By Trevor Bach
By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
It didn't make the county police too happy, either, to get pulled off regular duty in their own neighborhoods and piss off fellow cops to boot. "We feel like schmucks going in there, doing that to the city guys," complains a county officer who asked not to be identified. Of the 43 county officers who worked the festival, 25 were pulled from on-duty posts in three districts -- Kendall, Doral, and Cutler Ridge -- which could have left those districts short-handed in an emergency.
This is the dirty little secret of the county commission's common practice of giving away free police time to special events. When it can, the county police department will use on-duty cops because it costs much less to pay them their regular wage than to pay off-duty overtime rates. It is one reason Commissioner Katy Sorenson votes against most of the resolutions, which have cost county taxpayers $1,862,003.24 in the past four fiscal years, plus $484,326.75 so far this year. "These are all unbudgeted monies," Sorenson explains. "Every time we waive these fees, it's something [unplanned] that comes out of the police budget, and that's not very fiscally sound."
Some of the expenses are for legitimate nonprofit events such as the recent March of Dimes Walk America, or for county events like the mayor's State of the County address. But other events, such as private, for-profit festivals like the Strawberry Festival, Expo Nica, or the Volvo Ocean Race, raise the question -- who is benefiting from the county's largesse, the public or a small number of promoters and vendors with friends at county hall? Or in the case of the Bob Marley festival, a county commissioner's business. "Some of these [nonprofit events] are appropriate expenditures," Sorenson allows. "But it's gotten to the point where almost every agenda has an item for free police service. I'm seriously thinking about doing a resolution prohibiting in-kind [nonmonetary] services for for-profit events." Sorenson says she's also asked the county's budget department to spell out the cost of these giveaways in next year's budget.
Another ugly little aspect of Rolle's rent-a-cop enterprise is the combination of arrogance and sneakiness with which it was accomplished. The arrogance came in abusing the public trust to use the county's police budget as a personal piggy bank for his private business. The sneakiness -- a nice attempt to distance himself from the matter -- was getting Commissioner Bruno Barreiro to sponsor the resolution (weeks after the festival) to give away, ultimately, $20,750.97 in county police services to a private, for-profit event that hadn't even asked for the favor. Why Barreiro chose to carry the water for Rolle isn't clear. Barreiro didn't return several phone messages left at his office.
Rolle's attorney H.T. Smith said neither he nor Rolle could comment because the ethics commission process hasn't finished. Although Rolle signed an agreement in April that the commission had probable cause to lodge an ethics complaint against him for his role in procuring police service for the Bob Marley festival, the settlement between the two parties hasn't been finalized. Smith instead took umbrage with New Times for "trying to embarrass a black commissioner." "I've got something to say, and you can quote me," Smith rails. "When is New Times going to hire black reporters? You're always reporting on black people and acting so high and mighty."
The ethics commission was expected to discuss Rolle's penalty at its Wednesday, May 22, meeting. Rolle is also facing three other ethics charges: for using his commission stationery to ask County Mayor Alex Penelas to add $275,000 for JESCA into his budget, for lobbying county staff during county meetings to avoid a $200,000 cut to JESCA, and for not recusing himself from a vote involving funds for JESCA and other community organizations. The maximum penalty for all four counts would be a $1750 fine and a public reprimand, a relative slap on the wrist in this town.
That may not be the end of the matter, however, as ethics advocate Murawski reveals that he has turned over his files to the public corruption unit of the State Attorney's Office. "They called and asked for it and I've met with them, but I don't know what they will do with it," he says.
Meanwhile, the State Attorney's Office, which is already up to its eyeballs in the case against former County Commissioner Miriam Alonso, is also looking into possible fraud that may have been committed by Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler. WPLG-TV (Channel 10) reporter Jilda Unruh reported in February that Carey-Shuler, who works part-time for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, was not actually working the hours she had claimed on her time sheets. Unruh and a camera crew surreptitiously followed Carey-Shuler for two weeks, documenting her activities, which didn't appear to have anything to do with her job in the school district's alternative-education division.
The State Attorney's Office declined to comment on whether criminal charges will be brought against either Rolle or Carey-Shuler. "Our office as a matter of policy doesn't comment, either positively or negatively, on possible ongoing investigations," states spokesman Ed Griffith.
Murawski said he couldn't comment on whether the ethics commission is also investigating Carey-Shuler. Knowledgeable sources outside the ethics commission, however, told New Times that an ethics-commission inquiry is indeed under way and centers around Carey-Shuler's alleged use of her commission staff for activities unrelated to the county.