Politics: Carlos the Arrogant

If public corruption, wrongdoing, impropriety – any of it – were to rear up and bite Carlos Alvarez on the hiney, or slap him upside his face, it is disappointingly doubtful he’d ever know what bit him or hit him.

What dumb stuff has our esteemed county mayor said or done now?  ‘Cause you know, if it’s not something dumb he’s done, it’s something dumb he’s said.  This time – surprise! – it’s not what he’s said or done, but rather what he’s refused to say or do.

He’s refused to comment on what happened to Denis Morales a few weeks ago.  Has resisted questions from the media.  Clammed up.

At one time, the mayor couldn’t say enough good things about Morales.

Morales used to be hizzoner’s chief of staff.  While still on the mayor’s payroll but not quite satisfied with his $206,000 salary, he flew down to Panama and earned some extra cash there moonlighting as a police trainee for the Panamanian National Police.  But to do that, the dumbshit took paid administrative leave – instead of vacation time.  In other words, he was on the county clock.

Alvarez first defended his aide’s transgression.

“Nothing you have described to me is unlawful, improper or unethical or poses a conflict of interest,” the mayor answered the Miami Herald in 2009 when confronted with his aide’s Panamanian moonlighting.  “We are proud that the knowledge and skills our employees possess are sought after not only locally, but around the world.”

Oh, yes.  Your mayor is quoted as having really said that.  And he likely said it with a straight face.

Then, as the heat from the fallout began to burn the mayor’s britches, and as if his head had swiveled a full 360, Alvarez did an about-face and chastised his long-time friend for using county time for private gain.

Morales was then demoted and his salary reduced.

Enter the county’s commission on ethics and public trust (if public corruption, wrongdoing, impropriety – any of it – were to slap its members upside their faces, it is disappointingly doubtful they’d ever react forcefully to what hit ‘em).   Two weeks ago, the commission gave Morales what amounted to a slap on the wrist:  A $1,500 fine and a public scolding.

He’s now a Miami-Dade police sergeant.  Guess the outside police consulting work paid off in the end.

Now, a county inspector general’s draft report blows the whistle and reveals that from 2007 to 2009, Morales and several high-ranking county police department officials took at least 40 trips to Panama as paid consultants.  Guess who approved Morales’ request forms for outside employment.

His boss, the mayor.

The Police Institute director, two police majors, two sergeants, and the assistant police director were all in cahoots on this moonlighting, raking up the frequent-flier miles between here and Panama City.  In one case, claims the inspector general’s report, some of the group demanded an upgrade from a ticket agent, despite an MDPD policy banning such solicitations.

And these are cops from that very department, bear in mind.

This group earned over $400,000 in outside income which “should have raised a bright red flag,” admonishes the report.

And the mayor’s response?  The MDPD’s response?  They failed to return calls to the media on the subject.

Once the investigation is concluded, wanna bet anybody does jail time for any of this?

These are Carlos Alvarez’s buddies, the cops.  This is who he was before he became mayor – the police director of MDPD.  And lately, it’s the police buddies of Alvarez’s past and present who are trudging in the mud, skirting the law, and earning headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Men who are a disgrace.  Men who broke the rules and cheated us.  Men who should be on the other side of the bars rather than in front of them.

This is a mayor who called for steep budget cuts last year but who, within weeks, lavished his own aides – including Morales – with steep pay raises.

In his 2009 State of the County address, he declared, “Make no mistake, we are in for some tough times.  We are all in this together.”  All, that is, except the mayor and his office cronies on the 29th floor of County Hall.  Within weeks, he had awarded Morales an 11% pay raise.  In all, a dozen of Alvarez’s aides got pay hikes.

Commissioner Sally Heyman was pretty pissed.  “Everyone knew we were coming into tough times,” she steamed to the Herald, “yet now to find out he gave raises to his top staff – I find it appalling.”

Coral Gables retiree Lazaro Gonzalez was pretty pissed, too.  Enough to get up a petition campaign to recall the mayor.  It failed this past February after drawing some 4,000 signatures shy of a needed 52,000.  But, still, he managed to get nearly 48,000 angry citizens to sign in a matter of only two months.  That’s a respectible number regardless.

This is a mayor who is provided two county-owned Chevy Suburbans – plus two drivers – and, according to a Herald exposé in May, is soon to take possession of a new BMW Gran Turismo sedan.

You and I are footing the bill, of course.

This is a mayor who, you are hereby informed, earns a $233,123 salary and $92,187 in benefits.

This is a mayor who told the Herald, “Some people have suggested that I give up the car allowance.  My answer to that is, I am not going to do something that is symbolic.”

Alvarez, the Herald story said, believes “erasing the perk for all county leaders is a legitimate question at a time of economic austerity, but he’s not ready to make the leap unless others do too.”

Nice.  Our mayor.  Afraid to take the ball and lead.

Carlos Alvarez has been mayor for six years already and has 2 left to go.  Which is plenty of time for him to dig an even deeper latrine hole for his already-grungy reputation for being one of the most obtuse and politically-tone deaf civic leaders we’ve had, the type with which this county seems to be perpetually cursed.

It’s also more than enough time for him to engrave an even deeper negative impression than he has already dug in the consciences of Miami-Dade citizens – growing numbers of whom detest him and think he is the worst mayor we’ve ever had, surpassing even the unremarkable, little-noted, and all-but-forgotten Alex Penelas.

And who were we to think that electing the county’s former top cop meant getting a mayoral administration above scandal, above reproach?  What gullible morons, we!  Jimmy Morales, if we could only have a do-over election, we’d like to make it up to ya.

But if we had even that, would we not repeat the same mistake?  We had a chance with the petition campaign to recall Alvarez, but that fizzled.  Why?  Because the voters of this county are too pea-braincelled stupid to give a rat’s ass.  Too numbed to realize when they’re being taken for a ride by a shoddy politician or a crappy leader, and seldom cognizant of the collective power within them to do anything to change the driver and toss him from the car.

Yep.  On this one, you voters have been asleep in the back seat.  It’s been a bumpy ride, the rear bumper is hanging half-way off, and the muffler is scraping the ground, yet you don’t give a damn.  That’s right, just go on sleeping.  Sorry to disturb you.

Energy Companies 2, Mother Nature 0

Big energy corporation becomes responsible for an environmental atrocity, displacing wildlife and transforming the affected area from beauty to eyesore.

BP and its oil spill in the Gulf?  Nope.

Try FPL and its arbicidal assault on Miami Beach’s Flamingo Place last week.

The 2500 block of Flamingo Place is one of those hidden, tucked-away treasures and little-known delights concealed from the crowds and masses that traverse the Billion Dollar Sandbar on any given day.  It is a short residential street, just east of the Scott Rakow Youth Center on Pine Tree Drive.

I enjoy biking this one particular block, for it has something in rare supply in Miami Beach:  A canopy of tall trees shading the street.  For the entire block, in fact.  Google Map this – making sure to click on the 360-degree street view app – and you, too, can appreciate it in its natural quaintness.

Riding down that shady street provides momentary respite from the heat of the summer sun.  It is a relaxing segment I look forward to whenever my ride finds me in that area.

One morning last week, I happened upon FPL trucks and their crews parked along the street.  And the sound of chainsaws.  They were cutting my trees!  Trimming them, to be exact.  Cutting away branches and limbs from the above-ground power lines that trace the west side of the street.  Why the need to do this was beyond me, especially since those trees look like they’ve been there forever and never disturbed a thing.  If they had, one would have figured they’d have been pruned a long time ago.

When I returned later in the day, there lay the damage before my eyes:  Limbs and branches strewn all down the west side of Flamingo.  FPL’s workers are not known for their prudent pruning skills – nor, evidently, for picking up after themselves.

But the trees on the west side of the street – imagine how weird your hand would look with the index and middle fingers hacked off – well, that’s how weird the trees now look.  They now look like, well, weird.  Not quite all there.  Which they aren’t.  They’re so lopped away!

I also wondered, as I rode under this maimed canopy, how many birds FPL uprooted, how many nests they dislodged that day in their slap-dash chainsaw massacre.  Might all of this destruction have been averted if they buried these lines underground?

All in the name of progress.  All in the name of keeping folks’ power running in case a storm or hurricane hits.  Nature has to take a back seat to progress, must be FPL’s rationale.  If they could have their way with lopping down any and every tree that trespassed anywhere near a power line, they probably would.

Unless people get mad enough to say Halt!  Not in my back yard.  Or my front.  Or my side.  Or on my street.  Or in my neighborhood.  Keep your damn chainsaws away!  Isn’t it enough that you want to jack up my electric bill each month with your goddamn rate  hike requests?  Now you want to hack up my trees?!

Back to the fingers.  Guess which one I’m saluting FPL with.

About Charles Branham-Bailey

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