The only similarity between former Miami Beach City Commissioner Joy Malakoff and mega-financier Warren Buffet is their age. He’s 87. She’s 85. You’ll see why that’s relevant in a minute.
Miami Beach is currently considering putting a referendum on the November 8th ballot fall that would allow the City to raise taxes to pay back a new series of bonds — GO BONDS — that would be used to fund major improvements in the City’s infrastructure.
It’s difficult to say what the bond proceeds would be used for. At the time that this editorial was written, the City had taken down the webpage on its site that discussed GO BONDS. However, since nothing ever dies on the Internet, we were able to find a copy of the page. The information that the City had put out was sparse at best.
What the webpage failed to disclose was that the City was going to be hiring ex-Commissioner Malakoff to spearhead the campaign to get the voters to approve the referendum so the City could sell the bonds.
It also didn’t disclose that the City would be paying Malakoff the sum of $50,000 to be the GO BONDS’ poster child. The story of her hiring is perhaps the most troubling of all of this.
City Commissioners received a late-night call hours before the February 13th Commission meeting to tell them that they would be voting on an Ethics Ordinance waiver so that the City could hire Malakoff. The City Manager’s office never gave the notice required by state law that the City Commission was going to take this issue up. There was no mention of it in the agenda.
Under Miami Beach’s Ethics Ordinance, a former city commissioner can’t be employed by the City in any capacity for two years. The Commission is allowed to waive the Ethics Ordinance and the citizens of Miami Beach should have expected that a waiver would be issued under only the direst of circumstances.
One Commissioner, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, pressed the City Manager on why the selection process was not open for all qualified applicants or why this was so dire that it had to be handled mostly from the shadows. Morales couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer. The City Commission took up the issue with only Rosen Gonzalez and Michael Gongora voting against it.
The way this was handled leaves many questions unanswered. Why wasn’t the decision to hire Malakoff publically disclosed prior to the meeting? What special financial insights does Joy Malakoff have that makes her the only choice in a city of 92,000 or in metropolitan area of nearly 3 million people? How would Malakoff approach the challenge of getting a majority of voters to approve the referendum? The questions go on and on.
Dan Gelber, the City’s newly elected Mayor, has flunked the first ethics test of his first, and maybe only, two-year term. As a candidate who made ethics such an issue during his mayoral campaign, the people have the right to hold Gelber to the standards he set for others.
The Mayor and Commissioners leave the community asking two questions. Was this $50,000 job for Joy Malakoff part of some political payback? Or was it a gift of the taxpayer’s money? There doesn’t seem to be any other alternatives. The mantra of Watergate rings in our ears. Perhaps the Commission on Ethics and the Public Trust should follow the money to see if there was some sort of quid pro quo that led to Malakoff’s hasty appointment.
As this editorial was being written, City Manager Jimmy Morales sent out an email to Dan Gelber and the Commissioners which reads: “I spoke with Joy Malakoff and she has withdrawn her name from consideration for a consulting engagement with respect to the GOB outreach. There is no further need for the waiver. Thank you.”
That’s the email equivalent of “Nothing to see here. Move along.” The people of Miami Beach know that this whole affair is as pungent as a fish rotting on the shores of South Beach at noon.
Neither Malakoff’s sudden withdrawal nor Morales’ email clears the parties to this matter of their misdeeds. There is an old saying in Spanish that roughly translates to “Reputation is like a glass of milk. Once it is spilled, you can never get all the milk back in the glass.”
The glasses holding the reputations of Dan Gelber, Ricky Arriola, John Aleman, Mickey Steinberg, and Mark Samuelian are bone dry. The Commission on Ethics needs to come in and clean this mess up.