Commissioner Kojak

No ideas, no agenda, and a lot of glad-handing. Welcome to J.L. Plummer's re-election campaign.

Ferre blames Plummer and ex-Mayor Xavier Suarez for making Miami Arena so quickly obsolete. "Suarez and Plummer were responsible for the reduction of the building," Ferre contends. "It was stillborn."

Plummer's zest for police action has occasionally endangered Grovites. In 1993 Commissioner Kojak re-emerged to chase some burglars through Coconut Grove. Miami police officers joined his car pursuit that ended when the thieves ran a stop sign and crashed into an oncoming vehicle. Earlier that year the commissioner urged his colleagues to approve a policy limiting officers to chasing only violent offenders. Miguel Narganes, president of the Miami Police Hispanic Officers Association, said Plummer's actions showed a "double standard."

Plummer explained he was only doing his duty as a good citizen. Most good citizens, however, don't own police radios.

Fall Cesar!: Plummer and the ex-city manager before Odio's scandalous 1996 exit
Steve Satterwhite
Fall Cesar!: Plummer and the ex-city manager before Odio's scandalous 1996 exit
What does the undertaker want on his tombstone? "I was good to the city that was good to me."
Bill Cooke
What does the undertaker want on his tombstone? "I was good to the city that was good to me."

The commissioner has also been a law-enforcement target. In the Eighties and Nineties federal law-enforcement agencies subpoenaed his records, hauled him before a grand jury, and sent wired, undercover informants to chat about dirty deals. In the end Plummer survived all the investigations. John Brennan, a Grove activist, calls the undertaker's greatest accomplishment "the fact that he has not been jailed." Then he adds: "He's clever enough to not get caught with anything."

To maintain his clout, Plummer forged a strong alliance with former City Manager Cesar Odio, who ran Miami from 1986 until his departure following a federal indictment on corruption charges in 1996.

The penurious Plummer was a chief advocate for Odio's pay increases and rich compensation packages. In 1992 commissioners agreed that, upon the manager's departure from Dinner Key, he would receive close to $90,000 in accrued sick leave and an annual pension of more than $75,000 per year.

One result of Plummer's rare munificence: The manager protected the commissioner's pet projects. In 1988, for example, ex-Mayor Xavier Suarez sought bids to redevelop Watson Island and renegotiate the sweetheart lease held by Dade Helicopter Jet Services. Owners William and Joan Ter Keurst did not pay the city a penny in rent. Rather they offered elected officials, city employees, police, and visiting dignitaries ten hours of free helicopter time each month.

But Odio and his staff never acted on Suarez's request for bids. During a city commission meeting, the then-mayor inquired why his proposal had been ignored. Bureaucrats did not answer the mayor's questions, recalls an ex-city official. A frustrated Suarez eventually turned to Plummer, who did nothing, says the ex-city official. The ex-official cites an interesting coincidence: Plummer's 1983 re-election campaign took in more than $11,000 in donations and gifts from people listing Ter Keurst's Watson Island business as their mailing address. "Deep down inside Plummer wants to be frugal for the taxpayers," the ex-official says. "But he doesn't mind spending money on his friends."

When Miami celebrated its centennial in 1996, Plummer had presided over the city for more than a quarter of its existence. His connection with Odio caused some to see Plummer as Miami's true mayor in the early Nineties. "Odio ran this city like a South American dictator and he visited with Plummer almost every morning," says Brennan, a member of the city's Waterfront Advisory Board. "I never heard Plummer chastise him."

In January 1991 Plummer made an unexpected proposal amid rumors the commission might dump the city manager: Pay Odio a severance package of $212,500 if he were fired. Plummer withdrew the proposal when Commissioners Miller Dawkins and Victor De Yurre and Mayor Suarez opposed it.

Then in 1992 Plummer supported a move to boost the manager's yearly pension from $41,706 to $54,950 in lieu of a raise. Eventually the commissioner pushed the pension figure to more than $75,000 annually. "Fact is [Plummer] was Odio's patron and Odio didn't do anything without checking with [Plummer]," says Tucker Gibbs, a member of the city's charter review committee. In his faxed response, Plummer wrote briefly of his relationship with the former manager: "I no longer speak with Cesar Odio."

Plummer boasts about the time he spends poring over city documents so he can criticize pork-barrel spending. But critics charge that in many instances he has supported the pork.

During the city's fiscal crisis in February 1998, Commissioner Tomas Regalado proposed to more than triple commissioners' salaries from $5000 to $18,000 annually. He also wanted to add a life insurance policy, $25,000 to hire private attorneys if the need arose, and $3000 for office equipment in commissioners' homes. Plummer seconded the motion, which passed unanimously. The commission later withdrew the decision when public outrage arose. Asked why he supported it, Plummer replied the episode was "confusing."

For the past five years, Plummer has presided over the Bayfront Park Trust, which oversees a facility that loses an average of $100,000 per year; the park's total debt is more than $700,000. During the time Plummer has served as trust chairman, the park has sporadically operated an expensive laser tower and an electricity-guzzling fountain. The trust also blew $250,000 on a Super Bowl party in January 1999. City taxpayers have been forced to make up most of the losses. The park's deficit has caught the eye of the state oversight board, which is now limiting the city to a $100,000 annual contribution toward park operations.

Bayfront's executive director Ira Katz defends Plummer. He notes the commissioner inherited many of the park's troubles from the previous administration. Katz hopes to sign a new corporate sponsor (there's a candidate that he won't name) and cut costs so that the park eliminates 80 percent of the debt. The laser tower now runs every weekend and the fountain is turned on fourteen hours per day. "He is always on me about increasing revenues and cutting expenses," Katz says. "He is probably one of the hardest guys to work for. But he is one of the fairest people you will ever meet." Indeed in his faxed letter, Plummer claimed that sales have increased substantially, meaning the debt will be eradicated this fiscal year.

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