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Mayor Gimenez reports schools chief to ethics commission over Liberty Square contact


County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has responded to a letter of concern about the planned redevelopment of Liberty Square sent last week by Miami-Dade Schools chief Alberto Carvalho -- by reporting him to the ethics commission.

On Jan. 27, Carvalho wrote Gimenez to request a meeting to discuss how the roughly $250 million rebuild of Liberty Square might affect students and public schools. His letter followed a phone call he placed to Gimenez the previous day.

In a response Wednesday, Gimenez said he's concerned that the superintendent may have violated a standard procurement gag-order that local government officials go through during competitive solicitations, called the Cone of Silence. Gimenez noted that Carvalho's administration signed a letter of commitment for one of the bidding teams, Miami Waymark 2.0, and because of that support a conversation could be improper until Gimenez makes a recommendation on the project to county commissioners.

Gimenez said he sent Carvalho's letter to the county's chief procurement officer, who in turn told him procurement laws required him to forward the superintendent's letter to the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. Gimenez copied his Feb. 3 correspondence to Carvalho to the county clerk in order to avoid violating the cone of silence himself.

"Again, as I mentioned when you called me the evening before sending the letter, Miami-Dade County continues to be under the Cone of Silence ..." Gimenez wrote. "This means that I am not able to honor your request to 'schedule a meeting to discuss.' As I explained to you over the phone, we will have a discussion after the process is completed, and I will work to mitigate any effects that the Liberty Square redevelopment has on Miami-Dade County Public Schools."

Carvalho contacted Gimenez last week as several school board members went public in opposition to the Liberty Square charter schools contemplated by the two remaining developers in the running for the job. Carvalho didn't say he opposed the project or charter school idea, but wrote that he wanted to better understand how it might affect students and schools.

In his letter to Gimenez, Carvalho made no mention of a June 26 letter the school board provided the University of Miami in support of the university's role in providing healthcare services as part of Miami Waymark's proposal to rebuild Liberty Square. That letter, in which Carvalho's name appears to be signed by an associate, states that the school district is reiterating its relationship with UM in order to allow the university to continue offering health services and education within nine Miami-Dade schools.

Nevertheless, Gimenez said the letter, submitted as part of Miami Waymark's bid, makes the school board a "proposed service provider." He also noted the letter had a positive ring to it.

"I am frankly surprised that your [January] correspondence to me included these questions and concerns because Miami-Dade County received a letter of commitment on your letterhead, to one of the [competing] proposers," Gimenez wrote Wednesday. "This letter, which also included your signature, refers to Liberty Square as a 'promising venture'."

Updated: Miami-Dade Schools Spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego sent the following statement:

""The sole purpose of the letter of support we provided the University of Miami last year was to maintain continuity of health services that were already in place in that community.  It was not intended as part of any procurement process. In reaching out to the Mayor last week, we were simply seeking to have an honest conversation to ensure minimal disruption of educational services to school-aged children potentially impacted by the Liberty Square redevelopment project. To interpret anything beyond that is putting politics over people."

Gimenez has narrowed the field of competing developers to Related Urban Development Group and Atlantic Pacific Communities, the top two bidders ranked by a county selection committee. Miami Waymark 2.0 was the third-ranked developer.

Gimenez says he hopes to make a recommendation on the project to county commissioners by the end of the month.