Commissioner Richard Dunn: Natty Dresser, Colorful Orator, Almost Felon

Three weeks on the Miami City Commission, and already the Rev. Richard Dunn has figured out Miami politics. Contacted Tuesday to comment on a story about his driving record,

the newly appointed replacement for Michelle Spence-Jones went on the offensive, attacking District 2's Marc Sarnoff.

"Does this proposed article have anything to do with Steve Marin and or Chairman Marc Sarnoff?" he responded in a prepared letter. Marin is a lobbyist with ties to Sarnoff.

Later, Dunn suggested, unprompted, that any questions about his criminal past came from Sarnoff's office. "If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, quacks like a duck...," he began. "And this is a duck."

All of this raises the question, What in hell is going on at 3500 Pan American Dr.? But let's back up. Dunn's driving record has been a persistent thorn in his bumper for at least a decade.His problems go back as far as 1993, when he was charged with leaving a

child unattended in his car; they have continued as recently as three

days after he was appointed commissioner, when he was found guilty of

unlawful speeding.

Though he's not shy about discussing his run-ins with the law, he usually spins them his way. Commissioner Francis Suarez pointedly asked him about it at the marathon January 26 meeting where the reverend was appointed. "The biggest thing is that I had a suspended license during a period when I was experiencing economic hardship," Dunn said then. "I became a habitual traffic offender. However, since that time, I do have a valid license."

Well, how habitual, commissioner? Let's take a look at the highlights:

In 2001, he was fined several times for driving with a suspended license, a defaced tag, and without insurance. He was charged with a felony for the habitual offenses in February the following year, placed on a one-year probation for failing to pay the fines on those tickets, assessed nearly $500 in court fees, and, most galling for Dunn, nailed for failing to complete 50 hours of community service. Then, in May, at a Little Haiti shopping plaza, he was busted again for driving a silver Isuzu Rodeo with a suspended driver's license. Just a couple of months later, he was busted -- this time in a Plymouth Acclaim -- for the same reason. Dunn plead guilty, but eventually completed his probation, and a judge withheld the felony charge.

But the indiscretions didn't stop there. In February last year, he was charged with unlawful speeding and driving with an expired tag. Later, in April, he was cited for neglecting to pay the fine from February. In July, he was pulled over and fined for having an expired tag and driving without insurance. Three months later, he still hadn't paid the fines and failed to appear in court to address them.

When Dunn was confronted with these questions, he maintained that his driving record doesn't say anything about his ability to lead. "I'd rather have traffic tickets than be investigated by the State Attorney's Office." But then he went after Marky Marc. "It's obvious where this is coming from," he said. "They've been trying to get me since 2005."

David Karsh, a spokesman for Sarnoff, said the District 2 commissioner doesn't want to get involved in an argument. "It's shocking to hear something like that because we've only been friendly and polite. We don't operate like that." Interestingly, at the appointment hearing, Sarnoff voted twice against Dunn before a last-minute compromise to appoint him. (Update: We should clarify -- Sarnoff didn't tip us to Dunn's atrocious driving record; it's widely available for anyone with a modem at the County Clerk's Web site. He's not exactly simpatico with Riptide either, to wit: Sarnoff, the litigious blog commenter, and town ethicist.)

Some of Dunn's opponents for the District 5 seat even side with him.

"I think it's important for the public to know his history," David Chiverton said. "I don't think he's an indictment in waiting because of his driving record. I think, however, if you're looking for someone squeaky-clean, you may not find it."

Meanwhile, Spence-Jones will have her big day in court February 26. Judge Victoria Platzer will decide then about the constitutionality of the governor's suspension.