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APRIL 4, 2011

SELLING OUT THE “HOOD”
PART I
 REVEREND COMMISSIONER DUNN:  SHUCKING, JIVING AND SELLING OUT THE “HOOD”
Having grown up in Miami, and tagged by WMBM DJ, “Butterball,” back in the late 50’s as, “The craziest white boy in Miami,” I never had any fear about going to Overtown, and even before I got my first car, I would ride my bike anywhere and everywhere in Miami including Overtown and Liberty City. 

Even though I was a teenager, being tagged as that “crazy white boy,” always got me through the door of the Mary Elizabeth Hotel on weekends to listen to Sam & Dave when they started, and to occasionally sit in the lobby of the Sir John with friends and see the most famous Black entertainers in America when they came to Miami.  

Overtown, even in the midst of segregation had a vibrancy and life that is now long gone, leaving a ghetto of despair, broken dreams, weed infested lots, a dwindling number of poor residents, and a continuing reign of violence punctuated by too many drive-by shootings with AK 47‘s involving teenage thugs on bicycles.

The destruction and decline of Overtown started with the ripping apart of the community by the construction of I-95 and 395, and continued with the knowing nods and “arrangements” over the years between the politicians and “the establishment,” that tacitly agreed that the property that comprised Overtown would at sometime in the future be the basis for Northward development for “White” Miami.

Instead of doing anything of real consequence from the 60’s forward to try and save or revitalize Overtown, many of the properties were bought and flipped over the years by speculators - including folks like Emilio Estefan - who have been content to sit on these largely vacant lots until the need for land matched the need of developers.   

The area became a real ghetto because it was in the long-term interests of the powers that be for it to become a ghetto.

Last year I reported - with photographs - the existence of  76 empty lots inside the  boundaries of the 2 CRA’s.

There were the occasional sputters and spurts of attention as well as the usual do-gooder commitments to address the visible decline of what was left of Overtown starting with the creation of the 2 Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRA’s), which followed with the obligatory refurbishment of local parks, as well as a 2 block area of NW 3rd Avenue.

The amounts spent on these projects were little more than chump change when measured against the CRA monies given to developers and other folks with the where-with-all to be represented by professional lobbyists to fund projects in conflict with the goal of eliminating “slum and blight” required for the expenditure of CRA money. 

One only needs to look at the amount of CRA money spent on enterprises such as the Miami Woman’s Club, the paying of 25% of the annual operating costs of the Arsht Center, the covering the City of Miami’s Port Tunnel costs, and a long list of other major and minor examples of CRA money pissed away on “projects” that didn’t pass the smell test, much less the requirements of the law, to appreciate the underlying efforts over these many years to use CRA money as the personal piggy bank for the political agenda of the politicians in charge.  

The latest example that has drawn attention to this kind of activity is the CRA awarding as much as $9,000,000 to mega developer Tibor Hollo, in the form of a tax rebate for a 36 story hotel, mixed-use development called the Mikado.  

That’s $9,000.000 for another fancy hotel property on the EAST SIDE of Biscayne Boulevard, bordered by a half-dozen major new high-rise condos and rental apartment towers, across the street from another high-rise also built by Hollo, which got it’s own interesting tax break from the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).  

The notion of financing projects that have as part of their underlying  purpose the continued displacement of the real residents of Overtown until they are completely forced to move out of the CRA’s boundaries is part and parcel of a scheme embraced by many “civic leaders” and developers, and supported by the actions of the CRA, especially since Commissioner “Ethics” weaseled his way into the Chairmanship of the OMNI CRA.

It’s not an easy process to turn around an area like Overtown - in fact, at this point it’s very hard - and would require a real commitment of time, energy and most importantly the intelligence of smart and dedicated people wanting to see it happen. But if all you have is empty rhetoric, posturing and phony promises coupled with the constant assault on the CRA’s bank accounts by bullshit schemes and questionable giveaways, then it’s all but impossible.

In this struggle, the Reverend Commissioner Dunn’s repeated silence and/or participation in these CRA schemes orchestrated by Commissioner Sarnoff and his trio of toadies - Pieter Bockweg, Burt Gonzalez and David Karsh - represents a gross abnegation of his legal and moral responsibilities.  

Only last week, the Commissioner managed to be both dickish and petulant by having the gall to hold a press conference in front of City Hall to complain about allegations that surfaced that he’s trying to force Professor Marvin Dunn, the founder of the Overtown Farmers Market, which gets $100,000 a year from the SEOPW CRA, to become partners with local Chef John Townson - who claims to be Dunn’s friend, while Dunn denies the claim - because Dunn  and David Karsh say the city isn’t getting enough return on its $100,000 yearly investment.’

I can’t at this point make a judgment on just how effective the Farmer’s Market has been in meeting all it’s deliverables, but I go by it often enough to witness that it does attract a steady stream of customers, and that in lieu of lots filled with weeds, they have managed to put some of those lots to better use.

But the notion that Reverend Commissioner Dunn claims that his concern is based on being a good steward of the CRA’s money is laughable.  

When it comes to the issue of return on investment the Commissioner has incurred serious obligations of his own regarding return on investment to the lawyers, lobbyists and other wheeler-dealers who gave him over $250,000 in campaign contributions last year. 

Dunn was appointed to his seat on the Miami City Commission when Michelle Spence-Jones was removed by Governor Christ after her indictment. His appointment came after promising he would not run for reelection. Once in the hen house, he broke that promise.

When he ran for reelection last year, he shucked and jived his way from fund raiser to fund raiser - arranged in many instances by Commissioners Sarnoff and Suarez - including an embarrassing absence from a City Commission meeting so he could sneak off to a Coral Gables fund raiser arranged by one of the de la Portilla brothers - as he racked up campaign contributions from people and companies who NEVER give money to politicians unless they expect a return on their investment.

While, for the first time in his “political” career he raised real money from the largely “white/hispanic” lawyer/developer/banker crowd, the Commissioner  worked on burnishing his “street cred” by becoming a champion willing to stand up to the Police Chief over the unfortunate, and troubling rash of police shootings of Black men in his District. 

The issue has some validity - although as a former stick-up guy myself - if you’re a street guy, with a gun, and shit happens, then shame on you.  

On the other hand, stupid shit can on occasion become something a lot worse, either because of additional stupid shit happening on the spur of the moment, or by the reactions of a cop untrained just plain stressed and scared. On rare occasions you’ll get that rare cop with a twisted mind looking for an opportunity to pull the trigger, but contrary to popular opinion, I’ve never considered that as much of a problem as just plain stress and fear, and trust me, I’m someone who has been there more than once and could have easily been shot full of holes several times instead of being arrested.

No matter the circumstances that leads to a shooting, the end result always ends up being used for political gain or theater, and in Miami, a city with a bad history of unwarranted shootings, throw down guns, and all the other nastiness of the 80’s and 90’s, it doesn’t take much to stoke the fires to bring on claims of racism, police brutality and demands for justice, or one side’s version of it - often fueled by mis-information or just outright lies.

There were, and are so many legitimate reasons why Police Chief Exposito deserves to be fired, that Dunn’s efforts to bring this issue up at a Commission meeting on first look appeared as a compelling example of a committed public official willing to take stand, and in the process take the heat for doing so.

While the Commissioner’s words were passionate and I’m sure heartfelt, the events at the first City Commission meeting were largely staged for the TV cameras rather than anything remotely resembling an actual effort to try and force the City Manager to fire the Chief.

The telling part was that after all the sturm and dang, and the airing of the video promo for the reality show Miami’s Finest, when push came to shove, the Commissioner was ready to withdraw his motion to force the members of the City Commission to cast symbolic votes on whether the Chief needed to go.

When you’re a man of principle, and you take a principled stand, you don’t abandon your principles over some mealy mouthed reasoning from Commissioner “Ethics” Sarnoff and Frankie “AirEuropa gave me a free ticket” Carollo,  neither of whom has the moral turpitude of a cockroach.

But in this instance, as with so many others, the Reverend Commissioner was quick to strike a pose, and equally quick, when pressed to drop the pose, fall back in line and follow orders.

Throughout this whole period, one of Dunn’s biggest failures and disappointments has been how selectively he deals with the issue of gun violence in his District.

On the issue of Black On Black violence, and the repetitive incidents involving shoot-outs and assaults by teenagers with machine guns that occur in his District, his silence and refusal to speak out loudly and repeatedly about this with the same fervor that he has used when attacking the Police Chief has become a source of ridicule and criticism from those who would expect him to tackle this issue head-on, and those looking for any excuse to discredit him, including members of the police department who support the Chief.

Nothing however reveals Dunn’s willingness to sell out his constituents like his actions that put Sarnoff’s toadies in charge of the CRA last year.

On July 22,2010, it was Reverend Commissioner Dunn who made the motion to fire James Villacorta and replace him with Pieter Bockweg.  Bockweg, at the time was the person in charge of managing the ordinance and contracts for billboards and murals. The same ordinance that Marc Siffen’s lawyers were publicly credited with rewriting to benefit Siffen’s proposal to build the 420 foot Media Towers close to the Arsht Center.

As a reward, Sarnoff wanted him moved to the CRA, but didn’t want to do the dirty deed himself, so he had Dunn, as the Chairman of the SEOPW CRA, make the motion as a Pocket Item.  Here is what Dunn said from the transcript of that meeting. 

    “Chair Dunn: I have a pocket item that I've really been 
     tolling with the last few weeks, and it's very, very difficult
     sometimes in leadership because in leadership you have
     to make difficult decisions and sometimes they're not 
     always popular. Sometimes it's excruciatingly painful, 
     but I -- as the Chair of the Southeast Overtown/Park 
     West, I would like to move the CRA (Community 
     Redevelopment Agency) in a slightly different direction. 
     And as such, I would like to select a new executive 
     director. No doubt, Jim has served with distinction. 
     He -- you have done a marvelous job in keeping CRA 
     out of negative headlines since late 2006, and in many
     ways, I have and many of us have been the beneficiaries
     of -- the community has, rather, of some of your efforts.
     Your service to the CRA has been greatly appreciated.
     But I would like a chance to select someone that all 
     of us here are familiar with in the personage of Pieter
     Bockweg. I've watched him tirelessly negotiate complex
     deals and move them from concept to reality. I 
     understand, Madam City Attorney, that the executive 
     director serves at the pleasure of the Board. Is that 
     correct?”

The hyprocisy of Dunn was, and is astounding.  To this day it is doubtful if Reverend Commissioner Dunn even knows where Bockweg’s former office was, much less ever “watched him tirelessly negotiate complex deals...”

What deals? Bockweg was a toady who turned over his office and his responsibilities to 2 private lawyers who came in and rewrote the city’s mural ordinance to benefit their client!  Having proven himself as a reliable ass-kisser, he was being given a job where he could kiss even more ass and, and allow more scummy deals to be done.

But it gets worse. On the afternoon when all this occurred, representatives of Commissioner Sarnoff and Commissioner Dunn met to discuss this issue. 

During the course of this discussion, the question came up as to why couldn’t Clarence Woods, who was the Assistant Executive Director be elevated to Executive Director.

Sarnoff’s representative replied that, “We’re never going to let a Black guy run the CRA.”

Days after Bockweg took over as Executive Director, he “hired” Burt Gonzalez and David Karsh, who had been Commissioner “Ethics” Sarnoff’s assistants, at double their salaries, to the feigned surprise of Sarnoff who claimed that he knew nothing, nothing at all about any of this.

The end result was that Clarence Woods, who had been the Assistant Executive Director for all of the CRA, was reduced to being the Assistant Executive Director of Dunn’s SEOPW CRA.

If Reverend Commissioner Dunn wishes to deny the accuracy of these allegations, or most importantly any knowledge that the conversation between his aide and Sarnoff’s took place, he faces a major problem in that to do so he would have to admit that his “representative” withheld this information from him - because the knowledge of this conversation having taken place has been an inside City Hall story since it occurred - raising questions about that person’s responsibility to be truthful to the Commissioner on a issue of such import.

If Reverend Commissioner Dunn acknowledges being told of this scurrilous comment, and chose to keep the information secret, then his constituents have a really major problem because, while understandably needing to maintain a working relationship with his fellow Commissioners, he not only accepted a racist rationale for Bockweg being the person selected to replace Villacorta, but more importantly, to this day continues to be manipulated and directed on the what’s and when’s when it comes to handing out CRA money and allowing the use of his CRA to further deals by folks who, the best that can be said of them is that they’re unprincipled assholes.

Reverend Commissioner Dunn can raise the roof on Sunday with his sermons during church services, but come Monday his actions are raising the concerns and ire of folks who think he’s sold his soul for a fat bank account of campaign donations.

 *   *   *   *  

IN PART II OF THIS SERIES, I WILL DETAIL HOW COMMISSIONER DUNN, AS CHAIRMAN OF THE SOEPW CRA, SANCTIONED THE EXPENDITURE OF MONIES ON A “PROJECT” THAT MAKE HIS CLAIMS ABOUT THE FARMERS MARKET LAUGHINGLY HYPOCRITICAL, AND UNDERSCORES HOW CRA MONEY IS BEING USED TO FURTHER COMMISSIONER SARNOFF’S SOCIAL ENGINEERING PLANS ABOUT DEALING WITH THE HOMELESS. http://web.me.com/alcrespo1/Site_6/EMPTY_LOTS_IN_OVERTOWN.htmlhttp://web.me.com/alcrespo1/Site_6/EMPTY_LOTS_IN_OVERTOWN.htmlhttp://www.miamiherald.com/2011/04/01/2146283/miamis-redevelopment-agency-oks.htmlhttp://mikadomiami.com/http://web.me.com/alcrespo1/Site_6/OPERA_TOWER.htmlhttp://www.miamiherald.com/2011/03/31/2144244/miami-commissioner-dunn-denies.htmlhttp://www.miamiherald.com/2011/03/31/2144244/miami-commissioner-dunn-denies.htmlhttp://rootsinthecity.com/http://rootsinthecity.com/SEOPW_CRA_MINUTES.htmlshapeimage_5_link_0shapeimage_5_link_1shapeimage_5_link_2shapeimage_5_link_3shapeimage_5_link_4shapeimage_5_link_5shapeimage_5_link_6shapeimage_5_link_7shapeimage_5_link_8shapeimage_5_link_9
SELLING OUT THE “HOOD”
PART II
THE $75,000 PLANTERS PAID FOR WITH SEOPW CRA MONEY

Last week, the Reverend Commissioner Richard Dunn created quite an uproar in front of Miami City Hall when he held a press conference to denounce the Miami Herald for writing a story claiming that the Commissioner was engaged in a political effort to force Professor Marvin Dunn - no relation - to enter into a deal with local Chef John Townson, who is, or isn’t a friend of the Commissioner’s, depending on which one you ask.


Professor Dunn received $100,000 from the CRA over the last 3 years to operate Roots In the City, a farmers market created by reclaiming vacant, weed infested lots in Overtown, which also provides training and employment for local folks.




A week before the Herald story broke, the city’s Code Enforcement folks showed up with a Notice of Violation for illegal sale of fruit and vegetables. Clearly this was a act instigated by Dunn or someone on his staff, and was little more than a blatant act of gangster intimidation. 


If you’ve been a reader of the Report for any time you’ll recall the amount of time and effort it took John El-Masry, Stephen Murray and myself to get Code Enforcement to go after Commissioner “Ethics” Sarnoff over his illegal use of his house as the office for his law firm, and we had documents and photos to support our claims.


So for them to role up on Roots In The City was clearly a put-up job.


After the Herald story broke, the Commissioner had a fit, claiming that “I have been sullied in the paper.” He also alleged that his interest in meddling with Roots In The City was one of trying to get more return for the investment of CRA money.


Lost in all the back and forth between Commissioner Dunn, Professor Dunn, and Chef John Townson, is that Townson’s operation isn’t even in the boundaries of the CRA, so whatever scheme the Commissioner is trying to cook up would require Chef Townson to physically move in with Professor Dunn and Roots In The City for this scheme to work.


As I wrote in PART I of this series, the Reverend Commissioner Dunn is pretty much of an ass-kissing phony when it comes to making any claims about being a prudent steward of CRA money.


Here’s as promised, is an example to support my claim that the he has sold his constituents in District 5 down the river when it comes to using CRA money for their benefit.


The planters in the photo above were part of group placed on NE 7th and 8th Streets between Biscayne Boulevard and NE 1st Avenue, by the Miami Downtown Development Authority (DDA), as part of their GET IT DONE TASK FORCE. The Task Force was created after the announcement of Lebron James coming to play for the Miami Heat. The Planters were one of the things the Task Force claimed would help cleanup and beautify the area surrounding the AAA Arena.


While the DDA purchased the planters, it was Reverend Commissioner Dunn, and his SOOPW CRA Board that directed them to do so, and actually covered the costs in one of those slight-of-hand ways they use to get around the requirement that CRA money could only be spent on eliminating “slum and blight.”.

 

Motwani’s partnership involvement includes owning several of the lots to be used in the project which also currently double as several of the illegal parking lots that have been the subject of repeated complaints and code enforcement violations over the last few years, and detailed in a Miami New Times story. Motwani’s lots were part of the problem that the Task Force was tasked to get cleaned up.


Motwani‘s ability to chair this Task Force is also a subject of controversy, since in order to sit on the DDA Board he had to receive a waiver from the Miami City Commission, because of the conflict of interest between him being on the DDA Board while at the same time being a developer trying to get a major project approved that required DDA approval.


To appreciate what this all means, here is the link to a revealing article about Motwani’s receipt of the waiver,  and how the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission disagreed with the City’s decision.  Of course, the City, the DDA and Motwani all ignored the Ethics Commission ruling.


So, we have a Task Force, and we have a Chairman who owns property that’s at the top of any list of properties that needed to be cleaned up in the neighborhood. (As of the posting of this article, Motwani has not complied with the requirements to place a fence - as required by ordinance - around the lot featured in the photo below.  So much for a leader leading by example.)


What did the Task Force decide to do?  Calling it: ”Park West Beautification,” they decided after serious study and several bus tours involving high-minded public officials and business leaders that they would collaborate, “with the OMNI Community Redevelopment Area to install 75 new street scape planters along NE 7th & 8th Streets.”


What that really means is that Reverend Commissioner Dunn was told to authorize the expenditure of $75,000 from his SEOPW CRA money for the Planters that would line the South side of Nitin Motwani’s parking lot on 7th Street, as well as the lots on 7th and 8th Street between 2nd and 1st Avenue.

I will leave it to the reader to determine whether these Planters constitute a recognizable “beautification” of the area, or whether, having been plopped down like so many giant rat turds with little trees sticking out they’re just another ugly, out of place eyesore.


In the short time they’ve been up, the one thing they’ve become is a traffic hazard.  A handful of them on 8th Street got plowed into by a driver who must have been blinded by all their beauty. 


USING CRA MONEY TO KEEP THE HOMELESS AT BAY


So what was the real reason these Planters were plopped on the street? People in the area believe they were put there to discourage the homeless from gathering on the sidewalks in the area, and to make it impossible for the folks who feed the homeless to park their vehicles anywhere in the sight of anyone going to the Arena.


Of course guys like Motwani always expect a little return on investment for their community service efforts, so a side benefit of the Planters is that it takes away all of the On-Street parking on 7th and 8th Street, which more or less forces folks to park in his, or his pals parking lots, making this a hidden cost of the Planters, since it means lost revenue from parking spaces on those 2 streets.


However, since this is a scheme sanctioned by Commissioner “Ethics” Sarnoff, who has on more than one occasion expressed his visceral distaste for homeless people being visible in his District, you also have to factor in the other costs associated with this scheme.


Before all of the Miami Heat games this season the Miami Police Department, and the City of Miami Public Works Department have been conducting sweeps, herding all of the homeless people anywhere near the AAA Arena as far West as North Miami Avenue and NW 2nd Avenue.

HOW THE DEAL WENT DOWN


We start with the fact that Commisisoner “Ethics” Sarnoff is the Chairman of both the OMNI CRA and the DDA, and considers them to be intertwined.   In fact, Sarnoff considers and behaves as if all of the various boards and agencies that he has some control over are part of an elaborate web of vehicles to manipulate however he wishes.


When it comes to Reverend Commissioner Dunn’s SEOPW CRA, there are 2 additional things you should always keep in mind: First, Commissioner Sarnoff will have his fingerprints over every deal that goes through the SEOPW CRA, and secondly, the Reverend Commissioner Dunn will not do, or say anything that hasn’t been sanctioned by Commissioner Sarnoff, or his CRA enforcer Burt Gonzalez.


Here’s how this deal went down.


Shortly after the big announcement about Lebron James bringing his talent “to South Beach,” the decision was made to polish up the area around the arena, which did indeed need some cleaning up.


The decision was made that the DDA would be the front organization for this effort, and they in turn created the GET IT DONE TASK FORCE, chaired by a gentleman named Nitin Motwani.


By any measure, Motwani was an “interesting” choice to lead this group.  He is the managing partner in the Falcone Group that for the last 7 years has been touting the development of The World Center on most of the property that sits directly across from the AAA Arena.

And just for good measure, a Miami Police car parks at the 8th Street entrance to Camillus House to insure that the sidewalk around the building was cleared and that everyone had to stay inside Camillus House so as not to upset the people coming to the games.
This too is paid for by CRA money, as part of a $1 million “Enhanced Police Presence,” grant given to the Miami Police Department to fund extra police in the CRA Districts.

CORRECTION: The information I was provided about the police car being paid for by the CRA’s “Police Enhancement” grant was not true.  I have been told that Camillus House pays for the Off-Duty Police to park there.  The rest of my claim though I stand by.  I was told by a Camillus House staff person that the homeless people are not supposed to go outside during the Heat games.  Also, the two photos above showing city vehicles were not part of the Off-Duty Police that are hired by 4 of the lots in the area.  The vehicles in those photos are public works vehicles, who people in the neighborhood have seen collecting property of homeless people who have been arrested.

There is no little irony in having a group of mostly white people coming into downtown Miami from the suburbs and Broward County to watch a bunch of rich Black basketball players while having their sensibilities protected from having to see a bunch of largely homeless Black men on the streets around the arena, all of it paid for by tax money intended to eliminate “slum and blight” in Overtown. 

This is how Reverend Commissioner Richard Dunn looks out for his constituents and his District when it comes to spending CRA money.

For every dollar that’s legitimately spent to alleviate “slum and blight” and try to improve the conditions of the people inside the CRA Districts, there are easily $50-$75 or even $100 dollars more, on a dollar for dollar basis being given as tax rebates to developers like Tibor Hollo, or financing the refurbishment of the Woman’s Club, or paying for the operating costs of the Arsht Center, or bullshitting people with the purchase of the School Board Skill Center for a Movie Studio.

It’s all bullshit! For Reverend Commissioner Dunn, and David Karsh that moron that passes himself off as a PR flack for the CRA, but who’s really nothing more than a Sarnoff butt boy, to beat their chests and proclaim that their concern about Roots In The City is all about making sure that the CRA is getting a good return on their money is the height  of hypocritical double-talk. 

The only way to get a good return on the taxpayers money from these fools would be to fire Karsh for being a smarmy ass-kisser too stupid to make it in the real world of TV journalism, and to recall Reverend Commissioner Dunn for selling out his constituents.

Of course, some folks keeps saying that Michelle Spence-Jones will get acquitted and show up at City Hall to chase Dunn out of her office and down the road, so that’s another possibility.

But no matter what, Reverend Commissioner Dunn is an embarrassment and a sellout, and if he had any shame over this and all the other dirty deals that Sarnoff and company have forced him to do, he’d stand up and support someone else in this year’s Commission 2 District race.

That’s how you establish your independence and real street cred, Reverend!
ON FRIDAY, WE WILL BE REVISITING THE MEREDITH NATION STORY WITH NEW DOCUMENTS AND INFORMATION, ALONG WITH REVELATIONS THAT AS BAD AS HER GETTING $80,000 FOR BEING A NO SHOW EMPLOYEE WAS, THIS ISN’T EVEN CHUMP CHANGE TO THE MONEY THAT THE CITY IS LOSING TO THE ORACLE PAYROLL SYSTEM.
THE HOMELESS SPEAK
TRYING TO DISCREDIT THE MESSENGER WHEN YOU CAN’T 
KILL THE MESSAGE

When it comes to Commissioner “Ethics” Sarnoff and Preacher Dunn, its reached a point where you can never put anything beyond them, so when I got a call in the early afternoon telling me that I was being called a liar, and that these guys were denying that police were chasing away the homeless on Miami Heat game days, I decided to go out on the streets and let the homeless speak for themselves.


The video clip above was shot on the corner of NW Miami Avenue and NW 6th Street.


I always prefer to the let emails, documents and people who are affected by the actions of Miami’s politicians speak for themselves.


I also encourage and call out to the local TV stations to go out on these streets and conduct their own interviews. 


The homeless problem in Miami is a very serious problem, and it also involves some serious mental health problems as well, but the notion, as I wrote this morning, that public money is being spent to shield folks from this homeless population when they come to the AAA Arena by forcing these homeless people away, and threatening them with arrest, is abusive, probably illegal, and smacks of the kinds of racial policies that used to take place on these very streets back during segregation when there was a wall that separated Black and White Miami, with a warning to Blacks painted on the wall, that I don’t think I need to write down for you to know what it was. 


That this is sanctioned and supported by a Black, Christian Minster/Politician is both shameful and embarrassing to him, to his constituents, and to all the people in Miami who believe racism - even one that’s predicated on homelessness - is intolerable in our time.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT UPDATE

APRIL 6, 2011: ORIGINAL POST

APRIL 6, 2011: 8:20 PM

A PIG IN THE STY
MEREDITH NATION: THE STORY IS ACTUALLY WORSE THAN I FIRST REPORTED

PART II
A CRESPO-GRAM EXCLUSIVE
COPYRIGHT 2011(C)
THIS STORY CAN BE REPRINTED AND CITED BY OTHER 
NEWS ORGANIZATIONS ONLY WITH ATTRIBUTION TO 
THE CRESPO-GRAM REPORT

Since I published the story about Meredith Nation, I’ve puzzled over how this particular scheme managed to occur, especially for so long a time.  I could see her maybe getting 1, or 2 checks sent to her bank account while she sat home, but it made absolutely no sense that she continued to get checks in the mail for close to 9 1/2 months and no one ever caught on. 


I started asking folks who knew the internal workings of the city’s financial system to explain to me how this could have happened, and after 2 weeks of digging and talking with folks, I’ve managed to put together what I think is a more detailed explanation of what happened, and more importantly how it happened.


In the process I’ve discovered  a far larger problem - might I say HUGE - with the city’s payroll system that in all probability has, and is - costing the taxpayers millions, if not 10’S OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.


But first, here’s the Meredith Nation part of the story.


MEREDITH NATION - PART DUH


I’ve been told that when it first dawned on city officials that
something was amiss, their first reaction was to try and figure out a reason to explain away the problem, rather than consider the possibility that a crime had occurred.


To that end, Larry Spring seized on the explanation that nothing wrong had happened, and that Meredith Nation was merely being paid from her accrued vacation time. That Larry Spring, no wonder he’s so popular around City Hall.  Always looking for the daisy growing out of the steaming pile of shit in the driveway.


The only problem was that she didn’t have anywhere near the amount of vacation time needed to cover this - first because it takes a pretty long time to bank 9/12 months of vacation time - and because she had, as I’ve heard from a source close to the DDA, she took a lot of vacation days while there.


Up until that point however, City Attorney Julie “I’m The Nitwit Who Gets Paid $379,000” Bru, was backing Spring up, even issuing a verbal legal opinion telling folks that the city had no reason to go after Meredith, or the money.


After they found out that Nation didn’t have any vacation time, Bru was forced to revisit the situation and issued the below legal opinion sanctioning Nation’s firing.


In Bru’s opinion she failed to state with specificity the date in March that Nation was transferred back to the city from the DDA, or more importantly when in December 2010, she was placed on a “time card.”


Nor, most importantly does she explain why Nation was put on a “time card.” The time card is actually critical, because that decision has to mark the point when the city learned that Nation had been paid illegally for the previous 9 1/2 months.


These are critical dates, and one would expect a City Attorney managing an office with over 20 lawyers and 80 other employees to be able to request someone to get this information for her. 

 

To see a larger version, or to read ALL the letters related to this incident, click on document.

FOP_NEWSLETTER.html

One of the critical things about these dates is that after the City discovered that Meredith Nation had been getting paid illegally in December of 2010, it then took them until March 17, 2011, for Bru to write this opinion, which raises the question of why it would have taken Larry Spring, Julie Bru and the other morons in the city almost 3 months - give or take a week - this long to figure this scheme out, other than the fact that they spent most of this time looking any which way they could to brush this theft under a rug.


The really important thing to remember is that at late as March 2nd, Larry Spring was trying to cover this up by offering Nation a $81,228.47, as a Procurement Supervisor position in the Purchasing Department.


It was only AFTER that that Bru wrote her legal opinion of March 17th, and Spring was forced to write his March 23rd letter firing Nation. (All the documents are available by clicking on the document above.)


And now of course the possibility exists that the next group of morons looking to brush this under a rug is our own State’s Attorney, Katherine Fernandez-Rundle and her trusted sidekick in charge of investigating Public Corruption, Joe “This Case Ain’t Big Enough For Me To Bother With” Centerino.


Given that Meredith Nation cashed approximately $80,000 in City Of Miami payroll checks for work that she never did, you would figure that this would be an open and shut case for a prosecutor to walk into court with.


However, when it comes to the City of Miami, only some of the little piglets get spanked for doing wrong. 


COULD MEREDITH NATION HAVE SECRETS THAT MIGHT GIVE HER IMMUNITY?


The other part of this story, which is still murky - most likely as Nation’s putative superiors attempt to muddy the waters in an effort to shield their own culpability - is who was Nation’s co-conspirator and enabler in this scheme?


One other issue to consider BEFORE we address the folks who might have assisted her in this effort is is that because Nation worked in both the Capital Improvements Department and the DDA, two hotbeds of scheming and secret deals, there is the possibility - slim, but still a possibility - that Nation might be arrested, and then pressured to roll over and tell whatever she knows about the back room deals at the DDA.


I would go with the DDA rather than the CIP -  although I’d go for everything and leave to back room dark - because those schemes would be fresher, having started after Sarnoff pushed his way into becoming the Chairman of the Board of the DDA, and a number of the DDA Board members are Sarnoff playmates from other deals and other groups.


Of course, for this to bear fruit, the investigation would have to be removed from the clutches of the Miami Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division which is controlled by Al Alvarez, Sarnoff’s former driver and bosom pal.


It’s a hope that the State’s Attorney might actually try to use Nation to go after bigger fish, but these people pretty much operate like the Mafia, only with a lot better protection from the police and prosecutors, so it’s only a hope, at best.


WHO WAS MEREDITH NATION’S ENABLER? 


In my first story I raised the question of who was signing off on Meredith Nation’s timecards, and why hadn’t that person been fired too.


Well, believe it or not, if you are an employee who gets paid a salary, and not an hourly rate, once your name is entered into the city’s payroll system, unless someone physically changes the settings on your account, the system will spit out a payroll check for you every 2 weeks, come hell, high-water or little Green Men from Mars.


This portion of the payroll system is called PAYROLL BY EXCEPTION.


Here’s how it works.


When you get a job in the city, the Payroll Department is supposed to enter your information into the Oracle Payroll System.  Once that’s done, unless the “Payroll Liaison” in that person’s department goes into the system, and using the required code that they are issued to makes changes - such as entering vacation of sick days taken - the system operates on the built in assumption that all is well, and spits out a payroll check for that person every 2 weeks.  That’s what the “exception” means.


If a “Payroll Liaison” does make a change in that person’s payroll account, the system sends a notice to the Department Director so that they are aware of the change, and can make comments,  override decisions, or whatever. 


Other than that, there is no requirement for personal interaction on a bi-weekly basis between the computer system and the various “Payroll Liaisons” in each department.


There is a Fail-Safe of sorts in the parallel payroll stub issued for each employee.  The day after the payroll is done, each department’s  “Payroll  Liaison” is required to go to the Payroll Department where they’re given the payroll stubs for the employees in their department, and THOSE stubs are supposed to be handed out personally to each individual employee.


This is where Meredith Nation’s story gets really, really interesting.  It’s like musical chairs, only with pay stubs. After all the pay stubs were passed out in the Capital Improvements Department (CIP), there would have been for 9 1/2 months, a payroll stub for Meredith Nation. Like musical chairs, this payroll stub would have sat in the hand of the “Payroll Liaison” with no place to go.


The responsibility of the “Payroll Liaison “at that point would have been to take that stub to the Department Director, and report that the employee was nowhere to be found.


So why didn’t that happen for 9 1/2 months, or if it did, then why did Alice Bravo, the Director of CIP not do something about it, like get to the bottom of why someone assigned to her department was being paid and not showing up for work?


For those who don’t follow the antics of the City of Miami on a regular basis, the CIP is a very famous department in the city.  It’s where almost a dozen employees were hauled out in a Perp Walk in 2007, for essentially operating a “private design/construction company on city time. They were dubbed, The Firm.


The current director of this department is Alice Bravo, who I’ve reported in the past is a major Commissioner “Ethics” Sarnoff confidante, and more importantly, has a husband who works for a company that has been the subject of conflict of interest stories reported by Investigation Miami.


The bottom line is that Meredith Nation’s payroll checks didn’t end up in her bank account without someone inside the CID either being very, very stupid - too stupid to have been allowed to be a city department’s “Payroll Liaison” - or, someone who had become so corrupted by the pervasive abuse of the city’s payroll system that Nation’s illegal payment seemed like business as usual at the CIP.

THE COMPUTER SOFTWARE DID IT


On February 15th, I wrote a story entitled: A TICKING TIME BOMB: THE STORY THAT NO ONE HAS REPORTED.


The story dealt with the report issued by Victor Igwe, the City Of Miami’s Independent Auditor General, about the city’s Oracle Payroll System.


It detailed with some specificity - more than I comprehended at the time - the problems with this payroll system. It even used an example of how Julie Bru, the City Attorney had been overpaid $11,130.21.


Well guess what, sports fans, Julie Bru wasn’t the only one to get overpaid.  In fact, at this point there there is every reason to believe that this system has cost the city and taxpayers millions in overpayments because of fraud or incompetence.  The city is literally bleeding money trying to deal with all of the problems they’ve encountered with this system.


As just one example, the City last month settled with the members of the city’s Fire Department by paying them approximately $1.25 million in wages and overtime that had occurred because of problems with the Oracle system.


The city is now in part 2 of this process, calculating how much members of Fire Department owes the city because of overpayments. The estimates for that are somewhere around $250,000.


On the flip side, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) have taken the position that if the City was so dumb as to pay their members more than they should have, tough luck.  Here is a portion of an FOP Newsletter sent out by FOP Vice President Javier Ortiz:


       “Salary Adjustments of Demoted Staff Members- 

        Many of our FOP members that were demoted

        did not have their salaries adjusted in a timely

        manner, resulting in overpayments in the thousands

        of dollars. Under this administration, bargaining

        unit members were ordered to give the overpayment

        back, even though it was gross negligence by the

        City of Miami. We have been in contact with our

         lawyers, who inform us that under arbitral law

        where “an employer makes an error in favor of

        employees, despite full knowledge of the facts,

        any monies paid out may not be recovered.” Elkouri

        & Elkouri, How Arbitration Works, at 1232 (6th ed.

        2003). Estoppel principles may also bar any recovery.

        See Kuge v. State, Dept. of Admin., Div. or

        Retirement , 449 So. 2d 389 (Fla. 3d DCA 1984).

        Given the financial problems facing the City, I cannot

        understand why they would fail to correct this error.

        Given the fact that they have overpaid these

        employees with full knowledge of the error, the

        FOP will not agree to the recoupment of any monies

        by the City.”


The one thing about the Oracle system that the city switched to in June of 2009, is that is a given that most employees in the City of Miami now know how screwed up the system is, and that if the “Payroll Liaison” in their department does not enter information about coming to work late, or leaving early, or taking vacation time or sick leave time, these deductions are never calculated into that employees payroll record, and they skate home free.


It is believed that there are dozens, if not hundreds of city employees who are willfully, and in collusion with their “Payroll Liaison” pal, screwing the city out of millions of dollars by taking days off, showing up late or leaving early and not having this information entered in their payroll records.


That’s the fraud part of the problem, and it’s a very serious problem that concerns some top administrators within the city administration. Other top administrators are either screwing the system themselves, or looking for excuses to blame someone else for what is happening.


The fact of the matter though is that none other than Larry Spring is, like he is on some many other financial screw-ups - at the center of the debacle.


The story of the problems with the city’s payroll system - and the reason that it’s such a serious problem is that between 80 and 90 cents of every dollar that the city spends is tied to payroll in one way or another - is one that warrants the kind of in-depth, multi-series reporting that used to be done by the Miami Herald - back when it was a real newspaper.


I have now had an opportunity to sit down and talk with several very knowledgable people about this system, how the city got it, how it was setup, how it was recognized from the very beginning that the system was in  many ways more sophisticated than the employees entrusted to operate it were capable of mastering, and the continued problems which are costing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in the hiring of Subject Matter Experts - a fancy name for high-priced computer consultants - who in some cases are being paid $200 an hour, - plus expenses because they come from out-of-town - to try and sort out the problems, which often times I’ve been told, Oracle informs the city can be solved by buying another add-on component to the system for $50, $100 thousand dollars.


It’s a nightmare, pure and simple.


But, while this is the system that sent Meredith Nation bank her payroll check every 2 weeks for 9 1/2 months, this does not justify or excuse her accepting $80,613.00 in pay over a period of 9 1/2 months as a no-show employee.


The responsibility for resolving this issue lies with the Miami Police Department and the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s office.


The big question is, whether the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney will actually do something, or will Katherine  Fernandez-Rundle pretend that this - like so many other incident inside the Miami City Hall - are beneath her attention.


If Rundle doesn’t do something about this case however, then I think there is cause for going to the Florida Attorney General and asking for the State-Wide Grand Jury to investigate her!

PHOTO OF THE DAY

Thank you to whoever took the time to put this photo together.  It made me laugh, and I hope it makes all of you who see it laugh too.

APRIL 8, 2011

THE REVEREND COMMISSIONER DUNN IS A MAN OF THE CLOTH.  BUT HE’S ALSO BEEN A SINNER.  ON MONDAY WE’RE GOING TO ADDRESS THE REVEREND’S SINS, AND LIKE WE ALWAYS DO, WE’VE GOT THE DOCUMENTS TO BACK IT UP.


BETTER PRAY HARD THIS WEEKEND PREACHER, BECAUSE ON MONDAY THIS LODGE BROTHER IS GOING TO CALL YOU OUT.

APRIL 8, 2011

IT WAS NOT THE COMPUTER’S FAULT