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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rare defeat of three NYC Council incumbents who voted to tear-up term limits suggests an undercurrent of civic discontent, but in Miami-Dade County, County Commissioners show no sign of looking before they leap. Or stop using police as chauffeurs to get to the Victoria's Secret blowout party at the re-christened Fontainebleau Hotel after the annual CBS holiday TV Fashion Show, featuring supermodels everywhere you look. The very curious case of Jose ''Pepe'' Diaz gets the full Carl Hiaasen treatment. You know THAT can't be good!


MODTV YouTube Channel video: VICTORIA'S SECRET FASHION SHOW 2008 Backstage. Uploaded December 4, 2008. http://youtu.be/WDkHk432Kvs 
Rare defeat of three NYC Council incumbents who voted to tear-up term limits suggests an undercurrent of civic discontent, but in Miami-Dade County, some elected County Commissioners show no sign of looking before they leap -or stop using police as chauffeurs to get to the annual Victoria's Secret TV show, featuring supermodels everywhere you look. The very curious case of Jose ''Pepe'' Diaz gets the full Carl Hiaasen treatment. You know THAT can't be good!
After reading this pithy Chris Smith dispatch on Wednesday at New York magazine's great Daily Intel blog, part of my daily routine, I couldn't help but think how great it would be to see the sort of election heave-ho attitude exhibited in New York City (of all places), amplified down here in South Florida come election time over the next 14 months, given the myriad valid reasons that local elected reps have given citizens to question both their judgment and their particular brand of ethics and grand sense of entitlement. 

In case you forgot about the tragic case study that is Miami-Dade commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, the poster boy for entitlement, someone whom I've mentioned here before, Diaz was laboring under the delusion that famous celebrities and leggy supermodels would be so wowed by his charisma and style while acting as some sort of self-appointed goodwill ambassador, that he'd actually need police protection/chauffeur at the Victoria's Secret blowout party at the re-christened Fontainebleau Hotel last Fall 


Victoria's Secret brings sexy back to Fontainebleau; video
Updated 11/18/2008 10:51 PM
By Arienne Thompson, USA TODA
http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/2008-11-16-victorias-secret_N.htm

http://www.cbs.com/shows/victorias_secret/
http://www.fontainebleau.com/ 
See the awesome photos from March 2009 Travel + Leisure magazine article profiling the iconic Miami Beach hotel
http://www.fontainebleau.com/FILE/3605.pdf

I've reprinted below the great Carl Hiaasen column from April that connected-the-dots on that folly at taxpayers expense, which resonated with beleaguered Florida voters throughout the state. Classic!

I knew about Cy Vance Sr. having been on the New York Times' Board for years because of receiving their Annual Report every year since about 1983 or so, but am rather surprised that the editors at New York didn't know that, since it was far from a secret.

The New York reader below who writes knowingly about the Times' Editorial Board's inclination to go very easy on Manhattan D.A. Robert Morganthau and his office over the years, is only echoing what literally millions of people of all political stripes have known for years, to their great everlasting frustration.
He's certainly no Jack McCoy!


---------New York magazine 
Daily Intel blog 
Smith: Who Really Flexed Muscle in Yesterday’s City Primaries? The New York Times
By Chris Smith

Its advertising revenue may be cratering, its stock price languishing, and it still can't find a way out of its disastrous acquisition of the Boston Globe. But yesterday proved there is at least one place where the New York Times remains robustly healthy and powerful: a New York Democratic primary.
To read the rest of the post:
http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2009/09/smith_who_really_flexed_muscle.html


--------


Miami Herald
Police taxi Miami-Dade politicians, and public pays tab

By Jack Dolan
April 18, 2009

Despite pocketing an $800 monthly car allowance, several Miami-Dade commissioners use sworn police officers to chauffeur them in county cars -- costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands a year in overtime and raising concerns about personal abuse of public money.

Commissioner Jose ''Pepe'' Diaz was ferried at least 144 times in 2007 and 2008 by Kevin Greenwood, one of the commission's sergeants-at-arms who provide security at meetings and, of late, have essentially become personal drivers for a handful of commissioners.

Greenwood's service frequently stretched beyond his normal eight-hour shift, according to his signed logs, earning him overtime on at least 125 trips. Some nights, he put in exceptionally long hours, dropping the commissioner off at midnight or later at least 15 times.

Being Commissioner Diaz's personal chauffeur helped drive Greenwood's $85,050 base salary to $142,240 last year.

Another officer, Paul Hernandez, drove Diaz to the celebrity-packed grand opening of the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach last fall, a fellow commissioner said. Hernandez logged 27 hours of overtime over that weekend with Diaz.

In an e-mail Friday, Diaz declined to discuss the Fontainebleau weekend but wrote that he used the sergeants-at-arms to carry out his duties.

"As you know, the responsibilities of a County Commissioner extend far beyond meetings at the Stephen P. Clark Center,'' Diaz wrote. "I have used sergeants-at-arms when necessary to ensure my safety and security."

While Diaz appears to be the most frequent user of the service, he is certainly not alone. Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Audrey Edmonson and Barbara Jordan are among the others, according to a Miami Herald review of the officers' activity logs.

The practice has tripled the number of police officers working for the commission since 2002, and increased their cost to taxpayers from $211,000 to $743,845 in 2008, payroll records show.

The number of commissioners, 13, did not change during that time frame.

Driving the politicians has turned the generally ceremonial job of a sergeant-at-arms -- they spend much of their time asking visitors to remain quiet and take their seats during commission meetings -- into one of the most lucrative assignments on the county police force.

Newly elected commission Chairman Dennis Moss, who drives himself to County Hall and to almost all public functions, sent a memo to the board on March 25, laying out strict new rules for how the commission security staff shall be used.

''Sergeants-at-arms are not personal chauffeurs and are not specifically assigned to any commissioner,'' Moss wrote.

He explicitly prohibited his colleagues from using them to run personal errands, accompany them out of town, or "provide personal transportation for family members in situations that have no relevance to a county event.''

Moss added that his office will review all requests for overtime and will approve them only when necessary.

The armed, plainclothes chauffeurs are part of a growing list of trappings that county commissioners have bestowed on themselves in recent years, including an expanding pot of taxpayer money they distribute with few rules and little oversight to voters in their districts. The current total exceeds $700,000 a commissioner per year.

While their listed salary is low -- $6,000 a year -- commissioners pocket more than $50,000 annually from an accumulation of other perks, including a $24,000 expense account, a $10,000 executive bonus and the car allowance, which totals $9,600 a year.

At a time when essential county services are threatened by declining tax revenues, some on the dais think it's unseemly for their colleagues to be driven around town.

Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, whose name rarely appears in the logs, noted that each commissioner already gets the car stipend from taxpayers to lease a car. "You're supposed to use that car for county business,'' Gimenez said.

Commissioner Sally Heyman, whose name shows up on one officer's logs 53 times, said she relied on the driver while it was unsafe to operate a car because she was taking muscle relaxants and pain medication prior to surgery.

''I think the memo Dennis sent was responsible and prudent,'' Heyman said. "It's time to reevaluate the use of the officers for other county purposes.''

None of the officers approached by The Miami Herald would comment, saying they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The newspaper reviewed their handwritten daily logs, which show the time they came to work, the time they left and which commissioners they chauffeured.

Rene Cortinas Lopez drove then-Chairman Barreiro 100 times in 2007 and 2008, records show. He also frequently drove Diaz and Edmonson. Lopez got the biggest overtime pay bump of the group in 2008, lifting his annual pay from $79,410 to $141,107, a 78 percent increase.

Barreiro said he asked for rides when he went to meetings in faraway places like North Broward and Palm Beach counties, or when he had to make several stops on the same day.

''That was very good usage'' of the officers' time, Barreiro said. "You have to attend two or three events and give a proclamation, or give a certificate.''

OVERTIME TRIPS
Jorge Brito drove commissioners on 190 occasions in 2008, and 144 of those trips pushed him into overtime. Commissioners Joe Martinez, Natacha Seijas, Diaz, Edmonson and Heyman were all frequent passengers. Brito's base salary went from $84,690 to $136,353.

Seijas also had health concerns that prevented her from driving during some of that time, said commission spokeswoman Griselle Marino.

Owen Ferguson, who joined the sergeant-at-arms staff last year, drove Jordan 54 times from late June to mid-December, half of those while on overtime.

''I'm not doubting what you may have there,'' Jordan said on Friday. "Had I known that the overtime was an issue, certainly I would not have continued the sergeants-at-arms.''
She added that being driven by others afforded her time to make phone calls and check e-mail, work she now does from home.

Michael Roan, another sergeant-at-arms, drove Edmonson 89 times from March 2007 to December 2008, working overtime on 52 of those occasions.

''If that's the truth, then print it,'' Edmonson said. Reached on her cellphone, she said she was at a meeting in Washington, D.C., and did not have time to answer any other questions.

Edmonson is not accompanied by any of the sergeants-at-arms on this trip, spokeswoman Marino said. But the records show they have flown to the nation's capital with commissioners in the past, collecting overtime practically around the clock.

All told, seven sergeants-at-arms have collected $630,000 in overtime since 2006, largely from chauffeuring commissioners. More than $250,000 of that came in 2008.

In an interview Monday, Moss declined to cite specific abuses, or explain in detail his reasons for putting the brakes on the service. ''It was just important to set up some rules,'' he said. "Now everybody can conduct themselves accordingly.''

After consulting with county attorneys, Moss released to The Miami Herald the daily logs for most of 2007 and 2008, but he divulged no details on how the sergeants have been used since he took over as chairman in January.

''At the moment, there are no records being kept,'' said Roan, whom Moss appointed as lead sergeant-at-arms.

SYSTEM FOR RECORDS

The record-keeping system began in February 2007 after the MDPD Internal Affairs investigators asked then-Chairman Barreiro where Roan had been on two specific dates in 2006, according to correspondence obtained by The Miami Herald on Saturday.

Neither Roan nor Moss responded to requests for comment Saturday.

If Moss follows through on his threat to curtail the car service, no commissioner would be impacted more than Diaz, who regularly leaves his county-leased Cadillac Escalade at home in favor of a ''dignitary vehicle,'' as the sergeants-at-arms' cars are called.

Take the weekend of the Fontainebleau opening, Nov. 14, 2008. After clocking in to work at 8:30 a.m. that Friday, Hernandez drove Diaz to the Miami Beach gala. He clocked out at 3 a.m.

The next morning, Hernandez drove the commissioner from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Sunday, he spent 12 more hours chauffering the commissioner, records show.

At 1 ½ times his hourly wage -- the standard overtime rate -- Miami-Dade citizens would have paid Hernandez more than $1,500 that weekend.

Although Diaz declined to address questions about the weekend, Barreiro confirmed that his colleague went to the Fontainebleau accompanied by Hernandez.

Barreiro knows because he, too, had a sergeant-at-arms drive him to the party. But Barreiro wasn't with his driver the whole weekend.

"He took me home that night and that was it, I think.''

-----
Miami Herald 
Miami-Dade commissioners driven to spend
By Carl Hiaasen 
April 26, 2009

When you're a Miami-Dade commissioner, danger lurks at every ribbon-cutting.

Just ask Jose "Pepe" Diaz. His job is so perilous that he often leaves his county-leased Cadillac Escalade parked at home and, instead, has a gun-toting sergeant-at-arms deliver him to official functions.

This happened at least 144 times in 2007 and 2008, at a hefty price to taxpayers.

Diaz doesn't like the term "chauffeur." "They are there for our protection," he said last week.

The sergeants-at-arms are sworn police officers who have been traditionally used to keep order at commission meetings. However, since 2006 the county has paid the officers at least $630,000 in overtime, most of it for driving certain commissioners around in "dignitary vehicles."

Sometimes they even escort commissioners on trips out of town. That might sound outrageous to taxpayers unaware of the hidden risks facing local politicians who dare to show their faces in public.

In a memo last week to Commission Chairman Dennis Moss, Diaz maintained that the sergeants-at-arms "ensure the safety of commissioners" when they attend "ceremonies, awards, presentations, political events, galas, etc. . ."

One example of such a combustible situation was the grand reopening of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach last November. Accompanied by Officer Paul Hernandez, Diaz courageously attended the celebrations, which were crawling with glamorous celebrities and other suspicious characters.

On the first night, Heidi Klum was slinking around with two dozen sullen supermodels from Victoria's Secret. Kate Hudson and Gwyneth Paltrow hovered menacingly in the shadows.

Paris Hilton showed up late with her motley entourage, as did the brazen Mariah Carey. Meanwhile, unpredictable Martha Stewart was spotted on a spiral stairway, her intentions unknown.

Despite these eminent threats, Pepe Diaz refused to be intimidated or run off. He'd gone to the Fontainebleau to represent the good citizens of Miami-Dade and, by God, that's what he intended to do.

Late on opening night, long after other elected officials had Breathalyzed themselves and gone home, Diaz fearlessly held his ground. According to the logs, the commissioner's driver didn't clock out until 3 a.m.

In fact, the records show that Officer Hernandez arose early the next morning, a Saturday, and put in another 5.5 hours squiring Diaz here and there. On Sunday the sergeant-at-arms was again stoically behind the wheel, this time for 12 hours.

If Hernandez got paid the usual police overtime rate, he collected more than $1,500 for his eventful Weekend with Pepe.

And there's no question that the officer did a superb job of protecting the commissioner from potential assailants. During all those Fontainebleau festivities, Diaz wasn't kidnapped, accosted or snubbed by a cocktail waiter.

It's quite possible that nobody even recognized him, but remember: All it takes is one disgruntled voter, armed with a toothpick from a cheese puff.

Still, some believe Diaz and other commissioners have a grossly inflated view of their own importance if they think they deserve personal drivers -- especially since the county already gives each of them $800 a month for auto expenses.

Some commissioners, like Moss, drive themselves to public functions. But Diaz, Bruno Barreiro, Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan and others frequently get chauffeured by a sergeant-at arms.

One who has driven Barreiro, Rene Cortinas Lopez, made so much overtime last year that his pay jumped from $79,410 to $141,107. Another officer, Jorge Brito, earned $136,353.

No one seems to know how often the commissioners are using drivers this year because, according to the lead sergeant-at-arms, "There are no records being kept."

However, Moss has cut back the number of officers working at the commission, and he promises to resume keeping logs of who's getting chauffeurred and how much it's costing.

The chairman said the new system should reduce the overtime charges substantially. Last month he made a rule banning any of the 13 commissioners from using law-enforcement officers as "personal chauffeurs."

No wonder Diaz wants to call them something else. The man needs an armed driver because he's got ribbon-cuttings to attend, and you know what that means: Some fool running around with giant cardboard scissors.

But Pepe will be there anyway, because that's how he rolls.

Danger is his middle name, even when he's riding in the back seat.

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