Go Ahead, Call Me a Zealot

Letters from the Issue of August 5-11, 2002

Just don't call me a Bush fanatic or a Cuban hardliner: After reading Max Castro's "Triumph of the Zealots" (July 29), I came to realize why I no longer pick up your newspaper: Poor research and both sides of issues not accurately represented.

By now you should have guessed that yes, I am a proud Cuban-American zealot. Let me explain why I think Max Castro did not do his research and present the zealots' side accurately. My family and I came to this country in 1962 because of political reasons, not economic reasons. We left family behind and vowed not to return until my country had a democratic government.

However, the Cubans who arrived after 1984 have a different view because they grew up under the Castro regime. They didn't come here because they disagree with the government; they came for economic reasons. There's nothing wrong with immigrating to this country to seek the American dream, but it is not the same as coming for political reasons.

Travel to Cuba by newly arrived Cubans was a joke. Let me give you an example: Quite often I hear from fifteen-year-old Cuban girls who've been in this country not more than one or two years but they're returning to Cuba to celebrate their quinces because it's cheaper over there. What a joke!

I'm glad Bush enacted these new restrictions, which, by the way, are still too lenient. I'm not a Bush fanatic or a GOP fanatic, and I am definitely not a hard-line Cuban. I would even vote for a Democrat (like Joe Lieberman) if they would run someone who's not so far left.

It had been a few years since I picked up New Times, and after reading this one, it will be quite a few more.

Cary Benavides

Coral Gables

My Modest Proposal

Cut the Cuba crap, okay? After reading Kirk Nielsen's article about the new Cuba restrictions ("Politics and Policy," July 29), I have a suggestion, which of course you people at New Times will ignore: Leave the "Cuba issue" alone. You don't give a damn about it, except insofar as it gets you noticed and helps circulation. Those of us who do care and have the scars to prove it deserve better than cynical opportunists who traffic in our pain.

And please, in the unlikely event you can manage it, try to refrain from your usual we're-too-hip-to-give-a-shit attitude.

Mario Encino

Fort Lauderdale

An Inspector General as Tough as Miami

Only a misguided lawyer would want something less: I read Tristram Korten's "Inspector Imperiled" (July 29) with astonishment. The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust is being disingenuous in its attempt to neuter the county's hard-charging Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Korten is correct in his opinion that the OIG is effective because of the staff hired by Inspector General Christopher Mazzella. Like Korten, I am biased in that many on the staff are personal friends of mine. But in my opinion, Mazzella has done an outstanding job of hiring highly motivated individuals to investigate fraud and corruption.

There is enough corruption in county government to keep local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies busy for the next millennium. Citizens should be grateful for an aggressive OIG. Ethics commission chairman Kerry Rosenthal and executive director Robert Meyers may be the only citizens in the county disturbed by Mazzella and his staff, other than the culprits snared by them.

Rosenthal's letter directing someone of Mazzella's credentials to "move away from criminal investigations" is proof that this real estate lawyer should not be chairman of the ethics commission. Instead of attempting to drag others down, the ethics commission should do a better job of investigating conflicts of interest. The task of lining up those suspects in Miami-Dade County should be as difficult as finding a herd of hemorrhaging elephants in the snow.

John Askins


Editor's note: John Askins formerly supervised the Miami office of the Florida Department of Insurance's fraud division.

An Inspector General Fully Empowered

You don't have to love him to respect him: I share Tristram Korten's concern about the short-sighted actions of the Miami-Dade ethics commission pertaining to the county's Office of the Inspector General. The inspector general (IG) and his team of professional agents is one of the most important public offices in Florida.

For more than two years, IG Christopher Mazzella reported the results of his investigations through me in my role as county manager Steve Shiver's chief of staff. During that time, the IG investigated numerous county agencies and officials and uncovered many instances of wrongdoing.

I think the IG, while not universally loved, is widely respected for his independence. He certainly gained my respect. But the debate about the IG should not focus on the personalities involved. It should concentrate on the IG's important function of investigating complex cases of fraud and corruption that very often lead to criminal charges. While sometimes politically unpopular, IG investigations serve as a deterrent to misbehavior.

I agree that the ordinance establishing the Office of the Inspector General is vague with regard to the IG's role after notifying law-enforcement authorities, but this problem can be easily cured by county commission action. The commission should amend the ordinance to authorize the IG to cooperate with law-enforcement authorities by providing ongoing investigatory support when it unearths cases of fraud or corruption. The IG should be empowered to carry its investigations to their logical conclusion.

The ethics commission's actions, however, demand an additional response. Each of the candidates seeking to be Miami-Dade County's next mayor should take note of this controversy and should commit to strengthening the IG by making it an independent office, funded by the county, with administrative oversight provided by the courts. By taking these simple steps, county leaders can prove by deed that they are serious about curbing corruption.

Thomas M. David


An Inspector General Causing Conflict

Want to know the real problem? In a word, Mazzella: Tristram Korten is wrong in "Inspector Imperiled," about the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics. The commission is not "drifting into irrelevancy," as Korten maintains. The ethics panel has notched some notable successes during its brief history. It has upheld ethics complaints against a county commissioner, a former county manager, several community council members, and a handful of municipal officials. The commission's investigations led to the termination of a Miami Beach building inspector, the arrest of a community council member, and the suspension of a prominent county hall lobbyist. Korten chooses to ignore those successes in his rush to defend his former employer, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Korten also ignores the real source of tension between the ethics commission and the OIG. The two offices are not feuding because the OIG decided to lock its doors. That's silly. In truth the two offices are sparring because the OIG has refused to work with the ethics commission and has actively sought to undermine its authority. Korten should ask Inspector General Christopher Mazzella why this is so. The State Attorney's Office and the Miami-Dade Police Department are both willing to work with the ethics commission on investigations. What makes the OIG different?

Korten also neglects to mention the case that triggered the current dispute. The OIG recently investigated allegations of ethical misconduct involving the chairman of the Citizen's Independent Transportation Trust. This case should have been presented to the ethics commission. But the OIG chose to bypass the commission. In effect, the OIG acted as investigator, judge, and jury.

The current fight between the two agencies isn't about the OIG's ability to investigate cases of public corruption. It is about the OIG's misguided efforts to burnish its own reputation at the expense of the ethics commission. The OIG has done some excellent work in the battle against public corruption, and for this it deserves credit. But the OIG should not be allowed to undermine the work of other agencies that are fighting the same battle.

Don Finefrock

Coconut Grove

Editor's note: Don Finefrock is a former investigator for the Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.


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