Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seijas recall attorney is author

Attorney Stephen Cody, in the news of late as one of the lawyers for ousted county commissioner Natacha Seijas, gets his political thrills fix between recalls via the pen. Or keyboard, rather. Cody is officially an author. And he pours plenty of political intrigue -- even if it is labeled fiction this time -- into his first electronic book, Lying in State.

Cody, who also served as legislative aide to State Rep. Bill Sadowsky and represented U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (Rep. Miami) in last year's lawsuit against redistricting, seems to also draw from his experience. Protagonist Jim Sullivan, a Miami prosecutor who defends his stepmother when his father a former governor, is murdered after a presidential fundraiser, is not based on anyone in particular, Cody says, but rather a combination of late Gov. Leroy Collins, who served during the civil rights movement, and FSU Prez Sandy D'Alamberte, who was a state rep and Cody's political father (Sadowsky was D'Alamberte's legislative aide)..

"Murder...Mayhem...Conspiracy...Death...Just another day in Miami," reads the synopsis on Barnes & Noble's website. Guess they forgot to add "recall fever."

Already, it's getting rave reviews among his facebook friends and family. No reviews yet, but 40 people "liked" it. Cody even has a trailer to promote the book on YouTube (

Cody, 54, was an English major before he went to law school. "I always felt I really wanted to be a writer, but needed something to support myself with," he said. As he approaches his 30th year after passing the bar. He actually wrote it several years ago and a publisher sold 2,000 copies before he got the rights back. He tried to market it on and off. Now, with self publishing on the internet -- $2.99 to download -- he's off to other stories.

The next one features a team of mercenaries who invade a convent on the French Riviera and steals an ancient relic. In the process, the mother superior ends up discovering the thieves and being lulled into the niche and is buried alive. Then it skips forward 30 years and to a farm family in Nebraska, where another mercenary raid ends with the death of all the children, except the youngest. We wonder where Cody, who lives in Palmetto Bay, got the muse for this one.

"I have 10 or 15 outlined out," said Cody, adding that includes a three-book series for young adults he wants to write with his son, an award-winning playwright. Something about London and magic and the throne. Sounds like a winning formula. And if it is, Seijas and the Miami Lakes PAC seeking to recall the mayor there might have to find another attorney.

"I've been practicing for 30 years and I love it. But if I could make a living writing books, I'd retire," Cody said.

May we suggest some locally-inspired characters for your next fiction novel. Like maybe a billionaire property owner who finances the recall of an entire town council so he can turn his seaside video game arcade, we later learn, into a hotel/convention center built with tax incentives (or something like that). Throw in a gypsy con artist who rides his coat tails when she sees $ signs and a chance to repeatedly speak bad Spanish on TV as well as a half dozen second-rate politicians foaming at the mouth for the mayor's post. You can't leave out the neighboring town's mayor with shady business ties who looks and acts more like a bouncer or bodyguard and bullies the bagel shop girl and the landlady that evicts his deadbeat girlfriend (or someone like that).

Now Ladra is inspired. This stuff writes itself.

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.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Little ridiculous PAC aims anew

The Miami Voice PAC that petitioned the recall of former commission veteran Natacha Seijas may take aim once again at Commissioner Audrey Edmonson because she called the group "little" and "ridiculous." Funny, Ladra thinks it's the smartest thing Edmonson said all night.

Apparently, PAC Chair Vanessa Brito, who had no problem with the fat jokes she and her supporters made about Seijas, took the "most outrageous" comments of the day (Really?!?!) personally and threatened to start the recall process again on Friday. Really? For this? Well, please tell signers and voters this time that the reason for the this costly recall is because Edmonson "dissed Miami Voice by calling them 'little' and ridiculous." Oh, how dare she!!

Of all the other things they said, this was the worst: "This little group thinks they can go around collecting signatures and bully us." Inoffensive enough, though it's a misquote. But before I put it in her words, which give a totally different tone and context, let me just ask what is it so offensive she said? Little? But you said earlier this month when you were more than a week late with campaign finance reports that you were "just one person." That sounds little to me. Could it be that she called you a bully? Well, let's review your own words on facebook after the meeting when the Vanessicans started the inevitable egging on. You wrote, and I quote correctly: "I guess I'm headed back to the clerk of courts tomorrow. She has to fear that 88%." Your head of insecurity (because, really, you are actually more like "only five people," which is still "little"): "Just because we were not successful the first time in recalling Edmonson, does not mean we won't try again. There's still a lot of work to be done." That could be considered a veiled threat against almost anyone. And this post from member number two and former commission candidate Mimi Planas, pictured here with Brito, her campaign manager in a failed her bid to unseat Javier Souto because they thought of the recall idea too late: "wtf... oh realllllyyyyyy...... must have a little talk w/ her." That might be considered bullying. (It's also not the way a wannabe commissioner should talk, so let's hear it for the people of Westchester who rejected her with an 80 percent vote! 80 percent! Remembe?). You know what else is bullying? An email to an activist who doesn't support you that says, and I quote correctly, "David, I will be at Miami Lakes today. I presume you will too. I would LOVE to address the false allegations made in your email IN PUBLIC." (I'm getting another allegedly threatening email allegedly sent to a blogger last summer to defend another one of your failed candidates). You know what else could be bullying? Jokes about Seijas weight and calling her Jabba the Hut. Ask any school counselor.

Here is what Edmonson actuallly said, and a great illustration of how context matters. I'll call it one of the most honest, open, courageous things that anyone up there said Thursday, even though I did not agree with her most of the rest of the time. But while grown men cowered in the wake of the feared "88 percent!!", Edmonson faced the witch hunt and did not have one hair on her tongue (doesn't translate as well but basically, called it as she saw it):

"We should not allow the media... or one person or one small group to tell us what to do because then, the way I would see it, what is the purpose of this commission? Why elect anybody to represent the people and then allow others to bully that particular group? And when I say bully, I mean bully. Because now, its gotten to the point where if someone doesn't agree with a vote on this dais, then 'Okay, go recall them.' Forget about criminal activity. Forget about malfeasance or misfeasance. Forget about all that stuff. 'I don't like you. I don't like how you voted. So let's do a petition drive to get them out.' That's ridiculous. It's ridiculous!"

See? You misquoted again. She actually called you ridiculous twice.

These are our leaders, people

Still reeling from the stunningly anti-climatic commission vote Thursday, Ladra is having more difficulty concentrating than ever. And being brief. Maybe the commission is contagious.

So let's concentrate on a few favorite moments, some because they were surprisingly good and fresh and focused and others because they were ridiculously bad and silly and suspicious. And please forgive me for focusing fervently only on the first four or five hours before I started to multitask. There are things we working folks have to do. We can go in chronological order, but I think it would be better (For me. Who cares about you? Watch the tape) if I go drone by drone.

The first boo goes out to Chairman Joe Martinez, who could have avoided hours of needless back and forth about dates and windows if he had just changed the order of the items on the agenda. (Commissioner Audrey Edmonson at one point was afraid to make a motion: "I gotta put a date on there?") He is the one most responsible for that painfully long meeting. (Quipped Commissioner Barbara Jordan: "On second thought, I should have kept my root canal appointment today.) Ladra thinks the 8.5 hour torture and lack of fresh air got commissioners even more distracted and confused. Why on Earth would Martinez -- who did not support any reform move except his own to bolster the Inspector General -- refuse to change the agenda after so many people have been suggesting it since Monday? Oh, wait, was it a way for the 2012 mayoral candidate to raise questions about a colleague who is running for mayor in the special election and will likely be Martinez' biggest obstacle as incumbent next year? He didn't name names, but Commissioner Carlos Gimenez is the only one (so far) going for the 18-month head start.

"Who does it benefit? Does it benefit people who are in office," Martinez asked in a needlessly suggestive way in a public, televised meeting. He called on the county attorney and the elections supervisor and asked them how delaying the vote might affect the qualifying period (what?) and the resign to run law that makes electeds quit if they want to jump into another race. Like he couldn't have asked that at the office? In a memo, even? It smacks of a low blow. Later he said he was just trying to give "this gentleman over here the most amount of time for what I originally thought this recall election was for." That's why he asked about qualifying periods. Aha. But then in the next breath, he told everyone that his concern about the timing on the resign to run law was about "somebody being in office and using that office to run a campaign." (If Ladra was Gimenez, she would have bit him right then and there). "But I was told that was not the case." And so he withdrew his objection. Which is sort of like an attorney withdrawing a question she or he knows is not allowable because, hey, the jury hears it before the judge strikes it anyway. Tsk, tsk. That's behavior unbecoming of a commissioner, let alone a mayor. No wonder there's a learning curve if he couldn't get these answers before the meeting.

Martinez also insinuated that Gimenez was campaigning when he sponsored a ballot question to limit the number of county departments, like the state does, to 25. "Is the Fish and Wildlife Commission a department," Martinez asked (and Ladra growls because she is sure he knows the answer already and this is just for more effect). But he did point out that state agencies and divisions in departments only make the state seem smaller. "What this does is look good in the media. 'We are trying to reduce the size of government.' ... It's really not going to accomplish anything," Martinez said. (Note to Joe: While maybe I agree with you on the cap, it benefits taxpayers to have the charter questions on the same ballot by saving about $5 million and takes this mockery of an election out of the special interests who manipulated the process to get it. Or it could have if any of the questions put forth by commissioners after more than eight hours made any sense. Instead, you just handed them a new reason to raise funds for more recalls, thus propagating the cottage industry they created. You need another advisor, dude.).

Gimenez, who did show some moments of leadership, does not get off without a slap on the wrist. While he led the charge to set the May 24 election and reconvene in 15 days on April 11 to put the mayor and commission races on the ballot, Ladra thinks Gimenez either got too giddy at the prospect, finally, of that elusive reform he has been beating drums for, or else used the opportunity to promote himself as anti-establishment mayoral candidate by sponsoring no less than six potential charter amendments (more than anyone else and, officially, twice as many as allowed, although the county does not enforced that rule). Seems like throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks and he can take credit for. The department cap does seem more show than substance. While it may save on big paychecks for department heads, if there is no limit on department spending it means nothing. Well, maybe more outside consultants to take up the slack and provide us, first, with some campaign funds. He has to know, a veteran pol and government administrator like him, that it could seem like a "feel good" measure at a convenient time, no matter what they do in Tally. Please tell me that state government is not the "model".

Commissioner Bruno Barreiro wins the award for being the most supportive of charter reform he had no intention of supporting. "I support charter reform. I've sponsored charter reform since 2000," he huffed and puffed. ""I've profferred, in workshops, redistricting...I've profferred procurement reform. I've proffered substantial amounts of changes." He forgot to add, "But not today. Not now that I have another chance." Instead, he wants to wait for the next general election to get the most "participation from this community and so they can make well informed decisions," he said, supporting the suggestions for more task forces and more review committees. The recall vote, he added, was for the mayor and district 13 commissioner, not for the charter, trying to make it seem like adding reform would sow down what the people really wanted, the replacements. "I don't want to stop. I don't want people to think we want to stop this, we want to derail this," he said, winning the award also for saying what he doesn't mean.

Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, who urged the delay of amendment questions until the presidential primary next year, might want to reset his alarm. "I hope you got the wake-up call," he told his fellow electeds before Ladra realized he apparently hit snooze. "The people have spoken. I have always followed their voice and I am not going to change now," Diaz said, because the meeting was not a public hearing. "There are people in that audience that I want to hear from. I haven't had the opportunity to listen." Um, which people? Remove the wax in your ears, Pepe, because people want reform on the same ballot as the replacements. They wanted reform before the recall. You guys just never paid attention before. "Why are we pushing this so fast?" Fast? Are you kidding? "Do you know the majority of people don't even know that this meeting was taking place?" Really? Where are those people sticking their heads? "Did you know that these people can't talk here?" Wish I could have answered: "Pepe, did you know that those people have talked enough?" C'mon, who doesn't know their position? Maybe the seemingly too-strong defense of the Bramanites and Vanessicans is an olive branch -- he wants to put them on a task force, "another one" (his words, not mine) to review charter reform -- so they don't target him for recall next (don't worry, Peps, we think they have their sights on someone else).

Then, he couldn't help but put in a jab: "By the way," Diaz said, "I am not running for mayor, so I don't have an interest." Nice. But let Ladra say that. Let someone else point it out. Maybe this animosity is why you guys can't get anything done. Geez. You remind me of my 10-year-old daughter and her 5th grade friends. "You can't be my friend if you are Billie's friend." Grow up. Ladra is sure Pepe felt targetted by the outside employment issue (you know, with all that bad press and those questions about his company getting airport work), but two wrongs and all that. Besides, it's not true. All of you up there have interests in something.

While Diaz wanted to hear from the people who drove the recall, Commissioner Edmonson, who may have inadvertently invited another recall effort (more on that later) certainly did not need to hear from "a few self-appointed representatives of the community." It was no secret who Edmonson, who was one of the original five targetted by the opportunistic Miami Voice PAC (more on that later), was talking about. "We should not allow the media, and I'm going to repeat that again, or one person or one small group to tell us what to do because the way I see it is what is the purpose of this commission? Why elect anyone to represent the people and then allow others to bully that particular group. And when I say bully I mean bully, because now it's gotten to the point where if someone doesn't agree with a vote on this dais, then, 'Okay, go recall them.' Forget about criminal activity, forget about malfeasance or misfeasence, forget about all that stuff. 'I don't like you. I don't like how you voted. So let's do a petition drive to get them out.' That's ridiculous. It's ridiculous... That is why we are here today, because some little group decided to put out a petition drive," Edmonson said, speaking of the Miami Voice PAC, we think, not Norman Braman. "It's time we had some checks and balances there. One person should not be God in this community." Okay, that one might be about Braman. "I thought this community elected us to represent them. They did not elect billionaries or little groups."

While we agree on the lack of transparency of PACs that do not speak for a majority, Edmonson is as disingenuous as Peps when she says she hasn't heard from the people. Ladra has asked for emails to and from all commissioners (public records) about this meeting and vote to see exactly who they did hear from. We are especially curious to see what state electeds Martinez referred to when he said some had written to urge passage of one reform measure or another. (Note to those who feel there has not been enough public hand-wringing about these things: You can still do the public forums or educate voters objectively and let the people give direct input with a thumbs up or down. What a concept!"

Commissioner Javier Souto -- who takes every opportunity to remind people he was in the Florida House and Senate and "didn't get here yesterday" -- actually mixed the positions and got it right, in theory anyway. Beautiful, passionate, fiery if sometimes off-point theory. "This is about the people. The whole bunch of people. Not a portion of the people. Not a little clique of people. Not some people running things. It's about the whole people of Miami-Dade County. We have all kinds of radio personalities and television personalities giving opinions, or political activists or millionaires, everyone giving their opinions... we need to listen to the real people," Souto said pushing for public hearings and (his favorite) town halls. "Watch out because we need the people to participate ... it's just us and a bunch of people here and some radio and some media and a lot of hoopla and a lot of whooo, whooo, whooooo and the media and all that."

The typically long-winded, easily-distracted veteran lawmaker -- who really does know what he is talking about much of the time if we can follow his thread -- was in pure form when he provided a little historic context on term limits and redistrincting ("I've been around. I've been there in the trenches, believe me.") and much needed comic relief in his patented paternal way. "I'm going to say a few things. So, please be patient....Don't rush. Take things slow. As a matter of fact, most of the big decisions in corporations are made eating and drinking in big corporate meetings. And they have no rush. When they go to make the big corporate decision, they have no rush. They eat lots and drink, so bring the chicken," he said. "I'm going to say a few things. So please be patient. Later, he asked for dessert. "Don't rush. That's the first thing I said, don't rush me. We have the whole day here. I could be here til tomorrow morning. This is not a police thing where I get a ticket." The 15-minute speech -- ending with something like "Because this is America!" -- is worth watching again (starts about an hour and 28 minutes into the meeting).

Poor freshman Commissioner Lynda Bell was next. "That's a tough act to follow. I guess I should be careful what part of the cue I am in," she said, and then made a great point reminding her colleagues that the charter is a "living breathing document" created to change with the times and shot down Diaz' task force idea. "I'm willing to listen to everyone here today. But also, I don't need another task force to determine common sense. I don't need another charter review panel," the former Homestead mayor said holding up the review from 2008. "During the campaign, the charter and charter amendments and charter review was an issue. We were asked in every debate. I think it's clear,"She said it didn't take "rocket science" to realize that the charter changes were something people wanted to vote on and some amendments were clearly priority. She meant term limits, which became a campaign issue she supported. "I can support reform that is dictated by the people who voted me into office and not by others." And she might be right when she said people have not supported salaries because they were not attached to term limits. But if she thinks $96,000 is a "decent salary" then she is out of touch with those people. That's more than $1 million in total for the Dade Dozen to sit around pointing fingers and try to look good asking inane questions and raking over irrelevant minutia for hours on end. At least you will be able to keep your outside jobs and businesses, now, because there is no way the people are going to vote for that. We will be your term limits, thankyouverymuch.

Commissioners Barbara Jordan and Dennis Moss talked mostly against changing the current districts that helped bring diverse representation to all the communities in the county. Jordan suggested some reform measures came from political motivated sources not the community. "There are agendas being put forward," she said. She did reluctantly sponsor the 12-year term limits because she really believes limits hurt a legislator's ability to accomplish much before they leave the learning curve. But Ladra and I cannot believe it has to be so difficult. If they can't hit the ground running and make things happen fast then they have no business running for office. Or the system has to be changed. It shouldn't take an elected officials two or three or four years to train.

Just look at newly-elected Commissioner Jean Monestine, already getting a feel for this gig. He didn't have to think long about term limits because he knows his Civics 101. "This is an issue this community has been discussing for a while now and if there is an issue that does not need to be further vetted, it is the issue of term limits," said Monestine, who was concerned, however, if it came with the condition that he gave up his business. He must be doing well if a $96,000 salary isn't reason to take a leave of absence and put someone else in charge.

Commissioner Sally Heyman was also worried and felt strongly enough to research and find that only five of 66 Florida counties bar outside employment for electeds because of conflict of interests concerns. And she said it was an unequalizing policy. "Some of my colleagues are retired; they have pensions. Some of them work for others. Some of us are self employed." Like many of the commissioners, she did not think it was fair. Especially since the employees are allowed outside employment if they report it. "If someone is a travel agent and wants to sell a couple of tickets so they can bank on it later on, I don't see the problem," Heyman said. "It would be a hardship for me to go inactive with the Florida bar. It would compromise me to go inactive. Even if I did stuff probono and that would be a problem." She also was the second person, after Barreiro, to ask if that provision would bar income from a percentage ownerhip in a company. The answer is, of course. But the other answer is that there are ways to hide this. And people who want to be corrupt will find a way to get the graft. My measure would have put the two four-year term limits, a $50,000 salary (it's supposed to be a temporary public service that takes a lot of work and dedication and time, but not a lucrative career) and employment wherever anybody wants, but with quarterly financial reports that includes disclosure of salary, perks, pensions, dividends, stock payments, property ownership, rent, consulting fees, subcontracts, paid speaking engagements and basically any kind of compensation for anything. If it is legal, I'd like to require reporting gambling wins and losses. Because that is true transparency, not an attempt to tapar el sol con un dedo -- cover the sun with your index finger -- and give people a false sense of security and trust.

We are going to end with the one shining ray of hope in the darkness yesterday.

Commissioner Rebeca Sosa seemed to have two things the rest lacked much of: courage and clarity. She said her constituents had told her that the recall was not enough. "If you don't make changes in the administration of county government, if you don't go and look at the salaries and the structure and the bureaucracy... then the answer is, no change. And I am listening to everyone loud and clear," she said, insisting that the commission set the election May 24 to let the questions go on the ballot because there was no guarantee of a runoff. "We are lying to ourselves," she said. "Either we do it right, or we don't do it. And I am here to do it right." Later, Sosa said what I said earlier and in my email to my commissioner (Bell), that putting real reform on the ballot themselves would take the recall election out of the hands of the professional campaign professionals and politicians manipulating the petition process and pushing panic buttons of misinformation to get emotionally-charged votes cast on election day. She reminded them, again, about the strong-arm mayor vote. "I said, why don't we as a commission put the question on the ballot and let the residents decide what they want? They didn't. And you know what happened? A tsunami. They petitioned. They said 'The commission doesn't want it on the ballot,' created the momentum for people to vote... When we as a democracy are denied the ability to make decisions then we get together, because we want to have that ability... I'm asking you place what most people are talking about on the ballot," she said, referring to term limists with the "formula" salary and no outside employment. "And let the public decide. So they don’t go out there tonight and say they say, 'The commission was unable to agree on placing one charter reform or two charter reforms on the ballot.'" She called on the board to be mature and just make a decision. "When you see so many actions out of 'Either you do this, or I'll do that,' it's not good. But we need to show good faith. And we need to show leadership. And we need to show that we trust the people. If we don't place those questions on the ballot, we are going to do the same thing we did with the strong mayor. We are going let the community create the sensation that we refused to place questions for the public to decide.and that will create more emotion. And its going to be worse for our community, We need to heal. We need to allow the public to elect the mayor and the commissioner in district 13. We need to sit down as a body and talk about real business. We need to talk about how we are going to balance the budget without raising taxes or reducing services. We need to talk about how to reduce the bureaucracy in government and how to make the people accessible. That is the discussion we need to have."

Ladra also thinks we need Rebeca Sosa to stop hinting and run for mayor already.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thanks for the Band-Aid

Ladra just wants to send a quick thanks and wag of her tail to the Miami-Dade Commissioners, who reluctantly and sluggishly put six charter reform measures on the ballot for a May 24 election that will likely also include the races for the recalled mayor and commissioner.

While it was painfully slow at times, and several commissioners went back and forth on what should have been simple issues -- why on Earth would someone co-sponsor something, then withdraw their sponsorship, then co-sponsor it again? -- it ended as well as it could. Because, really, there is not a lot of change.

The people get to vote on 12-year term limits -- which is really not very limiting -- but only in exchange for salaries that by state formula are above $95,000 and a ban on outside employment when the ethics commission says it conflicts with the sworn oath to office (which is something that is always in flux). There's no transparency in that. People who want to be corrupt will still find a way to get the graft. Ladra's idea, I think, was better: Allow outside employment, but require quarterly income/compensation reports with salary, perks, paid speaking engagements, dividends from owning a percentage of a company and consulting fees or subcontract work.

Bolstering the powers of the Inspector General is a good idea, and so is bringing the strong mayor initiative -- which Ladra thinks was sneaked by voters without real understanding in 2007 -- back to the people to rescind. I bet that gets at least an 88 percent toss.

The reform is okay, but it's a bandaid. All the things that led to the recall of Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Natacha Seijas in district 13 -- which everyone credits with the cry for charter reform, although many people have been beating that drum for years -- doesn't change much. Whoever is elected can still build a stadium with public money. They just have to do it in 12 years now and will get paid in the meantime.

What commissioners did with all that blah, blah, blah, huffing and puffing and their grandstanding and posturing and hand-wringing was confuse themselves and the public so that at the end, we got some measures that look good and make us feel good, but really don't amount to much. So I have an idea for another charter amendment to put to voters.

Should the membes of the Board of Commissioners of Miami-Dade County be given no more than 10 minutes to speak on any given agenda item because if they can't express the information they have to impart and their opinions or views or concerns in that time, they have no business being up there? Where do I punch yes?

Bell to work at Flinn's fave eatery

Newly elected Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell will be working at a local restaurant next Thursday and hanging out with constituents in her district – at one of her November opponent's favorite places.

Bell announced her first “work day” at a District 8 small business (she plans to do this monthly in an effort to better understand economic issues) will be in Palmetto Bay, home to former village mayor Eugene Flinn, who lost the race for the seat vacated by Katy Sorenson.

But did she know that The Original Lots a Lox Deli, 14995 South Dixie Hwy., was one of Flinn's favorite village eateries? Apparently, he and his wife walk the 10 blocks or so from his home to the eatery several times a week and he has had meetings there with residents and tweeted last December that he was there getting his daughter Meredith a hot chocolate. Think they'll sit together and break bagels?

The commissioner’s press release says she will get there about 11:30 a.m. (some work day!) Thursday, March 31, but we bet she does not put in the full eight hours.

Party tonight after commission vote

Miami Shores Councilman P. Guillermo Herrera picked a bad date for his re-election campaign kickoff. Twice.

First he wanted to do it on the 17th, but thought it might not be smart if people had other St. Patrick's Day plans. So he chose March 24, instead. Oops.

Herrera, who has aspirations to run for the commission seat now held by Sallye Heyman, admitted his stomach sank a little when he heard this week the commission had decided to meet on the same day for a special meeting to set the date for the election of the recalled mayor and commissioner and potential charter questions to also put on the ballot.

"I couldn't change it," said Herrera, 49, director of support services at Miami Dade College. "We had already reserved the [Miami Shores] Country Club and we told everyone we were going to be there, invitations went out."

He knows the county meeting -- still going strong at 5:30 p.m. when his shindig was set to being -- would likely thin out his supporters. "Some said they're coming between 6:30 and 8, once the meeting is over."

If the meeting is over by then, you mean. And if they have any energy left or will to hear from more politicians.

So, just in case, the councilman will have two more fundraisers in his quest to get the most votes of all seven candidates for four council seats. The two with the most votes will serve four-year terms and the top vote-getter will be named mayor for the first two years of that term. Mayor Al Davis will serve the next two years and finish his term as a councilman.

Two other incumbents are among the hopefuls in the April 12 election: Hunt Davis and Stephen Loffredo. They are joined on the ballot by former mayor Jim McCoy, and first time candidates Angela Maria Alvero, Robert Swan and Jesse Walters.

"My mission this year is to get enough votes to become mayor," said Herrera, who told Ladra he had raised about $5,000, though $4,000 was loaned to himself. "Since the economy is so slow, a lot of people have been unable to contribute as before."

The deadline for the campaign finance reports is Friday, March 25. The election is April 12.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Agenda items in wrong order

All of you who want to be at the special county commission meeting tomorrow better get there early if you want a chance at real government reform. Like, before the first vote.

While commissioners, seemingly forced by the public will, have put a whopping 20 possible charter amendment proposals on the agenda -- including different versions of term limits, increased salaries, lobbyist controls (Ladra loves those) -- none of them will make the special election ballot unless the commission talks about them first. And they know this.

And yet, the first item on the agenda is a proposal to set May 3 election date to replace the recalled mayor and commissioner from district 13. That does not give them the required 60 days to put the charter amendments on the ballot. Those resolutions have a blank date. They could go on a ballot in June, and the speculation I guess is that with so many candidates for the mayor's seat, it will go to a runoff. But why take the chance? If not, voters have to wait til the presidential primary early next year before another countywide election (unless someone else is recalled).

Ladra believes commissioners will put at least some of the questions on the ballot this time (warning to the Dade Dozen: I will vote a big bold NO on salary increases if there is no lobbyist control on the same ballot!) because the recall campaign and its overwhelming success has created a climate in which they can't afford not to. Eight of them have sponsored at least one resolution that proposes some change. All of them have something to win here.In fact, it's odd that only two -- Chairman Joe Martinez and Commissioner Barbara Jordan -- sponsored a charter question on eliminating the strong mayor form of government and reverting to a commission with equal power. (Read them all at

Ladra likes that one, too. In fact, let's take that one first. Okay, let's take any other one first. Because if he commissioners do not revers the order or table the first discussion until after the other items are considered, they are doing it intentionally. And that really is reason for recall.

The special meeting begins at 10 a.m. -- and is projected to go at least eight hours, likely more -- at county hall in downtown Miami. Bring coffee.

Paul Crespo will try again

Paul Crespo, who lost the Republican U.S. Congress (District 25) race primary last year against David Rivera, who went on to beat Joe Garcia before being accused of funneling hundreds of thousands to a lobbyist/on-and-off girlfriend, is going to try another run for office.

The former U.S. Marine officer and self-described "conservative Reagan Republican" filed earlier this month to run for the seat vacated by State Rep. Eddy Gonzalez (Rep. District 102) who has already launched a campaign to be the next Hialeah Mayor. (See last post). He joins fellow Republicans Jessica "Jessie" Fortich and Manuel Diaz, Jr., who filed a week apart in January. (But Fortich sent paperwork as early as November indicating she was filing).

Ladra called Crespo to find out if his platform will be the same as last year, like advocating for a flat tax, but had to leave a message. We will get back to this race later.

Recall dominoes start falling

It's official. State Rep. Esteban Bovo (Rep. District 110) waited exactly one week filed paperwork with the county elections department Tuesday to indicate he will run for the Commission 13 district seat vacated by the recall of veteran Natacha Seijas.

Well, really, he has been waiting longer. Bovo (Rep. District 110) is considered by most Hialeah political observers as the heir apparent to the seat. Nobody else has indicated they would run, but some other names batted about Hialeah council members Isis García-Martínez and José "Pepe'' Yedra and ex council member Cindy Miel, as well as Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi (who could face his own recall). Don't expect Pizzi to jump in now. He cannot beat Bovo in Hialeah, where Bovo built his political career and was last elected with a 71 percent vote in 2005.

It might also cause some angst (and possible conflict of interests) for his client, the recall PAC Miami Voice, which Ladra bets supports Bovo, longtime political pal of Miami Voice Chair Vanessa Brito, who in 2009 talked to the owners of Hialeah Race Track (where Bovo once worked and has close ties) about doing public relations and media work for them. In fact, Ladra can't help but wonder if Bovo had any connection (six degrees or otherwise) to the $5,000 gift she got for her company to transfer to her PAC (an violation of campaign finance laws typically referred to as political money laundering). We don't know that he's not, either. And this is exactly why it is still important for her to disclose that information. So we don't have to guess.

Bovo said on a radio show last week that he was looking at the seat and had "a great desire to return to my community" even if he had to "abandon" his state job in mid-session. "Without a doubt, reaching the county appeals to me," he was quoted in the Miami Herald blog as saying.

Well, duh. The good ol' Hialeah boy has far more impact and influence as 1 of 13 than he would as 1 of 120. He has to resign from the state house to run, but will likely wait until after the date is announced for the special election, which could be as early as tomorrow.

There are three other Republican Hispanics who want his seat in Tallahassee. Two are former legislative staffers that now want to be on the other side of the table: Former Marco Rubio legislative aide Rafael Perez, who lost a race for Rubio's old seat to Erik Fresen (Rep. District 111) filed Monday and Frank Lago, chief of staff for Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño, who has said he was inspired by campaigning for Gov. Rick Scott was the first to file in February. The third is not completely an outsider: Former Hialeah Housing Authority commissioner Jose Oliva, whose family owns Miami Lakes-based Oliva Cigar and filed the paperwork Tuesday, could also make his second stab for office. He dropped out of the 2005 race for the city commission seat that was vacated by Mayor Julio Robaina because of "personal" reasons. If he wants to run now, Ladra wants to know what those reasons were.

Both Perez and Lago, who would have to move into the district if they were to take office, indicated in filing papers that they would serve as their own treasurers. Oliva might already have an edge in that department having Jose Riesco, who has been a treasurer and fundraiser for both Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, as his head money man.

Also watch for an interesting alliance between Oliva and State Rep. Eddy Gonzalez (Rep. District 102) who wants to run for Hialeah mayor to replace Robaina (who is running for the county mayor's seat and might make a third musketeer here). Oliva hosted a fundraiser for Gonzalez, who is considered a Robaina ally, earlier this year at his cigar shop.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cops oust councilman's wife

Miami-Dade School officials lost control of a meeting to talk about changes proposed for Doral schools Monday night and even asked police to escort one irate woman out of the cafeteria.

But I am not sure if they knew she was Graciela Boria, wife of Doral Councilman Luigi Boria.

The councilman, in Tallahassee for the "legislative days" when local electeds meet with state electeds to try to get on the same page, was unable to attend the meeting where school board bureaucrats "informed" the public about a complicated proposal to change almost every school in Doral in order to alleviate overcrowding at the one public high school in the city, where they face a lawsuit due to overcrowding. But his wife, whose sister's children attend Doral Middle School, was there and interrupted after almost 90 minutes of Region I Superintendent Carmen Marinelli's condescending monotone in explaining nothing.

In lieu of taking questions from the audience, the school officials had people write questions on index cards, but several parents said that their questions were never read and Ladra submitted two questions that also were seemingly passed over (we have video of Marinelli's henchman Richard Vidal stuffing them in his pocket and will download it as soon as I can figure it out). The group of mostly mothers who had come from their jobs, some of whom were paying babysitters so they could be there, were growing impatient and Mrs. Boria did what many of us wanted to when she charged toward the front of the room and interrupted.

"Enough," Boria said.

We couldn't hear much else, but the gist was something along the lines of, "Please stop feeding us these rehearsed lines and let's have a real dialogue about possible alternatives since nobody here is in favor of this musical chairs number that we fear could hurt our kids." But her words were drowned out with applause and cheers -- which turned to boos and chants of "shame on you" when Marinelli asked the police to step in.

In Ladra's video (on our My305News channel on YouTube, at, two officers approach Boria and almost sheepishly ask her to step outside. Boria is visibly indignant as she picks up her purse and, while protesting her ouster, leaves the cafeteria.

But she doesn't have to worry about anything going on her record. Ladra asked one of the officers where she might get a copy of the "incident report" later.

"What incident," the officer asked with a bored look and smiled.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Turn $5 mil cost into an investment

Ladra wants to congratulate Miami-Dade Commissioner Lynda Bell for having been appointed earlier this year chair of the county's Internal Management and Fiscal Responsibility Committee. And, as a constituent in District 8, where she was elected in November, I must point out a chance to live by the "pledge" she made last January as early as next week.

"I will work day in and day out to bring about accountability, transparency and above all else, efficiency to our county government," Bell (photographed her on the campaign trail last summer) promised on a January press release on her district website. "We have a responsibility to County residents to ensure that every tax dollar is spent wisely, not wastefully"

Oooh. That's worth repeating: "We have a responsibility to county residents to ensure that every tax dollar is spent wisely, not wastefully." (Italics are mine).

Do you mean it, Commissioner Bell? Here is a perfect opportunity to put actions behind your words and make the most out of the $4 to $5 million estimated cost of the special election. Next week, you, as chairwoman of the fiscal responsibility committee, can turn that cost into an investment. Talk about making a mark early in your term!

As Ladra explained in the last post, the commission must table or otherwise delay the discussion about the replacement for the recalled mayor and the commissioner in District 13. Because once the commission decides to go to vote to replace them, they have to set the date within 45 days. But they have 30 days to decide to go to the vote. So on Thursday, they should talk instead about charter amendments (and Ladra prefers spending limits to term limits), which need 60 days before they can be put on a ballot. At another meeting 15 days after Thursday, on or about April 11, the commission can meet again and put the mayoral and District 13 race on the ballot.

So, I have already written to Commissioner Bell, as a District 8 voter, and I will call her at 305-375-5218 Monday. If you live in District 8 and feel the same way, please do the same.

And if you live in other district (except for Carlos Gimenez, who is also running for mayor; I stole the idea from him), I will make it easy for you to also make your position known. We need to make sure they don't blow this chance to make real changes that the voters want.
I am listing emails and phone numbers. Please take a minute to call. If you cannot get the commissioner, like I hope because they will be besieged by calls, leave a message with your name, phone number and voter's registration number, so they know you are serious. Give them your address in the email so they know you vote in that district.

Here are the phone numbers and emails you need:

District 1 Com. Barbara Jordan: 305-375-5694/305-474-3011,
District 2 Com. Jean Monestime: 305-375-4833/305-694-2779,
District 3 Com. Audry Edmonson: 305-375-5393/305-636-2331,
District 4 Com. Sally A. Heyman: 305-375-5128/305-787-5999,
District 5 Com. Bruno Barreiro: 305-643-8525,
District 6 Com. Rebeca Sosa: 305-267-6377,
District 7 Com. Carlos Gimenez, 305-375-5680,
District 8 Com. Lynda Bell, 305-375-5218,
District 9 Com. Dennis Moss: 305-375-4832,
District 10 Com. Javier Souto: 305-375-4835,
District 11 Com. Joe Martinez: 305-375-5511,
District 12 Com. Jose "Pepe" Diaz: 305-375-4343/305-599-1200,

We have a real opportunity here to make some real significant, meaningful change. Let's not let anybody steal it from us.