe after running the Trust like a third world dictator for the last 18 years you have forgotten to read your mission statement," he wrote.

Goyanes also emailed the Trust's new executive director Tuesday to ask about whether it was known at the time she was hired that her sister is a lobbyist in Book's firm. Book, in an earlier email, essentially accused Goyanes of being a patsy.

The spat is the latest in a long-simmering feud between the publicly funded agencies over homeless programs downtown. Book said he's being attacked because he is sticking to the Trust's housing-first model.

"What I’m not going to do is divert money from programs that work for pie-in-the-sky things that don’t," he said.

April 28, 2015

Miami-Dade chairman rejects Trump takeover of Crandon golf course

@doug_hanks

The chairman of the MIami-Dade County Commission has come out against Donald Trump's proposal to take over the county's Crandon golf course, a significant setback for the celebrity hotelier's effort to add the parkland to his portfolio of golf properties.

Trump proposed a $10 million rehab of the course, which would remain open to the public but under the control of Trump's hospitality arm. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez backed the idea, but then recused himself due to lobbying work one of his sons performed for Trump at the city level. 

Gimenez's withdrawal from the process left Jean Monestime, chairman of the County Commission,  in the position to offer a recommendation on whether his fellow commissioners should approve the Trump proposal. On Tuesday night, Monestime's office released a resolution urging commissioners to reject the Trump proposal.

The "Crandon Park Golf Course is a treasured, public golf course in Miami-Dade County and is consistently ranked as one of the top public golf courses in the nation," Monestime's proposed resolution reads. 

If the resolution is approved at next week's County Commission meeting, Trump would receive a refund on any unspent dollars from a $25,000 deposit he paid the county to consider what was considered an "unsolicited" proposal. Rules governing proposals not sought by a formal request from the government require the proposer to file a deposit. 

Representatives for Trump were not immediately available for comment Tuesday night. The television star owns the Doral golf resort that bears his name, along with a portfolio of similar vacation  spots around the world. In proposing a Crandon deal, he described the course as tired and neglected, while opponents called it a popular public course that did not need a rescue. 

Monestime's thumbs down for the Trump plan does not kill the effort, but adds another hurdle for what was already an uphill fight. Trump needs a rewrite of the park's master plan to win a management contract, and was already facing resistance on the commission. Xavier Suarez, the county commissioner whose district includes Crandon, came out early against the idea.  

Second Miami-Dade commissioner joins the pursuit of reelection cash

@doug_hanks

Audrey Edmonson, the Miami-Dade commissioner pursuing her third four-year term representing District Three, is holding a fund-raiser Thursday evening at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.

It's the kick-off event for Edmonson, who filed her reelection papers March 31 for the 2016 election. An invitation sent by lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez puts the suggested contribution at $1,000.  

In an interview, Edmonson said she expects opposition for the race. "There are people out there looking for someone to run against me," she said. Edmonson said she doesn't expect to start campaigning until early 2016. 

Edmonson joined the commission in 2005, appointed to the seat left vacant by the retirement of Barbara Carey-Shuler. District Three includes Liberty City, Little Haiti, Wynwood and parts of downtown Miami.

The AmericanAirlines Arena sits in her district, and last week Edmonson objected to a plan to raise fees that Miami-Dade charges the Miami Heat for parking cars on a county-owned waterfront lot near the arena that's known as Parcel B. Fellow commissioners opted to delay a vote on the plan. Lopez, a leading lobbyist in Miami-Dade, represents the Heat, which objected to the push for higher fees. 

Edmonson was also a sponsor of the transgender-rights ordinance that commissioners passed last year, and of the proposed changes to for-hire driver rules that are designed to legalize Uber. She also has been organizing community groups and government officials to address gun violence in some of Miami's poorest neighborhoods. 

Edmonson, a Democrat, joins Esteban "Steve" Bovo, a Republican who represents District 13, as the two incumbents officially seeking reelection to the 13-member board. Five others are up for reelection.

Continue reading "Second Miami-Dade commissioner joins the pursuit of reelection cash" »

Downtown Miami agency wins support in Tallahassee

The Florida House on Tuesday passed a bill stating that Miami’s Downtown Development Authority can levy property taxes — and lower the tax rate for downtown property owners.

The bill (SB 278) must now win the approval of Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

It wasn't the only legislative proposal Miami-Dade lawmakers, lobbyists and residents were watching Tuesday. The Senate also took up a proposal seeking to ameliorate a backlog of property tax appeals in Miami-Dade County.

The proposal was a high priority for the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation. Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has long said the backlog prevents the district from getting a share of its property tax money on time. This year, he predicted it would lead to a $40 million budget shortfall.

But the House and Senate could not agree on a bill to address the problem.

More here.

Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tries to block new Cuba travel

@PatriciaMazzei

Republicans in Congress filed legislation Tuesday that would dramatically limit new travel to Cuba, an attempt to block part of President Obama's more open policy toward the island's communist regime.

The proposed measure would ban new flights and cruises to Cuba. It was tucked into a wide-ranging, must-pass budget bill drafted by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, who chairs the House subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development appropriations.

Funding to facilitate travel to Cuba would be prohibited if airplanes or ships pass through any property confiscated by the Cuban government, which effectively rules out landing or docking at any airport or seaport. Importing restricted amounts of goods such as cigars would still be allowed.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart decried Obama's move in january to significantly ease travel restrictions. Permissible trips to Cuba, he said, now "include snorkeling, cigar factory tours, salsa dancing lessons, and other obvious tourist activities."

"Under these circumstances, Congress cannot remain idle," said Diaz-Balart, who is Cuban-American. "The expansion of regularly scheduled flights to Cuba is an obvious attempt to circumvent the tourism ban. Similarly, allowing cruises to dock in Cuba would violate both the spirit and the letter of U.S. law."

The massive, $55 billion budget bill was announced Tuesday with a news release that made no mention of the Cuba provision.

Another group of lawmakers has filed legislation to repeal all travel restrictions to the island.

Ex-Miami Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart joins Univision News as GOP political analyst

@PatriciaMazzei

The Diaz-Balart brothers will now be represented in the country's rival Spanish-language news networks.

Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Miami has joined Univision News as a Republican political analyst, the Doral-based network announced Tuesday. His younger brother José Díaz-Balart is a top anchor for Telemundo, which is based in Miramar, and also hosts an English-language cable show on MSNBC. (A third brother, Mario Diaz-Balart, holds a seat in Congress.)

"Lincoln's extensive experience as a legislator and his profound knowledge of the issues and challenges facing our country make him an asset to Univision News," Daniel Coronell, the division's executive vice president and executive director, said in a statement. "His valuable contributions to the political discussion will strengthen our news and electoral coverage throughout the 2016 election cycle, bringing our audience expert commentary and analysis from the Republican perspective."

The elder Diaz-Balart has been working as an attorney and lobbyist since leaving Congress in 2011. He is also a longtime friend and adviser to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is organizing a likely 2016 presidential campaign.

For reporters, Diaz-Balart's hiring might mean he will no longer be willing to comment on Bush or any other political news to anyone other than Univision. The network once made that arrangement with former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas.

Unlike his TV-anchor brother, Lincoln Diaz-Balart does not -- or at least, has not up to now -- used the accent in his last name.

April 27, 2015

Battle of Miami Lakes mayors ends; Michael Pizzi to return to office

via @Paradise_Afshar

The legal battle for the Miami Lakes mayoral seat is officially over.

Wayne Slaton announced on Monday that he and the town would not appeal the Florida Third District Court of Appeal’s decision that gives Michael Pizzi the green light to return office as the town’s mayor.

“I am instructing my attorney to issue the appropriate document to the Third District Court of Appeal, informing them that I will not be appealing their ruling,” Slaton said during a press conference. “Despite a challenging year and a half, we came together as a team and kept the town moving forward.”

Slaton said that Pizzi can be expected return as the town’s mayor as early as Wednesday to finish his second four-year term in office.

That term is slated to end in November 2016.

The announcements comes on the heels of Friday’s decision by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal to uphold Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely’s March 31 decision to allow Pizzi to return as the town’s mayor, following a 30 day stay. That stay is set to expire on Thursday.

Ely also ruled that Pizzi can receive back payments, allowances and benefits from Aug. 13, 2013, to the present.

More here.

Value Adjustment Board proposal faces final hurdle

FloresThe Florida House passed a sweeping proposal on Monday that could protect the Miami-Dade school system from an anticipated $40 million budget shortfall.

The bill (HB 695) seeks to ameliorate a backlog of property tax appeals in certain parts of the state. Miami-Dade school districts official have long complained that the backlog in Miami-Dade prevents them from getting their property tax money on time.

Members of the Senate say they are committed to helping the state's largest school district.

But whether the bill will make it across the finish line remains to be seen.

Over the course of the legislative session, state representatives from other parts of the state added several provisions to the bill being considered in the House. And some senators have problems with the new language.

"House members from around the state saw this bill as a chance to address other issues with Value Adjustment Boards," said Sen. Anitere Flores, a Republican and chair of the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation. "Some of those ideas may be worthy, but they haven't been fully vetted."

Among those ideas: a plan to let state lawmakers appoint five citizen members to their county board.

Flores said she may try to strip some of that language out of the bill when it arrives on the Senate floor Tuesday.

"What my intention was was to pass a priority of the Miami-Dade Delegation," she said.

Any changes, however, would have to go back to the House for final approval. And time is running out. The regular session is scheduled to end Friday.

The lawmaker sponsoring the bill in the House, state Republican Rep. Bryan Avila, said he wasn't sure how it would all play out. But he planned to continue the charge.

"This is a very complex process that clearly needs fixing," the Hialeah Republican said.