This past December 13 around 10:30
p.m., three Miami Lakes councilmen -- Tim Daubert, Nelson Hernandez,
and Richard Pulido -- huddled inside the Miami Lakes Ale House, a sports 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.
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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."
Someone is obviously lying. So we've hand-delivered copies of this story and the photos from the bar to Timothy Vandergiesen, a veteran prosecutor who was recently named to the Miami-Dade State Attorney's public corruption unit, as well as ethics commission chief Joe Centorino. We'll be following up in a few weeks to see if either watchdog takes action.