Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Recall fever strikes ground zero

The next recall effort has already started -- albeit slow.

A group of Miami Lakes residents have formed a political action committee to oust Mayor Michael "Muscle" Pizzi. Members of the Concerned Citizens for Better Government PAC, formed last month by a dentist and vocal critic of the mayor's who has sued him on two separate issues, met last week to look over the 10 or so reasons they say they have to recall Pizzi. The law requires they limit it to three reasons. And that takes
time, people.

Once they choose those and get the petition registered with the clerk in time, the group hopes to start collecting signatures by the end of the week, said PAC Chair David Bennett, who hopes to have the recall vote sometime in September. The law requires it be set between 60 to 90 days after the petitions are verified.

But this petition process is a little different from the one Miami Voice used to recall veteran county commissioner Natacha Seijas. That petition stated no reason at all (it didn't have to). This will give specific causes for recall. The PAC alleges that Pizzi (photographed here at the Miami Lakes library earlier this month while he tries to tell those against the Seijas recall that they can still be friends) refuses to provide public documents as required by law, uses his position as mayor inappropriately, as prohibited by county ethics rules, and uses City Hall as his private legal satellite office, among other wrongdoings. This petition also requires two rounds of signatures, per the city's law. First, 1,600 city voters, or 10 percent, must sign before it goes to the town clerk for Pizzi's response. Yes, he gets to respond with 200 words or less within 30 days. Then his "reasons I should not be recalled" goes on a second petition that must be signed by 15 percent of the voters, or 2,400 people.

"We have to get about half the signatures that Miami Voice had to get for all of District 13, all in Miami Lakes," Bennett said.

Once the petition is registered with the city clerk, the group has 60 days to get the first 10 percent. "But we feel very confident about that, due to the reaction at the early voting sites," Bennett said, adding that they collected about 900 to 1,000 names and emails to contact people interested in signing he petition. "Two thirds of the people we need have indicated they are willing to sign the petition, which on Day One gets us very, very far along."

But not if they don't start. If they want to collect signatures during the May 24 election to replace Seijas, they need to present language soon. So, let's review.

Even though Ladra loves the one about public records and thinks that should be reason enough for anyone to be recalled, this is already the subject of a lawsuit in appeals. Bennett sued after Pizzi or city staff cut out the names of the email recipients, which Bennett said he needs for context. We agree. Pizzi says the addresses are exempt from the public records laws and has gone as far as to accuse Bennett of being a pedophile trolling for kiddies. But unless those emails, taken from the sign in sheets at town hall meetings and other events and city Hall, are those of politically active and civic-minded children -- which live only among leprechauns with Santa Claus -- that is disingenuous and irrelevant at best, inflammatory and defamatory at worst. Bennett has appealed the decision and says that an email is just as much a public record as a typed letter. Ladra knows that there are provisions in the law for redaction. And yet, cannot think of a reason why these email addresses would fall in that category. Can an attorney chime in? Still, while these are issues near and dear to Ladra's heart and the dentist's heart, we are not so sure the general public can get all worked up about public records.

So, that leaves:

(1) Findings by a county agency that the town misappropriated millions in transit funds by using them for an on-demand, call service instead of a scheduled route. Pizzi has said that the town does not use CITT funds for the on-demand service, but can't prove that there was a scheduled route when the county conducted its investigation. And Steve Cody, who represents Bennett in his lawsuits and also represents the PAC, said the town will likely have to refund more than half the $5.5 million it has gotten from the half penny tax for the transit program.
"By the time the investigation is done by the county, there will probably be a $3 million liability they will have to pay back," Cody said.

Using town hall as his law office for private business. "He had the wife of a drug dealer client come and visit him in his office to try to impress her on how important he was," Bennett claims. "He has used the town copiers repeatedly to run off things for his law practice. He may say, 'Well, it's not that big a deal.' But it's illegal." Ladra doesn't know what Pizzi says. He will not return her calls. At all. But she told Bennett that we wouldn't mind our representatives mixing some of their work with the city or county business, because I would rather them be there so they are accessible. Taking phone calls or visitors while you are wearing your public hat is something that cannot be avoided, I think. Am I wrong? Maybe. But, in any case, the copier thing could be a problem if it is something he does regularly because lawyers kill a lot of trees. Cody, who also worked for Natacha Seijas against the recall and for recall PAC chair Vanessa Brito, who he used to represent in a lawsuit brought against her by Miami Gardens Councilman Andre Williams (yes, it is a crazy and incestuous political world), would probably like to use it, too. "I can't go into town hall in Miami Lakes and say, 'Hey, I need to send this stuff out to circuit court. Can I use your copiers?' He can't either," the attorney said.

(3) Conflict of interests concerns and ethical complaints arising from his private work as an attorney and lobbyist in other municipalities for a solid waste company that got a $317,000 contract in Miami Lakes. Although he recused himself from the 2009 vote on the contract, and the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission found insufficient evidence to charge him with an ethics violation, but warned him to make more clear separations between his private and public roles. In a separate 2010 case, the commission investigated whether Pizzi registered as a lobbyist as required by law on behalf of the same company in Miami Beach and found he was not registered, but they did not pursue anything after he did. Early this year, the commission got yet another complaint -- this time from the police in Medley, where Pizzi serves as town mayor. A month after he was appointed, the cops said he called them in and shook them down for a client and friend who needed to repossess property that was being held at a warehouse. Pizzi defense in statements quoted in the press was basically that it's all in a day's work.

The other reasons -- the convenient timing of the financing for the bond for the new town hall and the rumored law enforcement inquiries and the story about how he tried to bully the manager of a local bagel shop and used his mayoral muscle to intervene in the eviction of his campaign treasurer (and alleged romantic interest) and talk his way out of traffic tickets (all in the public documents in the Ethics Commission case) -- can still be used in the recall campaign even if it's not on the petition. Because, let's face it, it doesn't really matter what's in print. It's what you say. And the fact that the people are in a mood to listen. In fact, both Cody and Bennett say they count on a "throw the bums out mentality" Pizzi helped foster with the Seijas recall.

"It's probably one of the reasons why Michael is terrified of the recall. We are going to be approaching those people as well. If they are dissatisfied, there may be some who, not all of them, but some who would sign the petition," said Cody, who jokingly offered to contribute to his campaign for commissioner in district 13 after Pizzi was quoted as saying he did not want to run because it would look like that was why he supported the recall.

Well, duh.
That was the public consumption quote. What he really meant was that of course he planned to run until State Rep. Esteban Bovo (Rep. District 102), a former Hialeah council member who is said to have the lock on the seat, jumped in. Heck, even Raul Martinez, who was said to be eyeing the race, has not decided yet if he wants to take Bovo on.

Maybe Brito, who might be living in Hialeah with the treasurer of the PAC and her domestic partner, will take a stab at it. But we are not sure she moved into the district in time for the 6-month residency requirement to qualify.

1 comment:

  1. All this play-by-play reporting is indeed entertaining to say the least. But you have to be exhausted!!! Good thing you can't be recalled because if you could believe me 'they' would already be collecting signatures!


I have decided to moderate comments for a while as there are some that are simply off-subject and have become personal and offensive in nature, attacking not just me but others through this venue.

Comments that add substance and context to the news and issues in the blog will be posted. Comments that use profanity and abuse this open space to attack others will be saved and, when called for, sent to the appropriate authorities.