SEPTEMBER 30, 2016

In November of last year, days after Ken Russell was finally elected to the Miami City Commission, I wrote a story warning him about Victoria Mendez, and her willingness to trash the Public Records Law.  Here's what the header of that story looked like, and here a link to the STORY.

Weeks later, my first story of 2016, was how Mendez had offered to provide Russell with information which were the best cell phone companies to evade the public records law on text messages, and also her offer to explain to him how to evade the Sunshine Law.  That story can be found HERE.

Now there are those who will say, well, if that's how you feel then why didn't you jump in wholeheartedly this time to support Ken.

I didn't for several reasons.

First, as I wrote on September 14th, after Russell had made his declaration that he had lost trust in Mendez, I disagreed with the conclusions he reached regarding the emails he had received from Daniel Goldberg, Mendez's Assistant City Attorney, because I believed that in part what had occurred had in no small part been caused by poor staff work by Russell's staff.

I said all that and more, including the fact that Russell had failed to reveal that contrary to his claim that he had only received 5 emails as part of that original response, he had also received an attachment with 41 pages of additional emails that he failed to acknowledge or include in the convoluted and confusing packets of emails that he gave to his fellow Commissioners that day.

In fact, from that day to the Special Commission meeting held this morning, Russell has repeatedly deflected and refused to address with any specificity the issues of these specific emails and detailing an explanation as to how he had been denied emails and which were those emails, allowing instead the perception  to hang out there that Mendez just refused to provide him with emails.

I thought that behavior lacked the same amount of respect for due process that Russel claimed he was entitled to from Mendez. The issue of the emails - and not anything else - was, and should have been the focus of a presentation by Russell this morning, and only after making such a presentation should any comments and/or discussion been allowed to take place.

As the person making the allegation, Russell had the responsibility to present his case, and then everything else would have followed from that.

But that didn't happen, because this has been Russell's weak point from the start. He's never had a real case to make, and that's evidenced not only by the initial way in which he made his allegation to the Commission at the September 8th meeting, but by the way that he turned this issue into a media driven enterprise by writing an Op-Ed for the Miami Herald, and then using the Op-Ed as the centerpiece of an email blast sent from his office encouraging people to show up at City Hall.

This was all clearly the handiwork of his Chief of Staff Eleazar Melendez, who bears as much, if not more blame for this situation, because it was his piss-poor staff work that initiated the request for emails.

The outcome of what happened today raises legitimate questions as to whether Ken Russell deserves to remain on the City Commission, and not because he had his head handled to him by his fellow Commissioners, but because this incident is the latest in a continuing series of incidents that, contrary to all the platitudes and fancy speak that he utters about participation and process and protecting the rights of the citizens of Miami, reveal that he is in reality a pretty clueless and undemocratic guy.

Let me give you an analogy to better understand what I mean.

Say there was a woman in a small town that a lot of people didin't necessarily like.  One day that woman gets stopped by a cop who says she ran a red light, and proceeds to give her a ticket.

Now, only the woman and the cop have any possibility of knowing whether she ran the light or not, but the woman decides to show up and fight the ticket.

When she shows up, the cop also turns out to be not only the cop who issued the ticket, but he's also the prosecutor and one of the 5 judges sitting in to hear this case.  Also in the courtroom, invited by the cop, are a lot of people.  Some who like the woman, and some who don't.

Now the judges decide that instead of trying the woman on the charge of running the red light, they make a decision that everyone in the courtroom will be allowed to have 2 minutes each to say whatever they want about whether they believe the woman ran the read light, or didn't, and for good measure, they can pretty much say anything else they want while they've got the floor.

After a couple hours of this, everyone has their say, and then the judges turn it over to the cop who says says that he's really not interested in allowing the woman to defend herself in the courtroom, because she's had all the time between receiving the ticket and showing up in court to talk to all of the judges privately, and that should have been all the opportunity the she needed to defend herself against the charge.

Now, that's not a 100% exact analogy, but it's 99.9% accurate, and I say and believe that that represents an amazingly brazen effort to circumvent even the most basic due process rights of anyone to defend themselves, regardless of who they are, or what they've been accused of doing.

Therefore, I applaud the decision of the other 4 City Commissioners who refused to second Russell's motion to fire Mendez.

That doesn't mean I still don't think she shouldn't be fired, because I do, but first and foremost I believe in due process, and Russell by his actions clearly doesn't because his actions revealed that he was more than willing to try and persuade everyone else to ignore those rights for Mendez.

Now I'm sure that here are some folks who will think this is just some fuzzy nitpicking, but as someone who spent over 8 1/2 years of my life locked up in maximum security lockdown, mostly for standing in a prison cell in my underwear and telling the warden how to run his prison, I have a very personal and deep appreciation for what due process really means, because due process is the cornerstone of our legal process, and without it   we will cease to be a country of laws.

In 1980, I wrote an expose about conditions in the federal prison and hospital in Springfield, Missouri. The below letter was written to Vice President Walter Mondale and explains what happened when the warden found out what I had done.  

The day after I was put in solitary, I was loaded on ConAir - the real one and not the bullshit movie version - and I was made to disappear for over 6 months until my friends were able to locate me and pressure the Bureau of Prison to take me out of solitary.  For me, when it comes to anything resembling a legal issue there is absolutely nothing I hold more sacred than due process.

From the very beginning of this incident Russell was never willing to afford Victoria Mendez that right, and I find that very disturbing even if I do think she ought to be fired for other reasons.

For me, due process trumps every thing else, because without it, we're all in trouble.