Politics: Slippery Slope

Where there’s smoke there’s fire…

By Jeffrey Bradley

Waves along the Skeleton Coast shoal thunderously before they curl, hissing and white, over the off-shore reefs. Have we mentioned that? Here’s where ships founder; that littoral lies littered with the broken bows and stove hulls of many a vessel, now but a wreck or a relic. Riches beckoned, but the treacherous rocks and uncharted snags, and the wild, wild waves that fling foam high in the air, brought them to ruin. It’s no place for the reckless or lax.

Miami’s International Airport (MIA), that Skeleton Coast of countless county commissioners, has dragged another political career to wrack and ruin… or has it? For Cynthia Curry’s fate hangs in the balance like a hapless galleon on a cartographer’s map (“Here Be Monsters”) with a leaping leviathan poised to whelm it.

The fortunate Ms Curry, hired recently as Miami Beach Building Director, was “cleared” of malfeasance because prosecutors were not sure that a pending case against her was provable—despite the fact that she admitted bilking the County out of $154,000.00!

We can’t talk our way out of a parking ticket, yet the incredible Ms Curry not only convinced prosecutors to give her a pass but the City to pay her yearly 170,000K—with those perks and emollients the political set gets—even tho’, you know, she admitted her guilt. Now, we’re not the most politically astute, but this woman is either extremely lucky (in which case she should be playing craps out at Hard Rock), or she’s got awfully good friends in awfully high places.

The propitious Ms Curry certainly strikes a figure in and around City Hall with her perfectly manicured nails clutching her tasteful Louis Vitton handbag. But who’s left holding the bag now?

The black cloud hanging over the well-connected Ms Curry’s head came by way of “overbilled” work her firm did for the over-budget North Terminal expansion. Like any backstory emerging from the MIA morass, the details are fuzzy and the timeline is hazy, with the trail grown murky and cold. Suffice it to say that work was let, subcontracted, sub-subcontracted, and included “disadvantaged business” and “community outreach” clauses, codespeak for opportunities for cronyism and scams. And, get this, the state attorney wouldn’t prosecute because it couldn’t be proved the overbilling was intentional or done with criminal intent. The horrified Ms Curry exclaimed “I was 100 percent innocent… in 2000, and I am 100 percent innocent today”, which reminds us that we knew a snake-oil salesman once who got very upset when it was pointed out that his concoction actually contained oil of snake.

See, records show the disingenuous Ms Curry knowingly violated her contract by double-charging, repeatedly, for the services of various contractors. As a state’s attorney office (SAO) memo makes clear, the vulpine Ms Curry “falsely certified 33 times that individuals working for CWC—her firm—were employees when they clearly were not. Ms. Curry and her husband kept and spent the $154,000 obtained through these false certifications.” It states unambiguously that the blatant Ms Curry told prosecutors she knew the contractors were not eligible for the double charge but signed the invoices anyway and “kept all of the funds obtained from her ‘mistake.’” More shadowy is the fact that the close-out memo—official reasoning as to why the case was dropped—disappeared. File this one under The Things That Make You Go Hmmm.

So the teflonesque Ms Curry was not only not charged, she also was hired. Surely, this is a woman that knows her way around City Hall. Any City Hall.

Here’s where it gets a bit sticky. Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez, responsible for the hiring of the affable Ms Curry, said he doesn’t know from any investigation but that they are acquainted and she has his “full confidence.” He added, “This country has a rule of law—innocent until proven guilty—and she’s not being accused of a crime anymore.”

Well; comforting stuff. Still, if he wasn’t aware of an investigation then shouldn’t he or his Human Resource people have at least run a simple Google check? We did, and guess what popped up? More significantly, shouldn’t the thoughtless Ms Curry have disclosed that she was under such scrutiny? Perhaps she fibbed on her application, or never even submitted one. As a matter of public record, it should be a simple thing to find it and see what’s revealed (say that inquiring minds want to know). And while we also stand by “innocent till proven guilty”, she did confess to the charge—oops!—33 charges. Say, doesn’t a confession imply that you’re guilty? Prosecutors on Law and Order go after guilty folks all the time who confess. You can look it up. And public corruption cases? Go to the head of the line!

Excuse us, too, but doesn’t the appointment of a department head need to bear the imprimatur of the commission? So far, the fingerprints all over this case are just the City Manager’s.

Here’s the thing. Shouldn’t the City be extra careful about perceptions surrounding the leadership of the building department? In effect, they’re putting a person who admits to obtaining money improperly, even fraudulently, in charge of a department known for bribery scandals. Putting what could amount to a deadbeat crony in a position that cries for transparency is worse than a mistake; it’s a blunder. Terms like seamy and sordid will hardly do if this brews up a fiasco—and however else you call it, you can’t call it good for the public trust.

The City dropped the ball on this one. Time, now, to suck it up, cut losses, and call for a do-over. And this time, done the right way, keeping the good of the people in mind. Last thing we want is the flotsam and jetsam from Skeleton Coast washing up on our shores.

Mayor Matti Bower concurred, “We have to make sure because the building department is a place we’ve had trouble and we don’t want anybody thinking anything else is going wrong.”

Guess again, Mayor. We already do.

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