Commissioner Who?

Jeffery Allen, the City of Miami's newest commissioner, has only been in office since October 1, when he was appointed to the seat by three of his colleagues amid a political circus. It's too early to tell what kind of advocate he will be for District 5, which encompasses the city's poorest areas, including Overtown, Model City, and Little Haiti. But already Allen has mastered an arrogant disdain for the fourth estate usually observed in politicians of much longer tenure. Allen apparently believes he should not deign to answer the more impertinent questions about his background, such as: "So who are you, anyway?"

Why, his staffers ask, are we rabid press hounds not satisfied with the brief bio the city distributed? Why do we want to question him closely about his background? Why do we trouble his relatives, neighbors, and students? Why can we not just accept that he's a great guy, an intelligent lawyer contemplating nothing but the best for his constituents? Does not this man, who so selflessly stepped into the public-servant breach left by Art Teele's suspension from office, have some right to privacy?

Well, no, actually he doesn't. Especially considering that Allen lobbied commissioners and the mayor for the job. Commissioner Johnny Winton, who otherwise says he's impressed by Allen, acknowledges his weakness with regard to the press. "He's terrible," Winton notes. "I tried coaching him, but he's resisting."

New Times spent the better part of last week attempting to interview Jeffery Allen. Several phone messages left at his commission office went unreturned. A visit to that Dinner Key office resulted in an engaging conversation with his guarded chief of staff, Milton Vickers, and Neil Shiver, his jovial policy adviser and a well-known Coconut Grove attorney. Allen was busy, they said, but he'd surely have a few minutes to spare the next day. "I want you to come in and spend the day with us," Shiver generously offered. "See how we work, and then you can interview Jeff."

The next morning, a Friday, Shiver informed New Times that Allen wasn't in the office, but he might be found at an event in Overtown, where the Black Archives was receiving a $500,000 grant to design a hotel. New Times dutifully waited through the speeches and the photo ops. Vickers announced that Allen didn't have time for a substantive interview right then, but he would be available later. New Times called later.

Vickers said Allen wasn't feeling well and wouldn't be up for an interview until Monday afternoon. New Times pointed out that a deadline was looming and the 48-year-old Allen had in fact looked fairly hale at the photo op. Vickers then explained that Allen didn't really want to be interviewed at all, so Monday afternoon was a big concession. "He was upset that the press went to his mother's house and intimidated her," he said. "They walked around the St. Thomas University campus [where Allen is an adjunct professor, teaching sports law] and asked students questions like he was a criminal." Two hours later Shiver called and said Monday probably wouldn't work either.

Shiver and Vickers indicated in various conversations that Allen's general attitude was he didn't need to cater to the media. Allen, they said, is not a politician type. He's not concerned with looking good, just doing the job well. His reticence isn't limited to New Times. Public records reveal that several other media outlets, including the Miami Herald, the SunPost, the Miami Times, and WTVJ-TV (Channel 6), have attempted to interview him. So far none has come away with more than a sound bite or two. "He refuses to answer any questions as it relates to his personal life," Shiver declared, "such as the homestead exemption or his relationship with his wife."

Vickers opined that District 5 doesn't need a commissioner who allows himself to be badgered and distracted by the media. "In our neighborhoods, we need people to be able to look up to people like Jeff," he intoned, dismissing the argument that people can't look up to someone they don't know.

It's understandable that Allen initially would be overwhelmed. The events surrounding his surprise appointment played like screwball Dinner Key theater. Although they weren't saying so publicly, city commissioners (except Tomas Regalado) and Mayor Manny Diaz (although he didn't have a vote) were prepared to appoint almost anyone to avoid a special election. Why? Because even though Teele had been suspended from office after his arrest on felony charges, he likely would have run in a special election -- and won. Teele supporters, union members, and unaffiliated community types loudly opposed an appointment. In more than a few cases this position was based on unadulterated self-interest. For example, the Rev. Richard Dunn, a previous commission appointee, lobbied for the job, but when he didn't get the nod, abruptly and vociferously converted to advocating for an election.

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Rebecca Wakefield