On May 31, at the height of racial-justice protests in downtown Miami following the killing of George Floyd, Suarez spoke to a crowd of protesters and reporters and gave his personal cell phone number to a demonstrator while on camera.
Suarez then tweeted a video of the interaction that includes him reciting his phone number aloud and a written pledge to engage in a dialogue about how to improve race relations in the nation. As of this week, the video had garnered nearly 43,000 views.
Ten days after the mayor shared the video, New Times sent a request to the City of Miami's public-records division for all texts sent to and by Suarez between May 31 and June 7.
I am willing to meet with anyone who is willing to have a constructive conversation about how to meaningfully improve race relations in our country. Here’s my cell phone number. pic.twitter.com/mF7p1Mfe35— Mayor Francis Suarez (@FrancisSuarez) May 31, 2020
Federal public records law, known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), holds that text messages and emails made by government officials are subject to public disclosure as long as they pertain to official business. Florida's own public records law has been used to assert that text messages by government officials are subject to public review if they pertain to government operations.
It wasn't until 56 days after New Times requested text messages from a one week period that Assistant City Attorney Jihan Soliman responded with word that Suarez said there were no records to turn over.
"The mayor has stated there are no responsive records to your request. Accordingly, we will be closing this [public records request]. Thank you for your patience," Soliman wrote in an August 5 email.
This response came after numerous unanswered emails from New Times during June and July requesting an update on the status of the request.
When New Times attempted to call the number Suarez provided to protesters, the call went to a voicemail recording of Mayor Suarez giving his name. After several attempts to call the number, a spokesperson for Suarez picked up and said the mayor was busy.
New Times has previously reported on text conversations between Suarez and members of the community that have made news, including the time he told a former Civilian Investigative Panel member that problems in the Miami Police Department were "made up."
When New Times asked for clarification as to why no records were provided, in order to amend the request if necessary, those requests went unanswered for three weeks, until August 24.
"Your request was responded to, there are no documents responsive to your request. Upon your insistence, I have reached out to the Mayor’s office to confirm their response," Soliman wrote. "[Florida public records law] does not require I answer questions, only provide documents. I do not respond to media inquiries."
To date, New Times has not received the promised confirmation.
After receiving Soliman's second email, New Times reached out to Soledad Cedro, associate communications director for Suarez's office. Cedro said at the time that the mayor had met with protesters at his office after giving out his number, but she wasn't sure if he'd received any calls or texts from them.
Through Cedro, New Times requested a one-on-one meeting with Suarez to discuss his interactions with the protesters.
To date, the mayor has not responded to the request, nor to two follow-up emails and several calls and text messages to Cedro's listed phone number.
It has been 111 days since the initial public-records request from New Times.