CRESPOGRAM REPORT
MAY 7, 2014
BARRED FROM NUMEROUS GOVERNMENTAL COMPUTER NETWORKS FOR TELLING THE TRUTH
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THE UNETHICAL ETHICS COMMISSION
DUSTY MELTON PENS A TALE OF THE ETHICS COMMISSION’S FAILURE TO OBEY THE LAW

Over the last year Dusty Melton, like me,  has become a regular attendee of the monthly meetings of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.


Like me, Dustry Melton has over time become disenchanted with the way in which the Ethics Commission operates. In January he tried to get the Miami Herald to publish an Op-Ed piece that he wrote regarding an Ethics Complaint he had filed against a fellow lobbyist for failing to register, and how the Commission handled his complaint.


Even though Melton is an “establishment” guy - he’s the dean of non-attorney lobbyists in town as well as a former Herald reporter - the Editorial Editor refused to publish his piece signaling that the Herald was not bashful in providing cover for the ass-kissing members of the Commission who are critical in providing protection to those on the Family and Friends Plan when they are caught out doing something unethical, and occasionally illegal.


Miami Today eventually agreed to publish the Op-Ed, but then gave Michael Murawski, the Commission’s Advocate the last word by letting him lie about what he and the Commission had actually done in the complaint brought my Melton. Our colleagues at Eye On Miami also published his Op-Ed, and you can read it HERE.


Today Dusty wrote a very strong letter to Executive Director, Joseph “Let’em Go Joe” Centorino, on the way that the Commission handled his most recent ethics complaint, and how, once again, the Commission staff and Board shit on the law and on their responsibility to conduct themselves with the highest ethical standards.


It pleases me to be able to publish his letter here, because after 31 separate stories over the last 4 years about the unprincipled, unethical and often sleazy behavior of this group, it’s good to be able to say,  “See, it’s not just me that thinks these assholes need to be shut down for the betterment of the community.”


Here is Dusty’s letter, and below it is the complete PDF that includes all of his backup documents.

3430 Poinciana Avenue

Miami, FL   33133

May 6, 2014




Joseph Centorino

Executive Director

Miami-Dade County Commission

  on Ethics and Public Trust

Biscayne Building, Suite 820

19 West Flagler Street

Miami, FL   33130


Re: Complaint 13-42, Melton v. Ser


Dear Mr. Centorino:


I write in response to the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust's dismissal, at its April 16 monthly meeting, of the above-referenced complaint. I believe the Commission's finding of no probable cause was entirely wrong, and recommend that it be reconsidered and reversed at the Commission's earliest opportunity.


My response is made on two levels:


¬First, Section 2-11.1 of the Miami-Dade County Code of Ordinances (the "County Code") is the controlling set of regulations regarding all lobbyist behavior throughout Miami-Dade County. Mere procurement documents –- such as requests for proposals (RFPs), invitations to bid (ITBs) and the like -- are subordinate to the County Code. Procurement documents instruct, but they are not the ultimate governing authority: the County Code is. The activities of all County lobbyists must be measured against this particular section of the County Code, adopted by the Board of County Commissioners, and not against bureaucratic documents issued periodically by administrators.


¬Second, even if the County Aviation Department's Request for Proposals No. MDAD-03-11 (the "RFP" in this matter) were to be considered to alone control with regard to lobbying communications -- which it did not -- the respondent failed to comply with the express instructions of even that document as well.


At the outset, I agree that the respondent, attorney Lillian A.

Ser, in this matter complied with the County's Cone of Silence regulations, copying the County Clerk in her various letter and email communications. Similarly, Ms. Ser's name was properly listed upon the Appendix D form ("Lobbyist Registration for Oral Presentation Affidavit") submitted by her client in its written proposal, which authorized her to participate in her client's discussion with this RFP's Selection Committee. [Emphasis added.]


That Appendix D form authorized Ms. Ser ONLY to lobby this RFP's Selection Committee at ONLY one publicly noticed meeting -- and no other County officials, and at no other times. That form exists simply to waive the $490 cost that each and every member of any proposer's presenting team otherwise would be required to pay to briefly appear before (and thus lobby) any selection committee; in fact, the County Code requires that any person not listed on such a form, in every procurement, less than two days prior to a selection committee presentation must indeed pay the $490 fee for annual registration as a lobbyist.


That Appendix D form in this matter did NOT authorize any further lobbying activities outside of that Selection Committee meeting by Ms. Ser or any other member of her client's presentation team. Instead, it is the County Code that governed all of her lobbying activities outside of that singular meeting, and she full well knew it at that time.


Nevertheless, in defiance of the plainly worded County Code, Ms. Ser repeatedly engaged in lobbying activities on behalf of 305 Pizza at MIA, LLC ("305 Pizza"), her client. Via at least four letters and various emails, she lobbied the County mayor, the mayor's staff, the County's Aviation Department director, the director's staff, and the County Attorney's Office; however, Ms. Ser did not file her required lobbyist registration forms with the County Clerk prior to sending those lobbying communications.


Those facts cannot be disputed by anyone.


What remains in dispute -- given the Commission's April 16 decision and its reliance upon the March 5, 2014, Probable Cause Memorandum by Deputy General Counsel Miriam Soler Ramos -- is whether Ms. Ser's letters and email communications violated the County's lobbyist regulations, specifically County Code Section 2-11.1(s)(2).


How could they not? The County Code is the governing statute,

and it requires registration before lobbying. Ms. Ser clearly failed to do so. Her actions were unlawful, and they deserve

to be sanctioned.


Skilled attorneys such as Ms. Ser should be able to navigate and

obey the County Code directly and with ease regarding its regulations governing her lobbyist activities. In fact, Ms. Ser has a demonstrated history of personal familiarity with the County Code's lobbying requirements. First enclosed is a copy of Ms. Ser's page on the County Clerk's lobbyist log, reflecting her eight separate registrations preceding her impermissibly tardy registration for 305 Pizza after she lobbied on that client's behalf. She obviously has known for more than a decade how to fill out and file the required forms.


Ms. Ser's (and every other lobbyist's) obligation to obey the County Code's lobbyist registration requirements at all times exists independently of any particular procurement document which might issue from time to time involving one of her clients. And it is critical to remember that the lobbyist registration requirements are very broadly written, encompassing ALL affected public officials and not just a small, defined subset of them.


Astonishingly, however, the Ethics Commission's deputy general counsel (and, apparently, the Commission itself) believes otherwise.


Second enclosed is the deputy general counsel's Probable Cause Memorandum. Across Page 3 and Page 4, the memo states that Ms. Ser's four letters (April 8, June 24, August 30 and October 1, 2013) -- all communicated prior to her registration on behalf of 305 Pizza -- "ordinarily" would be "lobbying activity" and "in violation of Sec. 2-11.1(s)(2)." But, the memo stated, because Ms. Ser relied on language contained in the RFP, "it would be unreasonable and unfair" to find her in violation of the County Code. [Emphasis added.]


In my respectful opinion, adjudication of alleged violations of the County Code should not turn on what is deemed reasonable or not, nor what is fair or not. Determinations should be made based on the letter of the law and the facts of each case governed by it.


Worse, Ms. Ser apparently received a free pass from the requirements of Section 2-11.1 of the County Code because the Ethics Commission "has consistently advised individuals that the terms set forth in the RFP are controlling, over and above what the [Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics] Ordinance prescribes … ."


Really? If any formal or informal Ethics Commission or Commission staff opinion exists that states such a position, I certainly would appreciate receiving a copy at once; in fact, please consider this a public records request for same, so that I might test the accuracy of that assertion. If true, I find that statement stunning and entirely contrary to every notion of common sense and the rule of law; in fact, procurement documents actually are "under and less than" the Ordinance, Section 2-11.1, not over and above it as the Probable Cause Memorandum states at Page 3.


Putting aside my stunned reaction, for the sake of analysis the further test then becomes whether Ms. Ser's lobbyist activities even complied with the instructions of this RFP, or whether her activities violated this RFP's terms just as clearly as those same activities violated the County Code.


They violated the terms and language of this RFP as well, and very badly so.


This RFP, like all others, provides detailed instructions to potential proposers and to their employed lobbyists. Sometimes those instructions are combined, and sometimes those sets of instructions are distinct and they are different as between proposers and lobbyists.


Third attached is the RFP's Page 34. (Not surprising, this is not an RFP page that Ms. Ser submitted in her defense.) Ms. Ser's client, 305 Pizza, competed in Package 3 of this six-part RFP. Page RFP-34 includes a requirement that could not be waived: "The Proposer shall comply with all … ordinances … applicable to the services contemplated herein … . The Proposer is presumed to be familiar with all … local laws, ordinances, codes, rules, [and] regulations … ." [Emphasis added.] By binding every proposer to obey the County Code, in turn this RFP also bound every proposer's lobbyist (including Ms. Ser) to that same County Code requirement.


More to the point, every County lobbyist registration requires a client (sometimes aka proposer) signature on two different forms, one of them along with the lobbyist's signature on a sworn affidavit. Ms. Ser was bound, generally by the County Code and specifically by the reference to the County Code in this RFP to which her 305 Pizza client responded, to register in tandem with 305 Pizza at the County Clerk's office prior to sending her various lobbying letters and emails on that client's behalf, which she (and her client) failed to do.


I have next attached two RFP document pages (RFP-31 and RFP-32), the first upon which Ms. Ser relied only in part (and with which the deputy general counsel agreeably acquiesced) in explaining away her failure to timely register as required by the County Code and by this RFP (above). The terminology on these pages is enormously important: 305 Pizza was the "proposer." Ms. Ser was NOT the proposer. Ms. Ser was her client/proposer's "lobbyist." The first relevant section (on Page RFP-31), upon which both Ms. Ser and the deputy general counsel rely, states:


NOTE: Other than for the oral presentation [before the

RFP's evaluation committee], Proposers who wish to address

the Board of County Commissioners, or a County Board or

committee concerning any actions, decisions or

recommendation of County personnel regarding this RFP must

also register with the Clerk of the Board (Form

BCCFORM2DOC) and pay all applicable fees. [Emphasis added.]


Those very words are the entire and absolute totality of Ms. Ser's excuse and explanation, reiterated verbatim by the deputy general counsel in recommending dismissal of my complaint in the Probable Cause Memorandum. Ms. Ser and the deputy general counsel remarkably concluded two things:


¬First, Ms. Ser was a Proposer. If those words above absolve her of any wrongdoing, which the deputy general counsel recommended and the Ethics Commission validated, then Ms. Ser was a Proposer. Hogwash. Those words did not govern Ms. Ser at all. She most certainly was not the "proposer." She was something altogether different. She was her client's outside, hired "lobbyist." Those words did not instruct lobbyists involved in this procurement. They instructed proposers, such as her client.


¬Second, the deputy general counsel emphasized in the Probable Cause Memorandum, and the Ethics Commission validated in its decision, that no violation occurred because Ms. Ser's communications did not go to "County Commissioners, a County board or committee," as listed above; in other words, she was free to communicate whatever she pleased, whenever she wished and to whomever else. Hogwash again. The County Code's regulations regarding lobbyist activities, in which Ms. Ser most certainly engaged, capture all public officials and not some small group defined in any RFP document. The County officials who received Ms. Ser's letter and email lobbying communications were fully captured and controlled -- as was she -- by the County's lobbyist regulations, incorporated into this RFP, and her communications clearly violated those rules.


Moreover, those words did not absolve any lobbyist -- including

Ms. Ser -- from obeying the INSTRUCTIONS SPECIFICALLY FOR LOBBYISTS CONTAINED ON THE VERY SAME PAGE OF THIS RFP DOCUMENT.


Here they are, plain as day. The second relevant section, beginning at the bottom of the same Page RFP-31, having already instructed proposers (such as 305 Pizza), then proceeds distinctly to instruct lobbyists (such as Ms. Ser). It states:


The County's Ethics Commission has also adopted rules

delineating the responsibilities of lobbyists and County

personnel in implementing the requirements of the lobbying

section of the Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics

Ordinance (see Appendix H). [Emphasis added.]


It should come as no surprise that neither Ms. Ser nor the deputy general counsel made any mention of those RFP words governing all lobbyists' activities, including Ms. Ser's -– NOT to be confused with any proposers' activities -- from the same page of the RFP that Ms. Ser and the deputy attorney general invoked to explain away Ms. Ser's repeated violation of the County Code and this RFP as well.


Significantly, this RFP specifically instructed Ms. Ser -- the lobbyist, NOT the proposer -- to find and read and understand and comply with its Appendix H, a detailed explanation (redundant to the County Code) of the law governing her conduct throughout this procurement. I have attached the RFP's six-page Appendix H, which is titled "LOBBYING RULES." (It should also come as no surprise that neither Ms. Ser nor the deputy general counsel made any reference to this section of this RFP, either.)


Page 1 of Appendix H defines "lobbyist" thus: "A lobbyist is any person [such as Ms. Ser], firm or corporation employed or retained by a principal [or proposer, such as 305 Pizza] that seeks to encourage the passage, defeat or modification of … any action, decision, or recommendation of County personnel during the time period of the entire decision-making process on such action, decision or recommendation … ."

On Pages 1 and 2, Appendix H lists the only six exclusions to the County's simple rules governing lobbyist activities and required registration prior to conducting any lobbying activities:


a) Attorneys or other representatives retained or employed

solely for the purpose of representing individuals,

corporations or other entities during public noticed quasi-

judicial proceedings where the law prohibits ex-parte

communication.


b) Expert witnesses who provide only scientific, technical

or other specialized information or testimony in public

meetings.


c) A representative of a neighborhood association who

appears without compensation or reimbursement, whether

direct, indirect or contingent, to express support of or

opposition to any item.


d) A representative of a not-for-profit community based

organization for the purpose of requesting a grant, without

special compensation or reimbursement for the appearance.


e) [A representative of a] corporation organized under

state or local law to engage in community development

activities … .


f) Employees of a principal whose normal scope of

employment does not include lobbying activities.


Ms. Ser, 305 Pizza's lobbyist, met not a single one of those six tests for exemption from the legal requirement to register as a lobbyist in this matter prior to sending her lobbying letter and email communications, which she failed at least four times to do.


On Page 2, Appendix H helpfully lists examples of lobbying activities. Among them: "Meetings or communications [such as Ms. Ser's letters and emails] with elected officials or staff regarding a particular solicitation …"; "Meetings or communications [such as Ms. Ser's] with elected officials or staff to discuss issues regarding a prior or ongoing solicitation or contract …", and "Meetings or communications [such as Ms. Ser's] with elected officials or staff regarding any matter where the lobbyist is seeking [as Ms. Ser did] to influence a decision or recommendation of staff … ."

And, on Page 3, Appendix H gives clear instructions regarding when and how lobbyists must register: "Every lobbyist [such as Ms. Ser] must file a registration form with the Clerk of the Board for each client [such as 305 Pizza] within five days of being retained by a principal or before conducting any lobbying activities, whichever comes first." [Emphasis added.]


More on those specific words in a moment.


Because I was excluded on April 16 from even observing the Ethics Commission's meeting with Ms. Ser and its deliberations regarding my complaint -- a Commission rule that I find decidedly un-American -- I must rely on the Commission's press release published at the end of that day to try to divine the rationale for the Commission's decision in this matter.


According to that statement, the Ethics Commission found no probable cause for my complaint because Ms. Ser "contended she was following the language of the Request for Proposal (RFP), which stated that only those who wish to address the County Commission or a County Board or Committee must register to lobby. Ser insisted that her communications with the Airport Director, the Mayor and procurement contract officers did not fall under those categories." [Emphasis added.]


That comports very nicely with the deputy general counsel's Probable Cause Memorandum. However, as explained in detail above, this RFP said no such thing at all; in fact, this RFP gave Ms. Ser explicit instructions to the contrary. The first section beginning with "NOTE" cited above at Page RFP-31, upon which Ms. Ser and the deputy general counsel entirely relied, gave instructions to PROPOSERS regarding communications to County Commissioners and their boards and committees –- not to the summary's vaguely-referenced and un-identified "those," and certainly not to lobbyists so very distinct from their proposer clients. Ms. Ser was not the proposer; her client was. That instruction was for her client, not Ms. Ser. That instruction and the Ethics Commission's rationale for dismissing my complaint was not at all germane to Ms. Ser, the lobbyist for her client, the actual proposer.


The second section cited above at Pages RFP-31/RFP-32 was entirely germane to Ms. Ser and her illegal lobbying communications. That RFP section specifically informed Ms. Ser about the County's lobbyist regulations -- with which she already was certainly familiar -- and specifically governed her lobbying activities in this matter. That RFP instruction reminded and governed Ms. Ser, who for very long has known where and how to file the required registration forms, about her obligation in this instant matter to register prior to sending her letters and emails, which she failed to do.


Ms. Ser flouted the County Code, which is the law of our community. She flouted the requirements of this RFP as well. And the Ethics Commission responded, in effect: No worries at all! Have a great day! And a nice life while you're at it!


Worst of all, and in a remarkable display of hubris, the Ethics Commission (according to its press release) concluded that this RFP document itself was at fault, implying ambiguity in the RFP text regarding lobbyist registration requirements. The summary reported that the Commission will send a Letter of Instruction to County officials recommending greater clarity in their procurement documents going forward.


That's an Ethics Commission whitewash. Why? Re-read my "more on those specific words in a moment" on the previous page. The language that the Probable Cause Memorandum states (at Page 5) will be sent to the County for inclusion in future RFPs in order "to avoid this type of confusion" IS PRECISELY AND EXACTLY THE WORDS PRINTED LONG AGO AT PAGE 3, APPENDIX H, OF THIS VERY RFP!


The RFP did exactly what it was required to do. It was explicitly clear and accurate. Its words gave instructions to proposers, their own. The RFP gave instructions to lobbyists, again their own and much different. There could be no genuine confusion at all.


This has become little more than a parlor game among Ms. Ser, the staff investigator, the deputy general counsel, enablers among the senior staff of the Ethics Commission and the Commissioners themselves, all of whom have either fallen into a stupor or conspired to brazenly ignore simple words in a straightforward document in order to turn a blind eye to yet another violation of the laws of our community.


The free pass given to Ms. Ser by the Ethics Commission completely ignores the free-standing and over-arching existence of Section 2-11.1 of the County Code and its simple lobbyist registration requirements, the enforcement of which is the very reason for the Commission's existence and the requirements of which Ms. Ser obviously has fully understood for years. Ms. Ser broke the law, the County Code with which she is extremely familiar, and the Commission and its senior staff sanctioned her lawbreaking because she lamely asserted that the procurement document was vague and confusing (even when it manifestly was not) and somehow was more relevant than the governing local statute. That is simply breathtaking and repugnant.


Please let me know at once whether you will present this matter again to the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. The laws governing the conduct of lobbyists and their clients deserve strict enforcement by the Ethics Commission. Clearly the wrong outcome was reached with regard to this matter, and I trust you will take appropriate steps to correct it.


Sincerely,

                              /s/ Eston Melton

                              Eston Melton



P.S. My November 26, 2013, complaint against Ms. Ser was, almost entirely, about her lobbying activities on behalf of 305 Pizza. In passing, at Page 2 of my letter accompanying my Complaint Form, I observed that Ms. Ser -- in a parallel universe -– also had failed to file the required lobbyist registration forms on behalf of her client Chefs of The Caribbean, LLC, which competed in Package 6 of this RFP, and on whose behalf she had sent numerous contract-negotiating emails to the County's Aviation Department. (Perhaps unknown to the Ethics Commission, those communications are defined as "lobbying.")


To her credit, Ms. Sylvia Batista, the Ethics Commission's investigator assigned to my 305 Pizza complaint, also explored Ms. Ser's representation of Chefs of the Caribbean. To her discredit, as well as the discredit of the deputy general counsel and the Ethics Commission itself and its senior staff, all were bamboozled by Ms. Ser's assertion that she did no wrong because -– as a "Proposer" and not a lobbyist, listed on a technical lobbying form for a one-day-only presentation to a small selection committee and not County government at large, and communicating outside a small group of RFP-referenced public officials -- she somehow was immune from the over-arching and governing regulations of Section 2-11.1 of the County Code.

That's just nuts. Please let me know if I need to execute a distinct Complaint Form against Ms. Ser for her County Code violations regarding Chefs of the Caribbean, because Ms. Ser deserves to be sanctioned for those violations as well.

P.P.S. Ditto for Ms. Ser's representation of Half Moon Empanadas, LLC. In her January 7, 2014, letter to Michael P. Murawski, Esq., the Ethics Commission's Advocate, Ms. Ser memorialized the fact that she negotiated a lease with the County's Aviation Department for this client as well, regarding Package 4 of this RFP -- again, without ever filing the lobbyist registration forms required by the County Code. Please let me know if I need to execute a distinct Complaint Form against Ms. Ser for her County Code violation regarding Half Moon Empanadas, because Ms. Ser deserves to be sanctioned for those violations as well.


P.P.P.S. Not long ago, Mr. Murawski publicly rebuked me, in a newspaper column, regarding my disdain for lobbyists' violations of the County Code. He challenged me to expose lawbreakers. I did so, again, in this instant 305 Pizza matter against Ms. Ser. Not surprising (to me and to many others), the Commission and its senior staff responded by abdicating their legal and moral responsibility to uphold the law. Though dismayed, no one in the real world was surprised again this time, either.


Enclosures


cc: Nelson Bellido, Esq., Commission Chairman

    The Honorable Lawrence A. Schwartz, Vice Chairman

    Ms. Judith Bernier, Ph.D., Member

    Kerry E. Rosenthal, Esq., Member

    Ms. Dawn E. Addy, Ph.D., Former Member

    Charlton Copeland, Esq., Former Member

    Michael P. Murawski, Esq., Commission Advocate

    Miriam Soler Ramos, Esq., Deputy General Counsel

    Ms. Sylvia Batista, Commission Investigator, Complaint 13-42

 


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