Shell Shock

Tortoise gets tortured; watching council meetings gets expensive

Bad news for the Meekses but good news for another fortuitous Little Havana painting operation. This year the SBOC (which is not located at the CAMACOL headquarters as previously reported) administered a large portion of the $700,000 in federal funds doled out by the city’s Community Development Department for its citywide commercial façade program. The SBOC, which administers the program in Little Havana, has a roster of twenty to thirty painters who typically bid for the façade jobs, Sabines notes. It was an SBOC-contracted painter who painted 1601 SW First St. yellow and pink five years ago, before Steve Meeks, Jr., and his dad bought the place. Sabines says he now has a contract with the Meekses to paint the building.


Watching a tape of a city council meeting may not sound like a good way to spend an evening, unless you’re into hard-core masochism. But there are those among us who, for whatever reason, purchase videotapes of public meetings from local municipalities. Cities, however, aren’t supposed to make a profit from selling the videos. “What they’re required to charge you is the cost of copying — materials and supplies — and they can make an additional charge if the duplication requires ‘extensive clerical or supervisory assistance,’” says First Amendment lawyer Tom Julin of Hunton & Williams.

But the City of Miami charges $35 for a video, and Miami-Dade County charges $30. By comparison, the cities of Homestead and South Miami charge ten dollars per tape. Miami Beach charges five dollars for a tape, though its meetings are accessible online, and will soon be available on CD for two dollars. New videotapes — with actual movies on them — rarely cost more than fifteen dollars, unless you’re buying something illicit. So why the pornographic prices?

“The price of $35 was set, I believe, by a previous director and he had somebody on staff do some research to try to figure out a reasonable cost,” waffles Miami’s communications director Kelly Penton. So exactly what kind of work goes into unwrapping a two-dollar blank tape, putting it in a machine, and pushing the button? “Well, we record in real time,” Penton says. “Basically you have to have somebody sit there with the tape. I mean, if it’s a three-hour tape and you just leave it there and come back and something happened to it, you have to start all over again.” Imagine a room full of city employees staring at TV screens, unable to leave lest there be some horrible technological breakdown.... In fact Marlene Mingo of Miami-Dade TV didn’t return New Times’s phone calls about the county’s $30 dubbing fee; perhaps she was monitoring the machines?

“That cost seems clearly excessive,” Julin says. “No question.”

Ron Francis, media specialist for Miami Beach, agrees: “It’s a rip-off. Actually we used to do it, too, until our lawyer said we had to stop.”

At least the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County let you know where you stand. Pilar Diaz, an administrative specialist with the City of North Miami, told The Bitch that you can only get copies of public meetings if you bring your own tape. “If people bring in a tape, it’s free. If not, they cannot get a copy.” When questioned about whether the city is statutorily obligated to provide videotapes of meetings to anyone who asks, for a nominal charge, she says, “Well, I guess anything is possible.”

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