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CRESPOGRAM REPORT

JANUARY 2, 2011

ETHICS IN MIAMI?
NOT WITH THIS GANG

I started the year 2011 with a 7 part series about the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission that contributed to then Executive Director Robert Meyers resigning.


Unfortunately other than Meyers departure, little has changed at the Commission since then, and all of the troubling examples of cronyism, conflict of interest and just abysmally poor investigation and analysis of some complaints reveals that under the new leadership of Joe Centerino as the Executive Director, the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission is back to doing the same rope-a-dope when it comes to refusing to go after the real power players and high profile politicians in Miami-Dade County.


So, I felt it appropriate to make my first post of 2012 about the recent Memorandum of No Probable Cause from the Commission in the complaint that Michelle Niemeyer filed in the waning days of the Miami City Commission District 2 race against incumbent Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.


The complaint followed my breaking the news of the DDA’s Get-Out-The-Vote/Absentee Ballot campaign that has resulted in a cottage industry of ethics complaints and even a request for an Florida Attorney General Opinion.


Below is the Memorandum that the Ethics Commission issued on December 14, 2011, and following that is my detailed rebuttal of this Memorandum.


I have become convinced that the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission, warrants even more attention than I focused on it last year, and in the weeks to come I hope to  provide reason and evidence for a complete shakeup of that group.

Here is my rebuttal.

January 1, 2011


Mr. Joe Centerino

Executive Director

Miami-Dade Ethics Commission

19 W Flagler Street

Miami, FL


RE: C11-33 (Niemeyer v. Sarnoff)


Dear Mr. Centerino:


I am writing in regards to the finding of the No Probable Cause Memorandum issued by your office in the complaint filed by Michelle Niemeyer, a candidate for the District 2 City Commission seat in November.


By right, this should be Ms. Niemeyer’s fight to fight, but the arguments raised by your office in determining a No Probable Cause finding are so egregiously biased and unsupported by fact that they cannot be allowed to go unchallenged even if she chooses to walk away from her complaint.


As the record shows, I too filed a complaint against Commissioner Marc Sarnoff related to the activities associated with the Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) Get-Out-The-Vote/Absentee Ballot campaign, and I too cited FS 106.15, as the basis for alleging that Commissioner Marc Sarnoff most likely abused his position as the Chairman of the DDA by benefiting from their actions in conducting both an Absentee Ballot campaign, and in the creation of a sophisticated Voter Profile and Demographic Summary report.


In my case, your office was quick to notify me that the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission was not empowered to deal with complaints filed under FS 106.15, and you even went so far as to send me the proper complaint form to file my complaint with the Florida Elections Commission.


Yet, though both of our complaints were filed based on the same Florida Statute, and you advised me to take my claim elsewhere, you chose to go forward with Ms. Niemeyer’s complaint even though you yourself told the Ethics’ Commission Board on December 14th that you had no standing to investigate violations dealing with Florida Statutes like 106.15(3).


Why?  Why take on investigating a case that you had no standing to investigate, and then write 6 pages of self-serving claptrap to declare the complaint was lacking any probable cause?


Had you really followed your opinion that you could not investigate her complaint, you could have resolved the matter with a simple, single paragraph stating that you had no jurisdiction, and left it at that.


But no, you used the opportunity to generate 6 pages of crap to essentially try to discredit her complaint, and in so doing revealed just how uninformed you were as to the real facts, and worse, how egregiously sleazy your effort was. 


I contend that you did undertook to generate this garbage because this is the way the Ethics Commission does favors for high profile politicians.  You take on cases you either know that you have no standing like this one, or that are determined to need to be handled with special care to protect the politician involved, and then you do a sloppy and biased “investigation” leading to a finding that whitewashes the charges.


Because very few people actually pay any attention - much less close attention to what you all do, the few that do witness this process often lack the stomach to stand up to you people, and so for the most part, you get away with this abuse, quick to defend yourselves against the occasional criticism as being above reproach as pillars of the community.


Very few people who witness this process find the stomach to stand up to you people, and so for the most part, you get away with this abuse, quick to defend yourselves against the occasional criticism as being above reproach as pillars of the community.


In truth, you people are little more than pimps and enablers, and this “investigation” provides a classic window into how you operate.  Here’s what you claimed your “investigation” uncovered, and what the facts that you conveniently overlooked or misstated actually reveal.


LOOKING FOR “FACTS” TO SUPPORT A PREDETERMINED CONCLUSION


Perhaps the most telling evidence of just how unprofessional and biased the Memorandum dismissing Ms. Niemeyer’s complaint was, is the fact that although Commissioner Marc Sarnoff was the named complainant, your “investigator” Manny Diaz managed to conduct an investigation without formally interviewing him, or any member of his staff, and instead relied on interviews with Ms. Alyce Robertson the Executive Director of the DDA and her Assistant Executive Director Javier Betancourt.


Certainly Ms. Robertson and Mr. Betancourt should have been on any list of potential witnesses to interview, but the allegations of possible abuse of power were directed very specifically at the Commissioner – he is the “elected official” - and the failure to conduct an on-the-record interview with Sarnoff, or his staff assistant William Plasencia, especially in light of the available evidence and detailed assertions made by Mr. Murawski, absolving Sarnoff of any wrong-doing is actually quite amazing. 


During the December 14th Ethics Commission Board meeting, Mr. Murawski repeatedly attempted to minimize Commissioner Sarnoff position and influence over the DDA Board by referring to him as simply a board member.  Never once did he state that Sarnoff was the Chairman, and that he wields enormous power over this organization.


Just one example of that was evidenced in the minutes of the July 11th Board minutes – where the Board was informed that the DDA would be conducting a Get-Out-The-Vote/Absentee Ballot campaign for the Commissioner’s seat – and where it was revealed that because the DDA Nominating Committee had not met, “Chairman Sarnoff will assign members to Committee.”


Among those he chose was none other than his landlord and close confidant, Jay Solowsky, with whom he now shares legal office space.


Imagine, a Chairman who has the unfettered ability to choose the members of the nominating committee that selects the Board members, and everyone pretends with a straight face to claim that this same individual wields little if any power over getting anything he wants from the DDA staff whenever he wants it.


Even 5th graders could see through this charade.


Here are the principle bogus claims that Mr. Murawski’s makes, and my responses:


ETHIC’S COMMISSION CLAIM NUMBER 2


“There is no evidence that Sarnoff,

or anyone on his behalf, requested

or received the AB ballot request

form information prior to the request

forms being delivered to Elections.”


Mr. Murawski frames his claim on a bogus assumption, and then uses it to offer a conclusion that ignores the actual facts of what actually occurred.


First, how does Mr. Murawski conclude that there was “no evidence,” that “Sarnoff or anyone on his behalf requested and/or received any AB form information.”


What factual “evidence” does he have or use to back up that statement of fact, other than a statement supposedly made to Manny Diaz by Alyce Robertson?  Do you really think that if anyone associated with Sarnoff had blatantly engaged in walking in or calling to ask this information that Ms. Robertson or anyone else at the DDA would willingly admit to being a party to a violation of FS 106.15(3)?


The claim and conclusion made by Murawski is a red herring, because in the audio tape the December 14th Ethics Commission meeting Murawski refers to the claim from Ms. Alyce Robertson and the other unknown individuals who were interviewed that neither “Mr. Sarnoff or, no one, from his campaign ever requested that information to get a leg up or any kind of advantage from having that information, any time sooner than another candidate could get it.”


As you see, in his verbal presentation, Murawski added the interesting assumption, “any time sooner than another candidate could get it.”


First, the issue has never been that someone from his campaign was involved in seeking the information, because they didn’t need to.


The argument has never been about Sarnoff’s campaign staff, but rather about his Commission office staff, specifically his trusted staff member Mr. William Plasenica, who was able to take care of that chore by being involved from the beginning in the planning, logistics, and design efforts of the process well before the campaign was revealed to the DDA Board in May.


The Florida Statute that you claim you had no standing to investigate says in plain English:


“A candidate may not, in the furtherance of his

         or her candidacy for nomination or election to

         public office in any election, use the service of

         any state, county, municipal, or district officer

         or employee during working hours.”


Just what part of that sentence didn’t Mr. Murawski understand when he decided to go off about campaign workers?  It was never about campaign workers, but IT WAS about using a member of his staff to engage in this activity – during working hours, using a city computer, his city email address and using his city car to go to meetings about this campaign - that Ms. Niemeyer and I alleged was a violation.


In fact Ms. Niemeyer even cited Section 36(j) of the City of Miami Civil Service rules, which Mr. Murawski also cited in his Memorandum, that prohibits a, “person holding a position in the classified service [from] taking part in political management…or in political campaigns during city working hours or with personal property belonging to the city.”


Mr. Murawski used this section of the Civil Service Rules to exonerate the Commissioner, and in passing to give Plasenica as pass also because as a Commissioner’s aide he is not part of the “classified staff,” but who’s behavior does fall under the City’s APM-1-81, and Florida Statute 104.31, both which state that ANY employee, “probationary, classified, unclassified, executive, temporary, or part time” are not permitted to participate in political activity during working hours, and that:


“Employees shall not use any City facilities,

          supplies, materials, property or other resources

          for political purposes.This includes a prohibition

          on the use of City telecommunications and/or            

          technology systems for any political activity. “


Had your investigator Manny Diaz walked into the DDA offices as an investigator and not as an apologist only looking for information that would bolster whitewashing this matter he would have easily discovered that William Plasencia, was assigned a desk and computer at the DDA offices at the time that all of the planning for this campaign was taking place.


It was part of the arrangement that the Commissioner made to have him close by after was forced to move his illegal law offices from his home and into a shared arrangement with his pal, and DDA Outside Counsel, Jay Solowsky, whose offices at 200 SE Biscayne Boulevard, are directly across the street from the DDA offices at 201 SE Biscayne Boulevard.


Plasencia’s direct involvement and fingerprints in this deal were detailed in a series of emails that I published on my website, and that Ms. Niemeyer informed me that she had mentioned to you.


Those emails revealed that Mr. Plasencia was not only an active participant in these discussions and meetings, but that contrary to the claim and assumption that Commissioner Sarnoff was not involved, revealed that the Commissioner was also a recipient of some of these same emails.


This information belies the claim that Mr. Murawski made to the Ethics Board about Sarnoff not being able to benefit “any time sooner than another candidate could get it.”


All of this activity occurred almost virtually in secret in a 2-month period BEFORE the DDA Board was first appraised that they were going to be sponsoring a Get-Out-The-Vote/Absentee Ballot campaign.


None of the other candidates ever knew that any of this activity had taken place until I broke the story on October 19th., much less in March, April and May when it was first discussed and planned, nor during the summer when the DDA sent out the postcards about their election.


Lastly, ignored in all of this, is that above and beyond the question of Absentee Ballots was the sophisticated 2011 Downtown Miami Voter Profile and Demographic Summary, incorporating 10 years of the voter history of the DDA District that was prepared by Mr. Nicholas Martinez, a former employee of the Leon County Supervisor of Elections and new employee of the DDA, who Mr. Betancourt, after it’s existence became known, claimed personally to me had never been circulated to anyone other than himself, Ms. Robertson, and “one or two others” in the office.


In short, if Mr. Betancourt’s claim is to be believed, the DDA expended money, time and recourses to the creation of a document that less than a handful of people ever saw, or were even made aware of, including most especially any of the other candidates.


Can anyone with a straight face claim that the Chairman of the DDA, or his staff member never knew or saw this document?


ETHIC’S COMMISSION CLAIM NUMBER 3


“The AB ballot request form information in

possession of the DDA is a public record that

was available to anyone  who requested it; it

was not proprietary to Mr. Sarnoff.


This is the most astounding claim of all.  Mr. Murawski makes this claim during the very same time that the DDA is continuing to do everything in its power to deny me access to these very same documents, as evidenced by both the email that Javier Betancourt sent to Assistant City Attorney Veronica Xiques, on October 21, 2011, following my public records request for this information, and in the subsequent refusal to turn over these very same documents that Murawski claims were available “to anyone who requested it.”


In fact, the DDA has gone so far in this effort to keep this information secret that on November 18, 2011, the DDA Board voted to ask the Miami City Attorney to seek an Florida Attorney General Opinion as to whether any of this “absentee ballot information” was releasable.  The request for an AGO was sent to Tallahassee on December 5th, and is now pending.


Here is the text of the email that Mr. Betancourt sent to Ms. Xiques on October 21st.


“Attached, please find an LSR and associated

documents for the review of a public records

request.  Given the sensitive nature of public

records requests, and the expectation of a

reasonable time frame for response, I would

ask for an expedited review.


For the assigned attorney….the basic question

is whether the DDA can and should, in response

to a public records request turn over copies we

made of absentee ballot applications that we

received.  State Statute 101.62 copied below

seems to suggest that this information is

confidential.


Please advise as soon as possible so that we

may comply with this request in a timely fashion,

and as always, please contact me with any

questions or concerns.


Thanks,

Javier”


It is true that the other candidates could have obtained the major portion of this information from the Miami-Dade Elections Commission AFTER the postcards had been turned over to them and they had entered the information in their database, but there is no factual record to support any claim by the DDA that they turned over the postcards in a timely manner.  Ms. Niemeyer even mentioned the possibility that the Absentee Ballots could have been held back strategically.


Nor, in this age of internet and email could any of the other candidates have obtained the email addresses that the DDA collected as part of this campaign, because email addresses are not something asked for by the Election’s Commission, and consequently since the DDA never made an effort to inform any of the other candidates of this, or anything else having to do with this campaign, only an insider like the Commissioner was in a position to know and benefit from these email addresses to potential absentee voters in his District.


From beginning to end, the information about the creation of this campaign, it’s implementation, and it’s “results” was controlled by a small number of individuals, all indebted and obligated in one way or another the DDA Chairman of the Board and candidate for reelection, Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, and the resulting efforts by these people to do everything they could to keep this information away from me, make’s Mr. Murawski’s claim laughable.



ETHIC’S COMMISSION CLAIM NUMBER 4


Even if Sarnoff had access to the AB ballot

request form information prior to the other

candidates all that would mean is that he had

knowledge of people who requested AB ballots.

It is purely speculative to believe that having

that knowledge would in any way translate

into more votes for Mr. Sarnoff as opposed

to any other candidate.”


In Mr. Murawski’s opinion it’s not okay for Ms. Niemeyer to speculate that Commissioner Sarnoff might have had access to inside information, yet its okay for him to speculate that even he did it would be “purely speculative to believe that having that knowledge would in any way translate into more votes for Mr. Sarnoff as opposed to any other candidate.”


Is Mr. Murawski a moron, smoking dope during working hours, or just egregiously ignorant of the acknowledged benefit that goes along with inside information, whether it be in political campaigns, betting on horses at the track, or playing the stock market.


How important were the votes in the Sarnoff election?  There were a total of 5450 votes cast.  Sarnoff won by 296 votes.  If 149 votes had been cast for any of the other candidates, Sarnoff would have been forced into a runoff, where many believe he could have been voted out of office.


There were 703 Absentee Ballots cast within the DDA’s boundaries in the election.  If one assumes that minimum of 300 of those votes came about as a result of the DDA Absentee Ballot campaign, as they claim, then having access to those 300 individuals is not an insignificant benefit.


To claim that having inside knowledge of whom those 300 – or however many individuals it was– and having access to their specific information, including their email addresses wouldn’t be seen as an advantage in a close campaign is laughable?  Especially since most of the voters who live within the DDA boundaries live in high-rise condos, whose board of directors prohibited any of Sarnoff’s opponents from having access in order to conduct any meet and greets inside of their buildings.


IN CONCLUSION

If you – as you’ve admitted - didn’t have standing to take on this complaint, then you should have rejected it, like you did mine, and encouraged Ms. Niemeyer to go to the Florida Ethics Commission with her concerns.


Instead, you and your underlings conducted a bogus “investigation” and crafted a No Probable Cause Memorandum intended to both whitewash this incident, and worse to muddy the waters with this embarrassing mishmash of false claims, bogus facts and questionable conclusions.


In a correspondence to Mr. Murawski from Ms. Niemeyer, which I was copied, she states that “Mr. Centerino, rather patronizingly in my opinion, explained that he has 30 years of legal experience and does not see how the Commissioner's actions (as the DDA Chairman) and the DDA's actions, in using public resources, employees and equipment to engage in political affairs, were illegal. I disagreed.”


I would go further.  Your reputation Mr. Centerino, for going to great lengths to find reasons not to prosecute high profile political players in this community during your years as the head of the State Attorney’s Public Corruption Unit, seems to have once again been upheld with this latest stunt by Mr. Murawski.


Back in 1993, when I was just starting out in my civic activism, you bamboozled me when I came to you about a public records case, and even though I was in relative terms really a hick back then, I was even then smart enough to understand that you had hosed me, and that you could not be trusted to look out for the public’s interest.


This sorry excuse for a legal Memorandum of No Probable Cause absolving Commissioner Sarnoff, Mr. Plasencia and the DDA of any possibility of wrong doing, along with the prior examples of cronyism, illegal behavior and conflict of interest by board members that I’ve previously uncovered is evidence that the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission is perhaps the most unethical public body in Florida.  And that says a lot in a State that’s known for its corruption.


Cordially,


Al Crespo


Cc:  Ethics Board of Directors

       County Mayor

       County Manager

       Miami-Dade County Commissioners

       Miami-Dade Inspector General

       The CrespoGram Report

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