Friday, September 30, 2016

Commissioner Ken Russell Opens Up About Losing A Key Vote and West Grove

Ken Russell arrives for his swearing in as a Commissioner
Going in, everyone knew the September 29th Miami Commission meeting was going to be a raucous affair.

District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell had earlier called for the firing of the city lawyer. He contends that she withheld emails he had requested to make a decision. For her part, the City Lawyer Victoria Mendez, says it was just an oversight.

Whatever happened between them was long beside the point. By the time the Commission met there was only one issue: whether the city attorney should be fired because that's what Commissioner Ken Russell had asked for.

At first the Commissioners tussled over whether there would be any public comment whatsoever, despite the overflow crowd, which had come to comment.

IRONY ALERT!!! Whether the public was allowed to speak required a legal opinion. All eyes turned to the city lawyer, Victoria Mendez, who was sitting on the dais. Obviously, she couldn't give an opinion about whether people should be allowed to trash her and her reputation. Consequently, she had to recuse herself and the opinion was given by one of her staff. Why was Mendez even up there?

BTW: The legal opinion was that if there is to be action taken -- like a vote -- the public has the right to speak. If, however, it was only to be a discussion among the Commissioners, there is no obligation to hear from the constituents. The Commissioners voted to open up the floor to public comments.

After the public got to weigh in for about 2 hours -- for Mendez, against Mendez -- Russell restated his case for Mendez's removal and responded to everything he had heard. He also alleged a dark conspiracy to smear him and his staff over this issue, saying his office had been hit with multiple Public Records Requests looking for documents and texts from Russell and his entire staff to be used against them.

Russell also reacted angrily to one person who I thought would have been his ally, muckraking radio host Grant Stern. Stern was also calling for the firing of Mendez and during the public comments made the most persuasive case. However, earlier Stern had to be admonished personally by the Chair near the beginning of the meeting when he loudly -- and editorially -- coughed from the public gallery.

Watch the Special Meeting:

When Russell admonished Stern, I was surprised. But, Russell alleged the one time he met privately with him -- and, ironically, Victoria Mendez -- Stern was so rude that everyone felt the need to apologize to Mendez.

Apparently, people had been trying to make hay from the fact that Russell was receiving emails from Stern. He acknowledged that, but said that anyone can write to a Commissioner and people should not make too much of it.

Russell finally made his motion at to remove the city attorney. And then there was a long pause waiting for someone to second his motion. No one did. Game over.

Win or lose, Commissioner Russell had agreed to an interview with the Not Now Silly Newsroom after the vote. This is the first 10 minutes of our free-wheeling discussion:


Q: Icarus flew too close to the sun. Now what?

A: Oh. You want to talk about today—
 

Q: Partially.
 

A: There’s so many things. There’s that. There’s your public records request with Armbrister—
 

Q: We’ll get there. *
 

A: And, we lost the Trolley garage.
 

Q: We’ll get there. *

A: You do need some time with me. I may need to go to the bathroom.


Q: I’ve got more topics than you got time.
 

A: I’ve got ‘em too, trust me.
 

Q: My impression is that you’ve set back the cause of reform.
 

A: Oh! Interesting. Okay.
 

Q: What’s that expression, “When you shoot for the King, you better make sure that you get the job done”?
 

A: I disagree. The only way I could have shored that vote up and had it in my pocket walking into that meeting was to have broken “sunshine” [laws] and I knew that if I did this—specifically because I’m fighting about a public records issue and what is right, and about transparency I had to do it the right way. 

So, with 100% sincerity, not one Commissioner up there saw that coming. The City Manager didn’t know about it. The only one who knew about it was Vickie [Victoria Mendez] because I had the courtesy to talk to her before hand.
 

As far as flying too close to the sun: We’ve been doing that since we got in Day One. 

You were probably the first interview that I had when I sat down with you behind the church and talked. We talked about plans and goals and dreams and ideas. And, it’s been 9, 10 months now and we’ve done a lot. I’m really encouraged by what we’ve accomplished. We’ve taken on some big goals and tamed them. We’ve gotten a lot of reform done. We’ve gotten a lot of change done.
 

You can’t win everything, but it doesn’t mean you don’t go for it. 

Before I pulled the trigger on this, I knew this was going to be a tough battle. I knew nobody wanted to fire her. I knew that this re-plat issue—such a small issue in the minds of the other Commissioners because none of their districts need to go to a warrant for a re-plat. Only my district.

So, I knew I was going to have trouble for this, but I knew that documents were withheld from me by my own attorney. And there’s no way I can turn a blind eye to that. There’s no way I cam slap her on the wrist, or say “Don’t do it next time”. To me there is no way a client/attorney privilege can survive without trust. And, that was broken. And, it wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t a knee-jerk to a momentary thing. We had been trying to get information on this case for months and months and months.
 

So I knew, win, lose or draw, I had to bring it to my commissioners and see where they stood. Would they stand with me and agree that that was enough. Unfortunately, I think that a lot of the other pressures that get involved in these situations, caused a lot of distraction.
 

And so, I didn’t prevail. But, what did prevail, and the other conversations that the other Commissioners had after I lost the vote were about reform and the change and the specifics to this case. Everything from not allowing the buiding permit on a T-plat until everything’s right. About forcing the [city] attorney’s office to have an official LSR opinion, instead of being able to weigh in willy nilly when any developer wants them to.
 

They [city attorney’s office] should never have been able to have had an opinion on this case. The fact that they did was because they were requested by an outsider. They don’t work for the outsider; they work for the city. If the city had asked for an opinion, “Oh, we’re not sure about how we’re interpreting our code” the city attorney can help us. That would have been the appropriate time [for the city attorney to get involved]. That never happened. So that was a change that was suggested.
 

More changes are going to be suggested. So, I don’t look at it as a step back for reform. I think I’s just the start.
 

Q: Do you think that following the vote the city attorney has been put on a shorter leash, or do you think it’s business as usual?
 

A: I think if I ever ask for documents in the future, I will get them. And, I think that is a big change that will happen.
 

Q: This all came out of Battersea. But, even the documents I got from this office the other day, of the 13 properties that you identified that may have been illegally split. It turns out that those were all NCD-3 [Neighborhood Construction District; properties in South Grove], when you know my concern is NCD-2 ... 

A: [In unison] The NCD-2 [of the West Grove]. Right. Right.
 

Q: I am also one of those people who think that Battersea [in South Grove] got far more attention than it should have when you’ve got people on Grand Avenue that are suffering. And, not just a little bit. That’s probably one of the worst ghettos in Miami. How do you reassure the people of Coconut Grove now — West Grove that you’re on it, when all this attention was for Battersea?
 

A: Of course. You absolutely have to have respect and heart for when you hear [name redacted] come to City Commission and say “Why are you all worried about this when we’re going through this?” And, she’s not wrong. She’s absolutely right.
 

Q: But she was off topic today.
 

A: It will always be off topic because we’re going to be talking about something that’s not that and nothing is as important as that to her. And, she’s not wrong. We’re going to be talking about, yannow, picking up dog poop or something, and that’s not as important as someone getting evicted. We’re going to be talking about the color of houses and that’s not as important.
 

So she can literally come to every meeting and scream that same mantra and she would not be wrong because they are not getting enough attention. It’s not getting fixed.
 

It’s not fair to say that we can’t do any other business until those things are attended to because Battersea came and Battersea had to be attended to.
 

But, guess what? Grand Avenue has come and we are attending to that too. I have knocked on every single door of every potential evicted resident on Grand Avenue. So to say that there’s no attention being paid, is actually incorrect. The lawsuit was filed [against an owner who has not maintained the property, leaving residents living among cockroaches, mold and mildew, and raw sewage backing up] at my request to force the owner, the slumlord, to bring those into code or to help everybody with relocation. That was not a simple thing, but when I realized that that wasn’t enough, at first I went, “We are doing a lot” but then I realized that if the result is not there, then it’s not enough. If I haven’t either saved their home, or found them a new home, it’s not enough. And, the buildings are still coming down. And, it’s not enough.
 

So she’s not wrong. I can’t fault her for being as angry as she is.
 

Q: All the people who stood up [to speak] today — the West Grove people who got up to talk they were all basically saying “We’re being ignored.” How do you reassure them they’re not being ignored? Their perception is different.
 

A: Yes. I don’t know how I should better communicate the actions that we are taking in the West Grove. A lot of the initiatives, like the purchase of the Trolley garage and gifting it back to the community; thematic and historic designation of all the wood frame homes that would then find funding to renovate them, which can then convert them into affordable housing; these are all goals that I have. They’re not overnight goals, but they’re happening. You can see the list of projects that we have intended that are on those Post-it notes on the wall. Those are the legislative things that we’re trying to accomplish. So, there’s a lot on the plate.
 

But that is one of the top—that is one of the top because I know that West Grove is disappearing onn a daily basis and residents are moving out on a daily basis. 


*  Our conversation lasted another 25 minutes. Unfortunately my recorder malfunctioned and the rest of the conversation was lost. It was a wide-ranging discussion that included my records request [Read: An Open Reply To Miami's Public Records Department and Another Open Email To Miami's Public Records Department]; the Trolley garage that Russell thought he had purchased on behalf of the city, but found out this week a private owner scooped it out from under him; and Grant Stern. All lost.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Discovering Coconut Grove ► Throwback Thursday

My latest picture of the E.W.F. Stirrup House with its new historic marker,
but it's no longer the historic E.W.F. Stirrup House. It's a recreation.

Read: Who Is To Blame For The Destruction Of The E.W.F. Stirrup House?
When I first moved back to 'Merka in 2005 I used the nom de troll of Aunty Em Ericann.

It was under that name that I first started writing Fox "News" criticism for NewsHounds. And, it was also under this name that I discovered Charles Avenue, which has let to dozens of stories about this community that still suffers from systemic racism.

This is one of the first stories about Coconut Grove I wrote:


Friday, March 13, 2009


The Shame of Coconut Grove

Number Two in a series

I said a picture is worth a thousand words, but either I should have included more pictures, or at least a couple of words, because most people misunderstood what the picture represented.

It was viewed as a current picture of...as what exactly? A political statement? An uncaring neighbour? A lack of respect for those founding Blacks who, having settled the area, helped the Whites survive and conquer the conditions found in this humid, mosquito-infested swampland that was southern Florida in the late 1800s?

Well, yes it's all that, but it's more and my picture didn't tell the full story.

I have since visited Charles Avenue on four subsequent occasions. Only once was there no trash piled at the bottom of the historical marker. But, as you can see, it wouldn't have mattered. The base is broken and the sign leans at an uncomfortable angle against a wire fence surrounding an empty lot of gravel and weeds.

I have also now done a moderate amount of research on the area. The story of Coconut Grove, writ large, is the story of what happened in every Black neighbourhood in America, save NYC which has always been unique.

This historical marker demonstrates years of neglect of Black heritage, while the heritage (and racial make-up) of the area grew to be overwhelmingly one associated with White folk.

There is one thing that differentiates Black Coconut Grove from all other Black communities. When one speaks of "the other side of the tracks" it is a literal description of these areas. Black Coconut Grove has no railroad tracks to separate it from the more affluent homes. Main Highway is the main dividing line in The Grove.

Coconut Grove, on the west side of Biscayne Bay, was a sleepy holiday destination in the early 1900s, unknown by most United Statesers and frequented by The Very Rich™. However, in December of 1925 "The Cocoanuts," starring The Four Marx Brothers, opened at the Lyric Theatre in NYC. The madcap antics take place in Cocoanut Grove [sic; the original spelling], Florida, where Groucho runs a bankrupt hotel. The George S. Kaufman play ran for nearly 300 performances and became the first Marx Brothers' movie in 1929. In the movie Groucho famously said, "You can have any kind of a home you want. You can even get stucco. Oh, how you can get stucco."

And so, for the longest time, The Grove was associated with carpetbagging land speculators selling swampland to rich northerners.

Yet, something was happening in The Grove. First annexed to Miami in 1925, the same year the Marx Brothers trod the boards in the play, the sleepy town of The Grove already bragged of a library, school, yacht club and chapel, joining the Peacock Inn as structures in town.

Later, after WWII, Coconut Grove became an artists' destination after servicemen, who had experienced Florida weather for the first time, packed up their families and moved south. The great influx of people occurred in the 50 years since. These days Coconut Grove is one of the richest and most desirable neighbourhoods in these United States.

As more people moved into The Grove the division that Main Highway represented became the colour line.

According to The WikiWackyWoo:
Demographically, Coconut Grove is split up into North-East Grove and South-West Grove, and as of 2000, the total population of both of the neighborhood's sections made up 18,953.

As of 2000, North-East Grove had a population of 9,812 residents, with 5,113 households, and 2,221 families residing in the neighborhood. The median household income was $63,617.82. The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 35.24% Hispanic or Latino of any race, 2.25% Black or African American, 60.96% White (non-Hispanic), and 1.55% Other races (non-Hispanic).

As of 2000, South-West Grove had a population of 9,141 residents, with 3,477 households, and 2,082 families residing in the neighborhood. The median household income was $63,617.82. The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 14.80% Hispanic or Latino of any race, 48.27% Black or African American, 35.27% White (non-Hispanic), and 1.66% Other races (non-Hispanic).
Which side of that line do you think this historical marker is on? If you cross Main Highway due east from Charles Avenue and the historical sign you will find the gates of "Camp Biscayne," a lush gated complex less than a football field away. Most of the communities on the east side of this line are gated, as near as I can tell. This is a far cry from those that run along Charles Avenue, small bungalows and shotgun shacks that are set up cheek to jowel.

More to come...
With all my love, Aunty Em

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Another Open Email To Miami's Public Records Department

THIS IS A PUBLIC REPLY


TO: Jones, Isiaa <IJones@miami.gov>
SUBJECT: Frustration Over PRR 16-452: FOIA Request
DATE:
September 28, 2016

CC: Melendez, Eleazar <ElMelendez@miamigov.com>; Russell, Ken (Commissioner) <krussell@miamigov.com>; Mendez, Victoria  <VMendez@miamigov.com>; Hannon, Todd <thannon@miamigov.com>; The Loyal Readers of the Not Now Silly Newsroom; Various Facebook Groups and Pages of my choosing

Monday morning I sent an email which stated I'd be at Miami City Hall on Tuesday to inspect the files you said would be waiting for me. In that email I asked 2 questions, basically: Whether the fee for the emails I requested was still on the table and how much it costs to photocopy per page.

I never got a response to that email, so I didn't know when I arrived on Tuesday morning whether my 24 hours notice was sufficient. Luckily, when I arrived, I was expected.

There were 2 boxes of material for me to look through, but only a small portion of the total answered any of my search criteria. The rest was just all the city files that arrived in those boxes from the former-Commissioner's office.

While some of it was quite interesting -- and I wish I had the budget to photocopy that entire 2 inch thick Reid Welch file -- and while some of it matched my search criteria, none of it is what I asked for.

I asked for all of the email, not the files.

I mentioned this to City Clerk Todd Hannon during a brief conversation yesterday. He had me second guessing myself because he said I had asked for everything, and the boxes of files was just one stream for my request. The other stream was the electronic request for all of the emails.

I am not sure what instructions Mr. Hannon received, but this is exactly what I asked for, from my original email to Commissioner Russell:
I would like to receive any email [from the former District 2 Commissioners office] that references the following keywords:
And, I'm still waiting.

To be perfectly honest, I was requesting the email FIRST in case it gave me new information to add to a RECORDS search. You see, my RECORDS search would have come later, based upon what the emails revealed.

I drove down to Miami from Sunrise yesterday hoping to do all of this on one trip. No one in the Clerk's office knew a thing about the email I was supposed to examine. Aside from the gas wasted, I spent more than 3.5 hours on the road  [Yeah, it shocked me too. The roads were bad yesterday.]

Thinking about my time and gas makes me wonder how many keystrokes it took your IT guy to come up with a cost of $100.31. How many minutes from an IT guy am I paying for? What is the basic rate?

One good piece of news: I now know that you charge 15 cents per photocopy, because I got a few made out of those boxes. That's Kinko pricing.  

Meanwhile, I'd like to draw your attention to the penultimate paragraph of a letter Commissioner Ken Russell sent to the Miami Herald, published yesterday:
Our decision on Thursday morning is not an easy one, but it is very simple. Our attorney withheld public records, and I have lost my trust in her. This cannot be denied, and it’s enough to call for her removal. What’s at stake, however, is much greater. The commission has this opportunity to tell the public that we prioritize transparency and accountability — that we don’t agree that friends in high places should be able to circumvent our public process.
I'm still waiting for transparency. None of this should be as hard as it has been.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Fact Checking The Presidential Debate ► Another Aunty Em Editorial

I've been reading a lot lately about the combined topics of Donald Trump's lies and whether the debate moderators will fact check this crazy MoFo. 

It might surprise people to learn that I am totally against a Debate Moderator holding a candidate to the facts. That's the job of the other candidate.

The moderator's job is to introduce the candidates, spell out the agreed upon debate rules, see to it that the participants keep to the those rules, and then get the fuck out of the way. [Although, just to be evil, I'd give the moderator a microphone kill switch if anyone goes over their allotted time.]

There will be plenty of time to fact check both of these candidates.

Of course, knowing the media like I do, Hillary Clinton will probaly be fact checked harder than Donald Trump, even though an article published yesterday claimed Donald Trump Lied 87 Times Last Week — Or Once Every 3 Minutes, 15 Seconds.

As we have seen during this election cycle, it doesn't really matter how many lies Donald Trump tells. He is running neck and neck in the polls with Hillary Clinton despite being a bigger liar than Richard Nixon and Roger Ailes put together.

Which is why Donald Trump has to be crushed. Not just beaten, but beaten badly. Beaten so badly that this kind of racist, xenophobic, misogynistic psychopath with a total lack of empathy and compassion for any basic, human emotions will never get this close to the White House ever again.

And then Trump must be ridiculed as a loser and hounded to the ends of the earth, as his business empire inevitably falls apart under the weight of lawsuits, terrible business decisions, and the total collapse of the Trump brand. Here are my early contributions:


















Rebuilding A Life From The Ground Up ► Unpacking The Writer

Good news, Not Now Silly fans. The Newsroom is making a second attempt at creating a brand new web site under its very own domain.

I've now seen the latest test of the format, which I like a lot. It's very clean and uncluttered. Furthermore, the design will make it far easier for my readers to find all of the stories under the various rubrics I have created. Having signed off on the basic design, I have now asked my web designer (who I have taken on as a full partner) to populate the template with real words (my words) as opposed to all that fake text used as placeholders in the WordPress template.

One of the mistakes I made the last time I tried this was promising too much, too quickly. And, that was before my then-web designer totally fucked me over. Then he refused to return my deposit, which I consider theft. [Read: Webbitez Bitez ► A Consumer Report].

This time I won't over-promise anything. COMING SOON is the most I will say.

I'm still trying to find the rhythm of my new life, now that Pops has gone to live in Michigan. I took care of him for 11 years, the longest I lived anywhere since I lived on King Street in Toronto. Without Pops in the condo, it feels so lonely and empty. Pops took up a lot of space, even though he wasn't very big. There are times I actually think, for a brief moment, that I hear him calling me from the living room.

The Top Ten search terms that
got people to Not Now Silly.
I've still not gotten used to having the entire condo to myself. When home I find myself spending most of my time in my room watching tee vee -- just like I always have -- even tho' there are bigger and better tee vees in the other rooms. Heck, there are bigger rooms and more comfy beds elsewhere in the condo, for that matter. Yet, I am still stuck behind this same keyboard in the very same place in my bedroom, in the same condo, in the same Florida city, in the same country.

Additionally, and no less important, my Cosmic Love Affair dissolved at practically the same time. [Read: Before and After Synchronicity, another in my Pastoral Letter series.] Suddenly, the two things that were the gravitational pull in my life were gone. To mix metaphors, I feel like a tether-ball spinning helplessly out of control after my rope broke. 

None of this is helping my depression.

All of my rhythms are off, especially my writing schedule, which I keep trying to get back to. I've neglected Monday Musical Appreciation and Throwback Thursday since I embarked on my last road trip. Maybe promising right here, right now, that I'll re-fire the boiler under the Steam-Powered Word-0-Matic will help me resolve to pick those up again. As careful readers will see I've already started.

What else have I written lately? Just a few important articles, that's all. I discovered that parts of Armbrister Field were closed because of toxic soil, even though I attended the ribbon cutting a few years back that was supposed to demonstrate that the park was safe. Why wasn't the toxic soil cleaned up back then? Why was there such a rush to get this park reopened if there was actually toxic soil in it? To that end I launched a Freedom of Information Act request for material on a number of topics surrounding these items.

When it turned Kafkaesque -- almost immediately -- I posted An Open Reply To Miami's Public Records Department. While there has already been a response from the city, it doesn't really answer my most important question and prompts a new one. I'm not prepared to make the reply public -- yet. However, we'll see where this goes.

If you can't help, share. Or do both.
BTW: I have also started a Go Fund Me page to help offset some of the costs incurred researching and writing these stories. Aside from having to pay the City of Miami for each document search, there's also the per page photocopying fee on top of that. And, the Freedom Of Information requests are just one of the many expenses for Not Now Silly. There's gas, of course. Coconut Grove is 35 miles from where I live. And, virtually every time I go there I have to pay for parking. It all adds up.


I have one investigative story in the pipeline that I've been working on since early June. I've never been 100% happy with how it's shaped, so I keep kicking at it here and there. Recently there's been some stories in the news that'll force an update to this article anyway. Now I need to decide whether I will continue to get this draft in the appropriate shape this one, or just start from scratch.

Closing in a half a million page views since launching the Not Now Silly Newsroom
Since my last Unpacking the Writer (almost a monthly series) I have also written a new chapter in my never-ending search for Don Knotts' roots, and added another Pastoral Letter, my continued search for where my spirituality comes from if I am a stone cold atheist. I'm not so sure anyone else cares, but I am finding out a whole lot about myself because I'm asking questions.

Just this moment, as I was finishing the final edit to this post before sending it off into the electronic ether to turn it into a page, I came to a new realization about spirituality that will become my next Pastoral Letter. It may also contain my latest Mea Culpa.

Stay tuned . . .

George Gershwin ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Born on this date in 1898, by the time George Gershwin died at the all-too-early age of 38, he was known across the globe as one of the greatest composers who ever lived.

Born in Brooklyn to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, originally the family name was Gershowitz, which George's father Americanized to Gershwine. George was actually born Jacob Gershwine, but was called George. He later dropped the "e" from the end of his name, and eventually so did the rest of the family.

Born 2 years earlier, brother Ira (born Israel Gershwine) was George's lifelong lyricist. Together they wrote songs now considered the foundation of the American Songbook. Songs like (edited list from Ira's WikiWackyWoo):


As well, George Gershwin wrote many songs without lyrics. F'rinstance, most everyone recognizes passages from Rhapsody In Blue, whether they know the composer or not. The score was commissioned by The King of Jazz, Paul Whiteman, to debut at what he was billing as An Experiment In Modern Music on February 12, 1924. It was an instant classic when it was first performed.

We are used to hearing Rhapsody In Blue with a big orchestration. A revelation of the digital age is this recording of a piano roll that George Gershwin cut during his piano playing prime. Not only do we get to listen to the Master at work, but after he 'cut' the piano roll they rolled it right back to the beginning and Gershwin 'cut' a second piano part; in effect making this one of the earliest candidates for overdubbing. Close your eyes and listen to Gershwin's 4 hands.


George Gershwin wrote standards, Broadway shows, classical pieces, and commercial fluff.

Of course one could go on endlessly about George Gershwin -- as dozens of books and documentaries have -- but as I always say: It's what's in the music that counts:




Crank it up and D A N C E ! ! !

Friday, September 16, 2016

An Open Reply To Miami's Public Records Department

I have chosen to make this a public reply to an email recently received from the City of Miami’s Public Records Department.

TO: Jones, Isiaa <IJones@miami.gov>
SUBJECT: PRR 16-452: FOIA Request
DATE:
September 16, 2016

CC: Melendez, Eleazar <ElMelendez@miamigov.com>; Russell, Ken (Commissioner) <krussell@miamigov.com>; Mendez, Victoria  <VMendez@miamigov.com>; Hannon, Todd <thannon@miamigov.com>; The Loyal Readers of the Not Now Silly Newsroom; Various Facebook Groups and Pages of my choosing
Hello and thank you for your prompt attention to my FOIA request, which I first sent to the office of the District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell. You’ve summed up my keyword search criteria correctly.

However, while some may feel the fee to acquire these emails small, as a citizen blogger with a budget of $0 and zero cents, I simply cannot — will not — pay this cost. If I were, say, the Miami Herald, I could easily afford this. Unfortunately these are topics that never much interested the Miami Herald. So, it’s left to a citizen-journalist-blogger like me to ask these inconvenient questions.

I have been writing about Trolleygate and Soilgate as separate issues from their beginnings. However, recently it began to appear as if there is a connection between these two stories. Hence, my records request.

Tangentially, there was a time in this country when anyone could wander down to the local City Hall and ask to take a look at a file. Now one must pay the costs of retrieval, from an expensive and complicated system the city set up, because that’s the only option. While I understand how that makes sense fiscally, costs like this run counter to the Florida Sunshine laws. The information should be free.

Additionally, in your email you state:
The process to create the storage media will take approximately 4 business days after receiving the approval and payment. The costs includes [sic] searches for Civilian mailboxes. Police mailboxes are not included. If the request is related to a law matter case or may include any other exempted emails then a review of the results may be required before being released and this may add more delivery time and cost.
That means there will almost assuredly be additional, hidden, costs because at least one of these matters was the subject of extensive litigation, which the city of Miami eventually lost. This cost the City of Miami and the city attorney’s office a hefty legal bill that has yet to be tallied. [Hey! That might make another good Public Records Request, but one thing at a time.]

IRONY ALERT: As was in all the local newspapers, the current District 2 Commissioner, Ken Russell, requested the firing of the City of Miami attorney because he says his office no longer has any faith in her. And, why is that? Because when his office asked her office to produce emails, some were not forthcoming.

Yet, due to city protocol, here’s how Eleazar Melendez, Chief of Staff at the Commissioner’s office, was forced to reply to my FOIA request:
I am passing your email to the city attorney’s office, as we discussed, in order to fully and legally comply with this public records request. They will perform a full and exhaustive search for the terms requested and, as we discussed, might ask for a payment in order to cover resources being dedicated to performing the search.
The City of Miami attorney the District 2 Commissioner wants fired replied:
Will handle. Thx.
Victoria Méndez, City Attorney
Kafka lives!!!

Consequently, and for the reasons listed above, I am CCing the current District 2 Commissioner to see whether he is interested in discovering what kind of strange deals were made by his predecessor to:
1). Get Armbrister Field AstroTurfed over so quickly, especially considering other parks were being closed due to toxic soil [Read: Marc D. Sarnoff ► Everything Old Is New Again];

2). Get a relative clean bill of health for Armbrister Field while he was closing other parks that had toxic soil, even though parts of Armbrister Field was recently closed due to toxic soil [Read: Armbrister Field Contaminated After All! Was There An AstroTurf Cover Up?];

3). Appear to act as political lobbyist and fixer when he intermediated between Astor Development and a community group to offer $200,000 to remediate Armbrister Field with AstroTurf in order so that they drop their objection to the Trolley maintenance garage being built on Douglas Avenue [Read: Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?];

4). Subtly threaten his constituents to withdraw his approval supporting local community initiatives if they refuse to drop their objections to the Trolley maintenance garage [Read: The Trolleygate Dog And Pony Show];

5). Possibly helped the developer find a way around a City of Miami’s Planning and Zoning e-mail that flagged the Trolley maintenance garage as non-conforming [Read: BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces];

6). Totally ignore the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in order to force a non-conforming Trolley maintenance garage onto Douglas Avenue [Read: Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated];

7). So quickly close 6 parks and begin remediation plans without any consultation with the ratepayers, who also happened to also be his own constituents in some cases;

8). Illegally apply (then remove, then deny he ever had ever done so in the first place) a Brownfield Field Site designation in the neighbourhoods surrounding these parks deemed toxic [Read: When Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff Lied To My Face].
That is why I am making a formal request to the current District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell to request these documents on behalf of the citizens of West Grove, who have been fighting systemic racism for many decades.

It has always been my contention that many of the decisions that affected West Grove made by the previous office-holder appear to have been a modern day extension of the systemic racism that has plagued the West Grove – and, to make a larger point, the entire country – over the last century. [Read: Modern Day Colonialism and Trolleygate] There is no way a Trolley maintenance garage would have ever been sited near Shipping and Virginia and it’s instructive to note that Blanche Park, across the street from the previous office-holder, was the first park closed due to toxic soil and remediated (and remediated more than once, for that matter).

I just want to find out what was happening behind the scenes while the constituents were being kept in the dark.

Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters.

Headly Westerfield
Chief Word Wrangler
Not Now Silly Newsroom

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Armbrister Field Contaminated After All! Was There An AstroTurf Cover Up?

More about Trolleygate and Soilgate


An Introduction to Trolleygate

Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?

BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces

An Open Letter To Miami Media

Marc D. Sarnoff ► Everything Old Is New Again

When Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff Lied To My Face
Back in 2013, when Soilgate was just getting off the ground (pun intended), the big surprise was that Esther Mae Armbrister Park was NOT one of those ordered closed IMMEDIATELY.

That's because Armbrister Park is immediately adjacent to where Old Smokey had been belching out black and acrid smoke for close to 70 years. Old Smokey is also where the contaminated soil dumped in the Miami parks ordered closed had originally come from.

Despite the relative clean bill of health, the football field at Armbrister Park was immediately remediated by having the topsoil scraped, removed, and the whole thing capped with AstroTurf. Even the children's playground was capped and covered with a rubberized material, which almost immediately started to flake and disintegrate.

Everybody thought that was the end of that. Until September 7, 2016, that is.

That's when my phone and text started blowing up. Several of my faithful readers wasted no time to tell me that they heard Armbrister Field was being closed because it was found to be contaminated with toxic soil. However, none of my sources had first-hand knowledge at that moment in time. [Documents started winging their way around the internet a few hours later.]

To get confirmation, I thought I would go straight to District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell. He and I originally met over the issue of toxic soil long before he ever considered running for office. At the time he was locked in battle against the [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami commissioner, Marc D. Sarnoff over the remediation of Merrie Christmas Park. This is the park right across the street from his house. It -- and 6 other parks -- were suddenly closed without any notification after the soil had been deemed toxic.

The residents living around Merrie Christmas Park hired a lawyer (bankrolled privately) to see the park was remediated to their satisfaction. And, it was. That also led to the removal of the Brown Field Site Designation that had been illegally applied to their neighbourhood.

Tangentially, and no less important, is that the park immediately across the street from [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff was also remediated. In fact, it was the first to be remediated. What's more is that it's been remediated twice already.

My point being that it's bad optics when the park in front of your house is fixed, but there are still entire neighbourhoods waiting nearly 4 years for their parks to reopen.

Ceremonial ground breaking for the remediation
of the toxic soil at Douglas Park - July 6, 2016
On July 6th I attended a groundbreaking for the eventual reopening of Douglas Park, a park that is still not renovated after being closed for nearly 4 years.

Back in November of 2014, [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami District 2 Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff was assuring residents round Douglas Park that the city was on top of their toxic soil problem. However, the work did not start until July of this year under the administration of his successor. It's estimated that it will take 2 years before the park reopens. And, we know how solid these kind of estimates are.

But I digress.

My call to Commissioner Russell's office seemed to take everyone by surprise. For laughs I decided to go through his main office number. Speaking to the receptionist, I made it clear that I was a reporter, I needed to speak to Chief of Staff Eleazar Melendez, Anthony Balzbre, but more importantly Commissioner Russell, for an ON THE RECORD response. She dutiful took down all the info, said they were all in a meeting, but asked me to hold on.

Within a minute Eleazar was on the phone with me. This was the first he had heard of Armbrister Park being closed and could not confirm. I told him I needed an ON THE RECORD comment and confirmation from his boss. He said he'd get back to me as soon as he learned more. [In the meantime, I was still getting phone calls and info from other sources.]

Less than an hour and a half later Commissioner Russell called me back personally to confirm what I had heard. He knew little more than the park was closing due to elevated levels of arsenic, but promised to keep me up to speed.

Unlike the parks that were found to have toxic soil, Armbrister Field was not contaminated with the same Old Smokey landfill that was spread around all the other parks. While this appears to be a case of "what goes up, must come down" further testing is needed to determine where the toxins came from. Old Smokey belched out smoke and particulate over a wide area for around 70 years. It was carried wherever the prevailing winds blew. That's why everyone was surprised that Armbrister Field had been given a clean bill of health when all the other parks had closed.

Or had it?

During the Trolleygate fiasco, this reporter wrote about how [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff had been using new AstroTurf at Armbrister Field as a bribe bargaining chip to get the Trolleygate diesel bus garage built. Apparently, [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff convinced Astor Development to cough up $250,000 out of the goodness of its corporate heart to cover Armbrister Field with AstroTurf. However, there appeared to have been strings attached by [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. He wanted the West Grove ratepayer groups to drop their challenge(s) to Astor Development building what would eventually turn out to be the illegally constructed polluting diesel bus garage on Douglas Avenue in their community.

The Now Now Silly Newsroom has published several stories that called into question Astor's motives in proffering a $250,000 bribe incentive in the form of a new AstroTurfed football field. In the end, who did pay for the AstroTurf at Armbrister? And, why was the amount $250,000?

In the last 2 days this reporter has had several conversations with officials, both on and off the record. I think I am finally closing in on the quid pro quo. There will definitely be a Part Two to this story as I learn more, ferret out more documents, and as more people go ON THE RECORD. Eventually I hope to answer the following questions:

How did the toxic soil under Armbrister Field
manage to fly under the radar until now?

How did Armbrister Field get remediated so quickly
when several parks that have still yet to reopen?

Did Astor Development pay a quarter of a million
dollars for the remediation of Armbrister Field?

Who received the $250,000?

What part did [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami District 2
Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff have in all this jiggery-pokery?


Stay tuned . . . 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Magnificent Morning in Morgantown

Two years ago the Not Now Silly Newsroom featured a Special Travelogue during The 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip For Research. After I published A Tribute to Don Knotts ► Morgantown's Favourite Son, the search for Don Knotts' roots has became an annual tradition of my yearly Road Trips.

Through necessity The 4th Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research was hastily planned. At first it appeared as if there would be no Road Trip this year, but fate intervened to make it happen. With just a few days notice I contacted all the usual suspects, loaded up the car, cranked up the tunes, and headed for the open road.

This year's Road Trip was my most ambitious. It would take me from Sunrise to Hamilton and Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Then I would swing through Detroit, which inevitably leads to Canton Township, not to mention Ann Arbor for another visit with Pastor Kenny. Then would come Elyria and Columbus, both in Ohio, before making my way back to Sunrise. However, my first official stop would be Morgantown, West Virginia, to visit with one of my anonymous sources.

I had already been motoring north, with a carefully planned itinerary that left nothing to chance, when I recieved an IM from my source for all Knotts Knews. I was still a day from Morgantown. My my host wrote: 
"If you can manage to stay in Morgantown a few hours Saturday, the Don Knotts statue is being dedicated at 10 am."
To which I replied, "YES!!! YES!!! YES!!!"

A picture of the maquette taken 2 years ago with
the crack in the leg (under the elbow) clearly visible
In that post of 2 years ago I exposed how some unthinking tourist broke the maquette of Don Knotts at the Morgantown Visitors Center. Amazingly I said this back then:
This maquette is to become a larger-than-life statue of Don Knotts to be erected on the waterfront. Morgantown is hoping to create a whole day of it, whenever it is, with a dedication and unveiling. An entire weekend of Don Knotts Days might include parades, picnics, band concerts, beauty pageants, culminating in a massive fireworks display. I sure hope I'm invited to the event I just created in my head.
Now, amazingly, synchronicity had worked to make my invitation happen. 

I checked out the weather report and learned it would be hot and humid in Morgantown. The northeast had just entered another record-breaking heat spell.




I cranked up the tunes even louder and stepped on the gas, arriving early enough on Friday to take a gander at where the unveiling would happen.

In front of the Metropolitan Theatre: The brass star with the Don
Knotts statue all wrapped up waiting to be sprung on the world.
While I had been told the statue would have a place of honour at the waterfront, either I had been misinformed or there had been a change of plans in the intervening 2 years.

When I arrived in Morgantown the Don Knotts statue was all wrapped up in a blue tarp on Main Street, directly in front of the window at the Metropolitan Theatre. It's just a few feet away from the brass star featured in the Not Now Silly Newsroom Follow-up, last year's Don Knotts Is Back ► A Morgantown Update.

To be perfectly honest, I thought the front of the Met to be a far more appropriate location for Knotts' statue. After all, this is where he got his start in the Professional Show Business with his ventriliquist dummy named Danny "Hooch" Matador.

Having scoped out the location, I retired for the night, filled with dreams of how Morgantown would honour its favourite son:
The parade would start at the waterfront with the Morgantown High School Brass Band leading the procession. It would wind its way past all those places important to Don Knotts, from his childhood home to where he bought his chewing gum. Baton twirlers launch their instruments high into the air, the sun glinting off the chrome as they spin higher and higher and, just before they are lost in the glare of the sun, drop back into the twirlers hands in perfect synchronization. Vintage cars of all descriptions separate the marching soldiers from the motorcycle police, with sirens blaring. And, bringing up the rear, a giant float with a 20 piece Steel Drum band. [It's my fantasy and I love Steel Drum music.] As the entire shebang winds its way up Main Street, patriotic bunting flaps in the lazy breeze, while the sidewalks are jam-packed with people all holding up a single bullet.
The reality was much more prosaic.

Because downtown Morgantown is a maze of one way streets, it would have been difficult to close Main Street entirely, so only half the street was closed down. That meant that all during the ceremony there were cars passing behind us, some with loud music drowning out the speakers.

I remarked to my friend that this felt like Mayberry all growed up.

There was a cozy, small town, Mayberry feel to the whole festivities. Local raconteur Larry Nelson was Master of Ceremonies, keeping the crowd assembled on the blacktop in the swealtering 95 degree heat entertained as a delay kept Karen Knotts, Don's daughter, from arriving on time. Mayor Marti Shamberger was there to pay tribute and give us a capsule biography of Knotts. John Pyles, one of his oldest friends and the man who led the fundraising to get the statue made, told stories of Don Knotts' many visits back to Morgantown to decompress away from the Hollywood scene. Karen Knotts continued along that same theme, telling the assembled crowd about how much Morgantown meant to her father and what an important touchstone the town was to the family during visits.

Then sculptor Jamie Lester, who graciously granted me a few words before the festivities began, spoke abut how humbled he was to have been chosen to honour Knotts in this way and why the statue is not a representation of Barney Fife, the character he's best remembered for. While he holds Barney Fife's Deputy Sheriff cap, the statue is meant to represent the entire man.

Which led to the inevitable unveiling of the statue:


After the ceremony Karen Knotts performed her acclaimed one woman play "Tied Up In Knotts" -- on the same stage that her father had once trod inside the Metropolitan Theatre -- about growing up with a famous father.

Sadly, I couldn't stay for Karen Knotts' performance. Under my original plan I was to have left for Hamilton, Ontario at the break of dawn. I was already a half day behind schedule with a whole lot of road, not to mention a border crossing, still ahead of me.

However, as I drove towards the Peace Bridge I couldn't help but sing this song: