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?

Sorenson, Dennis Moss, and Alex Penelas raised their hands.
County Attorney Robert Ginsburg seemed troubled, but decided the tricky situation could be resolved if both sides stated on the record they felt the commission could be fair and impartial. Both sides agreed.

If this was a "quasi-judicial" hearing like a zoning matter, Kaplan noted, then all witnesses should have been sworn in before testifying. Ginsburg decided there was a way around that, too. The witnesses could be sworn in after they testified. The clerk then had all the earlier witnesses stand and raise their right hands: "Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God A and gave, so help you God?"

"I do," they replied.
In the end, commissioners narrowly decided to grant the permit and allow construction to continue. But they also instructed the attorneys for New Florida to try to strike a compromise with the Doral by either lowering the number of floors or moving the towers farther back from the water. If they don't make the attempt or if a compromise is not reached, the dewatering issue could be reconsidered in September.

10:12 p.m.
The commission picked up steam again, and rolled through a number of agenda items without any discussion or debate. Ferre then pointed out that they were about to approve the aviation department's budget, a $436 million vote. "We zip right through these things," Ferre noted. "Anything that is over $100 million we just do in three seconds. But if it's some small, little thing of $83 or $10,000, we'll spend half an hour discussing it. Here is a $436 million expenditure, an increase in the budget of $31 million, and we are just going to pass it. I'd like to know who's seen this budget? Have you seen this?" he asked Reboredo, chairman of the commission's aviation committee.

"No," Reboredo replied. Other members of the aviation committee quickly chimed in. It all looked alien to them, they protested.

"Well, Maurice, we do have a two-page handout," Kaplan said sarcastically. Holding up the two-page synopsis, Ferre shook his head. "Look at this. And we're going on that?" he sighed. "Can you imagine the Port Authority of New York approving the budget for the Port of New York in just a few seconds?"

Aviation Director Gary Dellapa sheepishly approached the podium and told commissioners the budget had been presented at the June 30 aviation committee meeting. "Where was I?" demanded Ferre. Despite Dellapa's claim, no one on the aviation committee remembered the briefing three weeks earlier. Nonetheless commissioners gave tentative approval to the budget, with the understanding they will receive more detailed briefings over the summer recess.

10:25 p.m.
Gadfly Manuel Gonzalez-Goenaga attempted to comment on the aviation budget, was ruled out of order, refused to sit down, and was thrown out of the meeting. "What we need is democracy!" he shouted as he was led outside.

11:15 p.m.
Throughout the day, a group of the county's most prominent lobbyists had been circling the commission chambers, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to pounce on a specific issue. That time came when commissioners were asked to decide whether the county should waive competitive bidding requirements and award an exclusive, ten-year contract for county ambulance services to Metro Ambulance Service.

To help win the $40 million contract, Metro Ambulance hired celebrated arm-twisters Christopher Korge, Lucia Dougherty, Rodney Barreto, and Dusty Melton. A competing firm hired a couple of big guns of their own, including George Knox and Phil Hamersmith.

Javier Souto was the most vocal opponent of the plan, complaining that the contract lasted too long and should have been competitively bid. "Ten years is ten years," he huffed, and noted that future commissions and county mayors will be hamstrung by such a decision. "This is America and competition is the name of the game in America," he lectured. "It is really unfair to have something locked up like this. Isn't this America?"

Despite Souto's civics lesson, commissioners gave the exclusive contract to Metro Ambulance. Teele later asked the county manager to figure out how many county mayors will be elected over the course of the Homestead Air Force Base lease, a 70-year deal being handed to Carlos Herrera without competitive bidding but endorsed enthusiastically by Souto.

11:58 p.m.
As midnight approached and Robert L. Zubieta Day came to a close, Ferre and Margolis suggested the meeting be recessed and continued either Wednesday or Thursday.

"If there is any commissioner who would like to leave, it's me," responded Reboredo, his toes throbbing. "But I'm ready to stay."

"The issue isn't whether we could stay here until three o'clock in the morning," Ferre said. "We could all do that. The issue is judgment."

"Let's finish," injected Millan. "I'm sure Commissioner Ferre's judgment will maintain itself until three o'clock in the morning. Maybe this will keep him a little bit quieter than he usually is."

After arguing and sniping at each other for ten minutes, they decided to keep going.

12:11 a.m.
Commissioners passed without discussion items 5-A-17 and 5-A-18, which approved five million dollars in "change orders" on behalf of the firm Church & Tower for asphalt-repair work along Flagler Street. Rather than putting the extra work out to competitive bid, the county decided to add it on to another contract already awarded to Church & Tower, which is owned by the family of Jorge Mas Canosa, chairman of the powerful Cuban American National Foundation.

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