Best Local Girl Gone Bad - 2008
After the notorious suicide of former District 5 City Commissioner Art Teele in 2005, Michelle Spence-Jones's election might have seemed like a breath of fresh air. But it wasn't long before all of that oxygen turned stale. In the past year, Spence-Jones has shown Miami she can play rough too. A former aide to Mayor Manny Diaz, she leaned on powerful friends in the runup to the election — Billy and Barbara Hardemon, a well-connected couple, in particular. Their hard-line campaign tactics on her behalf ultimately earned her a slap from the Florida Elections Commission, which fined her $8,000 for violations of campaign law, among them passing out tens of thousands of dollars to campaign workers on Election Day. This past December, news broke that the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office had launched a criminal probe into Spence-Jones's finances, an investigation that two months later nabbed the commissioner's pastor, Rev. Gaston Smith, on charges of misspending a county grant. So far, that investigation has yielded no charges against Spence-Jones herself. Finally, in January, there was the "secret memo," filed as a memory aid, apparently, by District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff. The memo recalled a conversation in which he says he was told by former City Manager Joe Arriola that Spence-Jones was withholding a vote on a proposed Coconut Grove condo unless two of her friends received a combined $150,000. No doubt about it, this has been a rough year for Spence-Jones. But while the commissioner might be embattled, she ain't licked: Spence-Jones has remained defiant, denying each and every allegation, repeatedly hurling the stuff back at her attackers. Will she be vindicated? Only time — or possibly a lengthy court case — will tell.