On Wednesday the Miami Beach Commission directed the administration to address the findings of a scathing article by the county’s other weekly, the Miami NewTimes, that paints the picture of a “wild west” culture of corruption and abuse in the Miami Beach Fire Rescue Department.
The direction resulted from an emergency agenda item added a couple of days before the meeting by Commissioner Jerry Libbin, seeking “a point by point accounting.”
“Most if not all of us got very disturbing copies of the NewTimes article,” said Libbin at the meeting. “Being silent on this services no one’s purpose.”
Libbin asked the administration to take its time, go through the article, and respond to the allegations. He also stressed that by no means was his action a “condemnation” or an “agreement on anything” regarding the piece.
“If something has not been done we should be held accountable,” said Libbin.
Reporter Michael E. Miller’s findings revolve around a couple of would-be whistle-blowers whose careers were derailed when they tried to do the right thing and expose what they considered fraud. The article alleges these attempts fell on deaf ears as city officials repeatedly ignored “detailed warnings.”
One of the most damning instances came by way of undervalued permit fees. The article cited several instances where projects were estimated at millions below the actual price tag; the lower estimation lead to lower permit fees and less money trickling into the city coffers. Miller also found that the city was using a permit computer program where these values could be altered with no way of tracing the culprit.
Brooks said she had some concerns with the article: “There are clearly things stated in it that are not accurate. That the city officials ignored repeated warnings about missing funds.”
“We did detailed audits,” said Brooks responding to the permits charge at the meeting. “We recovered millions.”
Brooks did not go into detail on the inaccuracies of the article as she saw it. She has a month before she has to.
The black eye to the fire department and code compliance office go back to last year when an FBI sting rounded up seven inspectors who were taking bribes from nightclubs. The SunPost’s Charles Branham-Bailey did an extensively detailed cover story on the goings on of the seven in April 2012.
Miller blackens the other eye by giving a voice to a female firefighter that was subjected to repeated sexual harassment. In one instant her clothing was smeared in semen. In another she received death threats.
The article also tells the story of an African-American recruit who was subjected to racial slurs and frat-boy-style sexual assault.
There was talk among the commissioners to hire an outside investigator.
Commissioner Deede Weithorn wasn’t opposed to the idea, but asked her fellow commissioners to promise to enact a percentage of the recommendations from said study.
“Im just tired of us spending money, getting studies and then letting them collect dust,” said Weithorn.
Libbin retorted it was ill advised to promise to a percentage without knowing what was in the study.
For now a look into the allegations brought to light by Miller will be up to the administration. Although the administration has publicly hinted that most problems have been remedied.
“If there are things that haven’t been addressed we will identify those,” said Brooks.