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NUMBER 62 - APRIL 19, 2019
TICKETS, TICKETS, WHO GOT ULTRA TICKETS? NO ONE WOULD ADMIT THAT THEY KNEW OR RECEIVED VIP TICKETS TO THE FESTIVAL UNTIL I GOT A COPY OF AN EMAIL WHERE ONE OFFICIAL REVEALED THAT HE HAD RECEIVED 13 VIP TICKETS. NOW THE FIGHT IS ON TO FIND OUT HOW MANY MORE FREE TICKETS WERE HANDED OUT TO THOSE ON THE FAMILY AND FRIENDS PLAN, AND IT MIGHT TAKE A LAWSUIT TO SORT IT OUT
"It should be noted that the City Commission has
repeatedly declined to adopt clear, reasonable, good
government standards on the use of free tickets to
sporting events, concerts at other government owned
- Michael Murawaski, Advocate
Commission on Ethics & Public Trust
Once again, I find myself writing about how many free tickets - VIP and general access - were given to Miami's politicians, city employees, and those on the City of Miami's Family and Friends Plan.
Thanks to the generosity of the Miami City Commission, the ULTRA folks are allowed to do anything they wanted with 1000 tickets for each day of the festival, and part of the deal was that not only did they not have to account for them, they didn't have to pay the city's ticket surcharge either.
Getting public officials to turn over records, especially records that might reveal if and how many tickets were passed just before the ULTRA Music Festival began has become part of a larger, never ending battle, about the underlying public corruption that goes on on an almost daily basis in the city.
This is not an issue of just a few free tickets being handed out, but allegedly hundreds of tickets whose face value could reach $100,000 or more.
This is just the first story about a lot of things that happened in, and around the ULTRA Music Festival involving city of Miami elected officials and employees, and in addition. there is a public records component to this particular story that I am of the opinion that as you will read below, there is a possibility of pursuing both a class-action lawsuit against the city as well as going to court in an effort to obtain an injunction against the City to either force them to really obey the law, or to start suffering the consequences that come with "knowingly" violating the law.
This particular story however, starts with one of several emails I sent in the last two weeks to Daniel Rotenberg, the Director of the city's Department of Real Estate and Asset Management (DREAM).
Rotenberg is no stranger to those who follow this site because I have written about him in the past, including my stories about the Rickenbacker Marina RFP battle royal to redevelop that property into a BILLION DOLLAR development; a battle which is heating up again, and also his efforts to give the Make-A-Wish Foundation the parking lot across the street from Monty's Seafood Restaurant to build a new headquarters building, which took the U.S. Department of the Interior stepping in to put a stop to this deal because if he had been left on his own, I believe Rotenberg would have screwed the taxpayers and the pig, even if it wasn't wearing lipstick.
As the Director of DREAM, Rotenberg qualifies as "the custodian of records," both for all the documents he creates and receives in his capacity as the director of the department, and also for all of the documents his department creates and receives.
To establish what the term "custodian" means, here is the language from Chapter 119,Florida's Public Records Law:
“Section 119.07(1)(a) F.S.
"Every person who has custody of a public record shall
permit the record to be inspected and copied by any
person desiring to do so, at any reasonable time, under
reasonable conditions, and under supervision of the
custodian of the public records.”
In case this wasn't sufficient enough for Rotenberg, and/or the City Attorney's Office to understand - and not withstanding the Administrative Policy Memorandum (APM-4-11), that the City Attorney's office has continued to fob off as a detour to direct compliance - and if the plain language of the statute was not clear enough, the 4th DCA in, Puls v City of Port St Lucie, 678 So 2nd 514 (Fla 4th DCA 1996), stated that,
"...the courts have concluded that the statutory reference
to the records custodian does not alter the “duty of disclosure”
imposed by s. 119.07(1) F.S., upon “[e]very person who has
custody of a public record. Thus, the term “custodian” for
purposes of the Public Records Act refers to all agency
personnel who have it within their power to release or
communicate public records.””
In short, no matter how many roadblocks or round-abouts the City Attorney's office attempts to create, anyone, citizen or non citizen, can submit a public record request to any individual in the City of Miami who is "the custodian of records," and they can, and should expect that request to be responded to by that individual.
The attempted use of computer searches, while on occasion necessary, are too often - as in this instance - used as ways to circumvent and slow down legitimate public records requests by introducing additional steps, which all too often result in documents totally unrelated to what was requested being fobbed on on unwitting requesters who are expected to pay for all of these useless documents.
But, before going there, what, you are probably already asking what does any of this have to do with ULTRA Tickets?
Simple, on April 1st, Guy Forchion, the Executive Director of the Virginia Key Trust sent the following email to Miami City Attorney, Victoria Mendez. I have highlighted the two relevant portions.
I am indeed familiar with the public records law, and I have longed believe that there is a significant problem when anyone receives an email like the one above demanding a payment of $42.81 Special Service Charge before the city will undertake a computer search for records.
Among the reasons that I've had a problem with the efforts of the city to impose this $42.81 Special Services Charge for computer searches is, besides believing that it is illegal, is the fact that they have refused to include the charge in the list of itemized fees that are detailed in the city's APM 4-11 that deals with public records:
In plain and unequivocal language, Forchion detailed who and how the members of his staff were provided "credentials" allowing them full access to both venues, and then followed up by admitting that he also received 13 VIP Tickets from DREAM, the Department of Real Estate and Asset Management. Three Day VIP Tickets were going for approximately $1,500,00, which made these one day tickets worth $500 a piece, for a total of $6,500. That's not chump change.
My email to Rotenberg was part of a larger effort to determine whether he, or anyone on his staff gave away more than the 13 VIP Tickets to Guy Forchion, and to whom else they were given.
In this case, as in most public records requests I've made to him in the past, Rotenberg, the "custodian," refused to comply with my request, and instead forwarded it to the office of the "Public Records Coordinator."
By and large, I and most other folks tolerate this rope-a-dope, for the sake of getting the documents we're seeking, but on occasion, I gets a response like this one that pisses me off, because it is clearly intended to act as a road block, and one that I should be happy pay for.
Three questions immediately came to mind after reviewing Forchion's email to the City Attorney and the above list:
1. Why would Guy Forchion say that his staff got "credentials, as well as 13 VIP Tickets. They didn't need VIP Tickets to access either event because the "credentials" provided for that, so if any of these staff people took VIP Tickets - and according to Forchion they did - then they were not acting as agents of the city, but as concert goers, and that I would argue, is a violation of the City Charter, not withstanding the bogus legal opinion that George Wysong wrote in 2014, when he needed to provide cover for his boss, Miami City Attorney Julie Bru.
Additionally, since the above list says that the Virginia Key Trust only received 4 tickets, how does that coincide with the 13 tickets that Forchion says he received?
2. How many city employees in the above list stand out as ringers with no direct reason or need for "credentials," or to be be given access?
3. Given that when it comes to the City of Miami's political food chain, Guy Forchion and the staff of the Virginia Key Trust, would rank pretty low- actually pretty much at the bottom - can we really believe that they got 13 VIP Tickets with a total face value of $6,500, and no one else higher up the food chain did?
We know that going back to the investigation by the City's Independent Auditor and the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission in 2014, that receiving free VIP Tickets to ULTTA was considered a perk for those who considered themselves in the deal flow, such as then Assistant City Attorney Veronica Xiques, now it's Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Veronica Diaz, who can been seen in this video clip bouncing with the best of them - she's the one in the bandana - that the persistent rumors and allegations od hundreds of VIP tickets being handed out to top city employees and/or to their cutouts, so that they can claim that they personally never received anything, is not an unreasonable assumption to make.
Putting aside the issues related to my particular public record request, the imposition of a standardized fee undermines the fact that each individual public records request must be dealt with on itʼs own merits.
The arbitrary imposition of a $42,81 Special Service Charge. whether for a search that is limited to 1 or 2 search phrases, or 30, 40 or 50 search phrases, generating as few as 1 or 2 documents, or as many as hundreds, if not thousands of pages of documents I would argue cannot pass the test set by both the statute and by Florida Attorney General Opinions on the imposition of search fees, to wit:
119.07(4)(a) 1,F.S. establishes statutory fees for the production of documents, and 119.07 (4)(d),F.S., “authorizes the imposition of a special service charge when the nature or volume of public records to be inspected is such as to require extensive use of information technology resources, or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance, or both.”
Florida Attorney General Opinion 85-03, states that, “providing access to public records is a statutory duty imposed by the legislature upon all record custodians and should not be considered a profit making or revenue-generating operation.”
Furthermore, Florida Attorney General Opinions 88-23 and 99-41, stated that in dealing with the costs associated with, “information technology resources," went further by stating that, “[T]he fact that the request involves the use of information technology resources is not sufficient to incur the imposition of the special service charge, rather extensive use of such resources is required.”
In addition, while the courts have not set an arbitrary time limit on how much time must a public official devoter to a request before determining that they will start charging for that time, most government agencies, including the City of Miami have determined such a time limit, and in the city's case it is 20 minutes. (See page 5 of APM 4-11)
Lastly, the courts have consistently spelled out very clearly that, “[T]he Public Records Act is to be liberally construed in favor of open government, and exemptions from disclosure are to be narrowly construed so that they are limited to their stated purpose.” Krischer v. DʼAmato, 674 So 2nd 909,911 (Fla 4th DCA 1996) Seminole County v Wood 512 So 2nd 1000,1002 (Fla 5th DCA 1987), Tribune Company v. Public Records 493 So 480, 483 (Fla 2nd DCA 1986), and Gillum v. Tribune Company 512 So 2nd 327 (1987).
The behavior of the City of Miami in imposing an arbitrary Special Service Charge has revealed that they have not lived up to those expectations.
But enough of the legal mumble-jumbo, let's get back to the tickets.
Among the documents that I was able to obtain was this list of 81 city employees who received credentials to be inside the venues during the 3 day event. Some had All Access, and some were only limited to one or more days.
We also know, going back to 2014 investigation, that one of the reasons this is continuing to happen is the refusal - a refusal going all the way back to 2012 when the city agreed to accept the terms of a Letter Of Instruction from the Ethics Commission to clean up their act on free tickets ,and then never did - that the subsequent refusal by the Miami-Dade State Attorney to do anything about it, as spelled out in the Close Out Memo issued by the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission investigator is just part and parcel of the corruption that flourishes in most of Miami-Dade County.
The question before us now however, is who got tickets, and what role, if any did folks beside Daniel Rotenberg play in this scheme, starting with Vinnie "The Bagman" Betancourt, the Director of the City's office of Film and Special Events.
I sent Betancourt an email asking him to respond to allegations that he had received and passed out hundreds of ULTRA Tickets, and followed up with a notice of a deadline for this story, neither of which he replied to.
In every story about public corruption being uncovered, there is always a solid wall of resistance to anyone stepping forward to tell the truth, until one person does, and then that wall crumbles, and everyone looks around and wonders how any of what was revealed could have gone on for so long.
I know that there are people inside the city administration who are tired, frustrated and even angry at the levels of corruption that they are seeing every day when they come to work.
Today is as good a day as any to step forward. Call me, Call the FDLE, call the FBI. Just call, because with the gang in City Hall today, nothing is going to get better!
It's Miami, Bitches!
Not only did the city attorney's office not include the $42.81 Special Service Charge in their itemized list of fees, but they also failed to included it in Section D - Extensive Use Charges. (See page 5)
This is what is known as not leaving a paper trail.
I responded to this invoice, by writing to ask for an itemized accounting for the $42,81 Special Service Charge.
Here is what I received.
I was neither placated, nor impressed by this new invoice, and made my thoughts known in the following email on Thursday afternoon.
FDOT SAYS IT WILL TAKE THEM 3 YEARS TO BUILD A NEW BRIDGE. IT ONLY TOOK 18 MONTHS TO BUILD THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING, BACK WHEN THEY DIDN'T HAVE ALL THE FANCY EQUIPMENT WE HAVE NOW, AND I'LL BET A DOLLAR TO A DONUT THAT AFTER THE SCREWING THEY GAVE THE FOLKS ON WEST FLAGLER STREET THAT THIS 3 YEARS WILL COME AND GO AND THIS BRIDGE WILL STILL NOT BE FINISHED.
Ticket scalpers were the easy ones to spot, it's the city employees who did their deals behind closed doors