Letters to the Editor

From the issue of August 24, 2000

Revenge of the Penny Tax
FIU and MDCC foundations draw new scrutiny from state investigators
By Jim DeFede

Our Hallowed Institutions of Higher Churning
Money Laundering 101 makes the grade:
In response to Jim DeFede's column “Revenge of the Penny Tax” (August 17), and on behalf of the Colombian-American Democratic Council, I applaud state Rep. Annie Betancourt's concern regarding the questionable $449,000 donation made by the Florida International University and Miami-Dade Community College foundations to last year's failed sales-tax campaign, spearheaded by Mayor Alex Penelas (“Revenge of the Penny Tax,” August 17). Those who made such decisions have betrayed the public trust and contributed to the corruption of two of our most important public educational institutions and our local government.

Her characterization of these donations as “money laundering,” is accurate. Her attitude demonstrates that she is a courageous guardian of the common good and sets an example for other elected officials obsessed with narrow agendas and selfish interests that bring no benefits to our community.

I also congratulate Representative Betancourt for the state legislation she successfully introduced to prohibit such unethical actions by university foundations in the future. Our council supports any endeavor that will enhance our public higher-learning institutions and our community.

Alonso E. Rhenals, president
Colombian-American Democratic Council
Miami Nightmare on Ocean Drive
Welcome to the world of Anastasia Monster of Art, where low art and the high life meet in an orgy of self-glorified kitsch
By Lissette Corsa

The Infamous Intestinal Balloon Trick
As old as Leonardo, as new as Anastasia:
Although Anastasia Monster of Art (“Nightmare on Ocean Drive,” August 10) may be a fine painter (it's impossible to tell from the photographs accompanying Lissette Corsa's article), anyone who considers herself to be the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci has clearly gone round the bend (assuming Anastasia believes this herself).

While da Vinci was an artistic genius, he spent most of his time in scientific pursuits, and his goddess was reason. If Anastasia is the reincarnation of da Vinci, his spirit and genius have lost an awful lot along the way -- not to mention having picked up a few attributes such as an immense amount of tackiness, greed, and kitsch.

Da Vinci, in later life, would inflate bovine intestines into giant balloons to startle and amaze the local royalty. Perhaps Anastasia is a reincarnation of one of these gas-filled balloons: fascinating, frivolous, and full of hot air.

Frank Worsham
Seattle, Washington You Go, Joe
What's a nice Jewish boy like Joe Weinberger doing in a nasty business like rap?
By Tristram Korten

What's the Difference Between a Lawyer and a Catfish?
One is a scum-sucking bottom-feeder and the other is a fish:
The title of Tristram Korten's article about Joe Weinberger (“You Go, Joe,” August 10) suggests that Weinberger deserves praise and adulation. I don't think so. And I found it appalling that New Times would ask in a subheadline: “What's a nice Jewish boy like Joe Weinberger doing in a nasty business like rap?” Because his name is Weinberger doesn't make him a “nice Jewish boy” any more than rap is a dirty business. What a biased statement, something usually not found in Korten's articles.

Who said the law was an honorable profession and music was not? The same people who told Korten that good guys wear white hats and bad guys wear black ones? Or that a little white lie is honorable and a black lie is vicious? For shame, Tristram Korten, your bias is showing.

To suggest that law (Weinberger's profession) is not the knock-down, drag-out, roll-in-the-mud profession we all know it to be is ludicrous. I don't remember old William Shakespeare saying, “First we kill the musicians!” What profession has more devious, calculating, and duplicitous characters than the law? Get real!

Also to refer to Luther Campbell as a “booty-rapper” instead of the rap icon he is sounds like bias to me. The man won a Supreme Court decision and in doing so became a historical figure worldwide. Assigning altruism to a lawyer who said he wanted to help an already self-made millionaire is so ridiculous you cannot expect readers to believe it. The “whatever works to get the cash” attitude of lawyers is no secret, so we can only assume your depiction of your subject as altruistic and well-meaning was sarcastic.

For the last century black artists have been robbed of monetary payment for their creativity by folks just like this “Lil' Joe.” Just ask Little Richard! If you do your research regarding rights and royalties, you'll find a lot of other “nice guys” like Lil' Joe, from ragtime to rock and roll to rap and every other music idiom.

To ask how a nice Jewish boy could be a thug is to reveal that New Times doesn't know much about the history of Miami Beach or the mob. Surely you jest. Unless Korten wrote this article with his tongue planted firmly his cheek, he needs to study both the music industry and the crime industry. Maybe then you wouldn't proclaim, “You go, Joe,” but rather tell Joe where to go.

Lynda Joy Folmar
North Bay Village

Editor's note: Owing to a reporting error in Tristram Korten's article “You Go, Joe,” the attorney who oversaw the bankruptcy sale of Luke Records' assets to Joseph Weinberger was incorrectly identified. The attorney was Frank P. Terzo. New Times regrets the error.

That's Rich
Wanna know how county commissioners earn their keep? Don't bother checking financial disclosure forms.
By Jacob Bernstein and Robbie Guerra

Making the Case for Paying Politicians
Don't worry, Rig's Rules will keep it clean:
Jacob Bernstein and Robbie Guerra's article “That's Rich” (August 10), detailing the increase in net worth of our Miami-Dade County commissioners while in office, is reason enough to consider carefully giving them a real salary. A $6000 salary for a part-time job, which is really a full-time job managing a budget of more than four billion dollars (greater than some states), is kind of absurd. Most of our commissioners, however, are not taking to the streets with tin cups. Some of them depend on a spouse's money; some have legit jobs; some have no jobs; some we wonder about.

Several weeks ago the salary topic, which I believe will be before the public soon, was explored on Michael Putney's Sunday show This Week in South Florida. Left out of that discussion was the $6000 expense account and the extra $6000 in public money the commissioners handed themselves through the back door. The public was not aware of it until after they did it. Somehow or other, while the commissioners see a $6000 salary, like the boy in The Emperor's New Clothes, I see an $18,000 salary.

Let's add a few things to that $18,000 salary. Consider a $10,000 benefit allowance, $600 monthly in travel and expense money, or a leased car not to exceed $600 per month. (Check out local lease rates. That $600 per month is not too shabby.) The commissioners also receive an annual retirement contribution from the county of $1500. Add to all this $440,000 per year for their offices, an average of five aides who earn somewhere in the $30s and an executive assistant or chief of staff earning somewhere in the $70s. And don't forget, as this newspaper reported a couple of years ago, the incredible cell-phone benefits allowing commissioners to call friends and family all over the world -- for advice, of course, on public issues.

Oops, I almost left out travel. Not all commissioners have taken advantage of the wonderful travel benefits their job provides. Some, though, have traveled the globe at public expense.

With all the aforementioned do you really think I want to pay these commissioners real money for real jobs? Actually, yes! With a few caveats, however.

If these people are going to receive a salary of from $70,000 to $90,000 per year, they must not receive money at the same time from a state or local public or private entity unless it is retirement pay. No active employment, no consulting, no creative ways to feed off the public above their commission salaries. Even today commissioners cannot give money from their personal accounts to any agency that employs them. But under Rig's Rules such employment would not be possible.

What will a prospective commissioner do upon election if he or she has investments that could profit from a commission decision? Can you say blind trust? What would a local schoolteacher or administrator do upon election to the commission? Can you say leave of absence? Law firms no longer will pay salaries to partners gone AWOL on the county commission.

Miami-Dade County commissioners don't have it as bad as some would like us to believe. As of now it's not the best-paying job around, but it does pay. Considering the benefits -- the travel, the interesting folks they meet -- it's really a fun way to make a living. I certainly hope the Miami-Dade County electorate won't make it more fun by giving big bucks without changing the status quo. I can just imagine a future New Times piece: “Net Worth Triples While in Office: Previous Investments not Taken into Consideration.”

Recently appointed to a county committee, I had to submit a financial disclosure form. It is a minor committee with a minor task. But Miami-Dade County commissioners manage major money: public money, mine, yours, and a little of theirs. There are incredible temptations. In the not-so-distant past, unethical builders, developers, lobbyists said, “Here is the apple; take a bite.” Some commissioners yielded to temptation. They didn't gain knowledge; they gained fatter bank accounts. Their job is really all about money, so much of it that their financial disclosure forms should be verified and it should be a misdemeanor to give false information. But as you reported, today's disclosure rules are an invitation to lie.

Alan W. Rigerman
Hialeah

The Elian Effect
Sandra Luckow thought the time was right for a documentary about Operation Pedro Pan. Boy was she wrong.
By Gaspar González

Pedro Pan Won't Fly
For some it wasn't a fairy tale:
Regarding Gaspar Gonzalez's article about Operation Pedro Pan (“The Elian Effect,” August 3) and the National Endowment for the Humanities' political sensibilities, as usual New Times doesn't let anything slide. I heard about the Pedro Pan children on National Public Radio news. They even ran a segment in which some women talked about their pretty horrendous experience in the homes of those who took them in. Many of these children were used as maids and not treated very nicely.

The thing that impressed me most was the lies told to the Cuban people in order to make them fearful enough to send their small children to a strange country and place them into unknown hands. This is a very important story and it must be told.

Marta Martin
Surfside

The Wimp
Gary Dellapa's retirement from MIA comes not a moment too soon
By Jim DeFede

How to Succeed in County Government
If you're going to mess up, mess up big:
Gary Dellapa, the guy who runs the airport and was skewered by Jim DeFede (“The Wimp,” August 3), is the same guy who made the deal to buy the Country Club of Miami for Miami-Dade County. The club cost the county more than ten million dollars for starters. The Palm Beach owners had bought it for three million dollars on the courthouse steps in a bankruptcy sale. Then the clubhouse burned down.

With the purchase, though, the county did not get the whole enchilada. Hundreds of prime acres, including a golf course, housing, and commercial property, were not included in the county purchase. An absolute rape. The Palm Beachers must have made zillions on the country club deal after selling to developers who have now closed one of the golf courses, which cost six million to rebuild. It is now a rat-infested roach pasture. (I should know: I've been a Country Club of Miami resident for the past 30 years.)

For putting this deal together and bringing in the PGA Tour -- another terrible mistake -- Dellapa was rewarded with the top job at the airport.

Name Withheld by Request
Hialeah

His Sister's Keeper
Is Darrin McGillis a noble crusader for his late sister's kids, or a courtroom junkie who thrives on drama? Both, actually.
By Lissette Corsa

DCF Is MIA
Politics and kids don't mix so well:
What a sad story by Lissette Corsa (“His Sister's Keeper,” July 27). Everyone involved had some kind of label to describe Darren McGillis but no one seemed to have any ideas regarding the welfare of the children. Like so many things in Miami, it has just become a power struggle involving some very small-minded and petty people who, in many cases, have their jobs as a result of political favors. Considering the dismal record of the state Department of Children and Families, agency workers certainly are not holding on to their jobs as a result of meritorious service.

Owing to the lack of any objective criteria for evaluating job performance, the DCF probably is the most politicized agency in state government. In spite of the fact that the DCF is a social service agency, its directors in Miami often seem to be picked from the top commercial litigation law firms, a sort of scholarship for the corporate lawyers.

Albert Batista
via the Internet

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