Movie night seems to be getting a lot of press lately -- and unfortuately, it is not good press. After Ms. Owens complained at Council, and Theo Karantsalis
wrote a story for Neighbors in the Miami Herald, we decided to move movie night back to All Angels -- the place that it started five years ago.
I am a bit disappointed at the tone the River Cities Gazette
has taken with covering this story. The Editor of the Gazette
, Mr. Tom Curtis never contacted me prior to penning his editorial -- I imagine he thought he had all the information he needed from the Council meeting -- but his story suggests that he didn't have all the facts.
I was contacted by Theo over the weekend and asked via email why movie night was moving back to All Angels (a little surprising he had to ask since he wrote the Neighbors article
criticizing it as a City sponsored event). Since the story is still incomplete, I am going to post my response to Theo in its entirety.Theo
In 2007 and 2008, we
were holding movie nights at All Angels. We moved it to the Circle because
we thought it would be a fun thing to do, and to create a greater sense of
community by broadening it just beyond the Church and Academy
I had first suggested
moving it to the Circle in 2008 (before I was even on the Council). We
talked to Jim Borgmann and he was very supportive, given that the City has been
trying to do things to support businesses downtown for a long time. After
the first month, Chief Dilling (sp??) said he did not have it in his budget to
have officers at movie night and we would have to pay for police to assist
people in crossing the street. The Church did not have the money so Jim
suggested we ask Council to reimburse us for the police support, which it turns
out is cheaper than having the City simply pay officers directly, because it’s
considered a private event instead of
The idea to move movie
night to the Circle came from my first run for Council in 2005. Residents
told me that the City does not provide activities for middle school aged kids
and suggested that we renew the movie night on the Circle from years ago.
The City has taken the position since 2005 that it does not have the funds to
run a movie night, a position I find believable now that I have sat through four
budget cycles. Essentially, All Angels was partnering with the City to
provide a service to everyone that the City could not afford to provide on its
own without making a more significant investment. All Angels provided the
equipment and volunteers to put the event on, and the City granted the permits
and reimbursed for the traffic control. For four years, it was a win/win
arrangement that created a lot of smiles and fond memories on the
The Movie Night
committee decided to stop hosting the event on the Circle and move it back to
All Angels in light of the concerns voiced by some of the residents.
They’re committed to the event, but not at the cost of putting the Church, the
City or the Council in a compromising position. The cost to the City,
together with the negative publicity made it unrealistic to continue on the
Circle. The Movie Night fan base has grown over the years, and the
committee is optimistic that the audience will follow the move back to
When Ms. Owens spoke
at Council, it wasn’t the first time I had heard the baseless allegation that the
City was funding movie night because of my position as Councilwoman. To
set the record straight, the City has been subsidizing Movie Night since before
I was elected to Council. Since I have been elected, I have taken every
opportunity to make clear my relationship with All Angels and have always sought
to recuse myself.
All the same, I agree
with Mr. Seiden. The City has done nothing wrong by reimbursing the
Church, who is providing a service to the City, for police support.
Dedicated volunteers from All Angels Church and Academy (including my husband Bill Tallman and I) have been the month-in-month-out "worker bees" behind Movie Night since the beginning. We do not plan to stop doing it as it is something we can enjoy as a community. However, we also take our community responsibility seriously and so we moved swiftly to protect the community's interests.
It is disappointing (and really unfair to the hardworking volunteers behind the program) when the same news outlet whose reporting precipitated the move in the first place, now publicly criticizes those volunteers for "taking away" movie night from the community. The volunteers did not create this problem, they are just doing their best to deal with it.
The same newspaper had the Mayor joining in the chorus of criticism:"I am disappointed that it is not being held on the Circle," said Mayor Zavier Garcia who expressed dismay the location was being moved. "I would love for it to continue being held on the Circle as a community event, which is what we as a Council voted unanimously to support."
The only thing that has changed with movie night is the location. It is still free and open to all. We are inviting the community to our property over on Ludlam -- the same location as the popularly-attended Saturday Farmer's Market -- to enjoy the movies on the third Friday.
The bottom line is, the show will go on! I hope to see you at Movie Night on December 21, 2012 at 1801 Ludlam Road at 7 p.m. Bring your lawn chair or blanket and a few dollars for the concession stand - I might even make home made Hot Chocolate if it is a bit nippy.p.s. Since nobody on the Council has said it, to the volunteers of All Angels I would say:
"While the Council is saddened by the decision to relocate Movie Night, we recognize and sincerely appreciate all of your effort over the years to make this program happen and keep it going. We trust that you are making this move based on what you believe are the best interests of the community, and we're hopeful that we can quickly resolve any outstanding issues so that the program can return to the Circle in the near future."
My day on ethics at GGI re-raised an issue I have wanted to blog about for the past few weeks. Should Council award business to a Councilmember's employer? Maybe, and maybe not.
Certainly it is not unethical to do so, especially when the conflict is noted on the record and the Councilperson excludes themselves from the vote. But, does it pass the smell test? Probably not, and especially when the Council waives competitive bidding to do so.
Last Monday our Council approved a contract with the Fuentes Group for lobbying services. I like Jose Fuentes. I can't tell you if he is the best person for the job, but he certainly has contacts within the County. I do have some concerns about his representations of other small cities in Miami-Dade County including the Village of Virginia Gardens -- he was in a difficult position when we were negotiating potential annexation and it was probably, in part, our inability to agree with VG that delayed the process to the point that it was not feasible at the County level. Nevertheless, I like him and think he is good for our relationship with the County.
That being said, Fla. Stat. 112.3143 mandates what constitutes a conflict of interest for a public official. I think the statute is too narrow. It only allows a public offical to recuse themselves from a vote when the item will "inure to his or her special private gain or loss," in English that is when the public offical will have a financial gain. There are lots of times that a public official should probably recuse himself or herself even when there is not financial gain. However, in this case, there was a recusal.
Councilman Espino works at Fuentes Group. He is the General Counsel. He provided a letter on August 15, 2011 to the Mayor and Council explaning that Fuentes Group is a "client" of his "law firm." (As a lawyer, I find that kind of funny; it is not that different as me saying Jennifer Ator, PA is a "client" of Hankins & Ator, PL.) He is required to file Form 8B, which I have not seen but I assume he has done. The contract was the last item on the agenda and Councilman Espino left the room just prior to the discussion. The City Attorney announced that he had a conflict. The item was uneventful. Very little was said. The Mayor waxed poetic on the Fuentes Group, but he also received at least $1500.00 from Mr. Fuentes and his associates in campaign contributions.
Full disclosure: I also received a campaign contribution from Mr. Fuentes, and so did Councilman Lob and Councilman Espino (although I am not sure how much anyone else received and have not reviewed the reports in detail). For me, getting a campaign contribution does not mean I am going to vote how you want me to vote. Although, generally speaking, campaign contributions buy access and sometimes that is enough.
In this case, it was wrong to waive competitive bidding; it was wrong that Mr. Fuentes did not appear to provide a report and give us a list of things that he is looking to do for us this year; and it was wrong that I did not raise the issues at the Council meeting.
I regret not raising the issue. I thought that recusal from the vote spoke for itself. In hindsight, it is clear that citizens do not understand when and why a Councilmember would recuse themselves. I voted no because it does not pass the smell test. But I should have raised a big stink about it and I am ashamed of myself for not doing so.
I also have recused myself from a vote. In April, Council voted to change the code to allow a residential property with a property line substantially joined to a commercial property to be used as a business (in limited ways). I admit the ordinance change was, in large part, a result of my desire to use 36 Palmetto Drive as my law firm. When I purchased the house on Palmetto, I planned to seek rezoning. On three sides it is commercial or mixed use. Upon additional investigation into what that would mean for my neighbors, I wanted to limit the uses and prohibit the domino effect of changing the property to commercial. After discussions with the City Attorney (who always told me a code change was more appropriate than re-zoning for this particular property), I suggested a code change that provided very limited use of the property. The code change was not just good for me, but it was good for Miami Springs. While the property is residential, it is not homesteaded and it can be treated like commercial property by the property appraiser. There are other properties throughout the City that also can take advantage of this code change. Thirty-six Palmetto was worth more to me because of its location and accessibility to the commercial district, the same could be true for other properties on the edges of the commerical districts.
There is a bit of form over substance with regard to this issue. I am bothered by how it was handled. The matter was not clear to our residents. We did not seek competitive bids (although I am not sure we could have done better -- there are better lobbyists, but probably not for what we want to pay). And finally, we were not provided any feedback from the past or plans for the future from Mr. Fuentes before making our decision.
Moreover, while it should not be this way, the reality is when you are elected to Council you bring your gifts (and your baggage) with you and you use those for the benefit of the City. I have provided plenty of legal opinions to Council and the City. Even if it is not in an official capacity, it is certainly legal advice. The Mayor uses his skills and contacts to do things for the City as well, including gratis printing on occasion. Councilman Lob worked on the website development with our staff and consultant, as his expertise is IT. When the residents elect someone for this "part-time" job, they get some of the skills from the "full-time" world. I would never dream of asking the City to retain my firm. I can't imagine Councilman Lob submitting a bill for his work on the IT matters. Should the City be paying Councilman Espino's employer to lobby for the City when his job as a pubic official is to lobby for the City? Maybe, or maybe not. But we did not even discuss it. Shameful.
The item was poorly handled: by Councilman Espino, by Mayor Garcia, by myself, and by the rest of the Council.