NEW CITY MANAGER SWEEPS ALLEGATONS UNDER THE RUG
July 3, 2013
Preface to future moral corruption?
By David Arthur Walters
Miami Beach—New City Manager Jimmy Morales has broken his promise to address the City of Miami Beach Commission in response to fired fire inspector David Weston’s allegations that he was fired on ethics charges trumped up by the city attorney’s office because he persistently complained that millions of dollars of permit fee monies had gone missing.
Weston’s allegations were brought to light earlier this year in a New Times article about alleged corruption in the Miami Beach Fire Department. Weston, referring to a number of arrests of city employees over the years, has alleged that several City of Miami Beach departments are racketeer-influenced, corrupt organizations.
Another so-called RICO allegation was made more recently by former Police Chief Carlos Noriega and two other former police officers along with the current police union president in a class-action suit filed earlier this year and subsequently withdrawn, against the city for an alleged scheme to defraud police officers of workers compensation benefits.
City Manager Jose Smith categorically denied that his office had anything to do with the Weston firing: “My Special Ethics Counsel Jean Olin had no knowledge of his employment with the City and did not take part in the decision to terminate his employment,” he stated in an email.
Smith apparently based his statement on an Oct. 9, 2008, letter Human Resources Director Ramiro Inguanzo sent to Weston, stating that any involvement by Olin would have been improper: “Please be advised that Ms. Olin’s role as Special Counsel to the City would preclude her from discussing matters related to your employment and/or termination from the City. Additionally, Ms. Olin has no knowledge of your employment with the City and did not take part in the decision to terminate your employment.”
However, records easily available to Smith belied his statement. Jean Olin was definitely involved in the ethics determination resulting in Weston’s termination. She was privy to an inquiry by the county ethics commission staff that had cleared Weston of ethics violations, and it appears that the City’s decision was made pursuant to her advice.
Smith and Interim City Manager Kathie Brooks reported to the City Commission on March 13 that Weston was terminated for violating the city and county ethics codes, not mentioning that the county ethics commission had cleared Weston. Smith also said that members of the Fire Department’s chain-of-command said they were unaware of the allegations of misconduct made by Weston.
Weston begged to differ with the Smith & Brooks Report. He filed an extensive rebuttal with city commissioners along with corroborating documentation including a comprehensive file showing his reports of missing monies, replies from senior officials, actual documentation of missing sums, before-and-after Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission rulings, timely annual outside employment reports, memos from the Fire Chief granting him employment waivers, signed evaluations acknowledging his collection of monies, emails mentioning the same, threats to stop holding permits for unpaid balances, and the Miami Dade audit confirming his allegations.
Weston said he had offered to resign when the investigation was ongoing since he would have no trouble finding a better job, but was fired instead, probably because involuntary termination deprives employees of certain benefits. However, his employment status did not entitle him to those benefits. He said he presently sought to have his personnel record changed to reflect a voluntary rather than involuntary termination. He declined to respond to our question as to whether he intended to sue the city and its officers for defamation per se in respect to the ethics charges which he had repudiated in his rebuttal.
Commissioner Michael Gongora forwarded the Smith & Brooks Report and the Weston Rebuttal to Jimmy Morales, who became the new city manager on April 1. On April 16, Morales responded to our belief that he would sweep the matter under the rug.
“Nothing is swept under the rug. I will get to this and report back to you and the Commission accordingly.”
Morales did not respond to our June follow ups, therefore we contacted Weston, who said his rebuttal had been summarily dismissed by the new Human Resources director, Sylvia Crespo-Tabak:
“This is in response to your letter of April 17, 2013,” she wrote, “in which you request that the City revise its records to reflect that your separation in March 2008 was due to a voluntary resignation rather than a dismissal. The City Manager and I have reviewed and discussed the documentation you submitted along with other relevant information. We did not identify anything to indicate that we should make changes to the record, as you requested, or to suggest that this matter was not closed in 2008.”
On June 25 we pointed out to Crespo-Tabak that she had not specifically addressed any of the points made by Weston. We offered that the determination of unethical conduct apparently made on advice of the city attorney’s office was subjective, arbitrary, and at variance with the findings of the county ethics commission. We asked her for the “other relevant information” mentioned in her summary dismissal. She has not responded by press time.
We confronted Morales with the proposition that he had broken his word of honor by not addressing the issues raised by Weston and reporting his finding to the commission as promised. We opined that he had, in fact, brushed the matter under the rug, getting HR to do his dirty work.
“With respect to David Weston’s employment with the City and his termination,” he replied, “I asked the new Human Resources Director to carefully review the file and let me know if she felt that the termination was merited or if there had been any impropriety in the matter. Neither she nor I have any reason to defend what occurred in the past. She conducted her review and discussed it with me. Her conclusion was that the termination was in fact appropriate under the circumstances. I understand that Mr. Weston may not agree, and that you may not be satisfied with the result. Whatever differences you have with the past administration does not mean that everything that occurred in the past was wrong. In my judgment, reversing the past action with respect to Mr. Weston was not warranted.”
Anyone may want to break a promise if keeping it would do more harm than good. Jimmy Morales is a polished politician and bureaucrat, not a business manager, and politicians are not famous for keeping their word. Our professional-city-manager or weak-mayor form of city government supposedly allows the administration to run the city like a business, free of partisan politics. We believe a good business manager should have carefully investigated Weston’s report for administrative inefficiencies and policies detrimental to the business, and, if any were found, recommend and implement necessary remedies. Simply denying that not everything the previous administration did was wrong is either a political excuse or bureaucratic bluff.
In other words, the conduct here portends business as usual. Sacrificing the previous city manager on the altar of discontent was cathartic. We feel good about that, so let us not constructively criticize the new administration until another purification rite is evoked by public clamor. Let us keep our mouths shut until dissatisfaction mounts, until a few more F.B.I. arrests are made, and then we shall clamor for change once again, and crucify the unelected boss who runs the city. The new city manager would do well to regularly advertise his positive accomplishments and keep his resume updated just in case.
Unfortunately, Jimmy Morales, recently dubbed Supermanager for the high expectations had for him, has missed several opportunities in his summary dismissal of the Weston affair, although he is not entirely to blame.
He is losing the opportunity to correct the causes of the negligence and corruption that results in millions of dollars of what Weston called “missing monies.” Law enforcement was keenly interested in Weston’s allegations, but the police could do nothing unless they caught someone in a criminal act and found a willing prosecutor. Weston was not the only one talking about so-called missing monies. Our ‘Getting Ahead of the Job Con’ and other investigations points to the possibility of many millions lost due to favoritism and gross negligence and possibly criminal corruption. It appears that city officials have discretion via the city manager as advised by the city attorney to waive, reduce, mitigate and otherwise not collect fees and fines, their intentional neglect encouraged by sovereign impunity. City Attorney Jose Smith officially determined that a proposal to account for writeoffs by amount and person responsible for them was “moronic.” The only thing he recommended was to “follow the law,” no doubt as interpreted by his office.
Of course the city manager is not the strong mayor that we need. He is just the manager not the political power. If the part-time hydra or many-headed commission does not have the unified will to empower him to make the necessary changes, he will eventually be sacrificed like the last manager for the bad blades of grass in the lawn, not having a press agent to report his good deeds.
Morales is also losing the opportunity to improve personnel policies. He is just a manager, but he could at least recommend that the city commission pass a whistleblower law that would allow a body independent of the city administration, such as the Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission, to investigate and resolve whistleblower complaints. The state whistleblower law provides that local entities can provide such as an alternative to filing complaints in the courts. City of Miami employees, for example, may file whistleblower complaints with the county ethics commission. Morales certainly understands the merits of the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission: He had a hand in its creation when he was on the County Commission, and subsequently pled no contest to an ethics charge brought against him for not providing documentation for $580,081.27 in campaign expenditures, and agreed to pay a stunning $250 fine. The State whistleblower law provides substantial incentives for blowing the whistle.
There should be a device independent of the local chain-of-command and its HR hirelings. As a woman remarked in testimony before Congress recently, making a rape complaint via the chain-of-command is like telling your father that your brother raped you. City of Miami Beach Commission Michael Gongora, now a candidate for mayor, was asked if he would advocate a whistleblower ordinance for the city. He referred the matter to his assistant, and our follow-ups were unanswered at press time. At least he said the issue of whether or not the city should have a strong mayor system should go to the electorate, but not at this time.
Morales could have competent human resource attorneys improve personnel procedures and policies. For example, Weston was an “at-will” employee, meaning that he could have been terminated without cause providing his civil rights were not violated. Instead of just firing Weston or accepting his resignation, the city practically made a federal case out of the whole affair, creating a record that damns the city, opening up the city to potential lawsuit.
We imagine this scenario in Weston’s case: someone said, “Good grief! Weston is in a boat slip business with the guy that owns and runs Permit Doctors. He doesn’t have an investment in the permit expediting company nor is he employed by it, but the fact that a fire inspector is associated with him in a completely different business still looks bad. It creates an appearance of impropriety regardless of what the ethics rules say. Besides, this fire inspector is too pushy, not minding the Fire Department’s business, nosing around the Building Department, complaining it’s not doing its job.
“Basta!> We’ve got to get rid of him.”
The man would have resigned. And he was right about a lot of things, and there was much more that Morales could have recommended and have done if he had carefully studied Weston’s rebuttal along with other information about “missing monies” instead of summarily dismissing it without discussing the issues raised. But it appears from the city manager’s response that it is going to be business as usual around here, perhaps accompanied by a game of musical chairs played by insiders from around the county.