September 15, 2015

Miami Beach candidate uses sitting commissioner's charity in political ad, angering commissioner


Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco has no love for current commission candidate Mark Samuelian after Samuelian sent out an email blast using the logo for Grieco's newly-formed nonprofit, Miami Beach Kids First.

Grieco said his group aims to raise money for need-based scholarships and grant programs for children in the city who don't have access to Pre-K and supplemental support for kids with special needs.

On Monday, Samuelian emailed a political advertisement that depicts the nonprofit's logo, states his support for the group and says he plans on going to the charity's first fundraiser Sept. 17. He encourages supporters to attend.

It also features an image of him playing chess with students. Samuelian coaches a chess team after schools at Miami Beach Senior High School.

"Education is critical to the health of our community, and as your commissioner I will work to bolster our students by promoting city-sponsored educational efforts including after school activities and programming that will engage our students in meaningful ways," he wrote.

Grieco is not mentioned in the ad, and Sameulian did not contact him before it went out.

Continue reading "Miami Beach candidate uses sitting commissioner's charity in political ad, angering commissioner" »

Miami-Dade named a street after a developer accused of discrimination. And now there's new allegations.


Earlier this month, when Miami-Dade Commissioners named a street after real estate developer José Milton, they brushed aside the fact that Milton’s company had been previously accused in court of racial discrimination, saying the allegations had been settled decades ago.

Milton had donated money to county parks and other charitable causes since the days of the allegations, commissioners said.

“He was a great man, helped this community…Sometimes we’ve got to be very cautious as to what happened in the past,” said Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who co-sponsored the name change.

But on Monday, Milton real estate companies were again sued for racial discrimination at the same North Miami Beach apartment complex named in previous lawsuits. And that has prompted the only black commissioner to support the street naming to reconsider his vote.

The new allegations are from 2014 and 2015 — after José Milton, who was Cuban-American, had died and his sons had taken over the family business.

“I’m in shock,” said Cecil Milton, the chief executive officer of United Property Management, one of two Milton family businesses sued in the new lawsuit. “We have a strong policy of nondiscrimination for our employees and our clients.”

The allegations center around the Aventura Harbor Apartments, at 19455 NE 10th Ave, previously operated under the name Beverly Hills Club Apartments.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Rebecca Smith, is an African-American leasing agent for the Miltons’ management company. Smith alleges in the suit that she witnessed discrimination against blacks who inquired about available apartments; one prospective renter was falsely told no apartments were available, the lawsuit states.

“Ms. Smith has also observed black people being given the wrong price for apartments — one or two hundred dollars higher than the listing price — to dissuade them from renting,” the suit states.

More here.

After court win, Miami-Dade police union asks county to pay up over impasse


MIami-Dade's police union recently succeeded in having Mayor Carlos Gimenez's 2012 veto of a labor contract declared illegal. And now the union wants a refund of the money Miami-Dade saved from that veto.

"Please consider this letter a demand for payment," union chief John Rivera wrote to Gimenez on Sept. 14. Rivera asked for the thousands of police employees to receive refunds on the 4-percent payroll deduction Gimenez succeeded in briefly imposing following the 2012 veto. Rivera estimated the refund would cost about $9 million, depending on whether interest is imposed.

Read Rivera's letter here.

The Gimenez administration plans to fight the demand before a state labor board. Gimenez lost a larger legal battle last week when the state Supreme Court refused an appeal over a lower court's decision limiting the mayor's veto power in labor talks.

While the county mayor can veto most votes by the County Commission, courts ruled he loses that authority when it comes a labor impasse. An impasse is declared when the administration and a union can't agree on a contract, and then turn to the commission to resolve it.   

Continue reading "After court win, Miami-Dade police union asks county to pay up over impasse" »

Miami federal judge unimpressed by Belen-Columbus political rivalry

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The federal judge who sentenced former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia's one-time aide Monday took a swing at Miami's two all-boys Catholic schools that pride themselves in graduating politicians.

U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez noted that Jeffrey Garcia, the congressman's former chief of staff, no relation, had gone to Belen Jesuit Preparatory along with Jose Rolando "Roly" Arrojo. Garcia propped up Arrojo as a tea-party ringer candidate against Republican David Rivera in the 2010 congressional election. 

"They treated this election for a very important office as an election for junior-class president at Belen high school," Martinez said from the bench Monday at Garcia's sentencing. "Give me a break."

Garcia's attorney, Henry Bell, also a Belen alumnus, rattled off a list of reasons why his client shouldn't be sent to jail. Martinez interrupted with another school reference -- this time citing Belen's rival, Christopher Columbus High.

"I thought Columbus was the politicians and Belen was the businessmen," Martinez mused. "Did I have that backwards?"

(Yes, business executive Jorge Mas, Columbus class of '81, joked to the Miami Herald at a Belen-Columbus football tailgate in 2012: "Politicians tend to be Belen graduates, and businessmen tend to be Columbus graduates.")

Bell brushed off the question by saying diplomatically that both schools had their share of alumni in the two professions, though he he did mention that Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is a Columbus grad. Then Bell referred to Belen's alumni in politics to try to show why his client had already been punished enough.

"That's a tight-knit group of people, and he's been humiliated and embarrassed there," Bell argued.

Judge Martinez ultimately agreed, sentencing Garcia and Arrojo to house arrest and probation. 

Martinez didn't disclose his own high school affiliation: St. Theresa High School, class of 1958.

He got his diploma with 11 other students, he said, as part of the Coral Gables' Catholic school's last graduating class. Students who were St. Theresa juniors transferred to a newly built school: Columbus.

--with Jay Weaver

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Caption: Joe Garcia, left, then a candidate for Congress, socializes with fellow Belen grads -- including former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, right -- at a Belen-Columbus football game tailgate in 2012.

Miami-Dade County teachers take contract concerns to Kendall homeowners meeting


Teachers took over the Kendall Federation of Homeowners Associations meeting Monday night, peppering guest speaker Superintendent Alberto Carvalho with questions about their salaries, class size and performance pay.

The teachers were galvanized mainly by concerns about their labor contract, which was approved earlier this month. More than a dozen teachers showed up.

“We can talk about whatever issues you want to talk about, since some of you turned this into, ‘Let’s ask Alberto,’” Carvalho said. “You should know you can ask me anything. I’ll answer.”

Almost 40 percent of teachers voted against the contract negotiated by United Teachers of Dade. The agreement eliminates pay “steps” -- a set raise every year, depending on years of service. Instead, the contract marks a move towards performance pay, which union leaders and school district officials say is mandated by the state.

Retired teacher Esther Garvett said the changes deprive some long-time teachers of substantial raises that were promised under the previous contract.

“It’s just not fair,” she said. “They’ve been waiting and waiting.”

Carvalho said the new system spreads out raises in a more equitable way. Previously, he said, new teachers got meager raises -- sometimes $150. He also hinted that future negotiations could lead to more money for veteran teachers.

John A. Ferguson Senior High teacher Sarah Hays pressed for answers about when performance pay would finally kick in. The biology teacher said her students perform well, so she was looking forward to a boost in pay.

“My scores are great,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for this accountability.”

But with merit pay attached to student test scores -- and the state constantly changing testing requirements -- Carvalho said there is no fair way to implement a performance pay system right now.

The superintendent took questions for about an hour during the mostly cordial but sometimes testy meeting. He tried to end on a unifying note.

“There is nothing this workforce cannot accomplish and I am exceedingly proud of every one of you, even when you don’t agree, necessarily,” Carvalho said.

September 14, 2015

Miami Beach's top two finance officers resign with handwritten notes


Walker and Echert Resignation Letters-page-1

This is the handwritten resignation letter from the now-former chief financial officer for Miami Beach, Patricia Walker.

She and Georgie Echert, her assistant finance director, both resigned via loose-leaf Thursday — the same day as a city budget hearing and a few months before a large bond issuance to pay for upcoming renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center.

City officials say they left "to pursue other opportunities."

More here.

Congresswoman asks Miami Dade College president to White House reception for Pope Francis


Miami Gardens Rep. Frederica Wilson one-upped some of her fellow members of Congress who invited friends, family, constituents and the local archbishop to Pope Francis' speech at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 24.

Not only did Wilson, a Democrat, distribute the same tickets that everyone else got, but she also invited a guest to a Sept. 23 welcoming reception for Francis at the White House. She asked Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón.

"He is honored," MDC spokesman Juan Mendieta said in an email.

Wilson put it like this: "To be in the same room with the president and the pope -- that's over the top!"

Her ticket for inside the Capitol chambers during Francis' speech went to Bethune-Cookman University President Edison O. Jackson, and St. Thomas University President Msgr. Franklyn M. Casale will get to sit on the west lawn of the National Mall.

"They're not sure whether he's going to bless the crowd or whether he's going to just wave," Wilson said.

She made her picks to thank the universities that work with her 5000 Role Models of Excellence program for boys and young men.

Aide to ex-Rep. Joe Garcia gets house arrest, probation for putting up ringer candidate against David Rivera in 2010


via @jayhweaver

At first, it looked like the former campaign manger for ex-Miami Congressman Joe Garcia was heading to prison for breaking an election law, even after a prosecutor recommended probation as punishment.

“The problem is, this type of crime strikes at the very core of our democracy,” U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez declared on Monday, noting that he found it “infuriating” the way outsiders think of Miami as a “Banana Republic” because of all its fraud and corruption.

But in the end, after telling the defense attorney for Jeffrey Garcia that he was confronting an “uphill road,” Martinez gave the defendant a two-year probationary sentence with eight months of home confinement and a $1,000 fine.

Martinez cited prosecutor Kimberly Selmore’s support for the lenient sentence, along with defense attorney Henry Bell’s arguments that his client cooperated extensively with the FBI investigation, including testifying before the grand jury, and had already been severely punished after losing his solid career as a once-respected political strategist.

“We felt we were on high ground arguing for no jail time,” Bell said after the hearing.

Garcia, convicted of a misdemeanor in a plea deal, faced up to one year in prison for illegally financing the campaign of a ringer tea party candidate whose role in the 2010 congressional election was designed to help the Democratic bid of Garcia's boss, Joe Garcia, against Republican David Rivera.

More here.

Photo credit: Alvaro Mata, pool photo (Miami Herald file)

September 12, 2015

'El flaco Jeb' opens Miami office, jabbing 'pobrecito' Donald Trump

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Jeb Bush wasn't on Miami time Saturday. He was due at his local field office opening in Coral Gables -- and the show was running early. 

Good thing, too: The storefront at 5430 SW Eighth St. on the 90-degree day was sauna-hot. Almost every single Bush sign that wasn't hanging from a wall had been turned into a handheld fan.

So Bush mercifully bounded on stage before the event had even been scheduled to start, after his staunch hometown backers worked the microphone for a crowd that needed no warming up.

"El flaco Jeb!" Bush said in Spanish, introducing himself as "skinny Jeb," the first thing most longtime Bush friends in Florida note about their former governor. He immediately took a shot at rival Donald Trump.

"El Sr. Trump dice que no puedo hablar español en los Estados Unidos. Pobrecito." Mr. Trump said I can't speak Spanish in the United States. Poor little thing.

Bush always seems most comfortable campaigning at home -- and in Spanglish --  and Saturday was no different. At one point he began unbuttoning his shirt -- a surprising move for any politician, though not entirely out of place in the sweltering heat -- only to reveal a vintage-design Reagan/Bush '84 T-shirt underneath.

"The party I believe in!" he said, before buttoning back up.

He introduced his wife, Columba, and children Noelle and Jeb Jr. before criticizing President Obama and Trump again, saying a president shouldn't rule por decreto, by decree. In all, Bush spoke only a few minutes, but he worked the room for much longer, posing for photos and shaking hands.

Though Bush's national headquarters opened in Miami in May, eager Bush loyalists had clamored for an easily accessible location to drop in to volunteer and feel connected to the campaign.

Now they have it -- though they might want to invest in some air conditioning.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, El Nuevo Herald

September 11, 2015

Complaint dismissed against Doral mayor about Donald Trump’s Miss Universe pageant

The Miami-Dade Ethics Commission has cautioned Doral Mayor Luigi Boria but has dismissed a complaint against him related to the Donald Trump-produced Miss Universe pageant.

A citizen activist filed a complaint alleging that Boria violated the city’s “Truth in Government” provision when he stated last summer that no public funds would be used for the Jan. 25, 2015 event. At a meeting in September 2014 Boria and the council discussed raising and/or allocating $2.5 million for the pageant.

Ultimately the city spent $1.6 million with sponsors contributing the rest of the expenses.

Boria told commission investigators that he thought the city could secure the entire cost from private sponsors.

“Since all discussions of financial allocations occurred publicly and Mayor Boria expressed hope, rather than certainty that the city would be reimbursed for expenses and later acknowledged that funds spent had been “budgeted,” Ethics Commissioners found no probable cause to the complaint and dismissed it,” according to an ethics commission press release Sept. 11. “However, they cautioned Mayor Boria to be more careful in making such potentially-misleading statements.”

In other Trump-related news, the commission also approved a letter of instruction to Ed Russo, a consultant and associate of Trump. Commissioners found probable cause to a complaint that Russo engaged in lobbying without registering first when he met with county officials about Trump’s proposal to manage Crandon Golf Course.

“Because Russo had never previously lobbied in Miami-Dade, and registered as soon as he was informed of the regulation, the COE dismissed the complaint,” states the commission press release. “The letter that was approved today emphasized to Mr. Russo his obligations when dealing with local government.  It also recommended that Miami-Dade County administrators add the lobbyist registration requirements to follow-up communications on unsolicited proposals to avoid any future misunderstanding.