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NUMBER 104 - OCTOBER 10, 2018
IT TURNS OUT THAT THE GUY BEHIND THE TREE IN THE VIDEO SHOT BY A BALL AND CHAIN EMPLOYEE WAS THE ACTING CHAIRMAN OF THE CITY OF MIAMI CODE ENFORCEMENT BOARD - AND THAT PROMPTED MY TAKING A DIVE INTO JOE CAROLLO'S ACTIVITES AS A WANNABE INVESTIGATOR OF CODE ENFORCEMENT VIOLATIONS - IT'S ANOTHER MIAMI, BITCHES STORY
First, let's start with Frank Pichel, who is currently the acting Chairman of the City of Miami's Code Enforcement Board.
Once upon a time, Pichel used to be a City of Miami cop. His career as a cop included being accused of allegedly trying to set up a Public Service Assistant (PSA), into being the fall guy in a case where a prisoner was beaten to death.
Pichel always prided himself on being outspoken and a thorn in the side of the department's administration, and blamed that friction for the problems that he encountered.
One of those problems, described in a Miami Herald article about another dustup was when he lost a whistle-blower's lawsuit against the city and former Chief William O'Brien in 2001, after claiming that he was targeted for retaliation after taking on a ''corrupt and violent'' gang of officers.
Several years later, while serving as a City Hall Sgt-At-Arms he was arrested for selling testosterone and Cialis, an erectile disfunction drug, and eventually copped a plea of no contest to a misdemeanor charge of possessing a drug, and agreed as part of the plea deal to give up his Florida police certification and volunteering 500 hours of community service to Lotus House.
None of these scrapes stopped Willie Gort from appointing him to the Code Enforcement Board in 2010, where he has since turned himself into a self-promoting and self-described champion of the people, and where he now figures that he has burnished his reputation to a point that he is widely rumored ready to follow in the footsteps of Gort by running to replace him as the District 1 City Commissioner next year.
At last week's Code Enforcement meeting, after some folks started speculating on LEO Affairs and elswhere that Pichel was the 3rd person in the video that I posted as part of my story that shot behind the Ball and Chain nightclub, he came forward and made the following statement.
Understandably, Pichel's statement raised some unanswered questions, starting with whether other members of this board get phone calls from City Commissioners requesting that they too have private meetings to talk about specific code enforcement violations in their districts, and more importantly, if they do, how many of those meetings are divulged at subsequent board meetings?
In reaching out to sources, I contacted a person familiar with the operation of the board, and the answer was, "Never!"
This person made it a point to explain that the board has tried to protect itself against claims of impropriety, and the notion of a board member having a private meeting with a city commissioner was not something that they thought any of the other board members would do.
Code Enforcement is supposed to be an independent, quasi-judicial board, whose decisions can only be challenged by appealing to the 11th Circuit Court, and the idea that in the City of Miami one or more of these board members would wander around the city with a City Commissioner, and looking for, or being shown what were alleged to be code violations raises very troubling questions about a violation of the City Charter:
Section 4(d) of the City Charter.
"Neither the mayor nor the city commission, nor any
committees nor members thereof shall direct, request,
take part in or dictate the appointment or removal of
any person in office or employment by the city manager
or subordinates or in any manner interfere with the city
manager or prevent the city manager from exercising
his/her own judgment in the appointment of officers and
employees in the administrative service. Except for the
purpose of inquiry and as may be necessary as provided
in section 14, the mayor, the city commission, any
committees and members thereof shall deal with the
administrative service solely through the city manager,
and neither the mayor nor the city commission, nor any
committees nor members thereof shall give orders to
any of the subordinates of the city manager, city attorney,
city clerk and independent auditor general, either publicly
or privately. Any such dictation, prevention, orders or
other interference or violation of this section on the part
of the mayor or a member of the city commission or
committees shall be deemed to be violation of the Charter,
and upon conviction before a court of competent jurisdiction
any individual so convicted shall be subject to a fine not
exceeding five hundred dollars ($500.00) or imprisonment
for a term of not exceeding sixty days or both, and in the
discretion of the court shall forfeit his or her office. Any
willful violation of the provisions to this section by the mayor
or any city commissioner shall be grounds for his or her
removal from office by an action brought in the Circuit
Court by the state attorney of this county."
At the same time I must also point out that Section. 14 of the Charter, although seldom mentioned, is in this case important because while he has never referred to it, I am sure that Carollo views this section as his license to behave as he does.
Sec. 14 - Commission may investigate official
transactions, acts and conduct.
"The mayor, city commission, or any committee thereof
may investigate the financial transactions of any office
or department of the city government and the official acts
and conduct of any city official, and by similar investigations
may secure information upon any matter. In conducting
such investigations the mayor, city commission, or any
committee thereof, may require the attendance of witnesses
and the production of books, papers and other evidence,
and for that purpose may issue subpoenas which shall be
signed by the presiding officer of the city commission or
the chair of such committee, as the case may be, which
may be served and executed by any police officer."
While the Charter allows a Commissioner to investigate "the official acts and conduct of any official," which would require commisison approval, that doesn't necessarily translate into an open-ended ability to conduct free-wheeling investigations into the activities of private individuals or businesses, even if, as Carollo constantly claims, they supposedly involve code enforcement issues that have been overlooked or ignored by code enforcement inspectors.
COMMISSIONER CAROLLO'S TENDS TO TREAT THE LAW LIKE HE TREATS THE TRUTH - SOMETHING TO BE IGNORED IF IT GETS IN HIS WAY
In 1974, the Florida Attorney General issued an opinion - AGO 74 - 292 - on a question raised by the Tamarac City Attorney on whether the city council could provide, "for the entry and inspection of private buildings and construction projects within the municipality in order to investigate its building department and to insure proper conduct of the building inspectors and officials of the city in the enforcement of the South Florida Building Code."
The Attorney General's response was: "MUNICIPALITIES MAY NOT INSPECT PRIVATE BUILDINGS WITHOUT A WARRANT."
While this opinion was on a question concerning the investigation of a city's building inspectors, and there has never been a comparable opinion issued by the Attorney General related to code enforcement inspections, the argument could be made that this AGO also applies to investigations of other departments within a city's administration.
Among Carollo's complaints about the current state of code enforcement in the city - voiced as recently as the last City Commission meeting - is that the city's code enforcement inspectors and the administration are failing to do the job to his exacting standards.
Standards, which to date have only been applied to roughly 3-4 blocks of SW 8th Street. Go elsewhere in District 3, and no one has seen or heard from or about Carollo since he was elected.
In fact, at last night's Shenandoah Homeowners Association meeting, some of those who attended were vocal in questioning why Carollo had not attend any of their meetings since he'd been elected.
Last month, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics issued a Closeout Report on the complaint that Fuller had filed against Commissioner Carollo, Assistant City Manager Albert Parjus, Steve Miro and Many Lugo.
One of the claims in Fuller's ethic's complaint had to do with Carollo and Lugo having parked inside a parking lot owned by St.Peter & Paul Orthodox Christian Church, that at the time was being rented by the valet company that Fuller used to park the cars of people who came to his club.
It was during this encounter that Carollo was alleged to have claimed upon being asked what he was doing on the church's property, that he flashed some sort of city ID, and proclaimed, "I am the law!"
The ethic's report included interviews with three employees of the parking company that supported the claims made originally by Fuller in his complaint.
Several weeks later, Jerry Iannelli, of the Miami New Times did a story that included a video clip that corroborated the account made to the ethic's commission that he had told the attendant in Spanish that he," worked for a millionaire."
Carollo had denied making that statement.
Based on the legal arguments and court opinions cited in the Attorney General's AGO, the fact that Carollo had parked in the church's parking lot, and that he and Mary Lugo were walking around the lot in an effort to search for any wrong doing being done by the parking company I believe supports a claim that they were engaged in a "warrantless search."
The same goes for the other instances, some captured on video of Carollo and city officials walking onto Fuller's other properties along Calle Ocho in the weeks before and after he filed his ethics complaint in search of code violations, including this one that show Carollo walking onto the property at 1360 SW 8th Street.
Which brings us to last week's event where Carollo allegedly took Frank Pichel on a tour.
COMMISSIONER CAROLLO'S NIGHTIME CODE ENFORCEMENT TOUR
In Pichel's statement he stated that he had received a phone call from the Commissioner's office requesting a meeting, and that being a guy who believes in getting to the bottom of things, especially given the claims that he had previously heard about Carollo's conflict with Bill Fuller, he agreed to meet with the Commissioner, which then led to Carollo taking him and a close friend of his named Saul Cimbler on a walk around the portion of Little Havana around Ball and Chain.
Cimbler in response to several emails I sent to him about about this walking tour responded in what he described was his "official statement," that:
"I was in a social setting with the Commissioner and
Frank Pichel a proverbial extension of a meet and greet
after crossing paths several times @ the Commission
meetings with the Commissioner. I had no agenda, and
we talked about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,
global politics and the like. In fact, what I expected would
be a quick cup of coffee extended for a while. When we
concluded, he offered to give us a tour of the Little Havana
area to share his vision of what he felt were opportunities
for development, what he described were lingering problems
with rampant code and zoning violations as well as patent
unpermitted construction and noise by many businesses.
Interestingly, we were approached by two renters claiming
to be serendipitously in the area who approached him about
noise issues. As I informed you in writing so that you didn't
write an article without knowing the facts, Frank Pichel, my
dear friend was with me and he had an interest and stated
agenda of making sure that when on the Code Enforcement
Board meetings, he was not presented with unfiltered
irrelevant, unsubstantiated, unfair or self-serving actions
by those on both sides of the issues, seeking to "use or abuse"
that board for personal agenda's as had been portrayed in
the media. Stated succinctly, as it applied to the Commissioner
and the "Ball & Chain Issues", he was interested in the facts,
not the rhetoric of what the alleged code enforcement
violations were and wanted to see what the allegations
looked like in real life. And that walk turned out to be the
Commissioner's opportunity to state his case, so to speak,
as could the Bush Brothers and Bill Fuller do any time by
just calling Frank".
As a civilian, Cimbler is not subject to the City Charter of Miami, or any other laws and restrictions regarding his ability to wander wherever he likes with a City Commissioner, but his "dear friend" Frank Pichel is.
While Pichel is a volunteer member of the Code Enforcement Board his activities when acting as a member of that board are constrained and guided by the City Charter and all of the other applicable laws, rules and regulations applicable to citizens who serve on public boards.
Even though I quoted a source familiar with the activities of the Code Enforcement Board above that indicated that board members would, or should not engage in ex parte meetings with members of the City Commission, the fact is that under Florida law members of public boards are allowed to engage in site visits and "may receive expert opinions regarding quasi-judicial action pending before them."
This permission is found in Florida Statute 286.0115(1)(c)(1)(2)(3) and (4).
The controlling language that would permit these kinds of site visits, as I highlighted above, is that these meetings are only allowed if, "not otherwise prohibited by...charter provision."
The City of Miami Charter, as I've now pointed out on numerous occasions, including this story, contains a provision that limits the ability of elected officials to deal directly with the city's staff.
The City Manager, in no small part because of Carollo's behavior, was forced to convey directly to the Mayor and members of the Commission on March 16th, that as a result of Section 4 of the Charter they could not communicate directly with the city's administrative service, which in this case would include the members of the Code Enforcement Board.
Since receiving this email, Carollo has repeatedly demonstrated that Section 4 of the Charter is just something else to ignore.
But let's for the sake of argument put aside the restrictions imposed by Section 4(d) of the Charter, and say that it was perfectly legal for Carollo's staff to call Pichel to schedule a meeting and then for Pichel to meet with the Commissioner and take a walking tour around the Ball and Chain nightclub looking for code violations.
How did Pichel describe his walk around with Carollo?
First, as you heard if you watched the video, he spent time portraying himself as a champion of the people who votes, "mostly against the government," and then when he got around to describing his walk around with Carollo he said:
"I saw more than two dozen violations in the short time
I was there...I did not see anything that was not factual,
based on what Mr. Carollo had said. I'm not his friend,
I'm not his do-boy, I don't go out with him, we have no
business together In fact we have had many, many
arguments in the past, but what's right is right, the
reason that I'm appalled at this is that I saw so many
violations that night that we impose on home owners -
they charge them sometimes three thousand, seven
hundred and fifty dollars just for having their cars parked
on unpaved land or on the grass, and if we're doing that
to you all and not to other people that is unfair, and we
should do it to everyone, or no one at all..."
"More than two dozen violations," is a pretty damning claim, although Pichel neither detailed where he witnessed those violations, what they were, or more importantly how his public disclosure related to a specific complaint that the board was going to hear and rule on that evening.
Statute 286.0115 (1) states that a disclosure, such as the one Pichel made is appropriate when an item is before the Board, and "before final action on the matter," is reached, but Pichel did not specify which of the items that was coming before the board that evening related to his comments.
As a reference to how this process works, when the City Commisison hears Planning and Zoning issues, if a Commissioner has engaged in any ex parte communication on the item being considered, they have to invoke what is known as the Jennings Rule, and identify who they met with.
What does appear to be the case here is that after I posted my story on Carollo and the other two other men who were videotaped behind the Ball and Chain nightclub, and after Pichel realized that he might be identified as men, he decided for his own reasons that perhaps the best thing he could do was to try and get ahead of the story - a story which by then had expanded to include my efforts to try and identify the other men with Carollo - by making his public comment about taking the tour with Carollo.
The irony is that if he hadn't said anything, my efforts to find out who had been with Carollo would have probably ended, and I wouldn't have had a reason to write this story.
But, he did, and I did, and once again the evidence keeps mounting that Commissioner "Coco Loco" Carollo, has managed in 9 short months as a commissioner to demonstrate that Miami is not only operating as a banana republic, but in the cluster of bananas, he's vying to be the Chief Banana!
It's Miami, Bitches!
TWITTER, TWITTER ON THE INTERNET, WHO'S SAFE FROM BEING MADE FUN OF - NOBODY, BITCHES!
- Courtesy - Bill Fuller