September 24, 2015

Unregistered lobbyist arranged for 3 ineligible candidates to run in Miami-Dade County

via @DavidOvalle305

A political operative surrendered to face criminal charges Tuesday after prosecutors said he manipulated elections for community councils in Southwest Miami-Dade.

David Alberto Carcache, 34, was charged with falsifying records, aiding and abetting an elections-code violation and false swearing.

According to prosecutors, the unregistered lobbyist Carcache arranged for three candidates to run for community councils in Kendall and West Kendall, even though they did not live in the neighborhoods and were not eligible to run.

He is alleged to have prepared bogus qualifying documents and maintained control over the candidates’ email accounts. He also submitted fraudulent campaign financial records, prosecutors said.

Thousands of dollars in campaign expenses were also paid in checks or money orders payable to Carcache’s sister and mother, according to prosecutors.

Two candidates, Mauricio Rodriguez-Varela and Daniel Diaz, won their elections in August 2014. They resigned because of the investigation. A third candidate, Jesus Antonio Salas, withdrew from the election before voters went to the polls.

More here.

Al Gore to speak in Miami Beach about climate change


Former Vice President Al Gore will be open a climate conference Monday in the city perhaps most identified with the threat of rising seas due to global warming: Miami Beach.

Gore, author of An Inconvenient Truth, founded The Climate Reality Project, which organized the three-day "leadership corps training" conference. It will focus on climate issues specific to Florida, including the role the Latino community plays in pushing for actions related to the environment.

The former vice president's presentation, titled "The Climate Crisis and its Solutions," is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Monday.

September 23, 2015

A bowling alley, a car sale and the thorny politics of Homestead

via @MoniqueOMadan

When the operator of Dadeland Dodge needed some political muscle to get a deal on 4.6 acres of taxpayer-owned property pushed through the Homestead City Council, he found a staunch ally in Jimmie L. Williams III

Williams, a bespectacled councilman and church pastor who sports trademark bow ties and — records suggest — may not live in the city he represents, became a fierce advocate of Jay Rivchin’s proposal to build a Hyundai dealership on the site of a forlorn, long-shuttered bowling alley on U.S. 1. He worked tirelessly from the dais — and, it turns out, secretly behind the scenes — to ensure the public land sale went through without a hitch.

Williams fended off council colleagues who wanted to hold out for a higher price for the property — a spooky, boarded-up building replete with skittering rats, multicolored shoes and ghostly bowling balls on rusty racks. He pushed for eliminating taxpayer protections, including a provision that would penalize the dealer $250 a day if he didn't meet construction deadlines. Quietly, using his city-issued mobile device, Williams engaged Rivchin in more than 400 interactions (18 hours of talk-time), including one in which the car dealer pressed Williams to get the reluctant city manager to hurry things up.

Once, they even conferred while the council was still in session. Williams excused himself from the meeting, saying he needed to go watch the TV show Empire, a comment that drew chuckles from the audience. Instead, he phoned Rivchin, who had been in the audience. They talked for 10 minutes, according to public records obtained by the Herald.

When it was over — the saga ended with a a 5-2 vote confirming the Hyundai deal for $2.3 million — Williams quickly resumed talks with Rivchin, only this time they involved his god-daughter’s desire to acquire a car. That deal was consummated days later.

Williams, 36, says he did nothing wrong, just introduced a young woman looking to buy a car to someone who sells them.

More here.

Candidate with city contract asks Miami Beach to find new vendor


Ricky Arriola, left, and Mark Weithorn are running for the Group 5 commission seat in Miami Beach.


In the race for the Group 5 seat on Miami Beach's City Commission, candidate and current city vendor Ricky Arriola wants the city to find a new firm to handle customer service calls to the building department so he can avoid a conflict of interest if he wins.

But because the city won’t put the contract out to bid until after the election, Arriola would have to recuse himself from votes on the matter until the contract expires in April.

More here.

Transit union embraces Miami-Dade commissioner after DUI arrest


Calling his DUI arrest in Key West a "bump in the road," Miami-Dade's transit union sent a warm letter to Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz this week.

"This Key west 'bump in the road,' no matter how anyone attempts to frame it, in no way diminishes your impressive accomplishments over the years or reflects in any way on your continuing desire and determination to better the lives of the citizenry you have always represented with great honor and dignity," Clarence Washington, president of the local chapter of the AFL-CIO's Transport Workers Union, wrote Tuesday.

On Saturday, Diaz was pulled over for going 74 mph in a 30-mph-zone on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle near mile marker one. He declined to have his breath analyzed for alcohol, but police said he failed sobriety tests. He was cuffed and spent the night in jail, and on Monday proclaimed himself "extremely sorry" without specifying what he had done wrong.

On recent close votes involving union contracts, Diaz joined the pro-labor bloc on the 13-member commission. Unions also helped back his 2014 reelection to another four-year term. 

In his letter, Washington wrote he was "very disturbed" to learn of the incident, which he called a "very personal and very private matter." 

Continue reading "Transit union embraces Miami-Dade commissioner after DUI arrest" »

September 21, 2015

Body-camera footage captures Dade commissioner's DUI arrest in Key West


In June, Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz cast one of only two no votes on the 13-member commission for buying body cameras for the county's police department. On Monday, he summoned the press to say he was "extremely sorry" after Key West's body cameras captured his DUI arrest on film. 

"After seeing the video and reading the police reports, again, I am sorry," the four-term commissioner told reporters outside of his Sweetwater home. He did not take questions.

On footage from body cameras that the Key West police department issued only two months ago, Diaz is seen telling officers he is an elected official from MIami-Dade County and on a first-name basis with the sheriff of Monroe County (Miami-Dade's southern neighbor and home to the Keys). He also made reference to the cameras he clearly knew were filming him.

When an officer scolded him for driving his Harley-Davidson while drinking, Diaz was captured on tape saying: "There goes my political career."

More here

September 20, 2015

Miami-Dade commissioner charged with DUI in Key West


Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz was arrested in Key West on Saturday night and charged with drunken driving, accused of riding his motorcycle at more than double the speed limit.

Key West police spokeswoman Alyson Crean said Diaz, 55, was arrested in the 3100 block of South Roosevelt Boulevard after he stopped his Harley-Davidson and it fell because he failed to put the kick stand down just before 8 p.m..

Police say he was traveling 74 mph in a 30 mph zone before he stopped.

Diaz spent the night in Monroe County Jail. He was released at 11:45 a.m. Sunday on $1,000 bond, said Becky Herrin, spokeswoman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the Keys jail system.

In a statement released from his commission office Sunday afternoon, Diaz said: “Under advice of my legal counsel, I cannot discuss details at this time. However, I look forward to resolving this matter. In the meantime, I will continue to serve my community and the residents of District 12 as I have done for the last 24 years and I humbly ask for your patience during this time.”

More here

September 18, 2015

Environmentalists score a budget rewrite in Miami-Dade over sea-level rise



In the annual civic-advocate theater of budget hearings, turnout can make a difference.

In Miami-Dade County, dozens of people came to the County Commission chambers to champion earmarking dollars to tackling sea-level rise.

They arrived with a concise talking point (sea-level rise mentioned only once in Mayor Carlos Gimenez's original three-volume budget proposal), props (life jackets in honor of rising tides), and high schoolers throwing some haymakers at the mic ("When is this administration going to take this threat seriously?" one 17-year-old asked).

The 2016 budget process began with no specific allocations for climate-change efforts, but Gimenez made two changes in the face of the organized protest. When county commissioners overwhelmingly approved the mayor's flat-tax-rate budget Thursday in an 11 to 2 vote, it included money for the chief resiliency officer that environmentalists wanted, and $300,000 of the $500,000 sought for consultants to create design guidelines tied to climate-change issues. 

"The message to the youth and everyone that was here is: Yes, your voices were heard," Gimenez said Thursday night. "They started out at zero and got to $300,000."

The Gimenez administration already had a Sustainability Office within the Regulatory and Economic Resources Department that is coordinating the climate-change response. And Gimenez noted he wasn't ignoring the problem: along with a string of sea-rise actions related to county sewer projects and drinking-water supplies, the mayor this week attended a China-U.S. summit in Los Angeles devoted to the municipal consequences of climate change. 

“We will confront it, we will beat it,” Gimenez said. “I expect that my children and my grandchildren will be living right here in Miami-Dade County."

More here

September 17, 2015

Miami Beach finance officials resigned amid allegations of misusing leave


Walker and Echert Resignation Letters-page-1

Miami Beach’s top two finance officers were forced to resign after the city said it learned they manipulated paid vacation and sick time, the Miami Herald has learned.

Sources familiar with the circumstances confirmed that Beach administrators last week forced the resignations of chief financial officer Patricia Walker and assistant finance director Georgie Echert because they allegedly misused their leave time to benefit their future payouts upon leaving the city.

City Manager Jimmy Morales asked for their resignations — submitted hastily on handwritten sheets of notebook paper on Sept. 10 — upon finding Walker and Echert had reclassified some leave time without approval, according to sources in City Hall.

More here.

Miami commission candidate airs attack ad during presidential debate


During a Wednesday night candidates forum featuring eight of the nine men and women running for Miami's District 2 commission seat, challenger Grace Solares kept things cordial. But while she played nice on stage, a political committee tied to her campaign says it dropped an attack ad on CNN during the presidential debate.

The commercial, funded by Taxpayers Engaged, takes aim at District 2 candidate Teresa Sarnoff. Sarnoff is running to claim the seat her husband, term-limited Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, will vacate after November's election. The 30-second spot claims Miami has the "Sarnoff Syndrome."

"Symptoms include heavy traffic and congestion, out-of-control development and massive pensions for career politicians," states a narrator, who suggests a "dose of Grace" is the cure.

The committee behind the commercial is chaired by Solares' political consultant, Christian Ulvert. As of the beginning of the month, Taxpayers Engaged had raised $45,500, including $25,000 contributed by SJK Advisors, a company registered to Stephen Kneapler. Kneapler, the politically connected former owner of Monty's Raw Bar is among Sarnoff's most vocal critics.

Other contributors include developer Martin Margulies ($3,500), Rickenbacker Marina operator Aabad Melwani ($5,000), activist Elvis Cruz ($5,000), and Solares' employer, attorney Linda Carroll ($5,000).

Ulvert said the commercials were purchased through Comcast, cost $4,000 and will run through Monday. Comcast advertising representatives and spokespersons did not respond Thursday to emails and phone calls seeking comment.