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 by 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.


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 Dunn has been very selective in when and how 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 contracts for billboards and murals. The same ordinance that Marc Siffen’s lawyers were 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 in 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.  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? The guy 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-kissing toady, 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.
RETURN TO MASTER PAGEREVEREND_DUNN_MASTER.html