While Bean was correct to determine that there would be a conflict of interest, he also held out a debatable opportunity for Gray Robinson to still submit a bid by citing a specific set of circumstances - highlighted directly above - that in his opinion, would allow them to submit a response, by citing Florida Statute 112.313 (12) (b).
Putting aside the question as to whether submitting a response for an RFQ meets the definition of submitting a "sealed bid," an even more astounding and troubling question is of a more serious possible conflict of interest prompted by what obviously had to have been backroom meetings between Tom Benton, Steven Zelkowitz, and Richard Sarafan two months before the RFQ was issued, leading to a request for a legal opinion on whether the Vice Mayor's law firm could bid for such a contract?
Legal opinions are never requested in a vacuum, and this one, initiated two months before the issuance of the RFQ clearly had a specific purpose that provided Gray Robinson with a legal umbrella to submit a proposal.
The fact that Gray Robinson did not receive the contract does not mitigate or erase the possibility of collusion between the Vice Mayor, the Village Manager and the Village Attorney to further the financial and business goals of Gray Robinson or it's Managing Partner who was also our Village Vice Mayor.
As an informative sidebar about the snakes and snake-pit of lobbyists in Tallahassee, and the unsavory business of political dealing making that goes on there is that the head of Gray Robinson's lobbying operation is Dean Cannon, who used to be the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives in 2011.
While he was Speaker, Cannon, in an effort to help one of his close friends get a billboard contract from the City of Miami, inserted, at his friend's request, a "poison pill" amendment into a critical piece of legislation, so as to force the City to reward his pal and his partner with a deal or suffer the consequences.
While this blackmail scheme eventually failed, I wrote about it at the time because the original scheme to award the contract was only stopped because one Commissioner - Frank Carollo - exhibited real courage and skill in managing to throw a tree trunk across the railroad tracks: http://original.thecrespogramreport.com/Site_10/NO_DEAL_WITH_BLACKMAILERS.html
FAUSTO GOMEZ, THE GUY WHO FUCKED MIAMI-DADE COUNTY OUT OF $1 BILLION IN TRANSPORTATION FUNDING
On November 10, 2016, EIGHT DAYS before the Village of Miami Shores posted the RFQ seeking a new lobbying firm,
Tallahassee is somewhat of a snake-pit, and to succeed as a lobbyist in Tallahassee some people become snakes. Fausto Gomez seems to always have been a snake, only in his case he's became an unethical snake.
I first ran into Gomez back in the 90's when I was spending a lot of time in Tallahassee fighting with the Governor over his public-private partnership created to support the state's film industry and was around when it was revealed that Gomez, along with then legislator Mario Diaz-Balart had worked behind the scenes to arrange for a sweetheart deal for Bellsouth.
Ever since then, Fausto has on my radar, and I was understandably curious when I learned that he had been hired by Tom Benton to be the Tallahassee lobbyist for Miami Shores.
I asked for the paperwork that would explain how that had happend, and received the following document.
That's it. No evaluation or grading sheets, or any other documentation that would provide a window into how these guys conducted the selection process, or to determine whether they did so with transparency or fairness.
Besides the skimpiness of the information provided in these so-called minutes, and the fact that Village Manager Tom Benton thought that having two of his employees, the Directors of his Public Works and Planning & Zoning, instead of a couple folks more knowledgable about Tallahassee and the business of lobbying to assist him was the way to go, the first thing that caught my attention, and perhaps yours was that my new best pal and Village Councilman Steven Zelkowitz's law firm Gray Robinson, submitted a response asking to be considered.
PART I - THE GRAY ROBINSON CONFLICT OF INTEREST
How would the law firm where the Managing Partner is the Vice Mayor of the Village think it was ethical to seek a contract to become the Village's lobbyist?
Funny you should ask?
Back in September of 2016, ALMOST TWO FULL MONTHS before the Village issued an RFQ, Richard Sarafan, our intrepid Village Attorney sought a legal opinion from one of the lawyers at his firm as to whether there would be a conflict of interest if the Village entered into consulting agreement with Gray Robinson.
Here is a copy of the legal opinion that Sarafan received from Benjamin Bean that concluded THAT THERE WOULD BE A CONFLICT.
For comparison, here is the information that the South Miami City Commission was provided when they hired Fausto Gomez to be their lobbyist.
the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission issued one of it's strongest investigative reports ever on the unethical behavior of Fausto Gomez, who they determined had, along his partner Manuel Reyes, caused the Miami-Dade County Commission to lose $1 BILLION DOLLARS in Transportation dollars from the Florida Legislature,.
They managed to pull off this amazing feat because thy were accused of double-dealing. In addition to representing Miami-Dade County, Gomez and Reyes had also been representing the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX), and chose, behind the county's back, to help MDX get this money.
That this investigation was made public even before the Village issued the request for the RFQ's, once again raising a question of a failure of due diligence exhibited by Tom Benton when it comes to looking out for the best interests of the Miami Shores residents.
Who would hire unethical team of lobbyists if they had bothered to read the following closing comments of the ethics investigation report.
PART III - THE BATSHIT CRAZY STATE SENATOR DAPHNE CAMPBELL COMES TO VISIT
You can't make someone like this batshit crazy woman up.
On July 18th, the Senator showed up, along with an entourage that included Fausto Gomez's partner Manuel Reyes, to give a Tallahassee update to the Village Council .
It was one of her usual, confused, double-talking, I'm your Mamma so trust me bullshit shows that puts on at all the various municipalities that are in her District.
The only important information that she had to convey was that Miami Shores didn't get a penny from the Tallahassee piggy bank.
Other than that, it was a performance worthy of an appearance on The Gong Show, although not as good as the performance that Rich Robinson of RISE News captured when she went orgasmic over getting FP&L lobbyist John Holley to turn on the electric power for her family.
Here is the video of her appearance at the Village Council meeting, where she repeatedly told the members of the Village Council how lucky they were to be served by Manual Reyes, how hard he worked, and how they had to keep hiring him and Fausto.
In comparison, Miami Shores got the equivalent of a Tee-Shirt and a visit from batshit crazy State Senator Daphne Campbell.
Being successful in getting tax money from Tallahassee requires more than just hiring a lobbyist, giving him/her some money and waiting for the checks to start coming in.
I say this because to be fair the efforts of Fausto Gomez and Manuel Reyes aren't necessarily the only reason why Miami Shores didn't get any money this year.
We've had the misfortune to be saddled with a terrible and crazy State Senator, and a State Representative in Roy Hardemon, a member of the Hardemon family that includes Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who is no prize either. I've written a lot of Keon Hardemon, his aunt Barbara, Uncle Billy, along with Roy and his other brother Allen who have gained notoriety for somehow being at the center of numerous scams and schemes, and who in Roy's case managed to rack up an impressive record of campaign fines and being charged for a total of 35 crimes in 19 arrests since 1987.
It's obvious that folks in Miami Shores pay little attention to who they vote for to represent them in Tallahassee, which to some people would elicit that famous summation about a failure to engage in civic participation, "The fucking you get, is the fucking you deserve."
Lastly, my Tallahassee sources tell me that our elected officials, starting with Mayor Alice Burch, who was Mayor during the last legislative session, and the members of the Council were largely absent from Tallahassee and the kind of personal involvement that translates into the grease that makes the wheels move in any state capital..
In spite of all of this though, I believe that the failure of Fausto Gomez and Manuel Reyes to get us any money, while succeeding in getting so much money for other municipal clients warrants his being fired and replaced.
If we can't do better, we should at least quit giving money to guys that didn't deliver for us!
When you get down into the specific language of the contracts, it becomes evident that one was written to provide the City of South Miami to be able to dismiss Gomez for any reason, including a failure to deliver, and the language of the Miami Shores contract was written to exclude that opportunity and to make it harder to remove and replace him without a cumbersome legal process, that might have required going into court. to provide legal loopholes for Fausto Gomez.
To further appreciate what I mean when I say that the contract between the Village and Gomez, is biased towards Gomez, here is the termination language in a contract between a City of Miami CRA and their lobbyist.
You see that they too reserve the right to terminate the contract with or without cause, which is what you would expect any government agency would be able to do without having to go through establishing cause, or the time consuming time and costs of remediation.
While the behavior of the members of the Miami-Dade County Commission leave much to be desired when it comes to dealing with the horrific traffic problems we've come to experience, everyone who gets in a car today only to find themselves quickly caught in a traffic jam should consider directing their first curse of the day at Fausto Gomez,
Before Gomez went off to Tallahassee this year, he decided than rather then challenge the recommendation made to the Miami-Dade County Commission that his contract with the county be terminated - a decision that was scheduled for a January 2017 Commission meeting - he beat them to the punch by submitting a letter of withdrawal, to, in his words, "safeguard my good name and hard-earned reputation for integrity."
But what about that reference to a prior ethics investigation that, "found he had failed to disclose a conflict following a 2009 inquiry by the COE?"
That turns out to have been a complaint lodged against Gomez by former County Commissioner Katy Sorenson:
Like the decision that the Ethics Commission reached in 2016, they concluded that Gomez should have revealed his knowledge about this legislation to his other client, the Miami-Dade County Commission. You can read that opinion HERE.
OUR MAN IN TALLAHASSEE
Once in Tallahassee, Gomez's activities during the 2017 Session were overshadowed by a nasty Naples Daily News, story that detailed how a company that he co-founded with his wife made $1 million on an anti-hazing contract as a result of a secret state contract.
The story got wide play outside of Miami, and resulted in the usual back and forth about who was really responsible. Beyond the merits, or lack thereof, this story, in conjunction with Gomez's behavior leading to the two ethics complaints should have provided a rationale for Fausto adopting a new advertising slogan:
If you need a snake to fuck a snake, Fausto's your snake!
Again, none of this seemed to concern Tom Benton, nor did the fact that while he was receiving vapid assurances that things looked good for the Village in Tallahassee:
"Both the Senate and House will consider their respective budgets on the floor this week and heading into the budget conference Miami Shores is in good shape."
The truth of the matter was that the only good shape we were in was to get Zip, Zero, Nada!.
Some of his other clients, like Key Biscayne did pretty good. They got $155,000 for "smart" traffic lights, and $55,000 for beach restoration.
Coral Gables on the other hand made out like bandits. In fact, they did so good that Gomez showed up in person to take a victory lap, and submitted this 8 page report detailing the millions in money and positive legislative changes he got them.
While it's not illegal to pimp for a lobbyist, Campbell's efforts were clearly tawdry and demonstrate that when it comes to driving around with this batshit crazy woman, one should reject the advise of the old American Express TV ad, and definitely leave home without your self-respect.
ADDING INSULT TO INJURY: FAUSTO GOMEZ'S CONTRACT
I have in the past, and will no doubt in the future write about how Tom Benton and Richard Sarafan continue to place the Village in a disadvantaged legal position by accepting and signing contracts and agreements written by, and favoring the terms of the companies that provide the Village with services, instead of written by Sarafan and providing maximum protection for the Village, as evidenced by the contract extensions with Professional Golf Management, the agreement Benton signed with Ballard*King, the agreement Benton signed with Richard Burke, the attorney from Gray Robinson who he hired to do legal work for the Police Pension Plan, the agreement Benton signed with RMA for the Downtown Design Master Plan, and the agreement with Lime Bike.
Tom Benton and Richard Sarafan are not the only ones responsible for the sorry state of affairs that the Village legally finds itself when it comes to these legally deficient terrible contracts and agreements.
The Village Council also bears some responsibility including Steven Zelkowitz and current Mayor Mac Glinn, and starting this year Jonathan Meltz, all of whom are lawyers, and all of them clueless when it comes questioning the legal soundness of the contracts and agreements that they have voted on. Government contracts are different in signifiant ways from private corporate contracts, and Sarafan and the Council have never figured this out.
Here's what I mean.
First, here is ALL the information that was included as part of the January 3, 2016, Council meeting where they were asked to approve the decision made by Tom Benton and his so-called Selection Committee to hire Fausto Gomez.