Today, the last day of 2008, Banana Republican highlights his ten favorite news stories of the year, the tales that truly capture life in a sun-drenched, third-world dimension.
10. Marc Sarnoff's Memo to Himself.
The Coconut Grove loving city commissioner has a super secret meeting
with Joe Arriola at which time the former city manager informs Sarnoff
that another city commissioner, Michelle Spence-Jones, is shaking down
developers. After the clandestine encounter, Sarnoff jots down the
details of the conversation in a "Memo to Self," which eventually and
conveniently ends up in the hands of state prosecutors investigating
Spence-Jones for public corruption.
Read the rest of the picks after the jump:
9. Helen Williams and her 35 percent.
The former Miami-Dade Public Schools teacher didn't stand a chance against incumbent Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez. Alvarez amassed three-quarters of a million
dollars for his re-election campaign compared to Williams' three G's. El Fuerte had the backing of the county's employee unions and several county commissioners. Yet Williams still snagged 35 percent of the vote this past August, showing that the Miami-Dade electorate is desperate for some real leadership.
8. Angel Gonzalez's Potty Mouth.
The Miami City Commissioner from Allapattah didn't like it when neighborhood activist Horacio Stuart Aguirre called him a liar at the city commission meeting this past November 13. So how did Gonzalez respond? Well, like they do in the AP; with vulgar insults. Gonzalez told Aguirre: "Don't call me a liar, asshole!"
7. Miami Beach Building Department Scandal.
This past March 19, public corruption investigators uncovered a true Miami extortion racket when they arrested Andres Villarreal, Mohammad Partovi and Henry Johnson, who allegedly took bribes in 2003 and 2004 from developer Michael
Stern, co-owner of the historic Coral Rock House, in exchange for
expediting reviews of his projects and lowering some fees. Stern, a
developer and a contractor, was not charged and received immunity from
prosecution for cooperating with law enforcement. Stern
acknowledged making payoffs, saying he considered them ''part of the
6. Jorge Fernandez's lavish expenses.
The City of Miami's six-figure attorney resigned in disgrace this past February to avoid prosecution on public corruption charges. Prosecutors were investigating Fernandez's use of his $10,000-a-year expense account, including one tab of more than $1,500 at the Rusty Pelican. Under his plea agreement, Fernandez pled no contest to two misdemeanor counts of making false official statements and accepted one year of probation. He is also required to pay restitution of 43,093 and $10,993 in investigative costs.
5. David Brown Resigns Too
Things could not have been worse for the City Beautiful's top administrator this past November. A Miami-Dade Police report concluded Brown acted criminally
when he falsified records to cover up credit card spending. While
he was not charged with a crime (prosecutors said the actions did not
rise to that level), he paid $2,300 in fines for a civil violation of
public records laws. Yet he survived an attempt by the Coral Gables City Commission to have him removed. However Brown could not survive the accusations by the mayor's former assistant, Olga Garcia, who accused the city manager of sexual harassment. He resigned rather than be fired.
4. The Thief Detective.
For 15 years, Fran Miller was a well-respected investigator in the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. Her line of work was investigating those who targeted the elderly and her file is filled with commendation letters including for a case in 2004 when Miller built a
case against three women who conned a 93-year-old man out of $725,000,
claiming one needed cancer surgery. How quickly the hunter becomes the hunted. This past November, Miller was charged with stealing valuables from a friend while running an estate sales company on the side.
3. The Transit Friends and Family Plan
Last week Miami Herald reporter Larry Lebowitz did a fantastic job telling us about the patronage hires at Miami-Dade Transit that saw aides and secretaries to ex-Mayor Alex Penelas, current
and former Commissioners Barbara Carey-Shuler, Jimmy Morales, Betty
Ferguson, José ''Pepe'' Diaz, Sally Heyman, Dennis Moss, Katy Sorensen
and Natacha Seijas, and retired U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, get plum new jobs. Many
of the aides who worked for Penelas and the former commissioners were
moved into the transit agency under county personnel ''pipeline'' rules
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that give placement preference to workers whose jobs are being
2. Alberto Carvalho's Indecent Liason
Miami-Dade Public Schools' new leader had not even been formerly given the job when allegations he had an inappropriate romantic relationship with ex-Miami Herald education reporter Tania deLuzriaga surfaced in the form of purported emails between the two that were circulated to School Board members and media outlets. The e-mails documented conversations between deLuzriaga and Carvalho that covered everything from her coverage of the public schools district to very explicit sexual messages.
1. Teen Bus Thief.
Yet nothing tops the story of 18-year-old James L. Harris. Authorities claim that on June 1, Harris snuck into a transit depot and drove off in a 40-foot bus, cruising around the county for several hours, picking up fares from Aventura to South Beach. Twelve days later, Miami-Dade Police allege, Harris took out another bus for a six hour joy ride, which included a make out session between the teen and an unidenified man caught by the onboard surveillance camera. Following his arrest, Harris called a news conference proclaiming his innocence and accusing county officials of tricking him into signing a confession.