Is Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo above the law?

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Miami's Community Newspapers

Regulations are funny things, depending on which side you find yourself.

If you are the government or you are the people who the regulations don’t affect, then the view is that they must all be strictly enforced, regardless of their wisdom or merit. If you are a business owner or a home owner who has added onto his property without bothering to get permits, then regulations are seen as a threat to freedom, profits — or both.

The Miami Commission seems obsessed with the issue of whether businesses throughout the city are intentionally violating the City Code. The issue did not start with Commissioner Joe Carollo, but he is seen widely as someone who delights in pouring gasoline on an already smoldering La Caja China.

Carollo has been at war with the owners of the Ball & Chain bar, staking out their valet parking lot at night and making code compliance complaints against it. The battle has resulted in a federal lawsuit filed by Ball & Chain co-owner Bill Fuller against Carollo and his targeting of Fuller’s businesses for selective enforcement.

Commissioners have spent many hours recently attacking the credibility of business owners, threatening the livelihoods of the thousands of people they employ. But those in power want to act like Roman emperors, giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to businesses. Those who are favored (or who do favors) get to live. Those who have had the temerity to oppose the powerful can find themselves in the crosshairs of bureaucrats.

The conflict has spilled out of the commission chambers and into the administration. After a raucous commission meeting on Feb. 14, city attorney Victoria Mendez asked city manager Emilio Gonzalez to have 11 properties re-inspected. Of the 11, seven are owned by Fuller and his affiliates or are associated with Fuller-owned businesses.

That request by Mendez prompted City of Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina who raised his concern about commissioners trying to sidestep the prohibition on their giving directions to city staffers by funneling them through the City Attorney’s Office. Colina’s expression of concern brought a sharp rebuke from Commissioner Carollo.

The antics in Miami have gotten the attention of the State Attorney’s Office. Assistant State Attorney Tim VanderGiesen, Miami-Dade’s top corruption prosecutor, has asked the city to turn over documents related to the code enforcement kerfuffle. It is not clear whether the investigation will go any further.

The result of all of this is that the people are growing wary about the integrity of their government. It’s time for commissioners to stop shouting and pounding on the dais. It’s time for them to show their good faith.

The city has five commissioners and a mayor. All of them have to live in the city of Miami. Several conduct businesses in the city limits.

I have a modest proposal, one that will greatly increase the public’s respect for the city government.

The mayor and the commissioners should ask city manager Emilio Gonzalez to send code enforcement inspectors to review their properties, both businesses and homes, for permits and violations. To be fair, the city should go in alphabetical order by the commissioners’ last names. They should also invite the media to come along, so everyone can see the truth for themselves.

I got the idea from Joe Carollo himself when he said at a recent meeting: “In America we are all supposed to be treated equal. The rich and the famous have to be treated the same way as everyone else.”

I agree. And Joe Carollo would be the first to be inspected under this plan. This would prove that Joe’s not all bombast and no action.

By doing this, the mayor and commissioners will strengthen the public trust in their leadership. They will show that no one is above the law. If they don’t hold themselves to the same standard, then they will make clear that, in their own minds, they are sitting at the top tier of the Coliseum, ready to pass judgment on ordinary people in the arena.


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