Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff's questionable ethics over hiring Karsh Media Solutions

Wanted: The Community Redevelopment Agency, in charge of revitalizing the downtown and Overtown district, seeks publicist. Pay: $27,000, including a $2,500 expense account.

After that call went out in April, three firms applied for the job with the agency chaired by city Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who sponsored a law requiring government officials and lobbyists to pass an ethics course.

The winner: Karsh Media Solutions, headed by David Karsh, a chunky TV reporter turned publicist.

Problem is Karsh already had another job with the city: spinning for Chairman Sarnoff himself, a $55,000-a-year, full-time job Karsh has held since 2008.

That Sarnoff would approve hiring his own spinmeister for a five-figure gig is fishy though likely not illegal. It seems the commish slept through his ethics class.

Turns out the city code forbids full-time employees from entering into simultaneous contracts with the city because it represents a conflict of interest.

Sarnoff defended the choice, saying Karsh would be a known entity for the CRA.

"If you pick up two resumés and one's from California and you happen to know the other guy, why shouldn't you hire him?" Sarnoff said. Former Commissioner Joe Sanchez's PR man "was also bidding, so there's no preferential treatment,"he added.

Sarnoff says the city attorney's office OK'ed the decision, but deputy city attorney Maria Chiaro said it did so only in an informal opinion, where it assumed Karsh was a part-timer.

But in late June, after Riptide confronted him, Karsh backed off from his job with the city.

"If I do end up assisting the CRA with media relations, I would give up my full-time city status, including benefits, so I could properly focus on any additional responsibilities," he said.

Meanwhile, the agency hasn't chosen who'll be its next flack. It hasn't signed a new PR contract because it's arguing with another publicist over unpaid bills.

Sounds like a great gig.

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Erik Maza