WPLG Local 10’s seasoned senior political reporter and long-time host of its This Week In South Florida, MICHAEL PUTNEY was the Miami Beach Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club’s guest speaker June 5. An occasional Miami Herald columnist in addition to his broadcast roles, he assessed, among other things, current political goings-on in Miami Beach and the county:
You are my kind of people. At the end of my program for the last 23 years on Channel 10 I say, “Stay informed, get involved.” You are informed, you are involved. You’re civic activists and for that I salute all of you.
I lived in Miami Beach, and loved it, several years ago. I live in Aventura now. What has happened here is kind of a cataclysmic change. These are cyclical. They have to happen. Jorge Gonzalez, in my view, for many years did a very competent, good job [here]. The city was going along on a progressive track. Whenever you don’t see people like me at your Commission meetings, you know things are going pretty well. But when the media begin to show up and smell blood on the water, then you know something is wrong.
And it wasn’t just at Commission meetings. It was a year ago, at Urban Beach Weekend, when a criminal was trying to escape – tried to run down some police officers – but in the process was shot about a hundred times. Be that as it may, but there were four innocent civilians who were shot. And then there was the incident at the Clevelander Hotel with a couple of officers drinking with the women who were here for a bachelorette party and then the [ATV] ride on the beach. And then the indictment of the code enforcement officers.
Clearly the city, in my view and in your view, I think, is out of control or at least out of the city manager’s control. And even though he came up with a plan to reestablish order and bring things back to a state of normalcy, he is not the person who’s going to do it.
I thought it was pretty laughable when he submitted a resignation for one year hence. That was never going to fly.
I think that many of you were outside City Hall [April 26] when discussions about his future were going on and Mayor Bower came downstairs thinking that she was going to get lots of hugs and kisses and was, I think, unprepared for the depth of the intensity of your feelings about the need for change.
I know a lot of you were angry that the City Commission meeting had not been called to talk about the arrests of the code enforcement officers. That meeting should have been called. I think there was a lot of things that needed to be talked about. That was, frankly, a failure of leadership on the mayor’s part, but things have progressed.
I’ve met the budget director [Kathie Brooks]. I see that she is going to be the interim city manager. I guess there will be a national search [for a permanent manager], although those things don’t always work out so well. Look at the city of Hollywood. Spent $23,000 to find a manager and 76 days later he is gone after going to a strip club and getting a drunk driving ticket.
I just love these stories; they keep me gainfully employed. I like to say I am a full-service political reporter: I cover politicians when they run for office, when they’re in office, when they’re indicted in office, when they go to trial, and I’ve even gone to prison and interviewed some after they were convicted.
I’ve been doing it here for 35 years and I have some historical sense of our community. I love this community. I love Miami Beach. I love South Florida, and long may she wave.
Having moderated a recent debate between the two, Putney spoke of the Carlos Gimenez-Joe Martinez match-up for county mayor:
[Martinez is saying to voters] “I have a different style of leadership, it’s not so top-down, and I’ll get better results.” I don’t think that that is a winning formula. Let’s see how that race plays out.
Our [county] sewer system is falling apart. These pipes are more than 50 years old in some cases, and the federal government has said to [the county], “You must fix these pipes and fix them now.”
If you should happen to have either one of these candidates here I hope you ask them, “How soon do you think that you’re going to begin?” My impression is they both say, “Oh yeah, we’re going to fix them after November.” The reason they don’t want to talk about why they’re going to wait till November is because we all are going to pay to repair these pipes, as indeed we probably should. But if it’s going to take a bond issue or it’s going to take higher water and sewer fees, it must be done.
But they want to delay. I don’t think there really is any time for delay.
Another county issue that I hope shows up on either the August 14 ballot or the November general election ballot is charter reform. It just wasn’t enough for Norman Braman – with a lot of help from citizens like you, perhaps – to force Carlos Alvarez out of office. There has to be some systemic changes in the way county government is structured.
One of the changes I believe is badly needed is to finally have a vote on whether county commissioners will serve eight years – and that’s it. And be paid what the state formula calls for, which is $92,000. I hope that a question like that appears on the ballot.
County commissioners have been paid $6,000 a year since the county charter was written by Dan Paul of Miami Beach in 1957. What they have done to make up the difference is give them some extraordinary perks and benefits, but full compensation is still only about $50,000. I think that that’s an absurd amount.
Up in Broward County, they pay county commissioners about $90,000 a year. Of course, they don’t have sergeants at arms to drive them around like personal chauffeurs and they also don’t have certain perks, but some charter questions need to be on the November ballot.
Gov. Rick Scott remains an enigma to me. I spoke with him the other day. He really didn’t want to speak with me, and I will wear that as a badge of honor. He was here to sign another mock bill. Governors like to do this. A bill is passed and he’ll sign it in Tallahassee, then make a grand tour of the state and have these dog-and-pony shows where they sign the bill again.
He was at the National Hurricane Center. I wanted to ask him about the voter purge in Florida that he has asked for. In the St. Petersburg Times, they reported a number of months ago Gov. Scott said to Kurt Browning, the Secretary of State who oversees elections, “I think there’s a lot of people registering to vote who are not citizens and we’ve got to find them.” Browning, who is a conservative Republican and a competent guy, said, “I don’t think that’s really a problem. When people register to vote they generally tell the truth.” And the governor said to Browning, “People lie.”
Of course, people do lie, but the evidence of widespread instances of non-citizens registering to vote and then voting is pretty small. Nevertheless, the state has put together this list of 2,600 people, sent it to the elections supervisors, 1,638 of them are – guess what? – from Miami-Dade County. 58% of them are Hispanic. So far, I think the figure I saw the other day was about 500 have already given evidence to the elections supervisor that they are citizens.
Last week I talked to a 91-year-old gentleman in Davie, a World War II hero who had won a Bronze Star in the Battle of the Bulge. He was taken off the voter rolls. He subsequently proved that he is a citizen. I said to the governor, “Governor, look at what’s happened here. All these people have come forward in Miami-Dade and said, ‘We are citizens, why are you making me prove that I am a citizen and have the right to vote?’ And will you stop this purge?”
The governor danced around this for a couple of minutes and finally said, “Well, we’ll think about it but nobody wants anybody who’s not eligible to vote.” I said, “That’s not really the issue. Of course we don’t want people who are not eligible to vote. How widespread do you believe this is? He said that he believes that it is fairly widespread.
Now forgive me – I don’t mean to be mean-spirited. I wonder, Why does he believe that way? My guess is that at some cocktail party at a white-shoe country club in Naples with his millionaire friends, when they sit around and talk about welfare cheats – which is why you had to make people pee in a bottle to get any welfare assistance – he says, “Well, we know all these immigrants who aren’t citizens are voting and we’ve got to stop them.” What is the empirical proof? I don’t think there is much empirical proof. So far in Miami-Dade, they’ve gotten 13 people who have admitted that they shouldn’t have registered to vote. Good. Take them off the rolls.
His [campaign] message of “Let’s Get to Work” was a great message in a state with over a million people unemployed, but the governor in almost every other respect has been foundering. I think that his inexperience has shown. He’s not a bad guy. I just think that when you pick somebody out of the private sector who’s been successful, it doesn’t necessarily translate into success in elective office.
There are times when I wonder, Did he miss that class in law school – did he take constitutional law? Did he hear about the 4th Amendment? The example to me of requiring anybody getting cash assistance in the state to have to give a urine sample to prove that they’re not on drugs – of course, we don’t want people getting cash assistance. But as far as I can tell it’s established law that that is a violation of our 4th Amendment rights. And I asked the governor about that and he just gave these answers that fly all over the place. Other politicians look at the Constitution differently; sometimes I don’t think he looks at it at all.