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This past December 13 around 10:30 p.m., three Miami Lakes councilmen — Tim Daubert, Nelson Hernandez, and Richard Pulido — huddled inside a bar a couple of blocks from town hall. Moments later, a local activist named David Bennett pulled up a stool. Then, for more than an hour (by Pulido's telling) the quartet had a spirited conversation about the Miami Dolphins firing Tony Sparano, the perils of holiday shopping, and a dozen other topics unrelated to town business.
"We were just four buddies sharing an order of chicken wings and beer," he insists. "There is nothing that precludes us from being friends."
But alas, there is a state law prohibiting officials of the same elected body from getting together in private to discuss a matter they will vote on in the near future — an ordinance punishable by 60 days in jail, a $500 fine, and removal from office.
And Pulido's claims might be easier to believe if the beer-guzzling hadn't come less than an hour after the council meeting where Daubert, Hernandez, and Pulido were the only members to vote against changing the city's zoning board's membership criteria — an issue that Bennett vocally opposed.
That certainly seemed an odd coincidence to Miami Lakes planning and zoning board chairman Tom McGrath, who happened to be at the bar. A source who was with McGrath but did not want to be identified provided photos of the clandestine chicken-wing snacking.
"They said there is going to be another hearing. I got the impression they would vote against it again because they said there was no reason the ordinance should move forward," McGrath says.
Furthermore, while McGrath was at the table, Bennett badgered the three members about why changing the zoning board's requirements was a bad idea. "He was talking directly to Daubert, Hernandez, and Pulido," McGrath says.
Daubert, Hernandez, and Bennett did not respond to several voicemail messages seeking comment.
However, Pulido refutes McGrath's account. He says McGrath asked them why they voted against the measure, but that he, Daubert, and Hernandez never brought it up.
"We did not talk town business," Pulido says. "With all due respect to Mr. McGrath, his version is far-fetched and preposterous."
What do State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle and ethics commission chief Joe Centorino think? We've hand-delivered them copies of photos from the bar and McGrath's account of the meeting — and we'll follow up in a few months to see if there's been action.