In the Dead of the Night

While you were sound asleep, the Dade County Commission spent hundreds of millions of your dollars. Aren't you glad they didn't bother to wake you?

"I doubt that," Ferre interrupted, garnering laughs all around.
The Teele-Sorenson measure passed without dissent.
2:51 p.m.

Natacha Millan reappeared on the dais and settled in for the remainder of the meeting. She offered no explanation for her three-hour absence.

3:12 p.m.
Millan introduced item 5-D-36. As commissioners flipped through their agenda packets to learn about the measure, Teele joked, "It's on Commissioner Reboredo's toe." In fact, it was a resolution, sponsored by Reboredo, condemning the Cuban government for the attack that led to his injury. The brief exercise in international diplomacy passed unanimously and Reboredo received a standing ovation.

3:59 p.m.
In rapid-fire fashion, commissioners began racing through the agenda with little discussion or debate. One item, though, caught the attention of perennial commission gadfly Manuel Gonzalez-Goenaga: approval of the county's supplemental budget, a document that proposes changes to the original county budget. In this case, the revisions amounted to additional expenditures of about $67 million. "I don't even know what is going on here because I am never supplied the proper information," Gonzalez-Goenaga complained, noting that nothing had been itemized. "What we need here is full and fair disclosure, timely disclosure."

Commissioners smiled condescendingly as they listened to Gonzalez-Goenaga. His chiding speeches have become a staple of every commission meeting, and he has become something of a court jester. "I don't want to make a fool of myself," he continued, "even though I am afraid I am kind of a fool." The smiles broadened on the dais. "But sometimes the fools are right."

No one seemed interested in what Gonzalez-Goenaga had to say A no one, that is, except Teele. "Let me just say this," the chairman began, "Mr. Goenaga was more right than anyone today." Teele then pointed out to his colleagues that they were about to approve spending $67 million, with at least $20 million of that coming from "unanticipated revenues" such as federal grants the county had not anticipated receiving, as well as from an increase in the amount of tax revenue the county had projected it would collect this year. Commissioners stopped smiling and began searching for the material Teele and Gonzalez-Goenaga were referring to.

Teele wanted to know where these revenues were coming from and why commissioners hadn't been made aware of them earlier. The county's budget director tried to explain that nearly all the money was dedicated to specific projects; there was very little flexibility in how it could be spent. Teele relented. "And we're going to approve this item without any discussion," he shrugged. Now it was Gonzalez-Goenaga's turn to smile. The budget passed unanimously.

7:27 p.m.
Because commissioners decided not to take a meal break, the county manager arranged for dinner to be catered by Versailles restaurant. (The restaurant donated the food.) Two large trays of arroz con pollo and a pan of fried plantains were set up inside a nearby conference room and commission aides rushed in to scoop up something for themselves and their bosses.

"How much will Teele eat?" one of the chairman's aides asked as she piled a second spoonful of rice on his plate.

"I'd put a bit more on there," another member of his staff advised.
"Is this kosher?" asked Billy Hardemon, Commissioner James Burke's chief of staff. "Jimmy will only eat it if it's kosher."

Through dinner on the dais, commissioners heard an appeal of a "dewatering permit," which allows a developer temporarily to remove the ground water from beneath a piece of property so that a building's foundation can be poured. Never before could anyone recall a challenge to such a permit, but as commissioners learned, this wasn't just any project. This was the twin-45-story-towers development at 47th and Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, the Green Diamond and Blue Diamond condominiums of New Florida Properties Corp. And they were being erected right next to the Doral Hotel.

The Doral's owners were dismayed that these two behemoths would soon rise next to their relatively modest building, and in an act of desperation, they were trying to stop construction by objecting to the permit. If they can't dewater, the Doral owners reasoned, they can't build.

And so began a debate between opposing attorneys that lasted more than two hours. About halfway through, Teele realized he might have a problem. When considering some issues, such as zoning, commissioners are prohibited by common law from speaking with interested parties prior to meeting on that issue. A "cone of silence" over the process must be preserved. Teele asked the county attorney if this matter qualified as one of those "quasi-judicial" issues. The attorney said yes.

Teele then admitted that earlier in the day he had met privately with the opposing attorneys in the case. Kaplan raised his hand to confess the same, as did Millan. "I had no idea," Millan said. "Had I known, I would have followed the rules."

"Mr. Chairman, I, too, have a similar problem," said Margolis.
"Does anybody else want to confess?" Teele laughed.
"Will you for the record include me in the list of deviants," Ferre said, adding, "I want to know who wasn't talked to."

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