AS THE RE-PLAT THICKENS
LAST WEEK, COMMISSIONER KEN "SELFIE BOY" RUSSELL WANTED TO FIRE THE CITY ATTORNEY, BUT BECAUSE HE AND HIS CHIEF OF STAFF ELEAZAR MELENDEZ ARE VIEWED WITH UTTER CONTEMPT BY MANY FOLKS AT CITY HALL FOR THEIR SANCITIMONOUS INCOMPETENCE AND SELF-PROMOTION, THE ODDS ARE THAT BY THE TIME THIS BROUHAHA IS OVER, VICTORIA MENDEZ COMES OUT UNSCATHED, AND RUSSELL AND MELENDEZ'S FAILED EFFORT WILL HAVE MADE IT EVEN MORE DIFFICULT TO GET RID OF SOMEONE WHO REALLY DOES DESERVE TO BE FIRED
SEPTEMBER 14, 2016
In the REAL world - and by that I mean not in the world of "Doe-Eyed Millennials" where ignorance and lack of experience are considered valuable attributes when it comes to making political and policy decisions that affect thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting citizens - there is one principle of governance that has remained constant from the time of the Caveman: If you set out to kill the King or Queen, then you better make damn sure that you do it!
For the second time in the last 5 months, a Miami City Commissioner, angered over something that a member of the Regalado administration did, or did not do decided that firing that individual was the way to go.
The first time was in April, when Commissioner Chairman Keon Hardemon, out of the blue, made a motion to fire City Manager Danny Alfonso.
After refusing to support Hardemon's motion to fire the City Manager, Commissioner Ken "Selfie Boy" Russell, last week decided that Victoria Mendez, the City Attorney had to go.
Pretty heady stuff, right?
Especially the claims that she "withheld dozens of vital documents," and that she ignored the opinion of experts so as to do a favor at "the request of a lobbyist friend."
All of these activities were allegedly undertaken by Mendez so as to allow developers who own a property at the corner of Battersea and Ingram Highway the opportunity to split up a 50,000 square foot piece of property into 5 - 10,000 square foot lots so that they could build 5 houses where once, there was only 1 house.
This practice is called lot splitting, and the whole issue of lot splitting along with the building of big, white boxy houses in otherwise Leave It To Beaver style neighborhoods has prompted an orchestrated effort of a small, vocal group of residents, primarily in the South Grove opposed to this activity to start waging a battle to stop this practice - which they claim is in violation of city ordinances. These are the constituents that Russell references in his letter.
At the center of the controversy between the developers and the residents is the question of whether the developers were required to request a warrant in order to apply for this re-plat of the property, and whether they, through their attorneys, and in collusion with the City Attorney and several of her staff, attempted to circumvent that requirement.
It's a complex and convoluted argument because many of the letters offered by Russell as evidence of this alleged collusion can just as easily be seen as the work of aggressive lawyers - who are getting paid to obtain results - doing what they are paid to do.
Russell himself concedes to the complexity of this by stating, "While the detailed interpretation of the code and the end decision of whether or not this re-plat required are important, these are not the reasons that I am writing this letter today."
During the the Commission meeting last week Russell claimed that the reason why the above issues were secondary to the real reason he was asking that Mendez be fired, was that his real problem with Mendez was that in the course of responding to a request for documents about the warrant issue, she withheld emails that showed,according to Russell, that she had interjected herself and her office into the decision making process that led to a change from the initial decision made by the City's Zoning Director that required a warrant being issued in advance of the re-platting of this property to be changed so that the property would not need to receive a warrant. The significance of a warrant is that it offered residents opposed to the re-platting a greater opportunity to oppose and appeal the process.
Russell contended several times during the meeting that whether Mendez withheld these emails intentionally, or whether she had done so unintentionally, it didn't matter. That fact that the emails had been withheld, in his words, was enough for him to loose confidence in her, and that's why he wanted her fired.
THIS IS REALLY NOT ABOUT EMAILS
I became interested in the story because as I watched the meeting on TV it dawned on me that Russell had either talked himself, or had been talked into believing that irrespective of what Mendez had or had not done, that by claiming that she had purposely withheld emails related to this re-platting issue he could feed the belief of his angry constituents that the process of lot splitting was a nasty and rigged business and that the City Attorney was at the center of it.
This was as good an opportunity as any he might have to try and get Mendez fired - a goal that he had had since he became a Commissioner - and on that basis he waltzed into the Commission chambers with little if any preparation other than a self-righteous attitude and a couple packets of copies of poorly organized emails.
I believe that even though Russell shares a sincere belief - along with countless others, including me, that Mendez does deserve to be fired - in this instance he had been talked into accepting this alleged claim of withheld emails as the vehicle that would lead to his fellow Commissioners agreeing with him that Mendez needed to go, and given the lack of forethought and preparation that he put into this effort, it's obvious that this was definitely an ad hoc decision that was never clearly thought out.
As is almost always the case with harebrained, ignorant or un-thought out schemes, this one started falling apart almost as soon as Russell started talking.
To begin with, even though Russell based his reasoning for firing Mendez on the claim that she had withheld "vital emails" from him, he himself - thanks to the piss-poor caliber of the staff work that comes out of his office, showed up with his letter, and 2 folders of emails, that as the discussion progressed, turned out either did not contain, or did not identify some of the emails that he referenced as being central to his argument.
If you're going to base an argument to fire someone on their failure to provide "vital emails," it undermines your case when you yourself fail to take the care and provide your fellow Commissioners with all of the emails, and to do it in a clear and concise manner that doesn't make trying to find an email into an Easter Egg Hunt.
In fact, when I submitted my own public records request to Russell for these emails, I discovered when I received them that I couldn't find the emails that he claimed his office was provided in response to the initial July 25th request that Russell's Chief of Staff, Eleazar Melendez had sent to Victoria Mendez and Daniel Goldberg, one of her Assistant City Attorneys.
When I wrote Russell to inquire where those emails were, this is the response I got.
While Russell was in Philadelphia, Eleazar Melendez, his Chief of Staff, sent an email request to Victoria Mendez for documents related to the re-platting of the Battersea Woods property.
In Russell's recounting of this exchange, he makes it sound like Melendez sent his email, and then the next day received a response that only included 5 emails, and that those emails purposely excluded any of the subsequent emails that his office obtained a month and a half later when Melendez made two separate requests to the IT Department.
In fact, what actually happened is that Daniel Goldberg did send Melendez copies of 5 emails, but those 5 emails ALSO contained an attachment that included an additional 41 pages of emails.
So, here is that email, that references those attachments
Several hours after he received Goldberg's first response, Melendez wrote him back asking for a specific email .
The next morning Goldberg responded by stating that there was only one email, and offering to do whatever was required if Melendez couldn't read the copy he sent.
Within minutes, Melendez wrote back and asked that the document be forwarded to him.
While providing a narrative is important, the particular emails that Russell failed to clearly identify were at the crux of his argument that when Assistant City Attorney Daniel Goldberg - who was delegated to do the actual responding - he only provided 5 emails, and that those 5 emails did not include any of the emails that he claimed revealed that Mendez played a part in the discussions and decisions that led to a change from the property requiring a warrant, to it not requiring a warrant.
In fact, Russell's claim is categorically a lie.
In addition to seeking documents from Russell, I also asked Victoria Mendez to provide me copies of those emails, and the emails that I received from her turned out not to be included in the emails that Russell provided his fellow Commissioners.
IN THE BEGINNING
This whole incident started on July 25th, which by the way was the same day that Russell was posing for "selfies" with folks like Congressional candidate Scott Thurman in Philadelphia, at the Democratic Convention.
It was that trip that prompted me to come up with "selfie Boy" as an appropriate nickname for Russell and you can read about all that HERE.
Here are the 41 pages of emails that were included in the attachment.
Here was Goldberg's response.
Now, I have no way to know just how collegial Melendez and Goldberg were, or are, and I'm certainly not interested in being an apologist for Victoria Mendez, who I have called a liar, a terrible lawyer, and who, because of her antics I was forced to sue both the City and the DDA over a refusal to provide me documents, but at the same time I try to deal with the facts as they are, and on occasion, like a stopped clock, I have to concede that even the biggest assholes and troublemakers that I encounter are right. or at least less wrong than they have been accused of being on a particular issue.
So here's how I see all of this. Yes, there are emails that Russell's office obtained from a request to the City's IT Department that include emails that reveal that Mendez was receiving updates, and or seeking information from Goldberg and others about the status of this debate over the warrant issue.
At the same time, Mendez is the City Attorney and you would expect her to be at the center of email exchanges on many, if not all the questionable or controversial issues that involves the City. That's one of the reasons she gets paid big bucks.
Secondly, and I know this will shock, yes, I said SHOCK, some people, but I actually believe her explanation about what occurred on July 25th regarding the initial email request. I'll explain why after the video.
First, I believe that she told Eleazar Melendez that if he wanted all the documents he should contact the IT Department, and secondly, even though I'm not a lawyer I believe, and I am sure that lawyers who look at all of the emails will come to the same conclusion that she told Russell, that even though he may not like her opinion, or for that matter how she conducted herself in this incident, she did nothing wrong, and it was her right and privilege as the City Attorney to do what she did.
The obvious problem, which Russell failed to see or take into account before deciding to make this ill-advised move to fire Mendez, was not that it took an IT search a month and a half after the July 25th request for emails to discover that there were perhaps 2 dozen emails, including emails to and from Mendez that he hadn't received as part of the July 25th request, but that his "Doe-Eyed Millennial" Chief of Staff didn't do his job, and make a request to the IT Department on the 26th of July for all of the emails, like Mendez suggested that he do.
Melendez is not the sharpest tack in the box, and both before, and after he decided to hook his wagon to Russell's Cho-Cho Train I had several experiences with him where he tried to sell me on the idea for a story that was based on a narrative that once I started digging did not hold up, and when I challenged that narrative, he continued to try and argue that the facts that I uncovered didn't matter.
That's why I believe that this whole deal was an Eleazar Melendez Special: Sloppy and incomplete research, followed by a narrative that was focused on pushing a specific political agenda, accompanied by piss-poor presentation. The only outstanding question is whether Melendez came up with this crap all on his own, or did he have outside help and encouragement?
Russell has made it a point of pride that given a choice between choosing a staff that included people with experience - especially political experience - he chose instead, as he told a reporter from The Miami Today in a July 21st profile that they ran on him, that he chose to go with youth and inexperience.
This is the price you pay for doing that.
Ken Russell was a political lightweight when he took office, and while he's taken to the "styling and profiling" side of politics, where showing up for photo ops and giving speeches provides a certain amount of ego satisfaction, he's demonstrated that he's not much interested in the heavy lifting that comes with being an effective legislator.
To appreciate just what a lightweight, Russell really is, here are two short video clips from last week's Commission meeting.
In the first, he is railing against Victoria Mendez and explaining why she has lost his confidence and needs to be fired.
In the second video, which took place at that same meeting, several hours later, listen to how he talks about Mendez then.
You can't make this shit up! From an angry champion of the people to a grinning ass kisser in two hours.
The most harmful consequence - besides the bad mouthing accusations that Russell made about Javier Vasquez's efforts to represent his clients, which I suspect we've not heard the last of - is that Russell's stupid stunt has only straightened Victoria Medez, and made it even that much more difficult to have her fired.
As I said at the beginning, If you set out to kill the King or Queen you damn well better succeed, because payback can be a you know what!
It's Miami, Bitches!