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
Grovites decry kiosks as empty vessels.By Tamara Lush
Sometimes city leaders mean well. They spend money on a project thinking it will help residents, improve quality of life, and make the Magic City a little friendlier. Take the Coconut Grove kiosks.
The city spent $201,000 to build and erect three black shacks around the Grove, in hopes of helping tourists — especially the ones who are bused in from cruise ships — navigate the neighborhood. Problem is, despite the good intentions, locals hate the kiosks.
Depending on whom you talk to, the little huts look like New England gazebos, border checkpoints, or gulag stations in a concentration camp. Not exactly the best aesthetic blend with the area's Caribbean-Mediterranean ambiance. They are supposed to be staffed by helpful security guards or public service aides.
"The people inside the booths, if they are there at all, never have the answers to any questions," says Tom Falco, who runs the popular Coconut Grove Grapevine blog and has written extensively about the huts.
For a couple of weeks in March, Falco and a group of other Grovites made it a habit of stopping by the kiosks to ask the person inside if he or she knew where a certain landmark was. The person usually didn't. Falco once asked a guard some questions, and the man told Falco to get lost. "It wasn't his fault," says Falco. "He didn't know he was supposed to provide information. The thing is, the kiosks don't serve a purpose. Nobody's there when you need it, and when you need it, the people inside don't have a clue."
Regarding the kiosks' other objective, providing safety, there is also widespread skepticism. One of the empty huts was broken into recently, and in April, a man was beaten so badly — 80 feet from a kiosk — he was sent to the hospital. Falco and the readers of his blog suggest the little air-conditioned shacks should be painted by artists and turned into mini art booths or cigar humidors. Or at least staffed by knowledgeable volunteers.
"These are not alien pods that have landed in Coconut Grove," says David Collins, executive director of the Coconut Grove Business Improvement Committee, the group in charge of staffing the kiosks. "We're really trying to do a good thing."
Collins says the goal of the pods, er, kiosks is to help tourists and provide extra sets of eyes for the cops. But he understands that longtime residents are unsure about the presence of the huts. "When old Grovites walk around, they see their memories in front of them; they don't see kiosks," he says. "The Grove is a place that people love a lot. When people see any change, there's a flinch. But we've got to keep up with the times."
Calls to city Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who sponsored the kiosk plan, were not returned.
On a recent sunny afternoon, Riptide ambled up to one of the kiosks to find out if, indeed, they were useless. The idea was to ask some obvious questions to whomever was there, such as: Where is Peacock Park? (Just down the street.) Where is Cefalo's restaurant? (Four blocks away.) And where is The Gap? (Right in front of the kiosk.)
Unfortunately the booth was empty. A sign taped to the glass window said it was staffed only Thursday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to midnight — leaving clueless daytime tourists, and Riptide, in the lurch.
Teachers' union strikes at three of its own.
As public schools wind down for summer vacation, most teachers are kicking back. But not the folks in charge of the union representing Miami-Dade County educators. They've suspended three of their most vocal critics for subversive activity.
And it stinks.
"These accusations are completely unfounded," Shawn Beightol says. "It is a complete waste of our members' money."
Beightol and two others, Ronald Beasley and Rory Robinson, are accused of being members of an organization that's detrimental to United Teachers of Dade and of publishing false information about the union. Though they're stewards — and both Beasley and Beightol ran for union president — they can't represent any teachers until an in-house trial is complete.
Beasley claims union president Karen Aronowitz is behind the suspensions. "We will not stop opposing the negative policies of the district and [its] ally, Aronowitz," he says.
Obviously, the union president denies she is retaliating against the three. "I'm not the one who brought charges against them," she says. "But I have an obligation to uphold our bylaws and constitution."
Yet it is no coincidence Beightol was targeted. The high school science teacher has been among the most outspoken critics of union leadership and its handling of healthcare costs and possible layoffs.
Beightol says union attorney Patricia Ireland informed him this past May 20 that a union member — whom Ireland declined to identify — had complained he spread false information: that the school district provides SUVs to administrators; that a vendor employing Superintendent Rudy Crew's son has received $392,105 from the district since 2006; and that the school district subsidizes the salaries of 18 UTD officers for $1.2 million per year. All of this is true.
Ireland acknowledges she had the conversation with Beightol but insists the false information was unrelated to SUVs, Rudy Crew's son, or subsidized salaries. The attorney declined to be more specific.
She adds that the executive board also found probable cause that the three stewards have tried to recruit UTD members into a rival organization called Professional Educators Network, which Beightol denies. "We are not seeking to compete with UTD," he says. "We just want to work as a catalyst for change within the school system and the union."
N'Syncer's SoBe lunch winds up costing someone's job.
On a Tuesday in early May, a scraggly-bearded Justin Timberlake popped into the Epicure Gourmet Market and Café on Alton Road with a few average-joe-looking friends. They ordered lunch at the deli counter, he stuffed a couple of bucks into the tip jar, and that was that.
But it didn't take long for the sleuths over at the People section of the Miami Herald to sniff out a celebrity in South Beach. Eating food! Which called for a story.
So a reporter phoned the market. Customer service manager Dianne Dean answered and spoke to the journalist, who wanted the juice on what Timberlake and his boys had eaten.
Dean transferred the call to Gloria Shores, a 30-year-old with long, tight dreadlocks, who had worked at the market two and a half years. "She told me to get on the phone and talk," Shores says. "I was following orders."
She provided a quick rundown: JT ordered a stuffed pepper with chicken, and his friends opted for tuna. When asked, she also listed other famous folks who frequent the market. They talked for two minutes; she went back to work and thought nothing of it.
Big mistake. When the paper came out the next day, one particular quote from Shores stood out. Following a sentence about Timberlake's two-dollar tip, she was quoted as saying, "Usually [stars] like Pharrell [Williams] and Fat Joe come in and never tip."
Two days later, she was fired. The general manager informed her she was being let go for speaking with members of the media, even though she says Dean, a manager, authorized the interview.
What's more, she says the reporter put words in her mouth. "She asked me if any other celebrities come in, and I said Pharrell and Fat Joe do.... Then she asked, 'Do they tip?' And I was like, 'No.'
"She twisted around my words."
Riptide left messages for the Herald's People section editor, Sara Frederick, but they were not returned.
Last week, Dean told Riptide that facts about the incident were "private information."
We were almost getting the feeling people don't like talking to the press. Then Shores phoned to give an update on her employment status: still no job. "I will never talk to the media again," she said. "After this."