Argus Report: Great, Florida initial Census mail back rate only 9% vs. 20% average for rest of nation, 2000 undercount cannot be repeated with billions at stake
Florida: Crist and Rubio go head to head on Fox TV debate, heated but real fireworks in months to come
Miami-Dade County: And they’re off, Commissioners Heyman, Sosa, unchallenged in Aug.; Incumbents Rolle, Souto, Diaz get opposition
Broward County: PAST WDR 2005: Miami-Dade light years ahead of Broward ethics and conflict of interest code
Palm Beach County: PAST WDR FEB. 2007: Long serving County Commissioner Aaronson had net worth of $552,447 in 2005 – up from $245,000 in 1991
Collier County: Three defendants arrested in counterfeit Medicare check scheme
Monroe County: Gov. Crist made the following reappointment and appointments: Florida Real Estate Appraisal Board
Miami-Dade Public Schools: Will school employees have to undergo polygraph tests? Issue “tabled” for now while being reviewed by board attorney
Public Health Trust: Part III: Will meetings upon meetings, reports, bleed into the running of the massive health complex?
City of Miami: Chair Sarnoff says trouble with Miami is it performs “like a snail” but eats public dollars “like a goat” after budget briefing
City of Miami Beach: Commissioner Libbin believes relief for condo maintenance fees may be near
City of South Miami: Controversies continue in tony city, WDR saw some of the city attitude back in Dec. during visit
Editorials: WDR Nov. 2007: One never knows what you will find in elected leaders financial disclosure forms, why I always check them — Watchdog Report reader at county was glad I returned cruise tickets, because it would have “hurt me”
Letters: Readers on the Watchdog Report and my health
Sponsors – Publisher’s mission statement & Subscription information is at the bottom of this issue
>>> Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics will not take an interest in you. –Pericles (430 B.C.)
>>> The Watchdog Report publisher would like to thank the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation www.knightfoundation.org for funding the University of Miami’s Knight Center of International Media http://knight.miami.edu within the University’s School of Communicationwww.miami.edu assistance to rebuild my web site www.watchdogreport.net that is now on line again, since the previous one was shut down in July 2008. Past reports will continue to go on line in the future, potentially as far back as May 2000. This institutional support is a major break through for me, and I am deeply appreciative of the help these two substantial international institutions have given me at a time the site was an unbudgeted expense and to keep the Watchdog Report a community education resource, while also being a decade old news service.
>>> If you think it is important to have someone watching your public institutions consider becoming a supporter or sponsor. For there is no trust fund and I do have to live. A convenient form is at the bottom of this week’s Watchdog Report with all the instructions on how to support this decade old newsletter and news service soon to start its 11th anniversary on May 5.
ARGUS REPORT – Heard, Seen on the Street
>>> Great, Florida’s initial Census mail back rate only 9 % vs. 20% average for rest of nation, 2000 undercount cannot be repeated with billions at stake
The recent report, that around the nation, when it comes to the U.S. 2010 Census, Florida is at the bottom of the states with residents responding during the initial phase, and Miami-Dade has not responded in a big way. That fact should scare every individual in South Florida for the stakes are huge, and another 2000 census fiasco and undercount cannot be allowed given the fiscal demands on the community and the $400 billion in federal money and congressional political representation that comes with the national count.
Back in 2000, I watched county preparations for the upcoming census back then and while smaller an effort than the current year. There was a big disconnect between what was going on at county hall and the reality that was occurring in the field as census enumerators tried to count people who did not return their mailed census form. Here in South Florida we were in the social thralls of the extraction of the young Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez and the local federal counters ran into all kinds of obstacles including residents sending dogs after the Commerce Department employees trying to get an accurate head count, and this poor performance cannot be repeated. For the full story go to Andres Viglucci at www.miamiherald.com and for more information about the county’s Complete Count Census Committee go to www.miamidade.gov or www.2010census.gov
>>> Press release: Healthcare Sets Battle Lines For Mid-term Elections By John Zogby >> In an opinion/editorial piece published today on the BBC pollster John Zogby lays out the political ramifications of last night’s passage of the healthcare reform plan. Here is an excerpt: With the passage of healthcare reform, the battle lines are firmly drawn for the congressional elections in November. This will be a classic ideological war, the like of which we have rarely seen in the US. Republicans not only refused to vote for this package, their opposition was passionate and, at times, shrill. They sense that President Barack Obama and the Democrats have crossed the line of fiscal responsibility and even common decency by using congressional procedures to pass the bill and offering perks to some recalcitrant Democrats to win their support.
Read the OP/ED here: BBC OP/ED by John Zogby
>>> Veteran radio reporter Johnson saying sayonara to WLRN-Miami Herald News gig, will be missed
Joshua Johnson of WLRN-Miami Herald News is leaving the station April 2 and Johnson will be missed. He joined the hybrid station when it first began this relationship with the general daily paper and had a distinct voice when he was on the air. He covered anything big or sometimes small stories but many involved the most influential people from around the world. In an e-mail sent by Johnson, the veteran news reporter writes. “No one had ever heard of a public radio station and a newspaper collaborating so intimately… but here we are. It works! And that start-up spirit, that sense of enterprise and courage, was what thrilled me about joining this team back in 2004. Today I am a smarter, tougher, more resourceful person than I ever was before, due to this experience. Through WLRN, I built a solid reputation as a rigorous, insightful and creative journalist. I am grateful for that, and I honor you for giving a native son of South Florida the chance to serve his community for six intense years.” >>> The Watchdog Report has gotten to know him over the years and he will be missed and I wish Joshua all the best in his future endeavors, you will be missed out in the field.
>>> I wanted to thank the over dozen people and organizations that have sent me money over the past weeks and it was more than appreciated and you will each hear back from me by mail in the future. Thank you for the support. The report is also shorter and with less real content because I am still weak and do not have my past energy level that allowed me to write all day Saturday and Sunday as in the past almost 11-years that I have been doing this. I ask for my readers understanding during this time.
>>> PAST WDR: I have been in the hospital after emergency surgery, one more procedure to go, need the community’s financial help to keep at this!
I have not communicated or sent out a Watchdog Report since the end of January because I had a catastrophic medical issue that required one emergency surgery and another in a few weeks after about two months of convalescing at the hospital and home. I would like to thank surgeon Jorge R. Rabaza, M.D., (Recently honored and awarded the Person of the Year at South Miami Hospital) and the rest of his vascular surgery team of Verdeja, Rabaza, Gonzalez, P.A., who practice at South Miami Hospital (http://www.miamihope.com/doctors/index.asp.). I went to the emergency room Feb. 8 and later in the evening, the operation was done, and it was touch and go. I also want to thank all the nursing and support staff located in the forth floor annex of the hospital who took care of me for over a week after the operation and your kind manner and medical attention was deeply appreciated. I have not had the strength and mental clarity to write until the last few days and to say I need a miracle is an understatement regarding my financial survival. I have been unable to send invoices to past supporters and just paying my rent currently is a big deal and hope you will consider doing what you can to keep me out in the field and reporting back after I get back on my feet and I am feeling better. The support form is at the bottom of this truncated issue for your convenience and if high definition transparency of what your public institutions are doing is important to you. Please help and support me financially during this particularly rough patch. >>> Editor’s note: If you see people that represent these two organizations let them know you appreciate how they helped me keeping this free news resource out in our community for all to read if desired.
>>> See what was said about the Watchdog Report in the Miami New Times 2003 — Best of Miami — BEST CITIZEN — Daniel Ricker –
Three years ago, we said Ricker was our Best Gadfly. Given his dedication and perseverance, this new honor, Best Citizen, is well deserved. Ricker goes to 2500 mind-melting meetings annually, from the Public Health Trust’s purchasing subcommittee to the Efficiency and Competition Commission to the Alliance for Human Services’ nominating council to the school board’s audit committee. Sometimes he’s the only public observer. Object: to be the Public Citizen for all those out there who can’t attend, and to connect and serve as an information bridge among the special-interest-dominated Miami-Dade governmental institutions that seem so problematic and indifferent to the democratic process.
This month his e-mail newsletter, The Watchdog Report, celebrates its fourth anniversary. In a former life Ricker made a handsome living as an international salesman of heart pacemakers. As the hard-working publisher of Watchdog Report, though, he’s struggling financially — this despite the fact that his weekly compendium of meeting summaries, analysis, interviews, and commentary has become essential reading for anyone involved in public affairs. What his written work may lack in polish, it more than makes up for in comprehensiveness. So raise a toast to the man whose official slogan says it all: “A community education resource — I go when you cannot!”
>>> Crist and Rubio go head to head on Fox TV debate, heated but real fireworks in months to come
Gov. Charlie Crist (Net worth $466,000) and former House Speaker Marco Rubio (Net worth $8,351) both Republican U.S. Senate candidates finally got their debate face off Sunday morning on FOX TV at 9:00 a.m. www.foxnewssunday.com and the 40 minute exchange was an eye opener for Florida’s Republican voters with the primary in August. Crist and Rubio, both wearing grey suits, white shirts, red stripped ties and with American Flags on their lapels took verbal shots at each other after the show opened with political ads the candidates recently ran attacking the other. Crist, initially the party’s national favorite in the race last year, defended his past years in office performance during these tough economic times and while he did accept federal stimulus funding that has kept people in jobs he said on the program. “The economy was falling off a cliff” and some of this “economic policy was started by President [George] Bush,” Crist noted. Rubio hammered back that the federal “stimulus [program] was a failure” and he would have worked with Republicans on legislation that “would have created more jobs.” The former legislator said Crist was not the frugal and conservative person that he portrays and of course, the Crist hug last year of President Barack Obama was brought up. The governor continued to raise questions about Rubio’s honesty and “trust” after some credit card charges on a Republican Party credit card for a range of activities surfaced in the press www.miamiherald.com while Rubio was a state representative and the first Cuban American Florida Speaker in 2007.
Crist when pressed on whether he would switch his party affiliation to Independent since he is trailing significantly in the statewide polls now with Rubio having a double digit lead. The governor clearly said he would not leave the Republican Party. A recent Mason-Dixon poll has Rubio at 48% of Republicans versus 37% for Crist though the governor in the past has said the only poll he cares about is the “one on election night.” He also cited being a Republican in the mold of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan with Rubio questioning some of the accuracy of the governor’s words and there reality. Crist referenced Rubio’s voting for a tax increase when he was a municipal commissioner but Rubio pooh poohed that comment. The governor also brought up whether Rubio would release his IRS 1040s like Crist has (since the early 2000s and I have most of them) and would these tax documents reflect any of this possible unreported income, asking would amended tax returns be filed? Rubio, looking confident said he paid back any monies incorrectly billed to the party credit card and with his high poll numbers. He at one point was shown making notes while Crist was speaking and while one debate does not make a Florida senate campaign. Republican voters should regard this as a first skirmish, and the race up to the closed party primary five months from now is expected to get much more intense, with further political charges expected to be flying on the airwaves.
The two men have come a long way in their political careers with this being the fifth time Crist has run for office since he ran for the state senate after being a senior aide for Republican Florida Sen. Connie Mack in 1994. Rubio, started his political career as a city of West Miami commissioner and won his House office in 2000 and then state Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach (Net worth $973,000) called the young attorney the “pick of the [legislative] litter,” of newly elected Republican candidates back then and was reported in the Watchdog Report. Since then, Crist, an attorney has been the commissioner of education, attorney general and now the governor while Rubio scaled the political ladder becoming speaker at the tender age of 36, while pushing a policy based on his book of 100 Ideas for the state of Florida to improve government many coming from the average residents. However, Rubio also has worked as a lobbyist, including for Jackson Memorial Hospital after he left office. On the family front, Crist was recently married in 2008, has two stepdaughters while Rubio is married, and has four children.
What about the Democratic Senate candidates?
So far the Democratic Party candidates are U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami (Net worth around $62,000 in 2002) and he is expected to submit the tens of thousands signatures statewide needed to qualify on Monday at the Miami-Dade elections office. Former Miami Mayor, state legislator, and county commissioner Maurice Ferre (net worth $2.16 million) is also in the race with former North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns but Meek leads the fundraising race and has a few million in his campaign account versus the people that are challenging him. The Democratic candidates trail the Republicans in the polls with Rubio getting 48% and Crist 37% when polled against the congressional representative.
>>> And they’re off, Commissioners Heyman, Sosa, unchallenged in Aug.; Incumbents Rolle, Souto, and Diaz get opposition
The Watchdog Report looked briefly at the county commission races in 2010 and for District 2 there are three challengers to incumbant Dorrin Rolle (Net worth $1.02 million) first appointed to the seat in the 1990s after his commission predecessor James Burke was arrested and later went to federal prison. Rolle since then has had only one real challenge during the 2002 primary, which was a tight race for the man, nicknamed “The Governor.” Rolle chairs a commission committee and is one of two voting commissioners on the Public Health Trust board. Candidates running against him in the August primary are former North Miami Mayor Josaphat “Joe” Celestin, Jean Monestine, and Florence “Flomo” Moss.
In commission District 4, Commissioner Sally Heyman (Net worth $ 426,000) has yet to draw any opposition since being elected to the commission in 2002 after serving in the state house. She faced a challenger in 2006 but she easily defeated the former municipal leader. Her district includes Aventura and parts of northeast Miami-Dade and part of Miami Beach. For her campaign, she has raised $53,500 to date.
In commission District 6, Commissioner Rebeca Sosa has also yet to draw a challenger and she came to office in the early 2000s after the previous commissioner plead to a deal with the state attorney’s office that included him leaving office. Sosa, a former Mayor of West Miami has raised $23,500 for her campaign and she is a big Marco Rubio supporter for the Senate over Gov. Charlie Crist. Her supporting the younger Rubio is understandable since she has known him since he was a West Miami commissioner, had her district office in the same building and floor as the state representative and finally Speaker of the Florida House before his current run for national office.
The real commission race that will be a horse race is District 8, a seat currently held by Commissioner Katy Sorenson (Net worth $1.34 million) who has decided to retire after 16-years in elected office. Sorenson has been a tireless advocate of controlled development and the need to preserve the environment in the process after having served for years on the South Florida Regional Planning Council board. She initially won facing a pack of candidates including an incumbent and that has never occurred since in a county commission race, where openings only occur when someone retires or is arrested and indicted. The five candidates vying for the seat so far are former Homestead Mayor Lynda Bell, Mayor Eugene Flinn, Jason Henry Cutler, Pamela Gray and Albert Harum Alvarez.
In the District 10 race, long serving Commissioner Javier Souto is facing Miriam Planas (no relation to the Republican state representative with the same last name) and he is a former state representative and senator prior to being elected to the commission in the 1990’s. Souto has $30,150 in his campaign war chest and hers is $7,600.
Finally, in District 12, incumbent Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz (Net worth $226,000) is being challenged by Heather Pernas. Diaz, the commission vice-chair has $87,545 for his campaign so far and she is posting none.
>>> IG Press release: Charles Leon Cutler (Cutler), a Miami-Dade County resident and the President/Director and Registered Agent for Veteran’s Employment Transition Services, Inc. (VETS), a Florida non-profit corporation, was arrested today as a result of an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Cutler was charged with three counts of Grand Theft, third degree felonies, for misappropriating grant funds received from the County and City, which were intended to benefit military veterans.
The OIG investigation uncovered that in 2007, VETS received a $100,000 grant from the City of Miami and its Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). VETS also received $117,800 from the Miami-Dade County Office of Community & Economic Development (OCED), now known as the Department of Housing and Community Development. The City CRA grant funds were to be used for the creation of the Hospitality Institute, a job training and placement program in the Overtown area of Miami. The OCED monies were to be used for a separate and independent job training and placement program.
In December 2008, the CRA grant was assigned to Miami-Dade College and VETS was required to return any unused funds. Rather than transferring the funds, Cutler wrote and negotiated several checks to himself totaling $4,000. Cutler’s theft was uncovered by City of Miami officials and he was advised on January 5, 2009 that they would notify law enforcement. The very next day, Cutler repaid Miami-Dade College by diverting funds from the County’s OCED grant. The OIG uncovered that Cutler falsely certified the amounts of employee salaries to OCED in order to repay the CRA funds. Additionally, he diverted $1,000 for his personal use.
Cutler was also charged with the theft of County funds that he claimed was used for an event that was, in fact, partly funded by the City of Miami. Cutler, through various transactions, withdrew $9,232.50 of a $20,000 contract award from the Miami-Dade County Department of Human Services (DHS). He paid his daughter $2,500 and his ex-wife $2,000 for what he later claimed to be coordination and catering services for the Veterans’ Summit. The investigation found that the 2008 Veterans’ Summit was organized by the Liberty City Trust, held on City of Miami property, and catering was funded by the City of Miami with no financial support from VETS or Cutler. >>> Copies of the arrest affidavit are available at the Office of the Inspector General, 19 West Flagler Street, Suite 220, Miami, Florida, telephone number (305) 375-1946, or at the State Attorney’s Office, c/o Ed Griffith, 1350 N.W. 12 Avenue, Miami, Florida, telephone number (305) 547-0535. >>> OIG Investigation Results in the Arrest of a County Grant Recipient Who Stole County Grant Funds to Pay Back a Theft of City of Miami Grant Funds, IG08-46, March 24, 2010.
>>> PAST WDR 2005: Best of the Watchdog Report- February: Miami-Dade light years ahead of Broward ethics and conflict of interest code
The government and elected leaders of Miami-Dade County are always being criticized for being corrupt and unresponsive to the people, but from my vantage point the community has made progress but part of that is because we have a county ethics commission and a county Office of the Inspector General and soon a county commission auditor. In addition, while commissioners have tried to get a pay increase, voters repeatedly believe the $6,000 salary and other benefits they get is enough for now. However, that is not the case for our neighbor to the north and in Broward County commissioners are paid $84,000 but they are still allowed to work in other jobs and in some cases, the commissioners are lobbyists. While there is nothing wrong with this profession, it does create a potential conflict if someone is also an elected leader and here in Miami-Dade, any elected official that ventures into that arena knows how sensitive the issue is and treads with caution.
However, that same abundance of caution found here does not seem to apply to Broward County elected leaders and recently there have been two examples, Broward County Mayor Ilene Lieberman, (Net worth $1.33 million) who registered as a lobbyist in her married name with the Broward Public School Board. Now we have the County Commissioner, Proud Mother Memo, from Lori Nance Parrish (Net worth $647,000), a long serving Broward Commissioner who has also headed up the commission. It is clear that Broward electorate should consider the creation of an ethics commission and an office of the Inspector General for this conflict of interest trend needs to be nipped in the bud. Broward hates any comparison with Miami-Dade but in some ways, we are light years ahead of our smaller neighbor to the north in the area of ethics and conflicts of interest. What is funny is we freely admit the need for these entities versus there, where some elected officials, when challenged about these activities, respond by making counter accusations. Further, these outside jobs held by commissioners, deep six’s the idea that if commissioners were well paid, that income would be enough to sustain them financially limiting potential conflicts. Broward elected leaders are planning what it wants to be in the future and the public and community leaders during this public discussion should debate if there is a need for these types of institutions, and changes in the county conflict code. For the Watchdog Report can assure the residents in Broward, that if something like the Parrish memo was done in Miami-Dade there would be a public firestorm, so maybe there is a difference after all with Broward, and the public here likes that.
>>> Thank you for using the Broward County Commission Agenda E-mail Notification System. A new Broward County Commission Agenda is available. Point your browser to http://www.broward.org/commission/welcome.htm to view the new agenda.
PALM BEACH COUNTY
>>> PAST WDR FEB. 2007: Long serving County Commissioner Aaronson had net worth of $552,447 in 2005 – up from $245,000 in 1991
Well the regional conference with the Miami-Dade and Broward Commissions is over but the Watchdog Report continues to scan the Palm Beach County commissioners. This week it is long serving County Commissioner Burt Aaronson and he represents District 5.
What do we know about his finances?
He first reported his income to the Florida ethics commission in 1991 and back then, he had a net worth of $245,000 and $110,000 in household goods. In 2005, that net worth rose to $552,447 and he listed $150,000 in household goods.
He lists assets of $2,011. in cash, $175,000 in deferred compensation, $17,788 in a pension plan, $11,309 in an IRA and a condominium valued at $260,000. He lists no liabilities. Aaronson had income for the year of $22,996 from Social Security, $90,000 as a county commissioner and another $3,193 in retirement benefits. Editor’s note: Aaronson’s current net worth in 2008 was $626,000 and he is the current county commission chairman and survived the purge of commissioner going to federal prison a few years ago.
>>> THREE DEFENDANTS ARRESTED IN COUNTERFEIT MEDICARE CHECK SCHEME
Jeffrey H. Sloman, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Miami Field Office, and Christopher B. Dennis, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, announced the arrests of Daisy Alonso, 36, formerly of Naples, Florida, and her brother, Ovidio Alonso Sanchez, 37, of Naples, Florida, for exchanging counterfeit Medicare checks, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 473; and the arrest of Azdrubal Martinez, 71, for money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1957. The defendants were charged in three separate cases. Daisy Alonso was charged with four counts and Ovidio Alonso Sanchez with seven counts of exchanging counterfeit Medicare checks. Each counterfeit check count carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Defendant Martinez is charged with two counts of money laundering. If convicted, he faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years on each count. All defendants have made their initial appearances in federal court. Previously, defendants Ovidio Alonso Sanchez and Azdrubal Martinez were released on bonds. Today, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen T. Brown ordered Daisy Alonso detained pending trial.
According to statements made during today’s pre-trial detention hearing, Daisy Alonso established a corporation called “West Hialeah Phay, Inc.” and opened two separate bank accounts for this company. Although West Hialeah Phay, Inc. had no dealings with Medicare, approximately $191,198 in Medicare checks was deposited into the two West Hialeah Phay, Inc. accounts. After the checks cleared, thousands of dollars were withdrawn from the accounts. According to statements made in court, the Medicare checks deposited into Alonso’s West Hialeah Phay, Inc. accounts were fraudulent Medicare checks, with dates and amounts matching checks actually issued to West Hialeah Pharmacy, Inc., another clinic not associated with Alonso that billed Medicare. Ovidio Alonso Sanchez was charged separately with receiving $327,697 in counterfeit Medicare checks in connection with a company called West Hialeah Pha., Inc. Finally, Azdrubal Martinez was charged with money laundering for negotiating a $13,500 check from West Hialeah Pha., Inc., and a $15,500 check from Daisy Alonso’s company. >>> An indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty. Mr. Sloman commended the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney H. Ron Davidson. A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.
>>> Gov. Crist today announced the following appointment: BIG CYPRESS BASIN BOARD (Senate confirmation required)
John Vaughn, 76, of Naples, self-employed realtor with Coldwell Banker, succeeding Aliese P. Priddy, appointed for a term beginning March 22, 2010, and ending on March 1, 2013.
>>> Press release: Gov. Crist announces the following reappointment and appointments: Florida Real Estate Appraisal Board: (Senate confirmation required)
Joni Herndon, 54, of Tampa, residential appraiser for Real Property Analysts Gulf Coast Tampa Florida, reappointed for a term beginning March 31, 2010, and ending October 31, 2013.
James Hudson, 45, of Altamonte Springs, vice president of Avant Healthcare, succeeding Jay Small, appointed for a term beginning March 31, 2010, and ending October 31, 2012.
Christopher Sante, 55, of Tavernier, president of Bankers Mortgage Corporation, succeeding Susan Dailey, appointed for a term beginning March 31, 2010, and ending October 31, 2013.
Jennifer Vigil, 36, of Panama City, assessment coordinator for Bay County, succeeding Gary Rosner, appointed for a term beginning March 31, 2010, and ending October 31, 2012.
MIAMI-DADE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
>>> Will school employees have to undergo polygraph tests? Issue “tabled” for now while being reviewed by board attorney
The Watchdog Report missed the crucial school board Audit Committee this month for medical reasons but I have reviewed the handout package and there are two issues that caught my eye. One is a review of the board’s attorney’s office and the other concerns the possible use of lie detectors when appropriate to ask district employees questions in the future. The audit of the attorney’s office references a number of areas of improvement, including having a codified policy for attorneys working at home, and how they keep track of their time working on district business. The issue took on importance and first surfaced when the past board attorney worked at her home in Palm Beach, had not moved to Miami-Dade and she was later separated from the district after a mutual agreement was reached.
The use of a polygraph is suggested in a memo from an audit committee subcommittee “to make it a condition of employment for employees to have to submit to polygraph tests, if requested” and was part of a general response to whether forensic audits should be done by the nation’s fourth largest school district. The Feb. 25 memo says the idea was “tabled” to allow the school board Attorney Walter J. Harvey “an opportunity to review the possible legal and labor contractual implications such a requirement may entail.” The forensic audit capability was the legislative brainchild of board Member Marta Perez but the cost of these possible audits was seen as excessive; and “the cost of this type of audit engagement ranged between $325,000 and $525,000” states the memo from sub-committee chair Manuel A. Gonzalez, CPA. The four member sub committee also includes audit committee chair Frederick Thornburg, Esq., Susan Kairalla, also a committee member and school board Member Perla Tabares Hantman. The audit committee and the school board must approve any further legislative action in the future for this to become a school district reality.
PUBLIC HEALTH TRUST
>>> Part III: Will meetings upon meetings, reports bleed into the running of the health complex?
It was a full week for the PHT board and the administration struggling with a financial tsunami at the Jackson Health System that now how has the county administration led by Mayor Carlos Alvarez (Net worth $1.66 million) and George Burgess jumping in with both feet after Miami-Dade agreed to accelerate (through a variety of ways and sources) $80 million but includes countywide half-cent-sales tax receipts due to the health trust in the coming months less millions in bond payments. John Dorschner of The Miami Herald www.miamiherald.com has been dutifully reporting the meetings over the past months and the issue of Jackson’s survival finally has the community’s attention, and its importance as a healthcare provider and an economic engine that has two medical school affiliations employing at its peak 12,500 employees, with an $85 million monthly payroll.
Eneida Roldan, M.D. the PHT president and CEO since taking the trust’s leadership reins in June of 2009 has had a rough ride after it became apparent late last year patient receivables and bad debt, the funds owed by patients and providers came in at a much lower number than originally anticipated resulting in a $229 million deficit for the current year. However, last week she has gotten some union agreement concessions, and the federal and state governments are accelerating some payments but much of the hospital systems structural problems still remain. Roldan, on Saturday also got a major front page story and profile bywww.miamiherald.com on her trials and tribulations, including the verbal political buzz saw some county commissioners have pointed in her direction, with long serving Commissioner Natacha Seijas (Net worth $655,000), questioning her competency to lead such a large institution and the president’s past statements had Seijas saying the executive could not be trusted. Roldan, so far has survived walking through this political and financial minefield but she now faces major outside oversight and that raises the question if trust staff, already dramatically reduced in their numbers, can do all this while also running a roughly 1,500 bed facility at the main campus and over 30 satellite operations, including Jackson North and South and these newly designated outside monitors should keep that fact in mind.
Further, with this management agreement with the county signed last week, one of the provisions is the county having a complete understanding of what organizational and financial savings are being instituted, and the first meeting was on Friday states The Herald where Burgess laid out these ground rules. The county manager first started coming to PHT board meetings about four months ago, and it was the first time since 1998 that I ever saw the manager show up at these meetings, that historically were assigned to an assistant county manager. In the case of Burgess, at Monday’s trust meeting he brought along the assigned assistant manager, and her staff associate but the third person was the county’s budget and strategic planning director Jennifer Glazer-Moon and these additions show how concerned the county is about the PHT.
What about new CFO Shaw?
Ted Shaw has been appointed the new CFO after a national search and his $600,000 salary was competitive with the market, even though it comes out at about $2,500 per day in compensation. Roldan told the board the trust had to pay in this range to get a qualified candidate given the critical nature of the hire and said the man had faced similar challenges with other health systems. However, some trust board members challenged some of the president’s comments and the proof will be in the man’s performance over the months ahead during this critical juncture with the PHT and what it will be in the future years. Editor’s note: Shaw was on a speakerphone during the extensive discussion of his coming on board and salary. As a new PHT employee after listening to the conversation, he has a good idea of the lay of the political land he is entering and working in. The Watchdog Report wishes him all the luck and success in succeeding at this crucial job in this time of great revenue need for the PHT.
What about where all these meetings are being held?
The leadership of the PHT board should consider where they hold public meetings; for one of the requirements is, the location should be suitable for the expected attendance and with all the press covering the meetings. The West Wing boardroom is one possibility or the larger DTC location used for the televised board meetings is another but using a small conference should be the last resort and such locations can breed misinformation, confusion, and suspicion at a time transparency and clarity of the discussions are the watchwords of the day.
What about past Watchdog Report stories since 2000?
Since May of 2000, I have been covering the PHT in all its aspects over the years and its financial challenges since then have never been far below the surface of any story over this time. In 2004, I ran the headline about the $84 million charge the organization was having to take for the year and the numbers in many ways never got that much better, week after week, month after month, to where we are today. Some of the county commissioners are carping about all the sudden press and media attention the hospital system with 12,000 employees is getting but that is what happens in Florida where the state sunshine and open records laws makes all these activities public events. However, the commissioners should also be asking why they and the Fourth Estate did not kick in earlier to alert South Florida of the pending financial train wreck. The chronic problem was apparent to anyone that read the Watchdog Report over the decade, but in many ways, my role seems to be of Cassandra for we, as a community did not necessarily have to be where we are today, if corrective action had occurred years ago.
>>> County IG Press release: Jackson Health System’s and the Office of the Capital Improvements’ Status Reports to the OIG’s Final Audit Report on the Public Health Trust / Jackson Health System Equitable Distribution Program for Architectural and Engineering Contracts, Ref. IG08-15A, March 4, 2010.
CITY OF MIAMI
>>> Chair Sarnoff says trouble with Miami is it acts “like a snail” but eats public dollars “like a goat” after grim budget briefing
As the Miami commission met Thursday in the commission chambers it was clear to the Watchdog Report that this was deja vue of the worst kind when it came to the city’s dwindling cash reserves that will be raided another $54 million just to cover last year’s budget deficit and even more cash will be required for the current shortfall with parks, police and fire budgets over by more than $20 million. The commissioners got the financial budget briefing in the morning and the conversation was grim. The city of “Miami acts like a snail” when it comes to delivering municipal services but when it comes to spending public money it “eats like a goat,” said Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff (Net worth $2.28 million) describing what he had just heard. He also noted that the city was coming dangerously close to insolvency declaring the city manager, who is the person who contacts the governor’s office if such a state exists, should call a “state of financial emergency”. Further, Frank Carollo, the commission vice chair said paychecks for two old employees gone since November are still arriving at his office and questioned the city’s paycheck controls that clearly need attention.
Mayor Tomas Regalado (Net worth $5,000), who gave his first state of the City speech Friday, cautioned commissioners about calling a financial emergency believing they were not there yet. He said changes were being implemented regarding city spending that would stem some of the financial hemorrhaging being implemented by new city Manager Carlos Migoya, a former banker working for free in the interim during the tough budget negotiations, including dealing with the city’s three unions.
What about the state appointed financial emergency oversight board?
For five-years that ended in Nov. 2001, the city of Miami had a state appointed financial oversight board made up of high profile community leaders that did not live in the city. Regalado and Commissioner Willy Gort both politically lived under this mother may I scrutiny that kept a fiscal blow torch on leaders and the administration that saw revolving door managers through the late 1990s after ex manager Cesar Odio, after years in that capacity went to federal prison. This board also had the added firepower of the governor’s inspector general attending these meetings and during the bulk of the time when then Gov. Jeb Bush held office. The state IG was Marcia Cooke, now a federal district judge and she kept a close eye on some of the ideas the commissioners had while helping the municipality financially right itself. Cooke, it should be noted is well over six feet tall and would periodically start to get up at meetings when something was being discussed and essentially said, “don’t go there,” to the city’s elected leaders that attended these meetings.
>>> The following e-mail was sent to (now former) Mayor Manny Diaz using his e-mail address on his extensive city web-page on Sept. 13, 2008 at 9:38 a.m. and to date there has been no answer from the mayor.>>> “Mayor Diaz, I wanted to ask you in the chamber today but not in front of Chair Joe Sanchez. My question is where did the extra $400,000 in the 2007 disclosure form come from? I will run what ever you respond unedited but I would appreciate closing this issue, as I am sure you do. Sorry but I have to ask. Best to all. Dan” >>>> The Watchdog Report through Dec.7 has yet to get a response or catch-up with Miami Mayor Manuel Diaz on where he got the extra $400,000 in cash listed in his 2007 financial disclosure forms. To see what CBS 4 reporter David Sutta’s take on this issue and the other city leaders financial disclosures go to cbs4.com Blogs . >>> Readers should stay tuned and catch the meeting on the city’s cable station channel 77. >>> Stream Channel 77, for all City of Miami meetings, (Commission, Village Council meetings, Waterfront, Zoning, PAB, Code, etc. hearings) http://videos.miamigov.com/
CITY OF MIAMI BEACH
>>> Commissioner Libbin believes relief for condo maintenance fees may be near
Commissioner Libbin newsletter: Thank you for joining in the efforts to change the statutes pertaining to the inequities in current condominium foreclosure laws. I appreciate that many of you were interested in helping to organize a “Rally in Tally” trip in March to visit with state legislators. Unfortunately, due to the low number of participants available during the planned dates, I have had to cancel the group trip. I am pleased to announce, however, that I received word from our lobbyists in Tallahassee, advising that Senate President Jeff Atwater has reversed his position and is now requesting that the Senate create a bill to provide a measure of relief for condo maintenance issues. This is a victorious step for us and leads me to believe that Mr. Atwater is finally convinced that action needs to be taken to assist condominiums owners facing financial crisis. I believe that he is also convinced that we, as determined and vocal activists, will not cease in our efforts until we get relief.
I will attend Dade Days in Tallahassee this year as I did last year, where I plan to meet with the members of the House and Senate who have the strongest pending bills. Below I have provided Senate President Jeff Atwater’s contact information as well as the names and contact information of legislative representatives who sit on the Insurance, Business and Financial Affairs Policy Committee voting on the bills. I urge you to please reach out to them and very importantly to your local district representatives as well to request their support for the essential relief offered in the bills. I have also drafted a sample letter for your use, if you prefer. Thank you again for your interest and continued efforts in this crucial matter. Please contact our office at 305 673 7106 email@example.com if you have additional questions or if we may be of service to you.
>>> The Miami New Times reporter Tim Elfrink last week did a story on the last few years at the Beach police department and while not reflective of all the officers on patrol in the municipality. The story brings up some concerns. To read the story go to Miami Beach cops are paid up to $225K and face lawsuits galore
Since 1996, the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club has been gathering every Tuesday at 8:30AM at a local Miami Beach restaurant for informal, non-partisan discussions of issues – political, governmental, etc. It is not affiliated with any other organization. We are currently meeting at David’s Cafe II, 1654 Meridian Ave., Miami Beach, between Lincoln Road Mall and Macy’s (formerly Burdine’s). There is plenty of parking at that hour in the adjacent municipal parking lot. One orders from the menu or simply has coffee. Guest speakers range across the political, governmental, business, and social issues spectrum. Sessions are open to everyone. Simply show up. www.mbtmbc.com
The Watchdog Report usually does not write about some of the smaller municipalities but given the continued turbulence, scandals and general political chaos with lawsuits flying at the City of Pleasant Living, one has to wonder what is going on there? In December, I stopped by city Hall and went to the manager’s office to get his business card but was told he was out of the office and on a vacation. I picked up a card but then a man sitting in a chair piped up that Roger Carleton, the chief administrator was in “Hawaii” versus us being stuck here and he said essentially isn’t that the life. I asked the man if he was a city employee, which he was but that kind of attitude among any cities workers is corrosive and suggests a wide spectrum of problems that have since been manifested in news reports done by www.wfor4.com and www.miamiherald.com .
Further, the city has been under the watchful eye of the Miami-Dade ethics commission and a number of rulings have come out of that body with some still pending. However, to be fair some of the complaints were political retaliation and frivolous but the intense nature of some of the commission meetings over the past 18-months shows residents and elected leaders need to reduce some of the heated rhetoric and remember what Ghandi used to say. “Make it the strength of your argument, not the stridency of your voice” something that might interject civility back into the fabric of the political discourse.
I was recently asked why I run elected officials financial disclosure forms so often, and it is because this is the only time the public gets to peer into someone’s life and about 10 percent of the time something later turns up, as was the case with now jailed Ken Jenne, the former Broward County sheriff. I would run his financial disclosures in early July every year after the forms were due, first because he had the largest operation, around $700 million in the county under one elected official and he was top dog on the disclosure food chain list.
Jenne used to file his IRS 1040 with his wife and it was here that I first noticed that after years of no outside income, he listed $25,000 from one organization and another $10,000 from another source. At the time, I just noted that he now had outside income and the media and public corruption investigators took it from there. In other cases an elected official might have more cash than normal, say $500,000 as was one case and that person years ago would later have difficulty explaining where that came from.
Some people try to make their forms and the information difficult to read, or are incomplete in some way and it says a lot about a person. People that are straight up many times just file their IRS 1040 but as we see with Jenne, this is not fool proof either. Some elected people challenge the need for these financial disclosures to be made public, but it comes with the turf if you are an elected official and that is the way it is and get over it. For with the profile, responsibility and power that comes with elected office the public has a right to see someone’s financial holdings and it is one of the best aspects of the Florida Sunshine law.
The Watchdog Report has gotten many comments about my returning cruise tickets for two that I won in a raffle recently, and would later return to be raffled off again. Some people thought since it was a raffle that I should have kept the tickets and it would have been okay. However, one county Watchdog Report reader in a elevator down at county hall last week said it all when she said she was glad I had returned them and it would have “hurt me” if I kept them. That was the same conclusion I had about 90 seconds after the drawing, and since I am a solo operation it was clear what I had to do and that is what I did.
Hello Mr. Ricker, your work goes highly under appreciated throughout these years in Miami. I’ am sorry to have heard about your medical issue and hope and pray you stay healthy for the rest of 2010 and beyond. You saw first hand what good quality care is at South Miami Hospital part of the Baptist health network. I’ve never met you in person, but I mean the words that I write and keep up the good work as loyal follower of the Watchdog Report.
>>> You have all my thoughts and prayers over your recent catastrophic surgery. You are a great guy who has made a terrific difference. I am struggling through this recession like a lot of other people and wish I had money, but I’ll spread the word on your behalf. Wishing you every blessing….
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The Watchdog Report covers a few of the meetings attended weekly. It remains my belief that an informed public will make better decisions. Therefore, I go to meetings, make the presence of an informed citizen known, and bring the information to you. TheWatchdog Report is in the fourth year of publication and it has been an honor to be able to send this information to you. It is sent to readers in Miami-Dade, Florida, the U.S. and the world. The Watchdog Report is sent to thousands free and while readers have been prodded to subscribe the results have been mixed. Over 250 reports and Extra’s have been sent since May 5, 2000 and over one million words have been written on our community’s governments and events. The report is an original work based on information gathered at public meetings, interviews and from documents in the public domain.
I welcome letters via e-mail, fax, or snail mail. Letters may be edited for length or clarity and must refer to material published in theWatchdog Report. Please see address and contact information. Please send any additions and corrections by e-mail, fax or snail mail. All corrections will be published in the next Watchdog Report. If you or your organization would like to publish the contents of this newsletter, please contact me. Please send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Watchdog Report is no longer exclusively with The Miami Herald, and excluding the one story a week that is printed in the paper on Monday in the Metro & State section by me. The rest of the 20 or so news stories weekly sent out Sunday in the Watchdog Report are now available to television stations web pages, and all the newspapers and other media in South Florida if the publishers have an interest to run part or all of the stories. Further, in 2000, I used to have some paper’s running the report in the Spanish press, that option is available again, and publishers should contact me. The news content will not be free, but you can pick and chose the stories of interest, edit them if necessary but you must still keep the general story intact. If you are a news outlet and would like to learn more about, the Watchdog Report and this offer contact me at email@example.com for further information.
>>> Here is what past newspapers have written about the Watchdog Report publisher including a survey and regional study done by the U. North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the media in the southeast United States.
>>>Watchdog Report publisher named ‘Best Citizen’ 2003 by the Miami New Times —The publisher would like to thank the weekly alternative paper Miami New Times for bestowing their 2003 Best of Miami, ‘Best Citizen’ award to me and I am honored. Thank you. To read the full story go to http://www.miaminewtimes.com/issues/2003-05-15/citylife2.html/1/index.html
From the spring of 2003: U. North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Southeast U.S. Media Report lists Watchdog Reportpublisher as leading Florida commentator >>> Selected excerpts from the report on Florida’s media sources
Those who do read the newspaper in Florida have a bevy of options for state government and political coverage. The dominant newspapers in the state are Knight-Ridder’s The Miami Herald (Acquired by The McClatchy Company in 2006) and the Poynter Institute’s St. Petersburg Times. Both papers endorsed Gore in 2000 but split on the 2002 gubernatorial race, with the Heraldendorsing Republican incumbent Jeb Bush and the Times backing Democratic challenger Bill McBride.
Daniel Ricker of The Miami Herald also writes an influential column as well as an email newsletter called the Watchdog Reportthat goes out to more than 100,000 subscribers. FEBRUARY 2004 – Florida: Columnists in Abundance —ERIC GAUTSCHI, graduate student, School of Journalism & Mass Communication, UNC-Chapel Hill – D) LEADING COMMENTATORS – Resource Commentator Organization Type Web site –Steve Bousquet St. Petersburg Times Column www.sptimes.com/columns/bousquet.shtml -“First Friday” WPBT TV (Miami) TV Show www.channel2.org/firstfriday/issues.html –Lucy Morgan St. Petersburg Times Column www.sptimes.com/columns/morgan.shtml –Daniel Ricker Miami Herald/Watchdog Report Newsletter -www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/columnists/dan_ricker/ >>> Readers who would like to read the complete University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Southeast United States Media Report go to view the complete report or download all the data used in this study. >>> Watchdog Report Editor’s note to the NCU/CH study: The subscriber number referenced is incorrect and applies to readership.