Roll out the Red Tape

How many bureaucrats does it take to fill a pothole at a Dade County school? The author would like to tell you, but he's still counting.

I persuaded him to wait a day while I made some more phone calls.
I called Levine, who told me that, although he himself is not a lawyer, he had drafted the proposed agreement after learning from Johnny Brown, of the legal department, that the school board couldn't contract to have paving work done on the swale "without first having this sort of agreement."

I called Johnny Brown, who said the matter was really quite simple. Under Florida Statutes, Section 235.34, a school system in fact is permitted to spend its own money to improve a public right-of-way adjacent to a school provided that it does so "either by contract or by agreement."

I called Virginia Rosen. Once again it was past five o'clock, and once again she was about to rush out the door to her daily workout. I told her Levine's proposed agreement would kill our little project unless Southern could be assured, first thing in the morning, that he could safely disregard it. Rosen said she'd see what she could do.

The following morning, March 23, I spoke again with Southern. He said he'd shown Levine's proposal to the city attorney, who had needed only a few seconds to examine it. His response: No deal. Don't pave.

I decided I had to play my trump card -- Visiedo's thank-you note.
I faxed Rosen a letter with an "URGENT!!!" cover sheet and told her Miami Springs had been advised by its attorney to reject Levine's proposed agreement. If she didn't want our pothole project scuttled, she or another official of equal rank must immediately advise Southern, in writing, that he could ignore the Levine "draft" and proceed to pave as planned. I added:

"I hardly need to remind you or anyone else at Dade County Public Schools that Superintendent Visiedo (in his March 8 letter L2002 to me) already has thanked me 'for taking the time to express your gratitude for the work of Dade County Public Schools staff in responding to the safety concerns you raised regarding road conditions around Springview Elementary School.'

"I'd hate to write Mr. Visiedo another letter saying my gratitude was premature, or worse, entirely inappropriate.

"Thanks again...."
Rosen phoned me before the afternoon was out. Neither of us mentioned the letter I'd faxed her that morning. She said she'd been able to replace Levine's proposed agreement with a two-paragraph "understanding" that would require only the signatures of Southern and Visiedo.

On March 24, Southern called. He'd made a few "minor" revisions to Rosen's proposed, two-paragraph "understanding." A secretary had typed his revised version onto official city stationery and had made several copies. Southern had signed one copy and faxed it to Visiedo. Then, "just in case anything went wrong," he'd signed a second copy and had dispatched both signed copies -- by courier -- to Visiedo's office.

The new "understanding" took the form of a letter from Southern to Visiedo: "It is my understanding that Dade County Public Schools (DCPS) would like the City to construct,at DCPS's sole expense, a 198' paved area within the existing swale located in the dedicated public right-of-way. This paved area will serve as a parent/bus drop-off facility for Springview Elementary School.

"The city has no objection to this use and construction and will be able to accommodate Dade County Public Schools' request during the District's spring break (April 5-9). The cost for this work will be $3165. Kindly confirm this understanding by returning one of these signed letters to my attention and we will proceed to schedule the work to be accomplished."

Beneath the text were spaces for two signatures: "APPROVED: Dodd A. Southern, City Manager," and "APPROVED: Octavio J. Visiedo, Superintendent of Schools."

Two days later, on March 26, I made a last round of phone calls in search of assurances that all of the bureaucratic potholes had been filled. Two crucial questions were uppermost in my mind: Had the superintendent ever added his own signature to the city manager's signature, at the bottom of that two-paragraph letter of understanding? Had a copy of that letter, bearing both signatures, ever been returned to the city manager, who wouldn't start the paving job without it?

The answers turned out to be "yes" to the first question and "no" to the second.

Three copies of the city manager's letter of understanding had been sent to the school-system's downtown offices A one by fax, and two more by courier later the same day. And though Rosen's subordinates had quickly obtained Visiedo's signature on the faxed copy, they were still waiting for his signature on the original copies. They had not yet complied with Southern's request that he receive a copy bearing both signatures because they didn't want to seal the pothole deal with a flimsy, curly, messy sheet of fax paper.

"Could you do me a little favor?" I asked one of them. "Could you fax Southern a copy of the fax copy that actually has both signatures?"

A few hours later I called Southern to ask whether Visiedo had signed and returned the crucial document that would end my quest.

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