The Miami-Dade Police Department's public corruptions unit has scalped its fair share of unscrupulous public officials over the years. They busted former county Commissioner Miriam Alonso and her husband for using her political campaign contributions as a personal slush fund. They nabbed former airport administrator Richard Mendez steering contracts to vendors who threw him kickbacks. Recently, they've been slowly peeling away at the water and sewer department's cellphone scandal and the housing agency rip-off that landed developer Oscar Rivero in jail on grand theft and fraud charges.
But by the end of Thursday, the police detail may find itself out of the business of handcuffing scoundrels who rip off Miami-Dade taxpayers. County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez is sponsoring a measure that would strip the police department's authority to conduct investigations into alleged misconduct involving county officials and county funds. Instead, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would assume the responsibility of cracking down on homegrown corruption.
Call it the first counter strike against Mayor Carlos Alvarez's all-but-assured victory today to give his office more power over county government, including the authority to hire and fire department heads. In effect, the mayor would have the ability to scuttle investigations that could be "embarrassing" to his administration, Gimenez explained. "There is no buffer there," he added. "If the strong mayor passes, investigations would become political."
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"I think it's absolutely absurd," Alvarez told New Times. "I don't think it's legal. I'm going to veto it. I'm going to call the State Attorney's office. I'm going to call the U.S. Attorney's office. ... It's just another embarrassing moment for Miami-Dade County." Miami-Dade police director Robert "Bobby" Parker declined to give his opinion.
Gimenez insisted his proposal was nothing personal against Alvarez, and that he didn't have a problem any of the unit's investigations. He says he's only creating a situation similar to when Miami-Dade state attorney Kathrine Ferenandez Rundle recuses herself from criminal cases in which she has a conflict, or a special prosecutor is assigned to investigate a presidential administration. "I'm not trying to hinder anything at all," Gimenez said. "I want everything to be done above board."
Unfortunately that would mean one less set of law enforcers protecting the public coffers.