THE MIAMI MIRROR
Mayor Bower leaves Miami Beach in the lurch
July 7, 2010
David Arthur Walters, a self-styled investigative reporter, wrote to Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower on June 25, 2010 and asked her to place an item on the July 6 Commission agenda, to discuss whether or not an independent investigation should be conducted into the contractual relationship between Green Square, Inc., the manager of the city's Flamingo Park Tennis Center and North Shore Tennis Center, and the City of Miami Beach.
"Violations of the terms of the contract are alleged," wrote Mr. Walters, "and serious questions have been raised about the letting out of the contracts and the process for renewal. Indeed, circumstances surrounding the letting out of the original contract nearly a decade ago appear suspicious. If half of the allegations are true, the Gonzalez Administration has been, to say the least, grossly negligent in its conduct in regards to the tennis court issue. If an investigation finds that the Administration has in fact been negligent and/or engaged in some malfeasance, that might be indicative of widespread mishandling of City contracts, and that of course would call for the firing of the City Manager and a shakeup of the entire Administration. I urge you to place an item on the agenda for the next City Commission meeting to at least discuss the appointment of independent investigators to inquire into the Flamingo Tennis matter, and if the investigation indicates maladministration, to conduct a widespread investigation into the handling of City contracts by the Gonzalez Administration over the last ten years of Jorge Gonzalez' tenure."
Rebecca Wakefield, Mayor Bower's chief of staff, replied the same day as follows: "Thank you for writing. If you have specific questions that you’d like answered, we will do our best to get them answered.”
To which Mr. Walters responded: "There is a mass of detail which may be organized for the investigators. I see from various senders' email delivery detail that Mayor Bower and the City Manager are aware of numerous detailed complaints about contractual violations and apparently nothing was done to address them or acknowledge them. There was plenty of time to answer questions. Many people are tired of waiting for answers and want a sea change. I did not ask a question. I asked for one thing, that discussion of an independent investigation of the entire affair at least to put on the next agenda - so I will ask you one question here: Will that be done? Once the investigators are empanelled, I am sure that all the material delivered to the Mayor and City Manager before will be delivered again to the investigators, and no doubt many people will come forward in confidence to testify - some of them are fearful of retaliation. We trusted Mayor Bower to deliver on her promise to clean this town up. This is her chance. Otherwise she will leave office with that trust broken."
Despite allegations of under-reporting of revenue, from which part of the city's rent is calculated, there has been no city audit of the contractor's books as authorized by the contract. In fact, the city acknowledged that the books have not been audited since the inception of the management contract in 2002. Certain unaudited financial statements, budget reports and other records were reportedly not regularly supplied to the city when due, and what the contractor did furnish was either ignored or left virtually unexamined. Sketchy information has emerged to the effect that the records now on hand indicate irregularities, wide fluctuations in rents reported due from time to time, and delinquent payment of rents.
Notwithstanding the apparent financial irregularities, there are longstanding complaints by amateur and professional tennis players, alleging grossly inadequate maintenance of the courts by the management firm. Since Green Square's general manager either was not available to receive the complaints or did not respond to them effectively, complaints were lodged with Miami Beach Parks Director Kevin Smith, who is a good friend to one of Green Square's principals, tennis pro Jimmy Bollettieri, son to Nick Bollettieri, reputedly the best tennis coach in the world. Mr. Smith apparently oversees the city's contract with Green Square.
After a frequent tennis player alleged that the maintenance had improved significantly "since the city took it over," Mr. Walters contacted Andrew Plotkin, Park Facility Manager for the Parks and Recreation Department on June 25, 2010, and asked, "I am informed that Parks took over the major maintenance of the courts from Green Square Inc because of a number of complaints, and has done a good job of it for the players. Would you please confirm that info?"
"Green Square Inc.," Mr. Plotkin replied on June 28, "is responsible and provides the daily court maintenance. Since the June 5, 2009 storm and the restoration of the courts that summer, the Parks and Recreation Department has taken a more proactive approach by assisting with the development and monitoring of the daily maintenance process. If I can assist you with anything else, please do not hesitate to contact me."
Mr. Plotkin did not respond to Mr. Walters' further question despite follow ups: "Do you have any sort of estimate of the monthly cost of Park's contribution to the maintenance? Would that be charged to Green Square? I noticed that, on one of its unaudited financials, only around $276 was expensed to maintenance, I think for an entire year."
Another tennis player sent an email on April 12, 2010 to Mayor Bower, City Manager Jorge Gonzalez, and City Attorney Jose Smith among others including members of the press, detailing alleged contract violations, open drug use by a pro around both Green Square managed tennis centers, and asking pointed questions, such as how could a contract be given to a firm whose general manager was arrested and charged with felony drug distribution?
Mr. Walters made a public records request for background checks and drug screens on June 21, 2010: "Section 8.4 of the April 15, 2007 City contract with Green Square Inc. reads: ‘The Contractor and its employees and/or independent contractors shall undergo a comprehensive background check and drug screening in accordance with the City's process....’ Section 8.1 identifies the principals as Jim Bollettieri, Tom Mar, and Victor Weithorn. Please provide me with copies of the background checks on all three named individuals together with the drug screening results on same. If there are none, please indicate accordingly. I assume that any files will be in the Contractor folder, therefore research will take less than one hour hence there will be no charge for your good services.”
City Clerk Robert Parcher responded on June 28 with copies of three internal email between the city's human resource department and the parks department, dated in 2002, bearing Kevin Smith's official name and address, indicating that the "contract employees" were "clear."
Therefore, there have been neither background checks nor drug screenings since 2002. Since the email did not make it clear what was being cleared, either the individuals' background or drug screening (one email stated "Subject: Backgrounds") a further inquiry was made of Mr. Parcher, asking for copies of the documents themselves - Mr. Walters has stated that he does not trust the Gonzalez Administration, and has expressed a suspicion that someone might clean out the files before they can be examined by investigators.
“At the inaugural meeting of the Civic Circle, Gonzalez publicly scoffed at the 90,000 residents who think he works for them,” said Mr. Walters, “and he has complained that complainers are always complaining about one bad blade of grass in his lawn, and that if they do not like it they should move, but there are lots of bad blades in it, and as far as I am concerned, several snakes too, and there is an alternative to moving – get rid of his administration and install one that works for everyone concerned.”
Mr. Parcher stated that the request for background checks and drug screens had been forwarded to City Attorney Jose Smith to determine if it is legal to provide copies of the documents. It is anticipated that Mr. Smith will respond that law prohibits the release of drug screening information, as there are laws on the books that protect drug abusers. Whether or not the city attorney will admit that there are no drug screens is another matter, hence employees and former employees of Green Square are being polled.
“This might just be a case of good-old-boy patronage,” admitted Mr. Walters. “Well, then, if some of the boys may be good, but they have grown too old in the same office, rendering the office stagnant and careless, and fresh blood is needed – now is a good time for some creative-destruction, in my view.”
As for the area's only major daily press, the Miami Herald has been remiss in reporting matters of great interest to Miami Beach residents, and the reports that were made were usually biased in favor of the reporters' source of information, the Gonzalez Administration, so as not to alienate that source and therefore to retain one's job at the paper. The Miami Herald's latest Miami Beach beat reporter, David Smiley, has been furnished with ample information about the allegations of misconduct and mismanagement, but has complained within earshot that he is tired of working on the tennis court issue no matter what it means. However, he has written only about 1,500 words on the subject, about two hours of work for a competent writer, and has made a number of misrepresentations while doing so.
It is highly unlikely that Mayor Bower would be willing to allow the Commission to discuss an investigation into the Gonzalez Administration on her watch, Mr. Walters said, as she is a very close friend of Jorge Gonzalez, who has extraordinary power due to a weak-mayor and part-time commission constitution. In late March of early April of this year, she took him on a junket to Peru along with Roberto Da Torre. A few Miami Beach taxpayers who happen to attend closely to city affairs have expressed outrage over the frequent trips by the mayor, although it is unclear at this time as to what extent the trips have been privately funded, funded by the city, or funded by excess campaign funds left in so-called office accounts.
Mr. Walters said, “Mayor Bower's fellows on the city commission have privately remarked that she is not as dumb as her detractors make her out to be, nor is she as nice as her supporters claim, that she is sharp as can be when being mean and vindictive. However that might be - and every person has idiosyncrasies as well as friends and enemies - she has severely disappointed a large part of the usually apathetic electorate, already disaffected by the arrogance of the longstanding Gonzalez Administration and the continuing degradation of Miami Beach, and especially South Beach, into another Sin City.”
Mayor Bower came into office on the coattails of her mentor Mayor David Dermer, explained Mr. Walters. He had won over the electorate with promises to curb the construction of high rises, but developers overran his office like roaches and construction of high rises actually accelerated on his watch, sinking Miami Beach into a grand canyon. And the gentrification program he advanced, often under the guise of promoting the arts, put the cost of a decent living on the beach even further beyond the reach of working people who support the leisure of tourists who pay hundreds of dollars a night for party hotel rooms around the beach. In turn, Mayor Bower promised to help the poor and clean up the town.
Thus has trust been broken twice over, by mentor and protégé, and residents have been left in the lurch to fend for themselves, insisted Mr. Walters. Some of them have formed a sort of cabal, called “The Squeaky Wheel Club,” he disclosed, and are discussing a reorganization of the constitution of Miami Beach, in the spirit of the reorganization famously contemplated on the real tennis court in France in 1789, where the Tennis Court Oath was sworn. Two current commissioners are the Club’s favorites for a strong mayor position.