Sunset Harbour Towers and Mayor Levine’s Shopping Center
THE ROOTS OF EVIL IN SUNSET HARBOUR
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
29 September 2015
When City of Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin was running for the city commission in 2007, his firm prepared an option agreement whereby Scott Robins, his client, would purchase a Bay Road lot from the owner of Tremont Towing in the Sunset Harbour neighborhood, wherein Sunset Harbour Towers condominium Tobin himself owned an interest in three units and several parking spaces. Tobin, apparently violating local law, accepted campaign contributions from Scott Robins’ group of companies even though he knew that Scott Robins was seeking a re-zoning of the property and would need to come before the City Commission.
Sec. 2-489 of the Ordinances of the City of Miami Beach provides that, “No real estate developer shall give a campaign contribution directly or indirectly to a candidate, or to the campaign committee of a candidate, for the offices of mayor or commissioner.” The Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust and its prosecuting advocate, almost always lenient on political shenanigans on the beach, ignored that apparent violation, and the COE dismissed several counts against Tobin and issued a letter of instruction. Another complaint brought against him would be similarly disposed of in 2013.
Fines when imposed are picayune given the power and wealth of the persons involved, yet a conviction may have political consequences due to adverse publicity, which is rare given the market needs of the only major daily newspaper and its television affiliate. Substantial politicians may go to considerable expense to hire lawyers to represent them, or simply badmouth the ethics commission as incompetent and irrelevant.
Tobin himself has publicly scoffed at the ineptitude of the ethics commission, which has been dubbed “The Unethical Commission of Public Distrust” in urban lore. That commission frequently requires that complainants themselves conduct the investigations that it is supposed to conduct with the legal tools it has; it often takes the word of officials for granted without asking for rebuttals; it is overly lenient towards certain officials; it appears to violate its own ethical standards with impunity on occasion; –and then it has the gall to offer to teach ethics to municipalities for a fee.
Scott Robins, Philip Levine, Jonah Wolfson and Jimmy Morales
Scott Robins and his partner Philip Levine would ultimately assemble properties and sell $20 million of air rights to the city, resulting in the shopping center and parking garage across the street from Sunset Harbour Towers. Commissioner Tobin, by the way, would be instrumental in the ouster of City Manager Jorge Gonzalez, who on behalf of the City Commission arranged the “partnership” or condominium agreement between the city and Robins/Levine although he objected to what he believed was an exorbitant sum, $20 million, paid for the air rights.
Forced to resign with a handsome severance package in the wake of a scandal over the arrest of an handful of code enforcement officers, Gonzalez claimed that there would always be some corruption in the lower ranks of governments, and that here the highest level of government had been corrupted as well. That would be his boss, the city commission, whose commissioners he said had been fixing code compliance cases in return for campaign contributions. So he maintained that he was ousted because he bucked the will of corrupt commissioners.
The mayor’s Sunset Harbour area given priority for stormwater protection
Furthermore, he claimed that the roots of evil extended into Sunset Harbour, where today we see the roads being raised around the mayor’s shopping center to protect the area from stormwater, with considerable work being done by Lanzo Construction, a donor to the scandalized PAC featuring the mayor’s alleged accomplishments. The flood control project initiated prior to his advent is the main accomplishment advertised by the PAC and the mayor, a professional propagandist, via his personal vanity mayor website.
Indeed, he seems to have taken his cue from Mussolini’s popular swamp recovery program, which ultimately failed, not to mention taking control of committees and suppressing dissent. At the beginning of what has been a severe drought, he claimed that the streets were bone dry after a slight rain although nearly five square blocks were ankle deep in water. A more substantial rain that occurred on this full moon resulted in the closing of the usual roads for flooding resulted in serious flooding, but the areas where the pumps were installed were dry.
Lanzo Construction contributed funds to the “stinking” PAC
Gonzalez concluded that corruption was given full sway with a the faux reform regime led by Clinton pal Philip Levine, and characterized the mayor’s henchman, city manager Jimmy Morales, a political insider shoed into the job despite the recommendation of several outsiders by a professional recruiting firm, as “spineless.”
On June 2, 2013, before Gonzalez was shown the door, I made the following recommendation in a town forum email exchange: “We should not be deceived into thinking that changing city managers is going to change a longstanding culture, much of it informal. Whosoever takes the office will have to adjust to the status quo unless a radical is brought in and given temporary dictatorial powers except over the budget (as in Rome). The salient features of his background should be courage, honesty, and intelligence. Formal education and whether or not s/he inhaled or not should be at the end of the list. Jorge should have remained in his position for another year in order to take advantage of the impetus for reform i.e. a real crackdown, and save some face to boot. Obviously, certain reformers did not want that crackdown, and have interests rooted in the very corruption they pretend to root out. All the current commissioners should be replaced as soon as possible with a slate of clean candidates. Perhaps Jorge should considering running for mayor on a strong-mayor charter-reform plank.”
Commissioner Tobin responded: “Can i buy some pot from you” (sic)
So Jimmy Morales, a sophisticated Harvard Law grad, former city attorney for the scandalized City of Doral and a good old Miami Beach home boy, was wheeled in as city manager, crying when he was appointed. He is well known locally as a nice guy with an open door as long as he is gone along with, and as a vindictive bureaucratic thug behind closed doors when resisted, but not nearly as vindictive as the de facto strong mayor he depends on—weak city managers come and go with strong mayors. He is praised by some as a moral man while others warn that his last name should not be confused with morality and that morality should not be confused with the Good of ethics. Ironically, the city might be better off if he were the political mayor and Philip Levine managed the city business under the city’s weak mayor, strong city manager, fascistic charter.
Tobin was allied with the faux reform majority purchased and led by Philip Levine as mayor. Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, within whom Tobin has often been at acrimonious odds, and who has been scandalized by contributions from towing companies based in Sunset Harbour to his wife’s judicial campaign while he supported a radical increase in towing fees, was also instrumental in the capture of the city commission by the so-called reformers. His wife, incidentally, was an assistant state attorney, and has lectured on ethics for the county ethics commission, whose director was her former colleague at the state attorney’s office. The ethics commission did not respond to repeated requests as to whether it had looked into the contributions as possible violations of local campaign finance reform law.
Commissioner Tobin graduated from police academy
The City Commission recently waived its own ethics requirements and allowed Mr. Tobin, who had been a state prosecutor in Broward County, to apply for a job with the police department while sitting on the commission. He was apparently becoming disgruntled with the mayoral faction, wherefore the mayor and commission highly recommended him as the ideal police officer candidate. He reportedly failed the police department’s ethics test, and, citing personal considerations, decided not to become a police officer.
Now Mayor Levine and Commissioner Wolfson have been taken to task by Mr. Tobin and Commissioner Deede Weithorn for soliciting political contributions from city vendors and developers—Mayor Levine, who had waxed eloquent on Tobin’s desire to be a police officer, now refers to Tobin’s failure to pass the ethics test, implying that he is an unethical man. Their excuse is that (unlike Scott Robins’ previous contributions to Tobin) the donations were intended for a political action committee chaired by Commissioner Wolfson, and that the funds received were not specifically earmarked for Levine’s re-election even though most of the advertising expenditures lauded Levine’s alleged accomplishments. If extortion or bribery were at play, the malefactors could be subject to criminal prosecution, and F.B.I. agents have been seen making the rounds again.
Michael Putney raised hell about the stinking PAC
The stench over the stinking PAC ordure has provoked the lazy county ethics commission to open an investigation. Absent proof of a quid pro quo, the contributions probably did not violate the ethics code because the code does not mention political action committees, although the motivation for the donations just may be unethical in a higher sense, Wolfson says he will shut down the PAC and make proportionate refunds of any remaining money. That may provoke possibly disgruntled donors to tell all given a promise of immunity.
All the above leaves the question as to why the same commission, when examining the previous complaint against a commissioner, namely Ed Tobin, did not find probable cause when there was not political action committee at play, although the ethics commission advocate’s discussion of the case practically mirrored the city’s campaign finance reform prohibition. We may have one big ball of wax in this county regardless of political subdivisions.
Read the specifics about the failure of the county ethics commission to respond to questions as to why it apparently ignored the contributions of Scott Robins to Ed Tobin as Sunset Harbour was being put together for him and his friend Philip Levine, the future mayor of Miami Beach.