September 15, 2015

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

BYY13 Bush News rk (1)


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.

September 10, 2015

Florida Supreme Court fines Miami-Dade judge who told store clerk 'go f--- yourself'

VAA02 Violencia News rk


The saga is nearly over for the Miami-Dade County judge who cursed out a store clerk in the heat of her reelection campaign last year.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday fined Judge Jacqueline Schwartz $10,000 for telling a clerk at a Coconut Grove Kwik Stop to "go f--- yourself." The court also imposed a 30-day unpaid suspension on Schwartz, who presides over a courtroom in Hialeah.

Schwartz will have to appear before the Supreme Court in Tallahassee one more time to face a public reprimand. She has already written an apology to Firas Hussain, the clerk who refused to take down an oversize campaign sign for Schwartz's opponent -- or to let Schwartz put up a sign of her own.

The judge was subsequently reelected.

Earlier this year, Schwartz accepted charges from the state's Judicial Qualifications Commission that she broke judicial rules by insulting Hussain. She also said sorry for a separate incident in which she improperly interfered with an official court record.

Schwartz agreed to the apology letter and reprimand. But the Supreme Court wanted a more severe punishment and, in an unusual move, called for the suspension and fine. 

"[T]he terms of the Stipulation entered into by the JQC and Judge Schwartz were simply insufficient to address the severity of Judge Schwartz's misconduct," the justices wrote Thursday.

The judge didn't fight them.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, El Nuevo Herald

All Aboard Florida parent company boosts Sarnoff's war chest


Few Miami politicians are as effusive as Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff about All Aboard Florida and its downtown Miami rail hub. And few were as instrumental in pushing for $69 million in public funds to help the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority connect to All Aboard's project and run straight to downtown.

So naturally, now that Sarnoff has helped All Aboard, the company behind the project is helping him. The latest campaign contribution filings from Sarnoff's soft money account, an ECO called Truth is the Daughter of Time, show All Aboard parent company Florida East Coast Industries donated $7,500 on Aug. 30. On the same day, All Aboard's counsel, the law firm Stearns Weaver, contributed another $12,500.

The contributions were part of a $37,000 haul for Sarnoff in August, boosting the soft money account to nearly $320,000 (money that has accumulated over two-and-a-half years). Armag III, an LLC linked to developer Armando Codina, contributed $10,000. The rest was given by 700 Edgewater Development ($4,000) and Pearl Media and Joshua and Brian Cohen, at $1,000 a piece.

Sarnoff is raising money as his wife, Teresa Sarnoff, runs for his commission seat, which he must vacate toward the end of the year due to term limits. She had amassed nearly $500,000 in campaign funds by the end of July, with two-thirds unspent. Her reports, as well as those of her opponents, some of whom, like Grace Solares, have their own soft money accounts and major benefactors, are due Thursday.

Those reports have not yet been published by the Miami City Clerk.

New Xavier Suarez ad targets Miami-Dade funding for pets


Possible Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Xavier Suarez is airing another television ad against incumbent Carlos Gimenez, this one promoting Suarez's failed plan to boost funding for sterilization of pets. 

"In 2012, the people voted overwhelmingly to fund outreach centers to spay and neuter cats and dogs so as not to have to kill them," Suarez, a county commissioner, says in the ad. "For three years, Mayor Gimenez has refused to fund that voter-approved program."


The reference is to a non-binding referendum that passed easily three years ago. It endorsed a special property tax to fund animal services. Known as the Pets' Trust ("trust" being the name for a specialized tax), it was championed by an advocacy group of the same name.

Continue reading "New Xavier Suarez ad targets Miami-Dade funding for pets " »

Miami-Dade Young Republicans plan debate watch party


There's no way young, conservative political junkies in Miami are missing the second Republican presidential debate next week. So Miami-Dade County's Young Republicans have organized a party where they can watch it together.

The bash will take place at 7 p.m. at The Mighty, a gastropub at 2224 SW 22nd St., according to an invitation the group emailed supporters Thursday. The debate, hosted by CNN at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, will air live at 8 p.m.

Dubbed "The Contenders" in a nod to hometown candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, the party will feature a "live straw poll, debate games and drink specials," the invite says.

The Miami-Dade GOP held a watch party for the first debate last month.