MAY 12, 2014
BARRED FROM NUMEROUS GOVERNMENTAL COMPUTER NETWORKS FOR TELLING THE TRUTH
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WHEN YOU CATCH THE CITY ATTORNEY LYING YOU KNOW 
THE CITY HAS PROBLEMS
THE FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL AND THE LEGAL ESTABLISHMENT IN MIAMI NEED TO TAKE A STAND REGARDING THE ABUSES OF THE PUBLIC RECORDS LAW IN THE CITY OF MIAMI

I work very hard to try to get to the truth of the stories I write, and I take it very personal whenever I make a mistake or get things wrong.


I know there are people who will disagree with that statement, but I think that the thousands - and it has been thousands of dollars that I have spent in paying for public records over the last 4 years - the boxes of documents that I have all over my condo, the multiple hard drives that contain nothing but public records, and most importantly my efforts to provide as many documents, photos, videos and/or audio tapes as I can to support my stories attests to my efforts to do the best job I can at providing you with information so that you can make a decision about whether what I write has merit.


If I make a mistake, and I’m no where near as smart as a rocket scientist, so on occasion I do make mistakes and I try to be as quick as I can to acknowledge that I screwed up because I value you, my readers, and I’ve worked too hard to lose you because of providing you with wrong information.


It is becoming increasingly difficult however to get public records, or worse to get them in a timely manner so that I’m able to maintain the level of accuracy that I think it important to sustain.


This story is an attempt to lay out some of the most recent hurdles and pitfalls that I and others have had to face in dealing with the City of Miami when it comes to accessing public buildings and obtaining public records.


I believe that the levels of obstructionism has reached a critical point, and that there needs to be a push back by those who value and understand the needs for the promise of access to public records that the citizens of Florida recognized was critical for a democratic government when they voted to enshrine Florida’s Open Government protections in the State Constitution.


PART I - PRIOR APPROVAL SHOULD NEVER BE NEEDED TO ENTER A PUBLIC BUILDING


Last Friday morning, I got a call from a person who told me that I needed to go to the MRC building and see the new sign that had been placed right inside the entrance before you reached the security guard.


I’ve got to believe that this was a harebrained scheme thought up by Angel Zayon, the Chief of Communications, Director of the Office Of Protocol and Executive Director of the Mayor’s International Council because there’s no way that I think that the City manager would approve a sign like this.

I had never seen this sign before, and to be honest I have to admit that at the bottom I felt they should have added, “That means you, Crespo,” because in truth no one else in Miami devotes the time and effort to do the kind of shoe leather research that used to be the mainstay of investigative reporting that I’ve been doing for the last 4 years. It’s the one reason why I’m able to come up with the scoops that I have.


To appreciate the chilling significance of this sign, understand that if a convicted sex offender or child molester decided to walk in the MRC building, no one would require him to get prior approval, nor would someone who was released from an insane asylum the day before be required to get prior approval.


They, and everyone else are by law entitled to walk into the MRC or any other public building and talk to any official or employee whose willing to talk with them. The only people relegated to this lesser class of citizenship in Regaladoland, as evidenced by this sign, are members of the news media and “social media and social blog representatives,” which if you want to picky would mean anyone whose got a Facebook page or a Twitter account.


You have to understand that well before this sign went up last Friday, I had already been barred once from the building, and on numerous other occasions had been held up until someone could authorize my entrance. On top of that, my photo that had been defaced, was for several years kept underneath the counter of the security desk at the MRC as a BOLO.


Whenever I showed up at the MRC, security guards were ordered to call various people throughout the building so that I could be tracked, and on occasion followed.

I didn’t have any real expectations on how the conversation would go, but I absolutely didn’t expect that I would be hung up on, and I believe it is safe to assume that when the young lady put me on hold she contacted Zayon to find out what do to, and when she came back on the phone she was following his instructions when she hung up on me.


So, since the security guard couldn’t let me in the building, and I really wanted to talk to the folks I had come to see, I called the City Attorney’s Office and spoke to someone there explaining my predicament, providing a detailed explanation of why I was in the building, who I wanted to see and why. The fact that I detailed and recorded that conversation is important to what happened next. 


Once the security guard heard that I could enter the building, he issued me a pass.


Now, there’s a problem with the passes however, in that there isn’t space to put more than one location on them, so if you’re going to more than one office, or one floor, the pass only lists the first place you’re going. My pass said Code Enforcement, even though I was also going to the Building Department on the 4th Floor.


I went to Code Enforcement on the 7th Floor, and then I went to the Building Department where I learned that Peter Iglesias, the Director, was off for the day. I decided to wait to possibly talk with his Deputy Director who was out to lunch.


While I was sitting there, the thought occurred to me that some of the information that I wanted might be forthcoming by talking with the Director  or someone at Unsafe Structures and/or by a simple request for some information that was readily available to anyone at the Microfilm office.


I first tried the Unsafe Structure Office and learned that the Director was also out to lunch, and then remembering that I had forgotten to ask Jessica Capo a question, I decided to go back up to the 7th Floor where I caught her going to a meeting. We briefly discussed my question and then one of the Inspectors answered it more fully and then I went back down to the Microfilm office.


Just as I was waiting to have my request answered, a new, recently assigned security guard came off the elevator, walked into the office and told me that he had received a call at the front desk informing him that I didn’t have permission to be on the 4th floor and that he was there to escort me to the lobby.


At first I tried to explain that I did have permission, and even had it on video but realized that the young guy was only doing what he was told to do, and so I went down to the lobby, and while I waited for the security guard who had been there when I first arrived, and who had issued my pass to come back from his break I talked with some city employees.


One of them contacted Assistant City Manager Luis Cabrera, who, to his credit came to the lobby and made it very clear to both of the security guards that I was to be treated the same way as every other citizen who wanted to enter the building.


I’m sorry now that I didn’t tape Luis because given all that I’ve written about him in the past he could have really given me a hard time and instead I was impressed and gratified at how he handled this situation.


The end result was that I finally got back to the 4th floor and managed to speak with the Director of Unsafe Structures and the Deputy Director of the Building Department, and the information that I obtained will be part of tomorrow’s story.



PART II - CITY ATTORNEY VICTORIA MENDEZ


Unfortunately, as crazy as all of the stuff that happened on Friday was, it was little more than a minor irritant in comparison to what I consider a growing effort to deny me public records on serious issues that I’m interested in looking into, and not just me, as I will detail further on.


To appreciate just how serious this problem has become, I must begin with City Attorney Victoria Mendez and her willingness to lie in an effort to thwart my right to obtain public records and to do so in the face of reason and logic.


When it comes to my dealings with public officials I absolutely do not accept or tolerate being lied to, especially by public officials who are attorneys because I hold them to a higher standard, in part because they have taken an oath not to lie, but also because I have seen the life destroying damage that lying lawyers have inflicted on innocent people during my time in prison.


If you are a lawyer and you lie to me, I will neither forgive or forget.


Miami City Attorney Victoria Mendez has lied to me on numerous occasions and on two specific occasions she was stupid enough to lie to me in emails.


One of those lies became part a central part of a lawsuit that I filed against the City earlier this year, and the other will become part of a future lawsuit if I do not receive the documents I have requested in the format I have requested they be provided. I have refrained in writing about the current lawsuit because I am being represented by a law firm, and out of respect for their taking on this case I wanted to wait until it has finally been settled before writing about it.


I can however say that the lawsuit was predicated on a request that I had made to the Mayor’s Office of Protocol last year for an electronic copy of all of the proclamations, certificates, and awards that former Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones had requested during her time in office.


I knew that the file existed in an electronic format because I had been in the Protocol Office where it was explained to me how the process for issuing these documents was handled and had even seen the electronic folder for these documents of the computer’s desktop.


On February 19, 2014, before the lawsuit was filed, I wrote Ms. Mendez making one last effort to get the documents before being forced to sue the City. I asked her to “please provide me with either the information that I requested, in the format that I requested, or provide me with a written explanation as to why you and the City of Miami will not do so.”


Later that day, she replied:

“There is no electronic version.”

CRESPOGRAM REPORT

On May 1st, when the City filed an answer to my lawsuit, this was paragraph 2 of that answer.

Every time I think about those words I get angry all over again!  And the reason I get angry is that her response was not a result of her not being informed on the fact that the documents I requested were maintained as electronic records, but because she had been informed, and because she refused to verify that information. 


She she was appointed City Attorney I had spent considerable time and effort writing several long, detailed letters about Florida’s Public Records Law and the city’s failure to obey or honor the provisions of that law to her, starting with this one that I posted on this website last year shortly after she became City Attorney.


On the day of the announcement at City Hall that Danny Alfonso was going to become the new City Manager, and before I went out and got a law firm to sue the city, I stood in the Commission chambers and explained to Mendez in detail, and in front of witnesses, how the files were maintained in the Protocol Office and asked her to walk with me the 30 or so feet to that office so she could see for herself. She refused. She refused again the following week when we met in the lobby during a Commission meeting.


Victoria Mendez only became City Attorney because she kissed more ass than any of the other applicants, and not because she was the most qualified candidate. Now that she’s got the job I believe that she’s becoming a real liability to the taxpayers and citizens of the city because if she would blatantly lie to me on a relatively insignificant matter of the existence of electronic files on a city computer, what do you think she’s capable of doing on a serious issue requiring legal advice on an issue where the interests of the citizens are in conflict with the interests of the special interests close to the Mayor and members of the City Commission who consider the city’s resources as little more than plunder that their campaign contributions and “gifts” entitle them to?


As the City Attorney she has a responsibility, both as an Officer of the Court, and as the Chief Legal Officer of the City not only to set an example by obeying Florida’s Public Records Law, but to see to it that all  the officials and employees of the City are informed and comply with the law too.


The growing list of public record lawsuits prove that she has failed that responsibility.



PART III - HENRY TORRE - THE CITY’S LANDLORD


I’ve had a rocky relationship with Henry Torre, the Director of Facilities Management ever since he showed up, and things really went south last year when I wrote this story about him.


Things didn’t get any better this year when I became interested in the Skyrise Miami project.


On March 17th, I posted a story that contained 2 video commentaries where I described my efforts to look at all the documents that Henry Torre and Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo had in their possession related to the Skyrise project.


Alice Bravo to this day has never responded to that request, not even to acknowledged that she received it.  Henry Torre, as I described in the videos, first provided me a copy of the Economic Report that developer Jeffery Berkowitz had had a company produce as the centerpiece of his proposal package.  That was it.


I filed a 2nd request to look at documents, and again I described in the video how I was able to discern from the handful of documents that Torre made available that there were more documents that he hadn’t made available.


I decided to try and third time, and on March 20th, I sent him another email. I explain what happened after that in the short video below. 

This childish behavior reflects the mentality of Tomas Regalado and his “4th son” Angel Zayon, who figured that the way to stop me from getting information on all the dirty deals that are being done in the city was to keep me out of the building.


In any event, because I’m a law-abiding guy, and also savvy to the ways of Angel Zayon and company, I followed the instructions that said I had to get prior approval from the Communications Department to access the  building by calling the Communications Department, and for safety sake, I recorded the conversation on my little video camera. Here is the conversation that ensued.

Henry Torre absolutely violated the law when he claimed that he couldn’t “be expected” to go through his emails to provide me the email I requested, and his response underscores the arrogant and insolent attitude of a handful of officials in the Regalado administration who believe that they are above the law. Many of these individuals report to Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo, who obviously sets the tone by her own refusal to acknowledge or respond to public record requests.


PART IV - IN THE LAND OF THE BLIND THE ONE EYED MAN IS KING


Contrary to the famous political dictum of Mao Ze Dong that political power grows out the barrel of a gun, true power in a bureaucratic state has always flowed from knowledge, and knowledge has almost always been contained in documents.


I would claim that instead of a gun, it is he who controls the paperwork that controls the levers of power.


In the City of Miami, at least during the time that I have been an observer, that control has been in the hands of a very small group of people and most often the process has been controlled by Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo. 


Alice in Regaladoland as I call her, has operated as the unseen hand that controls many of the documents that get included, or more correctly do not get included in the legislative packets that accompany Ordinances and Resolutions coming before the City Commission for a vote.


If you are even a casual observer of the Miami City Commission you will have heard Commissioner Frank Carollo at almost every Commission meeting bemoan the fact that he has not been provided one document or another  related to some Ordinance or Resolution on the agenda. 


I have on more than one occasion thought about putting together a montage like the ones you see on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart where you would see Frank time after time saying, “I don’t have that document.”  I asked for that document but I’ve yet to get it.” I haven’t seen that document.” “How come he has that document and I don’t”


Now Carollo bears some responsibility for the way that he continues to be treated when it comes to being denied documents relative to issues that he’s expected to vote on, because except for a short period that ended badly, he’s never hired someone on his staff to be the the junk yard dog aide that would make sure that he got his documents, and also provided him with the kind of legislative staffing that makes the difference between a politician that gets things done, and one who’s “NO” votes are automatically factored into the equation for any questionable item that comes up for a vote.


The important thing here though is that if a City Commissioner is regularly denied documents, what do you think that means for the average citizen’s ability to rely on access to public records as a way to inform him or herself on an issue so as to be able to take part an informed discussion on an issue?


The average citizen who shows up at a Commission meeting to speak against a specific item often does so with whatever information they’ve gleaned from the City’s Legistar website that provides the documents accompanying Ordinances and Resolutions coming up for a vote.


Those folks often end up getting clobbered by a lack of knowledge or awareness of information that should have been included in the legistar folder, but in fact is only privy to the Commissioners. These folks then walk out the door dazed and clueless as to what happened, often never realizing that the documents that detailed whatever the deal was really about was never made available to the public as they should have been.


The most recent example of that occurred at last week’s Commission meeting where a Resolution was voted on by the City Commission to approve putting a Charter Amendment on the August ballot.


This Charter Amendment would authorize the city to enter into leases or managements for any city-owned submerged lands with entities having possesory or ownership interest in the abutting riparian uplands for building marina, docks or like facilities using methods to be adopted by ordinance on the condition that such leases or management agreements result in a return to the city of fair market value...


Making changes to the City Charter is not something that happens often, nor is it something that should be considered lightly.  Yet, as you can see in the below screen grabs from the City’s Legistar page, there were only 2 public documents available for a citizen to review in order to inform themselves on why the administration of Tomas Regalado thought this issue was so important as to propose a Charter Amendment.  Those 2 documents turned out to be a copy of the legislation, and a list of the city’s Voting Precincts.

I would argue that today the above practice is the norm and not the exception.


The combined weight of all of these schemes intended to circumvent the public records law, as well as those intended evade the requirements of the Sunshine Law pale in comparison however to the problems that the average citizen faces when the City just refuses to respond or comply with a public records request or forces them to go through the cumbersome and time consuming process of paying to have a document search conducted, as Henry Torre forced me to do when he refused to provide me with the email I had asked him for.


The city’s strategy is clear: denial results in delay, and delay works in the favor of those trying to pull a fast one.


If it’s a item coming before the Commission for a vote and it is still on the table, the citizen is still behind the 8 ball because, as in my case, my document search ended with documents generated up to April 2nd, when the search for my documents took place. I didn’t received the documents until May 7th, meaning that I am still 35 days behind in being able to discover through documents what is going on between the City, Bayside Marketplace and Jeffery Berkowitz.


Another example is the case of Stephen Herbits who was forced to sue the City of Miami after they refused to provide him with documents related to the Flagstone project scheduled to go up on Watson Island.


Herbits hired a prominent lawyer named Sam Dubbins who filed a lawsuit against the city last July.


Last Thursday, almost 9 months later, Dubbins revealed to the City Commission that the day before, Circuit Judge Judge Abby Cynamon, had finally ruled that the city had illegally withheld a series of documents from Herbits, and then went on to articulate his concern over the inability of citizens to ever be able to intelligently inform themselves on issues of importance when the City behaves in a way intended to frustrate their opportunity to access public records in a timely manner.


In a way, Commissioner Frank Carollo is like the canary in the coal mine every time he states that, “I don’t have that document,” because if he doesn’t have the document, you can absolutely bet that neither does anyone else.


When the union that represents the City of Miami firefighters had to sue the city for documents last year, or when Stephen Herbits had to sue, or when I had to sue to get an electronic file, or when other individuals and groups are forced to sue to get documents, then not only do these people and groups suffer but the whole notion of democracy and respect for the law suffers as well.


I believe that the abuses in the City of Miami have become so bad that the various Bar Associations in Miami-Dade County have an obligation to recognize that there is a problem, and more importantly to use their voices to speak out against these abuses by taking a stand to demand that the City of Miami start honoring and obeying Florida’s Public Records Law!


If they can’t or won’t do that, then I think that Florida’s Attorney General needs to come to Miami and file a Civil RICO action against the City of Miami for the wholesale violations of Florida’s Public Records Law! 


This craziness has gotten completely out-of-hand, and when you can catch the City Attorney lying, then it’s time to call in the calvary to rescue the town folks!

The premise behind the efforts of the citizens of Florida having access to public records was to be able to maintain some oversight over the actions of it’s government.


Do you think that a copy of the Resolution and a list of the Voting Precincts represents enough information for a citizen to inform themselves on whether this proposed change to the City Charter has merit?


The administration of Tomas Regalado - and I’m sure that the administration of Manny Diaz and his predecessors were no different -continues to treat the citizens of Miami like mushrooms: Feed them shit and keep them in the dark.


On another front, in recent years technology has provided elected officials the opportunity to create multiple private email addresses, or use multiple cell phones as a way to evade the requirement of the public records law.


In 2011, when I published a 2009 email that Jeffrey Swartz had sent to Commissioner Marc Sarnoff that spelled out in clear language his desire to evade the public records law by sending the email to Sarnoff’s wife exposed to many of my readers the opportunity to actually see how nonchalantly the public records law could be broken.


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