By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
My Life as Your Civic Watchdog Was a Financial Disaster
I was honored that New Times thought my efforts in the community warranted a commendation ("Best of Miami," May 11). The text was most appreciated, but your choice of a headline, "Best Gadfly," in one shot destroyed all I had been trying to accomplish. Prior to the "Best of Miami," people would yell, "Hey, watchdog, where are you off to now?" For the last few days I get a mocking: "Hey, gadfly!"
In my Webster's dictionary the number-two definition of gadfly is as follows: "A person who persistently annoys or provokes others with criticism, schemes, ideas, demands, requests, et cetera." I have tried to avoid being that by mostly listening and, behind the scenes, making suggestions or pointing out things that were going on in other areas of government. My mission has been to enhance intergovernmental communication. The only demand I have ever made was for people to become more informed on civic issues because a tremendous number of things occur at lower-level meetings, where generally no one from the public attends. In this town people seem to read only the headlines.
I would also like to set the record straight. I am just a middle-class former executive who had some great years before I assumed this volunteer watchdog role in 1998. Miami City Commissioner J.L. Plummer was treating people like they were nothing, yet the usual suspects had the carpet rolled out for them. When I began standing outside Miami City Hall looking for candidates to run against him, the late political consultant Phil Hamersmith came up to me and said, "You fucking little people, we are going to crush you." That was November 1998, and that is when I decided to really jump into this. Considering the events since then, every time I thought I should get out, things just moved to a higher level of political absurdity. In the end I attended nearly 2800 meetings.
In early 1999 I branched out to the school board, the Public Health Trust, and the county government, but it was not at the full board meetings where my presence was most effective; it was at the smaller meetings of subcommittees. One of the board members of the Public Health Trust remarked that I was "like the neighborhood policeman making sure everyone played safe and didn't hurt themselves."
I was one of seven people present when the school district did its land deals, and I have probably the only map of the next fifteen future new schools and the last twenty-three land purchases. One of the best meetings I went to was the school planning and construction meeting, where Richard Hines announced that the school district was building $417 million in new schools over the next fifteen months.
My all-time favorite meeting, however, was the one listed on the county calendar for March 29, 2000, at 8:30 a.m. at the Firefighters Memorial, 8000 NW 21st St., where the topic was "Elected Officials Conference Training on Weapons of Mass Destruction." I signed in as a citizen and sat down as the group was watching a film of the explosion at the World Trade Center. Two minutes after my arrival a hand touched my shoulder and the person said, "This is the FBI. Will you please get up slowly and come with me." For the next fifteen minutes I was interrogated by Special Agent John Bonner about why I was there. It actually was quite unpleasant, but I showed him the Miami Herald articles about me and the county calendar and said I had never seen this subject come up so I thought it would be interesting. I finally convinced him I was not a terrorist and he pleasantly said I could stay if I would use good judgment because the discussion was about the United States' tactics and strategies against terrorist groups. I indicated they seemed to have it well in hand and left to go to another meeting.
Contrary to the perceived public impression, I have destroyed myself financially doing this, and in the near future will be filing for bankruptcy. The business world perceives me as radioactive, a whistle blower on steroids who seems to have ties with the press, police, and government officials. In other words, way too dangerous to have around. Thus after 21 months of trying to keep the pressure on, it will soon be over for me. I will become just another example of this community's motto: "No good deed goes unpunished."
I began putting together The Watchdog Report by e-mail as a final way of showing citizens they need to have neutral sentinels or monitors not only to enhance the flow of information but to act, in a way, like Crime Watch. When someone is there, it is amazing how often things go as they should, especially in my case, because of my close links to the press.
Sorry this is long, but I wanted to set the record straight before I sink into oblivion. One last comment: Prominent civic groups such the Beacon Council, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, and the Alliance for Ethical Government are uninterested in actually changing the culture; all of them are basically feel-good groups.