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Like any social-media-savvy politician, Miami Lakes Councilman Nelson Hernandez uses Facebook to correspond with his constituents. "This is the 21st Century," Hernandez says. "Why wouldn't I use a great communication tool to get my message across?" But a town resident accuses Hernandez and Councilman Richard Pulido of using Facebook as a way to get around the state's Sunshine Laws, which prohibit politicians from the same elected body to talk to one another about a matter they will be voting on.
"I truly believe they violated the Sunshine," says Robin Beamon, a Miami-Dade parks employee who has lived in Miami Lakes for seven years. Beamon has asked state public corruption prosecutor Joe Centorino to investigate Hernandez and Pulido. "If they didn't do anything illegal, then I want someone in a position of authority to tell me that's the case," Beamon says. Hernandez denies the accusation. "I know I didn't break the law," he says. Centorino and Pulido did not return phone calls seeking comment.
A week before the town council's May 10 regular meeting, Hernandez posted a message on his personal Facebook page asking the 866 people, including Pulido, in his "friends network" to contact Councilwoman Mary Collins so she would support his measure to prohibit council members and the mayor from serving on citizen committees.
Sunshine Laws bar him from lobbying fellow council members or using intermediaries to influence a colleague's vote. Collins says no one called her, but she believes Hernandez was "skirting along the edge" of Sunshine Laws, and she let him know so at the council meeting. "I felt it was inappropriate," Collins says. "What he did was not a good thing to do."
During the meeting, Pulido admitted that prior to the vote, he posted on Hernandez's Facebook page a comment stating he supported the committee prohibition, which gives credence to Beamon's contention that the two council members colluded before the vote. Hernandez disagrees. "I didn't coerce anyone to pressure Mary Collins," he says. "Using Facebook is a way to communicate with the people. That's what I use it for."