South Miami’s City Hall, erected in 1956, is a drafty place. It’s not from outside winds permeating cracks around the windows. It’s from the persistent movement of air from stale speeches, gossip, whispers, and lies…
And sometimes it’s from desperation.
South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard set off a chain of events on Jan. 16, 2018, when he refused to let Stephen Cody speak during the citizen-comments portion of the meeting. The mayor also refused to let Cody speak again at the Feb. 6 meeting.
There is a provision in both the City of South Miami Charter and the County Charter that gives residents the “right to be heard.” Cody complained to the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and the Public Trust, saying his rights were violated.
On April 3, the city commission took up an item to pay Stoddard’s attorney’s fees for represent him during the first portion of the ethics complaint process, South Miami Commissioner Liebman was the only elected official to vote against it.
City Manager Steve Alexander put the item on the agenda as an add-on item. But strangely enough, in Parliamentary procedure-speak, it was “moved” by Mayor Stoddard. He was not only present during the debate on the item, he participated in it.
When it was time to vote on the item, Stoddard can be clearly heard on the video of the meeting saying, “This is my request.”
He voted on the item and then said, “Although, I guess I can’t vote, can I? Is it a conflict for me or not?”
A discussion was had off-mic with the city attorney. Stoddard then said, “I will abstain. With that, it’s 3 – 1.”
Stoddard’s participation in the item presents a problem and his belated “abstention” did close the self-inflicted wound. But now, the winds and whispers are whipping through the corridors of city hall like a tropical storm.
The County Commission on Ethics voted 4 to 1 on July 18 to find probable cause that Stoddard violated Cody’s rights. The case now goes onto a full trial.
But Phil was correct when he recognized on April 3 that he had a conflict of interest and could not vote. It goes much deeper than that. Both the city and county ethics codes prohibit and official from participating in an item or even being in the room during the discussion of an item that will benefit them.
That’s what Stoddard did. He attended. He seconded. He debated. He voted. The talk in city hall is that Stoddard now recognizes his ethical – and epical – blunder.
Now, like a golfer who hit a shot into a sand trap, he’s asking for a “mulligan” — a do-over.
An emergency meeting of the South Miami City Commission has been called for the purpose of pulling Stoddard’s ball out of the sand trap. He wants the commission to rescind the authorization to a hire the attorney to defend him.
Then, he wants the commission to revote to give him a lawyer on the taxpayers’ dime. This time with Stoddard out of the room. That, he believes, will make everything all right and erase his ethical lapse.
Rumors fly outside of city hall, too. Word is that a new complaint is being filed with the County Ethics Commission at press time over Phil’s participation on April 3. We’ll have to wait to see what happens on that.
The city is on the hook for paying attorneys’ fees and the judgment in the case involving the firing of former Chief Orlando Martinez de Castro, the city is also paying for the defense of the alleged defamation that Stoddard made against Lieutenant José Lopez on his personal website – and now the city is paying for the cost of defending Phil for denying someone’s absolute right to be heard.
We need to add to all of that, a likely complaint that he violated the ethics provisions by “lobbying” from the dais to get the city to pay for his attorneys, again.
It’s time for the citizens of South Miami to say, “enough is enough.”
There is a saying in Spanish that roughly translates to, “Your reputation is like a glass of water. Once you spill it, no matter how hard you try, you can never get all the water back into the glass.”