On the morning of September 19th, after discovering the above ordinance in our Village Charter, I submitted the following public records request to Ysabely Rodriquez, our Village Clerk.
On the morning of September 20th, I received the following response to my request.
I've grown accustomed to gross incompetence on the part of public officials over the years, and since I started writing about the Village in February of this year I've come to the conclusion that Tom Benton has demonstrated a pattern of incompetence that warrants a serious discussion about his either being forced to retire, or being fired.
Among the examples that I've cited that led me to this conclusion was Benton's refusal to conduct annual performance reviews on the Village employees, a problem that in one case resulted in Carolyn Modeste, a former Village Comptroller stealing at least $493,879.51, in an effort to send money to Africa as part of a Nigerian email scam .
I now find it inconceivable that the Village Manager, in addition to operating a $26 million dollar municipal corporation with almost 150 employees not only operated without an annual personnel evaluation plan, but now appears to operate the Public Works Department without using some sort of Work Order system. How can there be any accountability, either of employees or department performance without the ability to be able to have some sort of independent system to rely on as a way to verify performance?
More disturbing was the admission that from January 1, 2017, to 5 days after Hurricane Irma hit, the Village's Code Enforcement Department had not issued one single notice of violation against a single resident for failing to cut back their trees from any of FP&L's power lines so as to be in compliance with Article III, Section 8-23.
Just to make sure that I wasn't jumping to conclusions, I submitted a second request which is below in an effort to learn just what, if anything the Village Manager had done in advising the Code Enforcement Director about the provisions of this ordinance.
2005 was a tough year. Hurricane Wilma was not the only hurricane that came though South Florida that year. Katerina came through on it's way to New Orleans in September, Hurricane Rita gave us a glancing blow as it followed Katerina's path into the Gulf and Louisiana. When Hurricane Wilma came though in October, it was a lot bigger and stronger storm than everyone had been led to believe would impact us.
The result was that Wilma turned out to be the second most expensive storm - to that time - to hit South Florida, and many in South Florida, including many in Miami Shores, went for weeks, not days, but weeks without electricity.
Before the arrival of Wilma, actually only days after Rita has passed us by in September, the Village Council on September 22nd, had been presented with a proposed Ordinance from Tom Benton, the Village Manager, dealing with hurricane preparedness, including measures "providing protection of electric lines from vegetative growth.
The below portion of the minutes of that meeting provide an explanation of where Benton got the idea for this ordinance, and the fact that the Council members discussed and understood the responsibilities that they were placing on the residents to trim their trees.
The ordinance received a second reading at the November 15th, Council meeting.
Then as now, residents showed little, if any interest in what the Council was up to, so as the record shows, only one person showed up to speak.
Here is the ordinance that was passed on November 15, 2005. I have highlighted the most relevant part that relates to Hurricane Irma.
The alleys of Miami Shores were the epicenter for the loss of electricity in the Village, and almost two weeks after the storm passed, they continue to be impassable according to the notice that the Village posted on it's website.
This second response indicates that not only had the Village not required any residents to cut down or trim any "trees, branches, palm fronds, vines, bushes or other vegetative matter," but that Benton had not during the calendar year 2017, engaged in any discussion or issuing of orders that left a paper trail that would have indicated that this issue was at any time discussed with the Code Enforcement Director.
Benton in the past has defended himself by claiming that he is a hand's on Manager who believes in personal interaction, but the overwhelming evidence of blocked alleys, along with even more overwhelming evidence and comments made by FP&L officials, the line workers who came from out of town, as well as the comments of residents all point to the failure to trim trees as the principal reason why electricity went out all over the Village.
Nor for that matter, did the Public Works Department do much of a job in the months prior to the storm to trim and prune the many trees in the public areas owned by the Village, that not only created roadblocks, but also are now costing the Village money as a result of having to hire private companies to haul all of these dead branches, etc. away.
COUNTRY CLUB DRIVE HOURS AFTER THE STORM, 4 DAYS AFTER, AND SEPTEMBER 21ST.
A quick drive around yesterday afternoon revealed alleys still blocked with debris, and tree limbs still in close proximity to electric lines and ATT and Comcast phone and cable lines.
WHAT DO YOU GET WHEN YOU PUT THREE CLUELESS LAWYERS IN A ROOM? YOU GET THE MIAMI SHORES VILLAGE COUNCIL
The information about the hurricane preparedness ordinance is readably available online.
The copies of the minutes of the 2005 Council meetings are available ny emailing s request to the Village Clerk.
If you ask for them, you will see that Village Attorney Richard Sarafan was physically present in 2005 when this Hurricane preparedness ordinance was originally introduced, and when it came up for a Second Reading after he played a part in rewriting it.
In spite of this, he had the gall to advise the Village Council to go after FP&L, and I suspect actually wrote the following letter that the Council signed and sent to the Chief Executive Officer of FP&L, several days ago.
That Mac Glinn, Steven Zelkowitz and Jonathan Meltz, who are all lawyers, signed this letter threatening FP&L, even though there exists a section in the Village Charter that places the primary responsibility for trimming "trees, branches, palm fronds, vines, bushes or other vegetative matter," in advance of a hurricane on the shoulders of the residents and the Village administration, and where there is overwhelming evidence that not only did that not happen, but that there is no record of any effort by the Village administration to make it happen, is tantamount to legal idiocy.
If I were the Chief Operating Officer of FP&L my response would not only be that these morons could stick their letter up their ass, but I'd be talking to my lawyers about suing the Village to recover the costs of having to pay all those out-of-town crews who came into the Village to repair what was obviously a problem that was caused by the gross incompetence of a Village Manager who failed to carry out his responsibilities in ordering his Code Enforcement Department for the first 9 months of the year to issue violation notices to all the property owners whose tress, etc., were laying all over my electric lines!
A CLOSING COMMENT
In the last two week a number of Village residents have gone on social media to comment about what a wonderful job Tom Benton has done since the storm.
I read one comment where Benton was congratulated just for coming out and talking with the residents like he was some King who had decided to leave his castle to mingle among the common folks.
Tom Benton is a bureaucrat who receives $243,268.00 in salary and benefits this year. For that, we should expect a degree of competence that has not been demonstrated by him, especially in his decision making prior to this hurricane.For those who would continue to praise Benton for his job performance AFTER the storm, consider that he is like a fireman who goes around setting fires, and then basks in the accolades and appreciation of the folks who see him out there fighting the fire.This Village cannot continue to be run by someone who demonstrates the level incompetence shown by Tom Benton, and by a Village Council made up of individuals who are not only clueless, but who have demonstrated a lack of leadership, concern and empathy for the residents during a crisis.
Not only do we need a new Village Manager, and a new Village Attorney, but perhaps its time to start talking about recalling a couple of these Council members, because incompetence becomes untenable when it involves piss poor decision making leading up to a crisis.