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Thursday, September 29, 2016

City Attorney Victoria Mendez retains her position

There was a special City Commission meeting this morning, September 29, regarding the issue of Commissioner Ken Russell's request to remove City Attorney Victoria Mendez from her city position. Ken claims she allegedly has withheld important information from him and is on the side of developers who are using tricks and illegal tactics to bypass zoning laws, overbuild and kill precious trees.

The discussion started with Ken explaining his case. He felt is was a trust issue. Ken asked that the floor be open for public comment. Chairman Keon Hardemon asked that there not be a public discussion. He felt that Ms. Mendez should not be blasted by the public. I agree. But the public was allowed to speak and this was played out in the court of public opinion and maybe it should have been a private issue dealt with by an independent council - a fair hearing and trial for Ms. Mendez. In the end, she kept her job. But after hearing lots of pros and cons from the public. All in public.

Commissioner Frank Carollo felt that the floor should be open since people made a point of showing up early on a Thursday morning, expecting to be heard. City code says that if an action is going to be taken, the public has a right to say something. If it's just a discussion, without an action, they don't need to speak.

Ken (above) said that it's up to the commissioners to decide whether the public should speak. Commissioner Francis Suarez felt that people wanted to "air out the dirty laundry" by speaking. He felt that people showed up to speak, so they should speak. He estimated that the meeting would go up to four hours if everyone in the chamber had a chance to speak for a few minutes each, it ended up being about three hours. Francis also felt that the more people spoke, from past experience, he knows it causes lots of ill will in the chamber and with the public.

Commissioner Willy Gort felt that people should be heard. He wanted to hear from the community. 

A lot of people spoke, you can see the video at the city's website. The consensus seemed to be that this was not the place to hear this case, that an independent council should hear the case and decide.

Ken said that the Ethics Commission should not rule on what is going on. This is a decision for five commissioners to make. It's a city decision. Ken saw legal opinion that did not make sense. That is why he brought up the issue. He feels that she withheld certain portions of what he asked for and that would affect the outcome. "Her job is not policy, she cannot decide what to show me or what not to show me," said Ken.

"The core of my decision rests on her withholding that information," he said. At Ken's first meeting with Ms. Mendez, after he won the commission seat, she told him out loud, in front of many people, about which cell phone company to use in order to protect his privacy and public records searches - she told him to use Sprint because they delete records more easily than other phone companies. Ken stayed with AT&T.  

He says he lost trust in Ms. Mendez at that point and found that very strange.

Commissioner Willie Gort feels that an independent review should be done. He wanted to hear Ms. Mendez's response through that procedure. He was concerned about making the wrong decision.

Ken's Motion was: "I would move that we remove our city attorney without cause and start the process of finding a new city attorney." It was not seconded.

In the end. Ms. Mendez has her job.  
Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon and Commissioners Francis Suarez, Willy Gort and Frank Carollo felt that they did not have a conflict with Ms. Mendez. As someone in the audience stated, it was a circus, and it was. I feel that the commissioners knew how they felt going in and by having the public stand and throw darts (and love) at Ms. Mendez, was not needed.

Good news is that Commissioner Francis Suarez wants to fix the NCD, he felt that the commissions's vote on the Battersea Woods re-platting issue was the right thing to do. And he feels that lot splitting in Coconut Grove should stop immediately. He feels that the city attorney's office should be looked at. "We need an experienced real estate practitioner at the city attorney's office," he said.

"We need an ombudsman, an office of transparency, where people can go directly to get public records," he went on.

"There is not a person up here that has been harder on Victoria Mendez, than I have, but I have never questioned her integrity, ever. I've never even thought about it. I disagree with her on many issues, but have never questioned her integrity," said Francis Suarez.

Some highlights from neighbors who spoke:

NCD (Neighborhood Conservation District) now stands for "Neighborhood Construction District" - activist Williams Armbrister.

Kangaroo Court, Banana Republic and Three Ring Circus were words used to describe the commission meeting and city.

Miami has been in the pockets of developers for too long. Things need to change, said one resident.

One attorney in the audience felt that there should be a proper process to hear this issue, not make it a public forum. Give Ms. Mendez a fair trial. She should be able to defend herself. She was being judged arbitrarily, the public did not have all the details and yet they are judging her. 

One resident called it a "Witch Hunt."  Another called it "Salem in the 1600s."

"Perception is everything. The perception is that the city is in the pocket of developers. Coral Gables is easier to deal with than the City of Miami. Developers in the City of Miami have it easy," said one Grove resident.

Codes are geared towards developers and developers use loopholes daily.

"Ms. Mendez is an asset to our city," said Javier Gonzalez, Coconut Grove Village Council.

An ethics lawyer said Ms. Mendez should be tried in a proper forum. Not in public. Ms. Mendez did ask that she be checked out by the Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission is empowered to subpoena all the records and facts. And it is impartial. They require evidence, unlike the City Commission meeting.

One lady asked why the chambers were so packed, usually no one is there. She asked why did everyone show up for this one meeting, was it to tear down Ms. Mendez? Why don't people show up when there are important meetings? "You have to come to every single commission meeting, not just show up when the media asks you to."

Javier Ortiz, head of the Fraternal Order of Police, explained that there is a process for ordering public records. Asking Ms. Mendez for public records is not proper procedure, there are people who work for the city who provide the records. He made a good point in saying, "We [the police department] sue the City on a daily basis," so it would make you think he was against Ms. Mendez, but he isn't. He claimed she is honest and trustworthy. 

For linking to this one story, just click on the time it was posted & just this story will open for sharing - only through social media. Not copying and pasting.


Blogger Unknown said...

There were two alternative views on firing the City Attorney: view 1, she is our attorney and she is not representing us, she serves at our pleasure and we can discharge her without cause.

View 2. a city official in an important position is entitled to a fair hearing they should have the opportunity to defend themselves in a situation which would do them great professional harm.

In the final analysis I think the commission made the right decision, I would have liked to see a full investigation by an independent person or committee, as Ken Russell initially asked for. Perhaps this discussion item was all he could get. It was inevitably ugly, and there was more heat than light.

I am skeptical about the ethics board investigation, as I believe their standard for acceptable behavior will be; have any laws been broken. This is not the appropriate standard for a City Attorney in Ms. Mendez capacity, she is the attorney for the Commission and the citizens; the standard should include, did she faithfully serve her professional obligations to her client. Will we ever know?

September 29, 2016 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Tony J Diaz (recalling him) said...

Justice was served today. The loudest sound was the silence that hit when Russian Russell asked for a second on his motion. How about telling this dog with his tail between his legs to focus on improving your district for a bit!

September 29, 2016 4:06 PM  
Blogger Alan Sirkin said...

Perhaps this will be a wake up call for Ms. Mendez.

September 29, 2016 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Tony Montana said...

Russian Russell? Is this the beginning of another Birther saga?

September 30, 2016 4:15 PM  
Blogger Liz Gibson said...

I agree with John Snyder about the Ethics Commission. I had dealings with Robert Myers the former Director when I reported illegal activity on the part of a county employee. He refused to investigate the matter and not only that, but insulted me by telling me the employee had done nothing wrong. It was discovered not long after, that the allegations were true but the employee
was allowed to resign. From my experience, neither the OIG nor The Ethics Commission will do anything unless things have really changed recently

September 30, 2016 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank Carollo's recommendations sound like Grace Solares's campaign platform.

September 30, 2016 11:13 PM  

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