The Miami Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust recently dismissed a “rude, boorish and tyrannical behavior” complaint against Vice Mayor Valerie Newman. The Letter of Instruction from the Ethics Commission admonishes her for bad behavior and states politicians are expected at all times to be “proper, honest, respectful and professional.” The two year old complaint was dropped due to a lack of resources. The following is the complete Letter of Instruction issued to the Vice Mayor from The Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust:
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY COMMISSION ON ETHICS & PUBLIC TRUST LETTER OF INSTRUCTION
To: Commissioner Valerie Newman City of South Miami
From: Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust
Re: Ethics Complaint C09-011
Date: May 2011
On June 11, 2009, Ajibola Balogun, then Manager of the City of South Miami, filed the instant complaint against Commissioner Valerie Newman alleging multiple violations of the South Miami Code of Conduct.
On October 26, 2009, the Ethics Commission entered a finding of probable cause after holding a hearing.
Thereafter, the discovery process began, which included the taking of numerous depositions. As discovery progressed it became evident that there was insufficient evidence to proceed on the majority of the counts. Further, the South Miami Code of Conduct provided that only the City of South Miami Commission could assess a penalty (reprimand or censure) against Commissioner Newman. It was determined that proceeding further would not be a prudent use of COE resources and as such, would not serve the public interest.
Accordingly, as of April 28, 2011, all counts pending against Commissioner Newman, as part of the instant complaint, were dismissed with prejudice and this Letter of Instruction was ordered to be issued.
The history of this case is rather long and involved. The salient facts are as follows:
• The South Miami Code of Conduct (Code of Conduct) was passed on June 12, 2007, City of South Miami Ordinance No. 21-07-1922.
• Valerie Newman was elected Commissioner of the City of South Miami on January 13, 2009.
• The probable cause memorandum charged Commissioner Newman with the following counts:
1) That she violated section (f)(2) of the Code of Conduct on January 30, 2009, when she allegedly threatened AT&T with going to the Miami Herald in order to get them to take action regarding a communications box.
2) That she violated section (1)(5) of the Code of Conduct on February 10, 2009, when she allegedly directed Manager Balogun to issue a permit for AT&T to move the communications box.
3) That she violated section (1)(5) of the Code of Conduct on February 11, 2009, when she sent an e-mail stating that it would be insubordinate for a City employee and the Manager not to issue the permit.
4) That she violated section (1)(6) of the Code of Conduct on February 17, 2009, when she made an unannounced appearance at a police “roll call” when the meeting was not requested by staff.
5) That she violated section (1)(2)(E) of the Code of Conduct on February 17, 2009, when, while attending the “roll call,” she asked officers numerous questions without requesting the meeting through the Manager.
6) That she violated section (1)(2)(D) of the Code of Conduct on February 10 or 11, 2009, when she allegedly requested several documents from the then Human Resources Director and demanded to have them the same day.
7) That she violated section (1)(3) of the Code of Conduct on February 10 or 11, 2009, when she allegedly called the Human Resources Director demanding the documents and disrupting the staffer while she was performing her job functions, in order to have her individual needs met.
8) That she violated section (1)(2)(E) of the Code of Conduct on February 16, 2009, when she allegedly called a City staffer about meeting with her without going through the Manager.
9) That she violated section (1)(5) of the Code of Conduct on May 1, 2009, when she allegedly blamed a City staffer for an error and insisted someone be held responsible and terminated, thus becoming involved in administrative functions.
10) That she violated section (f)(2) of the Code of Conduct on May 1, 2009, when she allegedly threatened the Manager with evaluating him if he did not terminate the employee, thus using threatening and intimidating language.
• During the discovery process, it became evident that the credibility of many of the witnesses had become compromised.
• It was also determined that many of the sections of the Code of Conduct were vague, unclear and potentially at odds with the City’s Charter.
• On June 10, 2010, pursuant to City of South Miami Ordinance No. 15-10-2040, the Code of Conduct was repealed and therefore, is no longer in effect.
WHEREFORE, the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust hereby issues this Letter of Instruction:
Even though the discovery process left the Advocate with no choice but to dismiss the instant complaint, the COE believes that a Letter of Instruction should be issued which focuses on the aspirational goals of the Code of Conduct and serves to emphasize that extraordinary caution should be exercised by elected officials in the way they act when representing the government entity of which they are a part; whether it be with employees of that entity or members of the general public. While the now repealed Code of Conduct may have been impractical to enforce, the spirit of civility and respect it sought to foster remains a worthwhile model of behavior.
Commissioner Newman was accused of threatening AT&T with negative publicity if they did not go along with her wishes. She was accused of ordering the Manager and high-level employees to do certain things although doing so was outside of her scope of powers. She was further accused of demanding to be treated differently than the general public. In short, Commissioner Newman was accused of bullying people inside and outside of City government in order to complete her personal agenda. Commissioner Newman must keep in mind that often actions, which may themselves be legal and ethical, are subject to misinterpretation when performed in an aggressive and threatening manner. Rude, boorish and tyrannical behavior by elected officials, while perhaps not actionable under an ethics code, is inexcusable nevertheless.
Commissioner Newman has maintained that she was simply trying to do her job in helping the City of South Miami and its constituents and that the Code of Conduct hindered her ability to do so efficiently. This is a poor excuse.
In our opinion, ethical behavior is not simply the doing of what is right but doing it the right way. In the realm of public governance, that generally means doing what is in the best interests of the citizenry in a civilized and professional manner – this should be a simple task. It would not be unreasonable, in our opinion, for the ordinary person learning of Commissioner Newman’s antics, to conclude that she behaved in an “unethical” and unprofessional manner.
Elected officials need to comport themselves with civility. It is unacceptable, in our opinion, for an elected official to behave in an elitist manner and to treat the citizens they represent discourteously. There should not have to be a Code of Conduct that spells that out for elected officials and the mere fact that such a Code of Conduct does not exist, should not imply to anyone that such reprehensible behavior will be tolerated.
We hope this Letter of Instruction impresses upon Commissioner Newman and all elected officials that they must be mindful that their behavior be at all times proper, honest, respectful and professional whether it is “legally” or “ethically” required by a particular Code of Conduct or otherwise. Commissioner Newman should take this Letter of Instruction to heart and govern herself accordingly.
The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust can be reached at 305-350-0631 or email Comm. Chair, Dawn Addy at email@example.com.
Contact the City of South Miami at 305-663-6338 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.