CRESPOGRAM REPORT
JANUARY 1, 2015
BARRED FROM NUMEROUS GOVERNMENTAL COMPUTER NETWORKS FOR TELLING THE TRUTH

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CONSPIRING TO RAISE THE DDA DISTRICT’S AD VALOREM TAXES BEHIND EVERYONES BACK
AFTER CLAIMING FOR YEARS THAT THE DDA WAS AN “INDEPENDENT TAXING DISTRICT,” THE CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE WAS FORCED TO CONCEDE THAT IT’S NOT, AND NOW IN CAHOOTS WITH DDA CHAIRMAN SARNOFF AND HIS SOCK PUPPET JAY SOLOWSKY, THEY’VE COME UP WITH A NEW SCHEME TO “LEVY AN ADDITIONAL AD VALOREM TAX” ON THE DDA RESIDENTS AND BUSINESS OWNERS AS A WAY TO FIX THE PROBLEM

It’s a given that from the President of the United States, to Governors, to Mayors, and to powerful elected officials all up and down the food chain their last year in office is when the crooked ones go all out to plunder the public treasury and the public trust.


Marc Sarnoff will term out as a City Commissioner at the end of this year, and from now until the day he leaves office you can expect that he will do absolutely everything he can to use his official position to cash in while rewarding the folks - especially his developer pals - who’ve given him hundreds of thousands of dollars above the table, and who know what under the table as he used his position to twist and turn the levers of power so that they could get the return on investment that they expected for the money they gave him.


There have been, and will be new examples of how he plans to do favors for those who continue to give him money over the next 300 plus days, but while most of his endeavors are to rig the system so that his developer pals can cash in at the trough, here is a devious example of how he’s been scheming to increase the ad valorem taxes on the “real and personal property” of the folks who live within the Downtown Development Authority’s boundaries.


Every year the City of Miami - like just about every city and county in the state - puts together a list of legislative goals for the coming legislative session.  These lists often include everything from concrete changes in Florida Statutes to address particular problems the local municipality might be having with an issue, to requests for money, to wish lists of political requests designed to placate some individual or group, like last year’s request by Miami-Dade County for $10 million for Jeffrey Berkowitz’s Skyrise Tower.


Here is the 2015 list of Legislative priorities for the City of Miami.  I direct you to Number 8.

That seems innocuous enough, right. Support legislation that would clarify the DDA’s authority under Florida Statute 166.0497.


Of course, this begs the question of why S. 166.0497 requires clarification?  What happened to make it become unclarified?


With Sarnoff, you always have to start with the premise that anything that he is even remotely involved with is subject to being manipulated for nefarious reasons, and this effort to “clarify” the statute is a classic example of that reasoning at work.


It turns out that although this legislative goal is for 2015, I discovered that Deputy City Attorney Warren Bittner had begun negotiating directly with staff members of the Florida Legislature during the 2014 Legislative session to drastically change Florida Statute 166.0497, and that he was reporting on his activities and ideas on how to succeed in these efforts to Sarnoff’s sock puppet and legal patron, Jay Solowsky.


Here is an email from Bittner to Solowsky written on August 29, 2014, that surprisingly spells out Bittner’s activities and his scheme to increase the DDA District’s ad valorem taxes in very clear and forthright language.

A review of the 2013/2014 DDA minutes also shows that the DDA Board of Directors never discussed and/or voted to support proposing legislation that would have allowed them to independently increase in Ad Valorem taxes within the District.


Furthermore, as you can see, Bittner’s email was written to Jay Solowsky, with copies to Sarnoff, City Attorney Victoria Mendez, and Deputy City Attorney John Grecio.


Neither Alyce Robertson, nor any of the DDA board members were copied on this email because I believe - and the recent history of the DDA supports this belief - that this kind of information was too sensitive and controversial to provide to some of the board members who might have objected to this scheme.


HERE’S THE LANGUAGE THAT SPELLS OUT THE PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE LAW


What exactly was Bittner talking about when he says he “chose to amend s.166.0497?”


First the header language in Bittner’s amendment spells out in clear and plain language that the purpose of the amendment is intended to provide: 

“AUTHORIZATION TO LEVY AN ADDITIONAL AD VALOREM TAX -”

Then Bittner’s draft amendment spells out the language they want added to the legislation.  That portion is highlighted at the bottom.

In 2014, neither the Legislative Goals for the City of Miami nor the DDA included any efforts to amend the law to provide the DDA with the ability to independently increase ad valorem taxes in the District.


Here are the DDA’s 2014 Legislative Priorities, where you see that the next to the last item states that one of their goals last year was in fact the opposite of what Bittner admits to trying to do in his email.

In Bittner’s email to Solowsky, he also referenced the problems that he had had “trying to describe how the DDA millage would not exceed the City’s constitutional 10 mill cap,” and stated that he thought he had solved the problem by referencing FS 200.001(8)(d).


Here is the relevant portion of FS 200.001(8)(d).

What does this all mean in plain English?


It means that if this legislation were to be approved it would represent a screwing not only for the residents of the City of Miami’s DDA District, but also for all of the other cities in Florida that have DDA’s that are classified as Dependent Special Districts.


Here is what I mean.


Florida Statute limits the millage rate that a city can collect at 10 mill.


The City of Miami this year adopted a millage rate of 7.6465.  That means that there is an excess amount of millage still available to be levied totaling 2.3535.

In short, this is an ingenious scheme that would allow the DDA to take a piece of the excess millage without having to get permission from the City  and there is very little - short of abolishing the DDA - that the City could do to stop them.


This is probably not a scheme that cities who belong to the Florida League of Cities would look on with much favor, and perhaps this explains the effort to keep this scheme as secret as it seems to have been kept up until now so as to try and sneak this amendment into the existing legislation without folks like the League of Cities finding out what they were up to until it was too late.


(CLARIFICATION NOTE:  In talking to several Crespogram readers they rightly pointed out that I was not as clear as I should have been in pointing out that when I cited the additional 2.3535 available millage that the DDA could come along and levy that full amount on the DDA District’s property and business owners.  In the proposed  addition to FS 166.0497, it states that the DDA’s millage shall not exceed “one-half mil on the dollar valuation of such property for the purpose of financing the operation of the district.”  The actual millage rate for the DDA is .478.  In reviewing the millage rates of other DDA’s in South Florida (HERE and HERE) it appears that the millage could be increased to at least 1.1248. They would NOT, as far as I’ve been able to determine be able to raise their millage to capture the full 2.3535 amount that I cited was available. I’m not anywhere near a tax expert, so I would advice anyone in the DDA District with questions to consult with an accountant or tax lawyer.  I apologize for any confusion.  I don’t have an editor, so I am dependent on the kindness of readers to point out when I make a mistake, or garble an explanation)


THE CITY ATTORNEY’S ROLE IN THIS SCHEME


I initially found it quite amazing that the City Attorney’s Office had been involved in this scheme to the degree that it had, because you would think that their principal obligation and responsibility would be to protect the city from allowing city agencies to engage in independent funding schemes like this.


This scheme is clearly an effort to allow the tail to wag the dog.


Additionally, Warren Bittner in his email to Solowsky refers several times to problems that “we” had with “house and senate” staff.  It’s obvious that the “we” includes Bittner.


This raises an interesting question because in searching the Legislative Lobbyist Registration Records there is no record that Warren Bittner ever registered as a lobbyist.


In Tallahassee they take lobbyist registration a lot more seriously than they do in Miami - I know because back in the 90’s I successfully got the Executive Director for the Florida Entertainment Commission tagged with failing to register to lobby the Florida Legislature - so the notion that a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Miami was directly involved with House and Senate staffers in what appears to be a secret effort to get this  controversial language inserted into an existing piece of legislation raises alarm bells that will prompt me to spend time on the phone with folks in Tallahassee next week to see whether I file a complaint against Warren for failing to register as a lobbyist.


But that’s a sidebar issue in regards to the City Attorney’s Office engaging in this effort behind Mayor Tomas Regalado’s back. Not only has Tomas Regalado built and maintained his whole political career on never increasing taxes, but the notion that he would ever be in favor of allowing any agency within the City being able to independently set it’s own tax millage rates, and to do so in a way that could cut into the City’s ability to control those rates for itself is not a prerogative that he, or for that matter any Mayor would likely support.


THE DDA BOARD OPERATES LIKE ANIMAL FARM - SOME MEMBERS BELIEVE THEY ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS


Even though the minutes of the DDA Board do not show any conversation about, or vote to support a change in the Florida Statutes that would allow them to levy an additional ad valorem tax on the residents and business owners in the DDA District, it has to be assumed that at least several board members have been privy to these activities and discussions, and that they’ve been more than likely co-conspirators with Sarnoff and Solowsky in this endeavor.


Last year, among other questionable activities, I revealed how the board, in direct contradiction to their By-Laws reappointed 2 members to new terms


As with all things Sarnoff however, this attempt to change the law goes beyond the just an ability to allow the DDA to increase the millage rate that they can collect in order to finance the operation of the DDA.


THEY DON’T TEACH THIS STUFF IN LAW SCHOOL


I believe that the first and foremost reason that these people have been engaged in a secret process to try and change the law is in order to thwart the lawsuits filed against the DDA by the Milan Investment Group. These lawsuits allege that neither the City nor the DDA is allowed by law to levy an additional ad valorem tax on the residents of the DDA District.


In this regard, it turns out that not only was Bittner involved in trying to get the language in the law changed, but if you’ll check out the stylus of the case, you’ll see that Bittner was directly involved in arguing this case in court. 


How cute is that? Argue the case in court, and when you’re forced to concede that your principle argument is invalid, then secretly work behind the scenes to change the law to support your legal position as a way to get around your admission.


I’ll bet they don’t teach those tactics in law school.


At the end of the day, if Sarnoff, Bittner, Solowsky and whoever else is involved in this scheme succeeds, the people who will come out on the short end of the stick will be the property owners and residents of the DDA District, because once the DDA gets an okay to levy an “additional ad valorem tax,” you can bet your sweet as that they will start doing just that!


Welcome to Miami, Bitches!  It’s 2015!

With this proposed change in the legislation, DDA’s in Florida would no longer be dependent on their City’s permission to set their millage, and could independently increase their millage as long as it didn’t exceed the maximum millage they are allowed by law. In doing so, DDA’s could bypass a critical part of financial oversight by their cities and also reduce the ability of their cities to increase their own millage by that additional amount should they need to do so.

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I’ve added a clarification note to clear up some confusion on a portion of this story that deals with the amount of millage that the DDA will be able to levy.