Letters

The Smallest Slice of the Jailhouse Pie
After reading Jim DeFede's story "Jailhouse Rumble" (March 21), I have to wonder about the remaining fifteen percent of the corrections officers who are not black or Hispanic. How do they fit into the department and who represents them?

Edward S. Sheppard
Miami

Goldstein: A Developer's Dream?
I read with interest "Wasted Space," Robert Andrew Powell's account of the Commodore Bay litigation (March 14), but was left somewhat confused as to the role Michael Goldstein is playing in this saga.

On the one hand, Howard Scharlin notes that Goldstein is "a bright young man. He is not our attorney." On the other hand, we have Goldstein's response to the city's demand that the developers agree never to sue: "They want a full release! There is no way in hell I'm going to do that -- to give away every right simply for the privilege of sitting down with the city to discuss what may or may not occur!"

I can understand the developers wishing to preserve their rights in the event sales negotiations are fruitless. I also understand the city's position, for in all fairness it can't be said that the developers have not had their day in court. What I do not understand is why Goldstein is serving as spokesman for the developers.

Intriguingly, after ten years of litigation involving Commodore Bay, Goldstein's proposed solution to the problem is A more litigation: "If necessary, Goldstein says, he will sue the city to enforce the Bayside Agreement, in which Miami Commissioner J.L. Plummer said the purchase of Commodore Bay was a top priority."

I do not know on whose behalf he would bring such a suit, or whether Commissioner Plummer's "priority" creates a legal right to compel the use of trust funds for that purpose. Fortunately, it is not Goldstein's legal acumen that is at issue here, merely the role he plays in this drama.

Joseph Fleming, the city's attorney, has opined that Goldstein is "being played for this one." Fleming has litigated the Commodore Bay matter on behalf of the city for ten years. Goldstein, by contrast, was eighteen years old when this affair began. Under the circumstances, one would think Fleming is entitled to a presumption that he knows the issue and the players. In any event, it is difficult to shake the concern that the "inveterate, unabashed, unrepentant tree hugger" may only be a developers' tool.

Barbara J. Lange
Coconut Grove

You've Got to Fight for Your Right to Party
Excuse me, Robert Andrew Powell, but what is wrong with our city officials getting to go to a celebration in honor of the city they serve ("Your Tax Dollars at Work A Hiccup!" March 14)? For such an event, $4500 for 30 people is average.

As the PTA treasurer and parent of a student at Natural Bridge Elementary, I can say that paying (using money the PTA has made through volunteers) for our teachers and staff to attend outings related to the job they serve is money well spent.

How often during the hectic days, weeks, and months of the year do we let these people sit back and just enjoy what they've worked so hard to accomplish -- for "free."

Erika Basar
Miami

Stink and You Shall Pay!
Regarding "Sell It or Smell It" by Jim Kelly (March 7): To us neighbors of the terminal produce market, it is more like smell it. Talk about garbage and filth. At many places in the market, few owners care. Others don't give a shit about the neighborhood. They don't live here in Allapattah, but they make money here. I've lived on NW 26th Street since 1968, and I have seen the changes for the worse.

How come some businesses keep their premises spotless while others look like a pig sty? If they don't change soon, the government will take steps to ensure the welfare of the community at large. They can police themselves. If not, others will have to do it.

Mariano J. Cruz
Miami

Notes from the Left Coast
I was moved by John Floyd's article "Anywhere's Better than Here" (February 1). With many a regret, I moved to L.A. after living in Miami more than eight years by way of Scotland, my birthplace. I got a music scholarship to the University of Miami and also attended FIU. Now I'll be relocating back to Glasgow.

Out of necessity I had to move (doing an MTV gig and tour, and bicoastal marital probs), but I kept saying, "I'm just visiting." Well, I've been visiting for two years and still consider Miami my home. If I had a choice, I'd be in Miami right now. And this from a girl who is doing projects with Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo), Seth Hartman (Thomas Dolby, DEVO), and now EMI. I am sure I could have done all the same in Miami, but one thing made a difference: The local scene in Los Angeles is great and very well supported. Where else can you go see some great songwriters perform at a local acoustic gig, meet a plethora of label execs at any and every club or industry schmooze fest, and (for me) breathe down your publisher's neck in person to keep shopping your songs?

Miami could very well be that place; all the resources are there. But I have to say it A there is that laziness that may end up obliterating any chance of improvement. I don't think there will ever be a live-music scene in Miami of any consistency until more locals take action. Clubs like Tobacco Road, Cameo Theatre, and Churchill's should be respected and patronized by all locals who want this scene to continue.

I tried to keep it going by exposing local music via radio at UM and FIU and by booking bands at both schools. But it all became too much for me to handle by myself. The problem is apathy. There's a small minority of people who keep plugging away, but the effort becomes a burden. Before you know it, the straw breaks the dromedary's back.

I will always be available to help it prosper, but I can no longer be in an "executive" position. So, Mr. Floyd, if you care for this cause, tell Churchill's Dave Daniels and Y&T Music's Rich Ulloa to keep up the good work, but ask for assistance. There is something in Miami that can't be found anywhere else. Those who are aware of that will all come back eventually. I have never left Miami, but Los Angeles I have left several times.

Lauran Gangl
Los Angeles

Imperfect System, Perfect Solution
Elise Ackerman's story about property tax appeals ("Land of Opportunity," December 28) leaves out fundamental points. For example:

Two people own land. Their parcels face each other across a road. Both properties are the same size, have the same land use and zoning, and are in the same submarket. Both receive identical tax bills. But on just one side of the road, local government has adopted regulations saying 25 percent of the land must be reserved for drainage. The owner of this land loses one-quarter of his development rights after he paid to buy land that was unrestricted at the time of his purchase.

Is the value of this regulated property identical to the unregulated land across the road? What would a buyer pay for land with a 25 percent limitation on its development rights compared to land without this limitation? If a buyer would not pay the same amount because of the limitation, should the property taxes be the same?

Public appraisers cannot see this limitation when they study aerial photographs. And the information is not on the documentary stamps added up when deeds are recorded. Published comparable or market-sales data do not identify the specific and unique conditions that apply to individual properties. Because this level of detail is not readily known, mass appraisal techniques (used by the Dade County Property Appraisal Department to estimate value for tax purposes) often do not apply tax reductions permitted under state law.

The system may not be perfect, but what really counts is whether property owners are protected so an imperfect system is made a little better. As Americans we are guaranteed the right to be taxed with representation. Out of sheer necessity, the general way property taxes are determined limits our right to fairness. Checks and balances, fundamental to our system of government, are re-established through the property-tax appeal process.

Value adjustment boards (VABs) use experts to hear reasons why property owners believe they are overtaxed. Dade's VAB staffers deserve praise for their professionalism. They work hard to make their system easy for owners to understand A in effect, they are a good example of how every government department should operate. It isn't required, but the advantage of first using VAB procedures is a savings of time and money for owners. Having a VAB gives everyone representation when they are taxed -- without the costs of litigation. Both sides have the right to appeal, in court, should they disagree with the special master's decision. While it is true that some appeals do result in seemingly large reductions, one also must consider the total amount of each tax bill. Some owners pay millions of dollars in taxes. Every small percentage of overcharge can mean they might lose, unfairly, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The real questions are these: Should anyone have to overpay taxes or any other bill? Is it fair to overcharge someone? Shouldn't everyone have the right to see how their bills are calculated so they can check them for accuracy and point out any errors?

Owners who do not appeal virtually write blank checks to the government. Comparables change, property conditions change, and taxes change. Smart owners pay attention to these variables and make sure they are aware of every bill. This country was founded, after all, to stop government from forcing us to pay taxes without representation. We should be grateful for the protections we have, and we should use them diligently to make sure we never lose our constitutional rights.

Sheila M. Anderson
Miami

Erratum
Owing to a layout error, the article "Judgment Day" in the March 14 issue did not include an author's byline. The story was prepared by staff writer Kirk Semple.

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