OMG: County Commissioner threaten Ethics investigators funding via Miami Herald

Miami Herald:"Miami-Dade investigators knocked commissioners for VIP treatment at MIA. Then came the funding threat."


BY DOUGLAS HANKS: 
dhanks@miamiherald.com

Highlight(s):

  • County Commissioners threaten Ethics Commission funding after report from the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission investigated the use of Miami International Airport’s Protocol Office by Mayor Carlos Gimenez in Miami-Dade and the 13-member County Commission. 
  • The office provides VIP escorts through MIA, and was used by three mayors and 11 commissioners. 
  • Investigators also matched up the escorts with officials’ travel records to see if the travel coincided with official business.
  • Centorino amended the report to urge special consideration for Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s schedule as Miami-Dade’s chief executive after a call from a county lawyer. 


At Miami's airport, there’s economy, first class and ... politician

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez
Time: 2012 to 2016. Escorts: 12. Unexplained or personal trips: Not specified; Gimenez staff said none.
District 1 Commissioner Barbara Jordan
Time 2015-2016. Escorts: 5. Unexplained or personal trips: 5.
District 2 Commissioner Jean Monestime
Time: 2015-2016. Escorts: 35. Unexplained or personal trips: 7.
District 3 Commissioner Audrey Edmonson
Time: 2015-2016. Escorts: 12. Unexplained or personal trips: 0.
District 4 Commissioner Sally Heyman
Time: 2015-2016. Escorts: 45. Unexplained or personal trips: 0.
District 5 Commissioner Bruno Barreiro
Time: 2015-2016. Escorts: 0.
District 6 Commissioner Rebeca Sosa.
Time: 2015-2016. Escorts: 8. Unexplained or personal travel: 6.
District 7 Commissioner Xavier Suarez
Time: 2015-2016. Escorts: 1. Unexplained or personal travel: 1.
District 8 Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava
Time: 2015-2016. Escorts: 16. Unexplained or personal travel: 3.
District 9 Commissioner Dennis Moss
Tine: 2015-2016. Escorts: 0.
District 10 Commissioner Javier Souto
Time: 2015-2016. Escorts: 15. Unexplained or personal travel: 1.
District 11 Commissioner Juan Zapata (replaced by Joe Martinez in November)
Time: 2015-2016. Escorts: 5. Unexplained or personal travel: 5.
District 12 Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz
Time 2015-2016. Escorts: 15. Unexplained or personal travel: 7.
District 13 Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo
Time: 2014-2016. Escorts: 4. Unexplained or personal travel: Not known.
(Investigators said Bovo received no escorts from 2015 to 2016, but that MIA recorded four escorts for him in the 2014 data that the airport provided after the Ethics Commission travel records requested from commission offices.)

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article131578989.html#storylink=cpy

...

This week, Sosa grilled the county’s ethics director on why Miami-Dade should continue fully funding his watchdog agency in light of an investigation she found to be a waste of money since it found no evidence of any policy violations at the county-owned airport.

“We have to approve the budget of every department,” Sosa told Ethics Commission director Joe Centorino during a Monday meeting with fellow commissioners Audrey Edmonson and Sally Heyman. “How will I feel to approve the budget of a department when you are telling me that department had investigators for more than a year investigating a rule that doesn’t exist?”

The County Commission retains authority over the Ethics Commission’s $2 million yearly budget, but the 13-person watchdog agency is governed by an independent board appointed by outside organizations. In an interview Thursday, Centorino said he’s used to criticism from elected officials but that the tenor of Monday’s meeting left him concerned.

“This had a tone of hostility, and really, retaliation for us having done our job,” the former prosecutor said. “To retaliate against the commission for taking action, that’s very concerning.”

Centorino’s tongue-lashing stemmed from a Feb. 8 draft report detailing how the county’s elected officials utilize MIA’s Protocol Office, which was established to whisk foreign dignitaries through security and Customs. The report labeled the VIP escorts “unnecessary courtesies” for elected officials, even when traveling on government business, and “likely to be offensive to the traveling and taxpaying public.”

How will I feel to approve the budget of a department when you are telling me that department had investigators for more than a year investigating a rule that doesn’t exist? 
-Commissioner Rebeca Sosa to Ethics Commission director Joe Centorino

Centorino later amended the report to urge special consideration for Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s schedule as Miami-Dade’s chief executive after a call from a county lawyer. Commissioners complained the report cast suspicion without citing any rules being broken, since the county has no policy barring elected officials from requesting the escorts.

Sosa took particular offense at the report noting she had requested escorts for three trips by sister Guadalupe Diaz, who the commissioner said was traveling at a time when their mother was facing critical surgery.

The three commissioners assembled in a conference room Monday morning for a session governed by Florida’s open-meeting laws, which prohibits private conversations between lawmakers. The Miami Herald obtained an audio recording of the meeting from the county clerk.

Monday’s session was advertised on the county calendar as a discussion on “guidelines for legislation, protocol procedures, structure of appointments” and other topics. The Ethics Commission wasn’t mentioned, and Centorino arrived midway through after county commissioners summoned him.

“Is Centorino coming?” Heyman asked. “What’s his ETA?”

To retaliate against the commission for taking action, that’s very concerning. 
-Ethics Director Joe Centorino

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