April 28, 2015

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.

For Gimenez spokesman, an opposition role that could have been

@doug_hanks

Miami-Dade communications chief Michael Hernández is the sharp-elbowed spokesman for Mayor Carlos Gimenez as the mayor faces a reelection challenge from school board member Raquel Regalado.

But circumstances might have placed Hernández on the other side of the campaign.

About four years ago, Hernandez, 32, was in the mix for a top post under Regalado's father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.

Coral Gables communications consultant Freddy Balsera, who last year recommended Hernández to Gimenez for the communications post, first pitched him as a possible chief of staff to Mayor Regalado in 2011.

Balsera, Regalado and Hernández mostly confirmed the same story: Hernández was briefly considered but it didn't go anywhere. Mayor Regalado said compensation issues made the idea a non-starter when Balsera floated the potential hire. 

"I said: Look I don't have the budget to pay whatever the amount is that he's seeking," Regalado recalled last week.

Hernández makes about $140,000 a year now. Regalado said he didn't fill the chief of staff role with another candidate after passing on Hernández, though his daughter did briefly serve in that role -- but as a volunteer. (Tony Crapp Jr. served as Regalado's chief of staff before being promoted to  city manager in 2010, well before Balsera suggested Hernández for the job.) 

For a broader look at Hernández's role in the Gimenez administration, check out our profile

April 25, 2015

Former Miami Commissioner Dunn cleared in ethics probe

@NewsbySmiley

An ethics probe into the 2013 campaign of former Miami City Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II has been closed without charges.

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust began investigating Dunn after receiving a complaint following Miami Herald reports documenting problematic expenditures by Dunn’s campaign. Dunn certified reports as correct when they weren’t, filed late, used petty cash for unauthorized expenses, and listed questionable payments for a campaign headquarters.

The Florida Elections Commission fined Dunn more than $2,000 last year, and Dunn – who lost the election to Keon Hardemon -- admitted to gaffes that led to the fines.

But ethics investigator Breno Penichet looked into Dunn’s payments related to his campaign headquarters and wrote in an April 15 closeout memo that “there is no evidence to conclude that [sic] the Dunn’s campaign violated any section of the Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics Ordinance. Case closed.”

April 24, 2015

Feds charge ex-chief of staff to former Rep. Joe Garcia with secretly financing ringer candidate

@PatriciaMazzei @jayhweaver

Federal prosecutors on Friday accused former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia’s ex-chief of staff of secretly financing a ringer tea-party candidate in 2010 to draw votes away from a Republican rival — an illegal scheme that inspired a more serious copycat case two years later.

Jeffrey Garcia was charged with conspiracy to give a campaign contribution of less than $25,000, a misdemeanor offense. 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 pose as another challenger to David Rivera.

Arrojo was also charged Friday with the same misdemeanor.

Rivera is suspected of following a similar playbook in 2012 to prop up a Democratic candidate against Joe Garcia. Rivera has not been charged, although two others in that case — the straw candidate and Rivera’s ex-girlfriend — were convicted.

Jeffrey Garcia himself confessed his actions to prosecutors three years after the fact, his attorney said. The charge, filed in U.S. District Court, paves the way for Garcia, 44, to surrender to authorities next week and then plead guilty in the hope of receiving a light sentence. The same outcome is likely for Arrojo, 41.

More here.

Xavier Suarez building war chest for possible 2016 mayoral bid

Xavier Suarez

@doug_hanks

For someone still deciding on a run for county mayor, Xavier Suarez isn't wavering on raising money.

The Miami-Dade commissioner told supporters Friday he raised "six figures" at an event this week hosted by Mike Eidson, the Miami lawyer who Suarez is helping try to reshape the county's plan for the Coconut Grove Playhouse. 

"I'm trying to prove to myself I can raises funds" needed for a 2016 mayoral campaign, Suarez said in an interview Friday. "A lot of people are responding nicely so far." 

In an email titled "Kitchen Cabinet Update," Suarez noted attendees for Thursday's reception at Coconut Grove's Calamari restaurant included Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, developers Armando Codina and Wayne Rosen, lobbyist Brian May and Eidson partners Dean Colson and Roberto Martinez. The event raised money for Imagine Miami, a Suarez political committee that has collected nearly $120,000 in the 2016 election cycle, according to the latest reports.

"The evening fundraiser was amazingly successful, with six-figure results," Suarez wrote in the email, obtained by Naked Politics. Along with  listed attendees, the event featured "a handful of our kitchen cabinet members, who either shepherded the big donors or brought their own substantial checks."

Continue reading "Xavier Suarez building war chest for possible 2016 mayoral bid" »

Mayor would take over MDX chairmanship under state plan

Miami-Dade's mayor would seize the chairmanship of the county’s controversial toll authority under a Tallahassee proposal that is part of a larger fight over how Miami-Dade makes decisions on transportation funding.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Thursday he backs the idea of becoming chairman of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, a panel better known as the MDX and best known for recent toll expansions on the county’s main east-west highway.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, a Republican and chair of the Miami-Dade delegation, would shuffle membership of the authority, which uses toll revenue for highway construction throughout Miami-Dade.

"I think it needs some accountability," Gimenez said of MDX during a County Hall interview Thursday. "My presence would bring the MDX more into the sunshine."

As of Thursday night, the MDX plan appeared stalled in Tallahassee as Flores hit opposition when she tried to add language to a bill involving the Central Florida Expressway Authority. She said she would explore other ways to get the legislation onto the Senate floor for a vote.

The effort is the latest twist in a legislative session that has local state lawmakers trying to change the make-up of county transportation boards.

The county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which maps out spending priorities for federally-funded transportation projects, on Thursday formally objected to proposed state legislation that would sharply reduce the number of county commissioners who serve on the board. Sponsored by Miami Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, the proposal by the Republican lawmaker so rankled the commission that one commissioner this week briefly threatened to pull funding of a county staffer that runs the Miami-Dade delegation office while the Legislature is in session.

"We are paying for staff for a delegation that doesn't even support us," Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said at Tuesday’s county commission meeting.

More here.