Tag Archives: Trolleygate

Another Open Email To Miami’s Public Records Department

THIS IS A PUBLIC REPLY

TO: Jones, Isiaa <IJones@miami.gov>
SUBJECT: Frustration Over PRR 16-452: FOIA Request
DATE:
September 28, 2016

CC: Melendez, Eleazar <ElMelendez@miamigov.com>;
Russell, Ken (Commissioner) <krussell@miamigov.com>; Mendez,
Victoria  <VMendez@miamigov.com>; Hannon, Todd
<thannon@miamigov.com>; The Loyal Readers of the Not Now Silly
Newsroom; Various Facebook Groups and Pages of my choosing

Monday
morning I sent an email which stated I’d be at Miami City Hall on
Tuesday to inspect the files you said would be waiting for me. In that
email I asked 2 questions, basically: Whether the fee for the emails I
requested was still on the table and how much it costs to photocopy per
page.

I never got a response to that email, so I didn’t
know when I arrived on Tuesday morning whether my 24 hours notice was
sufficient. Luckily, when I arrived, I was expected.

There were 2
boxes of material for me to look through, but only a small portion of
the total answered any of my search criteria. The rest was just all the
city files that arrived in those boxes from the former-Commissioner’s
office.

While some of it was quite interesting — and
I wish I had the budget to photocopy that entire 2 inch thick Reid
Welch file — and while some of it matched my search criteria, none of
it is what I asked for.

I asked for all of the email, not the files.

I
mentioned this to City Clerk Todd Hannon during a brief conversation
yesterday. He had me second guessing myself because he said I had asked
for everything, and the boxes of files was just one stream for my
request. The other stream was the electronic request for all of the
emails.

I am not sure what instructions Mr.
Hannon received, but this is exactly what I asked for, from my original
email to Commissioner Russell:

I would like to receive any email [from the former District 2 Commissioners office] that references the following keywords:

And, I’m still waiting.

To be perfectly honest, I was requesting the email FIRST in case it gave
me new information to add to a RECORDS search. You see, my RECORDS
search would have come later, based upon what the emails revealed.

I
drove down to Miami from Sunrise yesterday hoping to do all of this on
one trip. No one in the Clerk’s office knew a thing about the email I was supposed to examine.
Aside from the gas wasted, I spent more than 3.5 hours on the road 
[Yeah, it shocked me too. The roads were bad yesterday.]

Thinking
about my time and gas makes me wonder how many keystrokes it took your
IT guy to come up with a cost of $100.31. How many minutes from an IT
guy am I paying for? What is the basic rate?

One
good piece of news: I now know that you charge 15 cents per photocopy,
because I got a few made out of those boxes. That’s Kinko pricing.  

Meanwhile,
I’d like to draw your attention to the penultimate paragraph of a
letter Commissioner Ken Russell sent to the Miami Herald, published
yesterday:

Our decision on Thursday morning is not an easy one, but it is very
simple. Our attorney withheld public records, and I have lost my trust
in her. This cannot be denied, and it’s enough to call for her removal.
What’s at stake, however, is much greater. The commission has this
opportunity to tell the public that we prioritize transparency and
accountability — that we don’t agree that friends in high places should
be able to circumvent our public process.

I’m still waiting for transparency. None of this should be as hard as it has been.

An Open Reply To Miami’s Public Records Department

I have chosen to make this a public reply to an email recently received from the City of Miami’s Public Records Department.

TO: Jones, Isiaa <IJones@miami.gov>
SUBJECT: PRR 16-452: FOIA Request
DATE:
September 16, 2016

CC: Melendez, Eleazar <ElMelendez@miamigov.com>;
Russell, Ken (Commissioner) <krussell@miamigov.com>; Mendez,
Victoria  <VMendez@miamigov.com>; Hannon, Todd
<thannon@miamigov.com>; The Loyal Readers of the Not Now Silly
Newsroom; Various Facebook Groups and Pages of my choosing

Hello and thank you for your prompt attention to my FOIA request, which I first sent to the office of the District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell. You’ve summed up my keyword search criteria correctly.

However, while some may feel the fee to acquire these emails small, as a citizen blogger with a budget of $0 and zero cents, I simply cannot — will not — pay this cost. If I were, say, the Miami Herald, I could easily afford this. Unfortunately these are topics that never much interested the Miami Herald. So, it’s left to a citizen-journalist-blogger like me to ask these inconvenient questions.

I have been writing about Trolleygate and Soilgate as separate issues from their beginnings. However, recently it began to appear as if there is a connection between these two stories. Hence, my records request.

Tangentially, there was a time in this country when anyone could wander down to the local City Hall and ask to take a look at a file. Now one must pay the costs of retrieval, from an expensive and complicated system the city set up, because that’s the only option. While I understand how that makes sense fiscally, costs like this run counter to the Florida Sunshine laws. The information should be free.

Additionally, in your email you state:

The process to create the storage media will take approximately 4 business days after receiving the approval and payment. The costs includes [sic] searches for Civilian mailboxes. Police mailboxes are not included. If the request is related to a law matter case or may include any other exempted emails then a review of the results may be required before being released and this may add more delivery time and cost.

That means there will almost assuredly be additional, hidden, costs because at least one of these matters was the subject of extensive litigation, which the city of Miami eventually lost. This cost the City of Miami and the city attorney’s office a hefty legal bill that has yet to be tallied. [Hey! That might make another good Public Records Request, but one thing at a time.]

IRONY ALERT: As was in all the local newspapers, the current District 2 Commissioner, Ken Russell, requested the firing of the City of Miami attorney because he says his office no longer has any faith in her. And, why is that? Because when his office asked her office to produce emails, some were not forthcoming.

Yet, due to city protocol, here’s how Eleazar Melendez, Chief of Staff at the Commissioner’s office, was forced to reply to my FOIA request:

I am passing your email to the city attorney’s office, as we discussed, in order to fully and legally comply with this public records request. They will perform a full and exhaustive search for the terms requested and, as we discussed, might ask for a payment in order to cover resources being dedicated to performing the search.

The City of Miami attorney the District 2 Commissioner wants fired replied:

Will handle. Thx.
Victoria Méndez, City Attorney

Kafka lives!!!

Consequently, and for the reasons listed above, I am CCing the current District 2 Commissioner to see whether he is interested in discovering what kind of strange deals were made by his predecessor to:

1). Get Armbrister Field AstroTurfed over so quickly, especially considering other parks were being closed due to toxic soil [Read: Marc D. Sarnoff ► Everything Old Is New Again];

2). Get a relative clean bill of health for Armbrister Field while he was closing other parks that had toxic soil, even though parts of Armbrister Field was recently closed due to toxic soil [Read: Armbrister Field Contaminated After All! Was There An AstroTurf Cover Up?];

3). Appear to act as political lobbyist and fixer when he intermediated between Astor Development and a community group to offer $200,000 to remediate Armbrister Field with AstroTurf in order so that they drop their objection to the Trolley maintenance garage being built on Douglas Avenue [Read: Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?];

4). Subtly threaten his constituents to withdraw his approval supporting local community initiatives if they refuse to drop their objections to the Trolley maintenance garage [Read: The Trolleygate Dog And Pony Show];

5). Possibly helped the developer find a way around a City of Miami’s Planning and Zoning e-mail that flagged the Trolley maintenance garage as non-conforming [Read: BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces];

6). Totally ignore the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in order to force a non-conforming Trolley maintenance garage onto Douglas Avenue [Read: Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated];

7). So quickly close 6 parks and begin remediation plans without any consultation with the ratepayers, who also happened to also be his own constituents in some cases;

8). Illegally apply (then remove, then deny he ever had ever done so in the first place) a Brownfield Field Site designation in the neighbourhoods surrounding these parks deemed toxic [Read: When Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff Lied To My Face].

That is why I am making a formal request to the current District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell to request these documents on behalf of the citizens of West Grove, who have been fighting systemic racism for many decades.

It has always been my contention that many of the decisions that affected West Grove made by the previous office-holder appear to have been a modern day extension of the systemic racism that has plagued the West Grove – and, to make a larger point, the entire country – over the last century. [Read: Modern Day Colonialism and Trolleygate] There is no way a Trolley maintenance garage would have ever been sited near Shipping and Virginia and it’s instructive to note that Blanche Park, across the street from the previous office-holder, was the first park closed due to toxic soil and remediated (and remediated more than once, for that matter).

I just want to find out what was happening behind the scenes while the constituents were being kept in the dark.

Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters.

Headly Westerfield
Chief Word Wrangler
Not Now Silly Newsroom

Armbrister Field Contaminated After All! Was There An AstroTurf Cover Up?

More about Trolleygate and Soilgate

An Introduction to Trolleygate

Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?

BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces

An Open Letter To Miami Media

Marc D. Sarnoff ► Everything Old Is New Again

When Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff Lied To My Face

Back in 2013, when Soilgate was just getting off the ground (pun intended), the big surprise was that Esther Mae Armbrister Park was NOT one of those ordered closed IMMEDIATELY.

That’s because Armbrister Park is immediately adjacent to where Old Smokey had been belching out black and acrid smoke for close to 70 years. Old Smokey is also where the contaminated soil dumped in the Miami parks ordered closed had originally come from.

Despite the relative clean bill of health, the football field at Armbrister Park was immediately remediated by having the topsoil scraped, removed, and the whole thing capped with AstroTurf. Even the children’s playground was capped and covered with a rubberized material, which almost immediately started to flake and disintegrate.

Everybody thought that was the end of that. Until September 7, 2016, that is.

That’s when my phone and text started blowing up. Several of my faithful readers wasted no time to tell me that they heard Armbrister Field was being closed because it was found to be contaminated with toxic soil. However, none of my sources had first-hand knowledge at that moment in time. [Documents started winging their way around the internet a few hours later.]

To get confirmation, I thought I would go straight to District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell. He and I originally met over the issue of toxic soil long before he ever considered running for office. At the time he was locked in battle against the [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami commissioner, Marc D. Sarnoff over the remediation of Merrie Christmas Park. This is the park right across the street from his house. It — and 6 other parks — were suddenly closed without any notification after the soil had been deemed toxic.

The residents living around Merrie Christmas Park hired a lawyer (bankrolled privately) to see the park was remediated to their satisfaction. And, it was. That also led to the removal of the Brown Field Site Designation that had been illegally applied to their neighbourhood.

Tangentially, and no less important, is that the park immediately across the street from [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff was also remediated. In fact, it was the first to be remediated. What’s more is that it’s been remediated twice already.

My point being that it’s bad optics when the park in front of your house is fixed, but there are still entire neighbourhoods waiting nearly 4 years for their parks to reopen.

Ceremonial ground breaking for the remediation
of the toxic soil at Douglas Park – July 6, 2016

On July 6th I attended a groundbreaking for the eventual reopening of Douglas Park, a park that is still not renovated after being closed for nearly 4 years.

Back in November of 2014, [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami District 2 Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff was assuring residents round Douglas Park that the city was on top of their toxic soil problem. However, the work did not start until July of this year under the administration of his successor. It’s estimated that it will take 2 years before the park reopens. And, we know how solid these kind of estimates are.

But I digress.

My call to Commissioner Russell’s office seemed to take everyone by surprise. For laughs I decided to go through his main office number. Speaking to the receptionist, I made it clear that I was a reporter, I needed to speak to Chief of Staff Eleazar Melendez, Anthony Balzbre, but more importantly Commissioner Russell, for an ON THE RECORD response. She dutiful took down all the info, said they were all in a meeting, but asked me to hold on.

Within a minute Eleazar was on the phone with me. This was the first he had heard of Armbrister Park being closed and could not confirm. I told him I needed an ON THE RECORD comment and confirmation from his boss. He said he’d get back to me as soon as he learned more. [In the meantime, I was still getting phone calls and info from other sources.]

Less than an hour and a half later Commissioner Russell called me back personally to confirm what I had heard. He knew little more than the park was closing due to elevated levels of arsenic, but promised to keep me up to speed.

Unlike the parks that were found to have toxic soil, Armbrister Field was not contaminated with the same Old Smokey landfill that was spread around all the other parks. While this appears to be a case of “what goes up, must come down” further testing is needed to determine where the toxins came from. Old Smokey belched out smoke and particulate over a wide area for around 70 years. It was carried wherever the prevailing winds blew. That’s why everyone was surprised that Armbrister Field had been given a clean bill of health when all the other parks had closed.

Or had it?

During the Trolleygate fiasco, this reporter wrote about how [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff had been using new AstroTurf at Armbrister Field as a bribe bargaining chip to get the Trolleygate diesel bus garage built. Apparently, [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff convinced Astor Development to cough up $250,000 out of the goodness of its corporate heart to cover Armbrister Field with AstroTurf. However, there appeared to have been strings attached by [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. He wanted the West Grove ratepayer groups to drop their challenge(s) to Astor Development building what would eventually turn out to be the illegally constructed polluting diesel bus garage on Douglas Avenue in their community.

The Now Now Silly Newsroom has published several stories that called into question Astor’s motives in proffering a $250,000 bribe incentive in the form of a new AstroTurfed football field. In the end, who did pay for the AstroTurf at Armbrister? And, why was the amount $250,000?

In the last 2 days this reporter has had several conversations with officials, both on and off the record. I think I am finally closing in on the quid pro quo. There will definitely be a Part Two to this story as I learn more, ferret out more documents, and as more people go ON THE RECORD. Eventually I hope to answer the following questions:

How did the toxic soil under Armbrister Field
manage to fly under the radar until now?How did Armbrister Field get remediated so quickly
when several parks that have still yet to reopen?

Did Astor Development pay a quarter of a million
dollars for the remediation of Armbrister Field?

Who received the $250,000?

What part did [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami District 2
Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff have in all this jiggery-pokery?

Stay tuned . . .

Trolleygate Sputters Back To Life

As the first journalist to write about Trolleygate, I couldn’t help but chortle over yesterday’s Miami Herald story about the white elephant also known as the Trolley Folly:

Why is this so funny? Let me count the ways:

1). WAREHOUSE?!?!

2). The Miami Herald covering something in West Grove? It only seem to do that when there’s been a shooting.

The Herald seemed quite incurious about Trolleygate while it was happening. At the time everyone in West Grove knew how their [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami District 2 Commissioner, Marc D. Sarnoff, had sold them down the river. [How apt: A slavery reference.] However, the Miami Herald never reported on that aspect of the story, which allowed Sarnoff to slip away again.

3). I couldn’t help but be struck by the total lack of specificity in the article. I spoke to Commissioner Ken Russel by phone last evening, after this article was printed. He tells me he was not only misquoted by David Smiley, but he left out an important part of what was said.

Commissioner Russell says he told Smiley that he wasn’t going to do anything without input from West Grove, since those were the folks adversely affected by this bone-headed decision in the first place. [My paraphrase.]

3). This is not much of a scoop on the Herald’s part. Just like Trolleygate, I was there first. On November 12th I posted a short interview conducted with Commissioner-elect Russell in which we had this exchange:

NNS: Is there any big project you’ve got in mind? Something you want to try to do while in office.

KR:
Yeah, I would like to see something good come of the Trolley garage.
I’d like to see that building serve the community. And, I’ve heard a lot
of good ideas, but not in a formal setting to where I could say what
should be done with it, but it’s a symbol of how this part of town’s
been treated and, I think, in the same symbolic gesture should be
converted into something that builds up the community.

A community center would certainly do that.

4). While I am total agreement with Commissioner Ken Russell that a community center would be a good use for this building, and that West Grove could certainly use one, I can’t help but think this is just throwing good money after bad.

I’ve never seen a full accounting of how much money Miami flushed down the drain defending the building of this diesel garage that would have only served Coal Gables, a totally different city next door. However, there were several lawsuits launched against Miami, Coral Gables, and Astor Trolley. In the end it was determined that Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated. Every penny Miami spent to defend the out of town developer, over the interests of the community and its own constituents, was money wasted.

And, now the city may spend almost $4 million to, basically, get everyone off the hook.

5). If it were in my power I’d rename this building Marc Sarnoff’s White Elephant. As I have written previously, Sarnoff worked tirelessly on behalf of the developer to get this project approved. He set one neighbourhood group against another. He offered one of those groups a kind of bribe to not fight the garage. At a public meeting I attended he threatened West Grove neighbours with withdrawing his support for building Gibson Plaza. He also suggested he didn’t have to back the infilling of new homes in the neighbourhood if they didn’t play along. It was Sarnoff’s performance at this community meeting that prompted me to write Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?

However, Sarnoff was able to walk away without any of the blame — which the Miami Herald helped by not reporting on it — that should have been his due for having screwed his own constituents on behalf of an out of town developer.

6). This paragraph really jumped out at me:

[Developer Henry] Torres disputes that he or the city tried to ram the warehouse down the throats of unsuspecting West Grove residents, but he said he’s had previous discussions with Miami officials about selling the building to the city. There was talk at one point about a police substation, or a Bahamian consulate. Still, he said he hadn’t heard anything about Russell’s interest, or even received a call from the commissioner — which he found somewhat presumptuous.

This is simply not true. While Torres may not have PERSONALLY tried to ram the (((WAREHOUSE?))) down the throats of West Grove residents, he didn’t have to. Marc Sarnoff greased the wheels, slicked the tracks, and got this through “faster than a hot knife through butter,” as one of my sources put it at the time.

However, as I reported in BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces, one eagle-eyed city Planning & Zoning drone named Dakota Hendon realized that the Miami21 plan would not allow this use of a building on that street and sent an email to his boss:

We
have a bit of a problem. The Coral Gables Trolley Station that I met
with you and the applicant on a few weeks ago appears to not be an
allowable use as we had originally anticipated. See the definition of
Auto-related industrial below. I believe this is specifically an
industrial use. At this point, they have already submitted for the
Warrant and action needs to be taken to stop the application.
Additionally, IDR was adamantly against the project in the specific
location.  Please call me to discuss at your convenience. 

Auto-Related
Industrial Establishment: A facility conducting activities associated
with the repair or maintenance of motor vehicles, trailers, and similar
large mechanical equipment; paint and body work; major overhaul of
engine or engine parts; vehicle impound or wrecking yard; outdoor
vehicle sales, storage or repair; and government vehicle maintenance
facilities. This includes auto related Uses not otherwise allowed within
the commercial auto related establishment category.

So, what did the city of Miami do? It got Henry Torres, or underlings that work for him, to withdraw the application and then resubmit the application. They were identical, except that the new one didn’t talk about vehicle maintenance and repair. The new application made it sound as if it was just going to be a passive (((WAREHOUSE?))) of diesel trolley buses (an oxymoron. Trolleys are electric.).

When I discovered this memo I tried to find Dakota Hendon to see how this building got approved when he said it was non-conforming. Surprise! He no longer worked for the City of Miami. I actually tracked him to his new job in New York and left several messages. I never got a reply.

However, I’m starting to think it’s important that his boss was Francisco Garcia, City of Miami Planning Director. 

7). I had never met Francisco Garcia before I wrote Coconut Grove in Black and White, just another look at the disparity between Black and White neighbourhoods in Miami. Not only hadn’t I met him, but I didn’t remember he was the recipient of Dakota Hendon’s email (see above). Even dumber on my part: I had forgotten I had actually written about him in that post and, furthermore, asked some pointed questions of him:

1). Why does the written record end with the email from Hendon;
2). Did he follow up Hendon;
3). Who approved this project;
4). What contact did he have with [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff over this project;
5). What contact did he have with Astor Development. 

If I had remembered all that I might not have walked up to him in that meeting to whisper in his ear. I wanted to ask him why South Grove was getting all this attention when
West Grove has trouble getting house rubble removed in under 6 weeks. I
also wanted to ask him about the NCD-2 rules (West Grove), which are different from
the NCD-3 rules (South Grove). My source told me that Garcia could answer all my questions.

I waited until he was not answering questions or batting back insults from the South Grove residents and was standing quietly on the side of the room. I handed him my card and said, “Headly Westerfield. I don’t want to waste your time at this meeting, or the meeting’s time, but I’d like to interview you about the NCDs.”

As he gave me his card, I can distinctly remember Francisco Garcia’s exact response, word for word: “I’d be happy to talk to you.”

However, he lied.

He has not responded to my several phone calls, which started the following day. Nor has he replied to my 3 emails. I’ve started CCing Commissioner Russell’s office in my emails to Garcia’s office.

Something tells me he’s dodging me.

That’s why I’m in the middle of a MASSIVE Freedom of Information request to the City of Miami’s Planning & Zoning Office. I’ll get what I need.

8). This article is a piece of crap. If the Miami Herald cared about the community, it might have published some of the above. If I can prove all of this, why can’t the Miami Herald with its humongous resources? Instead the Herald played along by calling this a (((WAREHOUSE?))), as opposed to a polluting diesel maintenance facility, the thing it was designed to be. Once again the Herald is protecting powerful people responsible for wasting shit loads of taxpayers dollars.

Reading that article you’d think it was the poor developer who was the victim, as opposed to West Grove that has had to suffer from systemic racism since their Bahamian ancestors built Coconut Grove with their own hands. Henry Torres will make his money back (and then some, it seems).

Marc Sarnoff got away scott free.

Dakota Hendon seems to have landed on his feet.

And, Francisco Garcia continues to make decisions in favour of developers that adversely affect the current residents of the neighbourhoods.

I went to the craziest Planning & Zoning meeting the other night hoping to confront Francisco Garcia. Sadly he wasn’t there. It was an appeal of a development in South Grove. After all the yadda yadda yadda it was decided — get this — that the Planning & Zoning department would follow the Miami21 plan when approving permits and warrants. That’s almost a tacit admission that it hasn’t been up to now. [See above.]

Smiley ended his article with this and made it a Patented Miami Herald Feel Good Story™:

But that idea [of a community center] sounds good to [Clarice] Cooper. And to [Anthony] Alfieri, the UM professor, it also sounds right.

“Given the West Grove’s Jim Crow history of municipal segregation in housing, education, and even public water access, and the current exploitation and displacement of long time West Grove residents,” Alfieri said, “Commissioner Russell’s proposed community center at the site of the misbegotten trolley garage is an important public policy initiative both to remedy past wrongs and to preserve and strengthen the surviving West Grove community.”

FULL DISCLOSURE: I also made a proposal for the Trolleygate building, which appears to have been rejected.

Interview With District 2’s Ken Russell

Ken Russell, potential Commissioner-elect for District 2
while the Veterans’ Day commemoration gathers to march

I originally met potential Commissioner-elect Ken Russell way back when — during Soilgate — when I called out of the blue to interview him.

We met at a local coffee shop just as it appeared his battle with [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff was finished. It was an epic battle over the toxic soil in Merrie Christmas Park and, in the end, the residents got the kind of toxic soil remediation they felt their children deserved.

While it appeared as if Merrie Christmas Park would be re-mediated properly, I was surprised when he moved on to his next concern, which was all the other toxic parks in the city. Russell was genuinely concerned that those residents might not have enough clout, or enough money, to hire a lawyer like he and his neighbours had. That’s when I knew Ken was about far more than his own property values. He had a Social Justice bone.

He wasn’t doing it for effect. At the time Russell had no intention to run for office, but the fight over toxic soil made him feel that he could do better than the current Commissioner. And, the secrecy in
which [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff went behind the backs of the residents, breaking several laws about proper notification for a Brownfield Site — not to mention when he lied to this reporter that it had never been so designated — told Russell there must be a better way to conduct city business on behalf of constituents.

It’s a sign!!!
The Veterans’ Day Parade marched right past this.

When he later declared he was running for District 2 Commissioner, Russell made transparency one of the cornerstones of his platform.

In one of the craziest election finishes in Miami history, Ken is engaged in a runoff election with wife of term-limited Teresa Sarnoff. However, with Sarnoff withdrawing from the race, the city lawyer says the runoff will still be held, but that votes for Teresa Sarnoff won’t count. Yet, Democracy dictates that the votes count and Ken maintains that he’s still in it to win it. He wants a clear mandate, so he’s still campaigning for every vote on November 17th.

Russell agreed to a sit down interview and suggested we meet in West Grove after the Veterans’ Day commemoration. As I drove down I couldn’t help but wonder if he had chosen the perfect photo op for a politician, or whether it was simply to accommodate me. I requested an interview, but told him it had to be on Wednesday because that was the only day I had free. I left it up to him to choose the time.

That we met in Coconut Grove for this interview seems appropriate because that’s where he received his highest support, with a nearly 20% turnout. It’s also the area I’ve been researching extensively since 2006. Watching Russell work the crowd was nothing like watching a politician work a crowd. There were enough hugs, kisses, handshakes, and genuine warmth in both directions, that it was obvious that Russell is already well-liked by this part of his potential constituency.

Russell surprised me by sitting in the grass his suit for this interview.

NNS: You’re making up for a politician that was reviled in this district. How are you planning to overcome that?

KEN RUSSELL: It’s true that part of the reason I got involved was seeing how my Commissioner operated and seeing how I felt things could be done better. The day he’s out of office, the day I get into office, that’s the first step and it’s really not that hard. A new tone, a new communication, a new conversation with the neighbours.

I’m already being told, and I’m not even in there, that this already feels different than it has for the last 9 years. So, the first step is to be open and even that, at the very least, wasn’t done to my understanding. And, that comes easy for me.

NNS: Especially in this neighbourhood of West Grove, the people here kinda felt burned by promises made years ago that were never fulfilled. Yet, you were able to overcome that to get a 20% turnout at the polls that went overwhelmingly to you. How are you going to keep that bridge open to the community?

KR: The community’s going to keep that bridge open. At this point, I owe so much to this area that I don’t even have a choice of closing the door. It’s too important. It’s been vocalized and it’s been publicized well enough where my heart is, that I couldn’t turn back if I wanted to, and I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support of the West Grove and, despite advice I received early on, I could see that there was a community here with a lot to lose, that would turn up at the polls if they felt they had an advocate.

NNS: And, you’re going to be that advocate?

KR: Absolutely. I’ll be the best that I can.

NNS: One of the things I did during the elections is I did door knocks with you in various neighbourhoods. Where do you think your biggest support was coming from overall?


KR: I knocked [on] over 2,000 doors during the 10 month period, all the from the South Grove to the West Grove to Morningside. It was very difficult to knock doors in Brickell and downtown, but we found other ways to reach the community there. The largest support was from the Grove as a whole, all parts of the Grove together. There was nearly a two-to-one margin in my favor at almost every major precinct in the area.

NNS: Do you have any job you want to do on Day One?

KR: Day One is learning for me because I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially within process. I have the intention of what I’d like to accomplish and, as you can see here today, just the conversation, the conversation that we’re having even today with folks, is part of the first step; is part of that first step of giving them a trust [and] a feeling of comfort that their Commissioner is going to be open with them.

NNS: Is there any big project you’ve got in mind? Something you want to try to do while in office.

KR: Yeah, I would like to see something good come of the Trolley garage. I’d like to see that building serve the community. And, I’ve heard a lot of good ideas, but not in a formal setting to where I could say what should be done with it, but it’s a symbol of how this part of town’s been treated and, I think, in the same symbolic gesture should be converted into something that builds up the community.

With that Ken Russell was off to a meeting at Miami City Hall, where the learning curve for a new potential Commissioner-elect is steep.

For further reading please see: Soilgate, Trolleygate, [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, and the Anybody But Teresa facebookery, where so many of these issues intertwine.

The Klu Klux Klan Act of 1871 ► Throwback Thursday

It was supposed to be a normal meeting of the Miami Planning and Zoning Board last night. The first 2 items were deferred from last month and there were a number of citizens who wanted to speak to it. 

Normally when I attend a meeting at Miami City Hall, I know all about the issues that will be discussed. I knew nothing about this issue. All I knew is that one of my sources, who has yet to be wrong, strongly suggested I make time for the 6PM meeting without telling me why. That was the first time they were ever wrong. It turned out to be a 6:30 meeting.

And, the meeting didn’t even start at 6:30. It took a few extra minutes to get a quorum. However, once the meeting was gavelled to order, it moved pretty quickly to the first 2 agenda items, which had been deferred from last month in the hope that the residents and developer could work out an amicable deal. That didn’t appear to have happened.

MAP LEGEND:

A: The 4 parcels on the north side of Day Avenue; B: The 4
parcels on the south side of Day Avenue; C: Brooker St. is
where Coconut Grove ends and Coral Gables begins; D: Douglas
Avenue; E: The Trolly Garage, which was the last time the city
tried to run roughshod over the neighbourhood and won a Pyrrhic
victor that cost the city a lot of money, all because of
[allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff’s meddling.

In a nutshell, and not to get too deeply in the weeds: A developer wanted to “upzone” 8 parcels of land along Day Avenue to commercial from residential. Upzoning is the new word for variances, which appear to be routinely approved despite what the neighbours may want.

First to speak was the City of Miami’s lawyer, who seemed to have been asked by the board previously, to give the city’s recommendation on the upzoning request. After a whole lot of yadda, yadda, yadda the city decided to take a Solomonic approach. It recommended approval of upzoning the 4 parcels on the north side of Day Avenue (labeled A on the map to the right) and recommended denying the upzoning on the 4 parcels labeled B on the south side of Day.

Next it was the lawyer’s turn to speak on behalf of the developer. It was a whole lot more yadda, yadda, yadda, but this time couched in lawyer talk. However, as he spoke you could hear the citizens, the stakeholders, the taxpayers grumbling over the wording and assumptions being made.

Then the meeting was opened to public comments. People were asked to line up at the podiums on either side of the dais and given 2 minutes to explain their support or opposition to the application for upzoning. No one spoke on behalf of the upzoning. All were opposed.

First up was J.S. Rashid, CEO of the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Office, who spoke about how his organization is trying to maintain the fabric of the historic West Grove neighbourhood for decades, which continues to be whittled away by decisions made in Miami. He talked about the neighbourhood development zone which had been created previously and how this was more about equity than it is about the zoning of a few parcels. He brought up how there may be 8 parcels of land, but that represents 14 residential units of affordable housing for disenfranchise people. While he was hoping for a compromise, he said if there’s not a net benefit to the community in affordable housing, he was prepared to oppose the project in toto.

Then the various shareholders, citizens, and taxpayers turn. It was, in essence, the same arguments heard every time the people of West Grove come out to protect their neighbourhood. Paraphrasing many of the comments: 

“You can’t do this.”

“Once again the historic fabric of the originally Bahamian neighbourhood is being destroyed for the sake of commerce.”

“Currently, this is affordable housing. If these are lost, what will replenish the supply of affordable housing in this impoverished neighbourhood?”

“We are 3 generations of Grovites who have lived on this block for over 30 years.” 

It look as if the board was about to recommend they defer the issue all over again, because it truly seemed as if there might still be room for compromise. However, the lawyer for the developer didn’t think more negotiations would have been productive and asked for a decision.

Then it was time for more comments from the public. Step up Professor Anthony Alfieri. You may remember reading about Professor Alfieri in the Not Now Silly Newsroom’s An Introduction to Trolleygate and Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated. Alfieri was also instrumental in unearthing Soilgate (pun intended), when his team researching Trolleygate found a memo alluding to contaminated soil in several parks in Miami. Alfieri is from the University of Miami’s School of Law and the Center
for Ethics and Public Service; not to mention Founder of the Historic
Black Church Program.

Professor Alfieri made the comparison to Trollygate, that I had been waiting for, and how an approval of this upzoning would trigger Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968. As part of his presentation Alfieri remarked that they have been receiving anecdotal information — which was still being compiled — that developers across the city have been using coercion, intimidation and interference to deal with those opposed to upzoning plans. If that can be proven it could trigger the Klu Klux Klan act of 1871:

The Enforcement Act of 1871 (17 Stat. 13), also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1871, Force Act of 1871, Ku Klux Klan Act, Third Enforcement Act, or Third Ku Klux Klan Act, is an Act of the United States Congress which empowered the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to combat the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other white supremacy organizations. The act was passed by the 42nd United States Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on April 20, 1871. The act was the last of three Enforcement Acts passed by the United States Congress from 1870 to 1871 during the Reconstruction Era to combat attacks upon the suffrage rights of African Americans.
The statute has been subject to only minor changes since then, but has
been the subject of voluminous interpretation by courts.

This legislation was asked for by President Grant and passed within
one month of the president’s request for it to Congress. Grant’s request
was a result of the reports he was receiving of widespread racial
threats in the Deep South, particularly in South Carolina.
He felt that he needed to have his authority broadened before he could
effectively intervene. After the act’s passage, the president had the
power for the first time to both suppress state disorders on his own
initiative and to suspend the right of habeas corpus. Grant did not
hesitate to use this authority on numerous occasions during his
presidency, and as a result the first era KKK was completely dismantled
and did not resurface in any meaningful way until the first part of the
20th century.[1] Several of its provisions still exist today as codified statutes, but the most important still-existing provision is 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Civil action for deprivation of rights.

The city’s lawyer couldn’t answer whether approval of upzoning would trigger the Civil Rights lawsuits, but stressed as strenuously that the Planning and Zoning Board is a single issue board. Civil Rights lawsuits was not within its purview to adjudicate.

Whether it had anything to do with the Klu Klux Klan Act of 1871, or whether common sense prevailed, the developers request was DENIED.

Which is it’s this week’s Throwback Thursday.

Marc D. Sarnoff ► Everything Old Is New Again

I’ve managed (mainly) to avoid writing about [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, except as it related to Trolleygate.

However, that doesn’t mean Sarnoff was totally off my radar. While I’ve been busy writing about things which interest me far more than a term-limited local politician, I still kept one eye on him, amazed at the crap he gets away with in plain sight. Therefore, I can’t help but wonder what he’s getting away with behind the scenes. Lately that has had a habit of sneaking out, mostly because he’s having trouble keeping his lies straight. You can’t tell one community group one thing and another community group the opposite and not expect them to compare notes. That’s why in so many recent off the record conversations the sentiment was expressed, “No one with the Sarnoff name will ever be elected to office again.”

Granted I was the one saying it, but only because I truly believe it.

I started researching this post, in a desultory manner, when the notice above came in through my electronic transom. “Oh!” I thought. “I really need to go to this to see if [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff says anything stupid or incriminating.”

I hadn’t forgotten how he used $200,000 of Astor Development’s money to bribe the folks at Ambrister Field to oppose the folks fighting to keep Sarnoff from shoving a polluting diesel trolley bus garage into their neighbourhood, contrary to zoning ordinances. I fantasized that Astor Development would be there to help Sarnoff cut the ribbon.  [At the time Armbrister Field was thought to be contaminated due to being right next door to Old Smokey, the incinerator.]

LONG STORY SHORT: In the end, after multiple lawsuits, the bus garage that got built BECAUSE of meddling by [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff will never be used as a bus garage. Now the dickering is over what adaptive use it can be converted to for the benefit of the neighbourhood and how much money Astor Development wants to get rid of this white elephant [pun intended]. The last figure I heard, that people are still laughing at, was $4,000,000.

ANOTHER LONG STORY SHORT: Sarnoff didn’t say anything stupid or incriminating at the Armbrister Field ribbon cutting and — amazingly — he didn’t even try to grab credit for all the renovations. While it amused me he pulled a muscle in the first inning of the Police vs Politicians softball game, it wasn’t enough to sustain a whole post. So I never wrote it up.

Even before the Armbrister Field ribbon cutting I had been thinking of Sarnoff because his name kept cropping up in the media on the issue of Soilgate. I joined a Facebook community group called Friends of Merrie Christmas Park, formed by Ken Russell who lives across the street from the park. Russell was blithely unaware he was living across the street from a toxic park until the park was suddenly closed. He was unaware a remediation plan had been put into effect until the bulldozers arrived. After he delved deeper into the city’s plan for
the toxic soil remediation, and found it wanting, Russell started to organize his neighbours.

Merrie Christmas Park is one of the Miami Parks — most of them in Coconut Grove — closed due to the discovery of toxic soil. The toxic soil comes from ash from Old Smokey, which was used as fill in the earliest days of Miami.

Are these parks merely the tip of the toxic iceberg?

Courtesy John Dolson

The dirty secret that almost nobody is talking about — concentrating on just the parks instead — is that toxic landfill from Old Smokey is scattered all over Miami.

Most of South Florida is built on fill of one sort or another. Keep in mind, just 100 years ago this entire region was little more than a swamp. Slowly, as infrastructure was added in the form of roads, railways, and bridges, vast swaths of land in between was still waterlogged. Digging the canals that crisscross South Florida helped drain the swamp and it also provided the earliest fill to build upon. However, it was never enough. Back in the day Old Smokey was simply giving it away. The du Ponts used approximately 100,000 tons of it to build their estate on St. Gaudens Road. 

What seems to have bothered Friends of Merrie Christmas Park most was the lack of public notification. Notification might have allowed them to have input into any eventual remediation plan. Or, at the very least, an understanding of the stakes before [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff cut all his backroom deals. Yet, as much as this fight is about toxic soil, it is also about property values. The decisions that Sarnoff shoved through city hall without public input forced Miami-Dade County to declare every home within a 1/4 mile radius a Brownfield site. No one knows for sure, but it’s estimated that having one’s home declared a Brownfield site devalues a property by 10% to 20%.

Once Sarnoff caught wind the Friends of Merrie Christmas Park was going to hold a neighbourhood meeting, he sprung into action!!! First he scheduled a Dog and Pony Show at Miami City Hall and then he crashed the neighbourhood meeting in Merrie Christmas Park to obfuscate. Watch:


Video courtesy Al Crespo of The Crespogram Report
IRONY ALERT: It was the earlier lawsuit against
Sarnoff’s previous fiasco, Trolleygate, that uncovered a 2-year old memo
indicating Miami was already aware of poisoned parks, but buried the
results. [Pun intended.] This led to the testing of all the parks, which led to the
closure of 6 of them for remediation. The biggest parallel between Soilgate and Trolleygate is how all of those decisions were made in backrooms, without proper neighbourhood notifications.

In Trolleygate that led to all those lawsuits, which cost the city of Miami a bundle to defend. That was taxpayer money wasted by Marc D. Sarnoff, who was protecting the interests of an out-of-town developer building an out-of-town diesel bus garage, over the interests of his own constituents.

No lawsuits have been filed in Soilgate . . . yet, but it seems inevitable. And, every dollar spent on lawsuits can be blamed on [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff making decisions in backrooms, as opposed to under the light of Florida Sunshine Laws.

IRONY ALERT II: A Marc D. Sarnoff Dog and Pony Show should be trade-marked and patented. They all follow the same pattern. First Sarnoff ignores his constituents, making backroom deals without benefit of Florida’s Sunshine Laws. Once the taxpayers and his constituents have learned they were sold down the river, they start to agitate. If they agitate loud enough, Sarnoff spends taxpayer money to create a Dog and Pony Show and then calls a public meeting to sell the neighbours on the plan that’s already a fait accompli.

In other words: The Dog and Pony Show is the public meeting that MORE PROPERLY should have taken place before any decisions were made so that the stakeholders — the neighbours — the community — the taxpayers — his own constituents — understand the issues. However, Marc D. Sarnoff prefers people are kept in the dark until it’s too late.

As Miami New Times writer David Villano tells us in his groundbreaking story City Quietly Labels Toxic Parks “Brownfield Sites,” Limiting Neighborhood Input In Cleanup:

Ken Russell of the Friends of Merrie Christmas Park, is outraged that he and other nearby residents were not notified of the proposal to re-label the park as a Brownfield — a move he believes could greatly impact property values.

“It’s hard to believe they didn’t make an effort to tell anybody,” he says.

[…]

City officials say an ad publicizing the hearing was placed in three local publications — the Miami Times, the Daily Business Review, and Diario Las Americas.

You might be forgiven if you don’t understand this notice. In
fact, it’s what [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D.
Sarnoff was hoping. Image swiped from The Crespogram Report

How could the city say it notified the residents when no resident remembers being notified?  Al Crespo of The Crespogram Report, shows how this hocus pocus was performed. In a story called The Miami City Commission Will Always Try To Screw You In July, he reports the city did this by deliberately NOT naming the parks, just listing the various addresses:

Skimming through the agenda, or skimming through the notices published in the Public Notice section of Miami Times, The Daily Business Review and Diario Las Americas, one’s eyes could easily have slid over a bland notice listing a handful of addresses.

Further proof that this was intentionally done so as to minimize the ability of the residents living close to these parks to speak at the Public Hearing, was the failure of the City to post notices around these Park properties, thereby minimizing the possibility that the residents would find out and attend the Public Hearing.

A dollar to a donut says that all of this can be attributed to decisions and instructions issued by Commissioner Sarnoff to Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo.

Why Sarnoff?  First, because 4 of the 6 parks included in this agenda item are in his District, and secondly because he, along with Alice Bravo, his ever present sock puppet on all of these kinds of issues have been at the center of all issues and schemes dealing with how the city dealt with the discovery, testing and now with the clean up of the contamination in these parks.

Sarnoff again!!! He keeps turning up like a bad penny.

IRONY ALERT III:  The Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog
Park, also known as Blanche Park, was also found to contain toxic soil.
This is ironic because Sarnoff not only lives across the street from the
park, but the park had been renovated SEVERAL times prior to the toxicity becoming known. One of those previous renovations was to take 2/3rd of the
park away from CHILDREN and letting it go to the dogs, literally, by turning it into a dog park.
Sarnoff has no children, but he does have dogs. And, he managed to ram a
dog park through across the street from his house, before anyone knew
what happened, children be damned.

IRONY ALERT IV: The Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park is the only park closed because of toxic soil that has ALREADY been remediated and reopened. How about that? I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with the fact that [allegedly] corrupt Marc D. Sarnoff lives across the street.

However, and this is DAMNED important, it was closed, remediated, and reopened SEVERAL TIMES!!! What was wrong with the first remediation? What was wrong with the second remediation? What did all those children — and, okay, dogs, too — ingest in the various times the park was open before and between various remediations?

TRYING TO MAKE A VERY LONG STORY SHORT: What’s happened at Merrie Christmas Park since the latest Sarnoff Dog and Pony Show is almost a repeat of previous Sarnoff Comedy Capers. First he tries to set one neighbour off against another, by blaming the activists (who hired a lawyer to make sure their rights are not further abrogated by the meddling of Sarnoff) for the project being stalled. Once he saw which way the toxic wind was blowing, Sarnoff agreed to remove ALL the toxic soil, but only if the nearby residents would kick in a portion of the clean-up costs.

I need to repeat that because it’s so outrageous:

Marc D. Sarnoff thinks the residents should help pay the cost of removing the toxic soil that the City of Miami put in the park in the first place. 

Once the idea that residents pay for their own remediation was rightfully laughed at by all intelligent people, Sarnoff still got his way. In the end, an angel ponied up the private costs of removing the toxic soil. All that is know about this anonymous donor so far is that it is a male, he lives in Coral Gables, which is just on the other side of Le Jeune Road from Merrie Christmas Park, and has fond memories of playing in the park as a child.

However, the remediation appears to be stalled, despite several promises by Sarnoff that it would be cleaned up by now.

And, that’s just one park. 

There were 15 people at this meeting. Two were reporters. One
was a rep from the Coconut Grove Village Council. At least 2
live in other neighbourhoods.That leaves 11 concerned citizens.

SKIP AHEAD TO LAST SATURDAY: One of my sources sent me a notice of a Douglas Park Meeting on Clean-up and Re-Opening. Because the issues are virtually the same as those at Merrie Christmas Park, I thought I’d attend.

This meeting provided good news and bad news for [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. First the good news: It was poorly attended. It was so poorly attended, Sarnoff didn’t even bother showing up, like he had the better-attended Merrie Christmas Park Meeting. The bad news? One of those that showed up was lawyer Michelle Niemeyer.

Niemeyer is the lawyer who has been advising and working with the Friends of Merrie Christmas Park. She’s managed to help them understand and negotiate the extremely complicated thicket of Miami, Miami-Date, Florida and U.S. environmental laws that go into effect once a neighbourhood has been designated a Brownfield site.

According to Niemeyer, the entire process for designating the 6 neighbourhoods around the toxic parks Brownfield sites was flawed from the get-go. The Brownfield designation was slapped on these neighbourhoods without the proper notification, no matter how many publications in which the city claims it was published. There are supposed to be public meetings before any decisions made and none were held.

Another concern expressed at the Douglas Park meeting was one I hadn’t heard before. Folks are not much happier with the artificial turf and rubber mulch the city proposes to use to cap, but not remove, the toxic soil. More and more communities are waking up to the dangers of artificial turf. The Poughkeepsie Journal is just one paper around the country reporting Fake Turf Poses Health Risk

Four of the constituent chemicals in these “tire crumbs” (or “tire mulch”) as they are called — arsenic, benzene, cadmium and nickel — are deemed carcinogens by the International Agency for Cancer Research. Others have been linked to skin, eye and respiratory irritation, kidney and liver problems, allergic reactions, nervous systems disorders and developmental delays.

While the risk came to light recently when a University of Washington women’s soccer coach began to think it might be more than a coincidence that two of her goalies were stricken with cancer, researchers have known about such potential links for years. A 2007 report by the Connecticut-based Environment & Human Health Inc. looked at several scientific studies and found definitive connections between various health problems and exposure to synthetic turf.

Environment & Human Health Inc. also reported that kids on playfields are likely to face similar risks as line workers in the rubber fabrication and reclamation industries, where they say health reports show the presence of multiple volatile organic hydrocarbons and other toxic elements in the air. “Studies at tire reclamation sites report leaching of similar sets of chemicals into the ground water,” says the group.

Yet, the city of Miami, is gung-ho on the use of artificial turf, such as they used for Armbrister Field.

When I went to the Armbrister Field Ribbon Cutting, I took note that the BRAND NEW artificial, rubberized cap over the children’s playground was already flaking. I was able to pick pieces of it up. Some of the small pieces are brightly coloured. I could easily see toddlers picking them up and putting them in their mouths, which is how toddlers sample their world.

HERE’S THE PUNCHLINE: Just as people were leaving the Douglas Park meeting someone passed out the flier at right, which looks almost exactly like the flier that called for a meeting on the toxic soil at Merrie Christmas Park.

Someone said, “Oh look. Sarnoff is holding another Dog and Pony Show.”

Someone else replied, “I hope he saved his script from the last one.”

And, this time, neither of those someones was me.

Packing for the Road Trip ► Unpacking The Writer

I’m writing and posting this month’s Unpacking The Writer a little early to get it posted before I leave on Monday for the 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research. For the uninitiated, Unpacking The Writer is the monthly series in which I give my readers a look inside the mind of a writer, such as it is. And, in case you haven’t clued in yet, I am that writer. HI THERE!

NO CLICKING: I also used to use this monthly essay to beg my readers to click on the adverts here. However, I have been told I can’t do that anymore, even though it only returns a fraction of a penny per click. So I won’t. But, if you’re one of my smarter readers, you are already way ahead of me and clicking on the adverts anyway. You know there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop you.

SO SORRY: I owe my faithful readers an apology. More than one reader (two!) has noticed that I’ve not posted much new material at Not Now Silly lately, other than the regular Headlines Du Jour. I’m truly sorry, folks. While I have been researching a number of topics, nothing has gelled enough yet to be written up. I have also started a number of blog posts, some of which I still need to finish and others which (are crap and) will never see the light of day.

When I first began this blog I was given advice to post something every
day. Do you know how hard that is? Especially if you want a blog post to
have some weight? Especially if that added weight requires hours upon hours of research? Especially if it’s not your full-time job?

Despite that, I have published 583 posts in the last 27 months, not including this one. That averages 21.5 posts a month, a record I’m proud of. I’m also quite proud of many of the posts because I think I am mining important topics. As of this writing the Not Now Silly Top Ten is as follows:

  1. The Detroit Riots ► Unpacking My Detroit ► Part Five
  2. Brian Jones ► A Musical Appreciation
  3. Day In History ► Josephine Baker
  4. The Johnny Dollar Wars ► Chapter and Verse
  5. Aries Development Continues To Rape Charles Avenue
  6. Chow Mein and Bolling 5 ► Bully Boy Lies (Again)
  7. Did Roger Ailes Dupe James Rosen, Or Did Rosen Dupe ‘Merka?
  8. The First Three Stooges ► Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be
  9. Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?
  10. Does Fox “News” Support Johnny Dollar? ► The Mark Koldys-Johnny Dollar Comment of the Day

[The Top Ten posts, always updated, always current, is in the column to the right of this one. It may have changed since this was published.]

In the early days of Not Now Silly I used to do a lot of one-off Day in History-type dealies. Maybe I should get back to doing some more of that after the 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip For Research. We’ll see.

Those one-offs were popular. They can also be pulled out of the archives on the appropriate dates in subsequent years. Conversely, Headlines Du Jour is pretty much stale the minute you read it. Yet Headlines Du Jour gets great numbers. Despite the simplicity, Headline Du Jour is time-consuming to post. It takes me 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours to format, even though the headlines themselves are compiled as they come in over the Not Now Silly Newsroom transom. Headlines Du Jour is the first thing I do when I wake up at 5:30 AM. As the first pot of coffee is brewing I sort the headlines collected since the last time. I decide which are keepers and which I should toss. Then they’re put into a running order that makes sense only to me. Some days, by the time it’s published, I feel totally wrung out and the pot of coffee is finished. However, I’ll try to add to the number of new posts (and pots of coffee?) on a regular basis while I also keep Headlines Du Jour going. My readers have that promise.

TO MY COCONUT GROVE READERS: While I never meant for Not Now Silly to be a blog solely about Coconut Grove, there have been times when it feels like that’s what it’s become. I’m thrilled that so many people in the West Grove have shared their personal stories with me. Oral histories are so important.

I’m still researching The Colour Line and will have new chapters in that series soon. While in Michigan, I will also be visiting the 8 Mile Wall for a blog post on The Colour Line in Detroit, ‘Merka’s first throwaway city. Meanwhile, there has been some news in the Grove, but nothing that seemed to deserve a blog post all on its own. In no particular order some of that is as follows:

Part of the Coconut Grove Playhouse parking lot will become a drive-in movie dealie on July 14th. The web site for the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive In promises “Car hop service by TAURUS,” so we now know how Aries Development and Gino Falsetto plan to profit off this new arrangement. To remind readers: Aries is the company that secured a 50-year lease on the historic 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House 9 years ago and has allowed it to undergo Demolition by Neglect ever since.

A reminder why the E.W.F. Stirrup House is culturally
important to Coconut Grove can be found in the Not Now Silly
post Happy Birthday Coconut Grove!!! Now Honour Your Past

I had hoped to go to opening night of the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive In, but the June opening was delayed a month. Now it won’t open until the day after I leave for the 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip For Research. This is actually one of those posts mentioned above, partially written in advance. I started it last month, just before the delay was announced. It would have become a full-blown blog post in the fullness of time. I had even considered delaying my Road Trip 2 days to go, take notes, take pictures, and finish writing that blog post, but, yannow what? I’ve seen The Cocoanuts, the first Marx Brothers movie, so many times I can recite entire scenes by heart. [Same with the 2nd movie in the opening night double feature, The Blob.] So, there’s another draft post consigned to the dustbin of history.

IRONY ALERT I: The Cocoanuts take place in Cocoanut Grove (the original spelling of Coconut Grove before it was illegally annexed by Miami in 1925).

IRONY ALERT II: The Cocoanuts satirizes the utter collapse of the Cocoanut Grove real estate market of the 1920s. Selling Florida swamp land had became such a a national joke that one of the top playwrights of the day, George S. Kaufman, and one of the country’s most famous composers, Irving Berlin, would write a musical about it. The Marx Brothers would first take it to Broadway, where it was a smash hit, and then make it their first movie extravaganza, launching a long career on film.

IRONY ALERT III: Miami has had several booms and busts since then. “Some people say” the current Miami building boom is just the beginning edge of the next bubble to bust.

IRONY ALERT IV: Bringing movies back to the Coconut Grove Playhouse, albeit outside, would be funny, if it weren’t so sad. When the currently-boarded up Coconut Grove Playhouse was originally built, it was to bring movies and culture to Coconut Grove. The land had been owned by E.W.F. Stirrup and sold to developers to build the Coconut Grove Theater, as it was called when it opened in 1927. It was renovated in the 1950s to become a legitimate theater, with the 1956 premier of “Waiting For Godot” as its first offering.

IRONY ALERT V: Even though the Coconut Grove Theater anchored the east end of Charles Avenue — the oldest neighbourhood in Miami, as well as the oldest Black neighbourhood — those folks had to go north to the smaller Ace Theater on Grand Avenue, which was not segregated. Earlier this month Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board designated the Ace a historic site.  According to the Miami Herald’s Jackie Salo:

For residents in the West Grove, the ACE Theater is a relic of the years of segregation. The movie theater, which was built circa 1930, was the only one to serve the black community in the Grove in the 1950s.

The building has since lost its luster, and stands as a shell of what it once was. The marquee has not lit up for years, and the pink facade that once distinguished the theater was painted white.

Plans to restore the theater never came to fruition and the rooms that housed sold-out audiences remain abandoned.

But the theater, albeit empty, has not been forgotten.

Having walked past the Ace many times, I’ve always thought it would make a great Indie/Revival movie house. Grand Avenue has been struggling for years. Opening a movie house on that stretch of Grand would go a long way towards revitalizing what was once the thriving Black business strip of Coconut Grove.

TROLLEYGATE: Still waiting for a settlement in the Trolleygate Scandal. The last word from my super-duper secret sources was that an offer was on the table and being considered. Consequently, all parties to the lawsuit asked the judge to give them 60 days to see if they could hammer out an agreement. That expired at the end of June, but I’ve heard nothing further. Basically the broad outline of the potential deal is this: A brand new Coral Gables diesel bus garage will be built right where the current Coral Gables diesel bus garage is. This despite the brand-spanking new [allegedly] illegal diesel bus garage built in West Grove. That’s the garage that’s the subject of multiple lawsuits, which even the Federal Department of Transportation ruled contravened the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The only decision left to be made is whether the brand-spanking new bus garage in West Grove can be used for the next 2-3 years while a newer diesel bus garage is built in Coral Gables.

Here’s how small West Grove really is: The [allegedly] illegal diesel bus garage is, more or less, just around the corner from the Ace Theater. Gibson Plaza, which I have also written about, is just across the street from the Ace Theater. Grand Avenue still has a long way to go before one could call this a revival, but it’s another baby step on the road to recovery for a business strip that’s seen better days.

Known all the world over, The Johnny Dollar Depreciation Society is
YOUR place for snark about Fox “News and crazy Fox “News” defenders

THE JOHNNY DOLLAR WARS: I couldn’t be more thrilled with the progress of The Johnny Dollar Wars up the Not Now Silly Top Ten Hit Parade. It justifies all the time I put into documenting those crazy cyber-stalking MoFos these last few years. Since being published on May 6th, The Johnny Dollar Wars has jumped to become the #4 most popular post at Not Now Silly, with 1,233 hits as we go to press. The only Not Now Silly post that ever rose faster and higher than that has now been relagated to the #5 position. Aries Development Continues To Rape Charles Avenue, about the E.W.F. Stirrup House had a good run, but it’s been leapfrogged in the ratings.

THE JOHNNY DOLLAR DEPRECIATION SOCIETY: I’ve migrated most of my Fox “News” snark from my timeline over to The Johnny Dollar Depreciation Society on the facebookery. I’m open to suggestions on how to make it more interactive. While membership has hit 120 people, only a few interact with the page at all, and only then by clicking LIKE. I’m thinking of holding a contest, but I’ll wait until I get back from Michigan to put that together.

LASTLY: Starting next Monday blog posts at Not Now Silly will be sporadically sporadic. My laptop has bought the farm and I’m not planning to get it fixed before I go away. I may look at a new device when I get back from the road trip, but it’s not in the budget at the moment.

The 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research will be twice as long as last year’s. Last year’s research was productive, but, sadly, I had just a week to drive to Michigan, conduct my research, and drive back to FloriDuh. Despite mining some interesting veins of information, I had to cut the research short because I simply ran out of time. This year I will be meeting with some of the same people who fed me documents last time. I will also have more time to pour over some microfiche that one of my correspondents has uncovered. It may go a long way to provide greater context for the book I am writing.

Be good to your neighbours because you never know
when a journalist will come sniffing around for information.
~~~~~Headly Westerfield, The 1st Annual Sunrise
to Canton Road Trip For Research, June 2013

While I may be able to log into certain accounts while I am gone, last year I was unable to log in to facebook from strange computers because I was locked out of everything that wasn’t my home computer or my phone. Hopefully this year I have solved this problem. However, two things to keep in mind: 1). I don’t exactly know where and when I might encounter a computer, not to mention a computer owner who will allow me to take over their computer for a few hours to compose a blog post. Consequently, just like last year, it may just be updates from the Windows Phone. However, I won’t abandon you entirely. Also: Check my Twitter and Facebookery for updates from the road

And, speaking of computers along the way, I have twice as many visits with readers, fans, and friends scheduled for the 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research. The intinerary is now locked. Stops are scheduled for (in order) Ave Maria University, in Ava Maria, Florida; Bonita Springs, Florida, which is just down the road from the University; Tallahassee, Florida‘s capital, after which I leave the state; Miamisburg, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Canton, Michigan, where I will stay for almost a week to conduct research and visit old haunts; Elyria, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio, which looks to be the scene of the crime city chosen to host the 2016 GOP Convention; Dean Martin’s home town of Steubenville, Ohio; and Morgantown, West Virginia, where I will be given a privately-conducted Don Knotts Memorial Tour. Then it’s home by — no later than — the 28th of July.

A couple of people have asked me why I don’t just fly up to Canton, which would give me more time to research my book. There are 2 things that compel me to drive: 1). I love to drive. One of my favourite things to do is to be behind the wheel of a car, heading down the road, with the stereo cranked to 11; 2). It allows me to meet and greet some people that I’ve gotten to know thru’ the innertubes. Getting out, looking people in the eye, and debating the big stories of the day — or bullshitting over a coffee — is just a big bag of fun.

A Grand Day For Grand Avenue ► Gibson Plaza Groundbreaking

Artist rendering: Grand Avenue and Gibson Plaza

A gala day on Grand in The Grove, for the Gibson groundbreaking. This mixed-use, residential-educational building is the first all-new affordable housing built in West Grove in almost 50 years.

Gibson Plaza has been in the planning stages for many years. However, it took a unique and unlikely group of partners to move this project forward, including the Theodore Roosevelt Gibson Memorial Fund, the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Corporation, Miami-Dade College and the Mitchel Wolfson, Sr. Foundation. Miami-Dade County kicked in $9 million dollars, and Pinnacle Housing Group will construct the Bahamian-styled building that pays homage to West Grove’s original inhabitants.

Thelma Gibson’s 1st shovelful at the project she helped spearhead

Gibson Plaza, named for Reverend Theodore R. Gibson and Thelma Gibson, will be geared to the 55-and-up demographic, with 56 one and two bedroom units. Among the common amenities will be an exercise room, community center, library and computer lab. However, what has the neighbourhood excited is what’s slated for the ground floor. It is dedicated to providing continuing education, job training and after school programs for the neighbourhood at large.

“It has always been a dream of ours to have affordable housing, continuing education and after-school programs for children running side by side,” the 88-year old Ms Gibson said.

Every speaker who came up to the dais to say a few words (under the white tent in the 89 degree heat) spoke of how this project will lead to a neighbourhood revitalization of a sorely neglected area of Miami. That’s why residents were so upset about Trolleygate when they learned about it. This is a neighbourhood struggling to overcome a century of racism and neglect.

While east Grand Avenue got revitalized with CocoWalk, restaurants, and fancy hotels, the west end of Grand — Black Grove, or Kebo, as the original Bahamian residents called it — has struggled and become blighted over the decades. The non-conforming diesel bus garage is just a few very short blocks away from this development. The reason people were so upset with the trolley garage is because it does not comport with the vision of those who want better for the neighbourhood. Gibson Plaza is the beginning of that revitalization plan.

The two people who came in for the most praise and sustained ovations at yesterday’s ceremony were the two people who everyone acknowledged deserved the most credit for seeing this project through to fruition. First and foremost is Thelma Gibson, who, though the Foundation named after her late husband, helped aquire the 1 acre site, parcel by parcel, and who insisted that any project of this kind simply had to have an educational componant; and Jihad Rashid. President of the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Corporation, who worked tirelessly to bring all the partners to the table and see that they all understood the vision.

One of the politicians mentioned over and over, by speaker after speaker, is Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who fought to get County Commissioners to allocate the $9 million. “On behalf of the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners, and as Commissioner of Miami-Dade District 7, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to be associated with a project that I believe will spur the re-birth of the long neglected segment of our community – The Coconut Grove Village West.” Yet, that wasn’t just promotional bumf.

Thirty years ago Suarez helped set up the Gibson Memorial Fund and he’s been behind this project from the get-go.

How close is Trolleygate to Gibson Plaza?

IRONY ALERT: Another politician got short shrift in all the speeches. That’s just as well because [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff arrived 10 minutes late and missed the shovel photo-op. His West Grove constituents accuse him abandoning them for monied interests and out of town developers.

Further reading: Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt
Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?

Last year when Trolleygate erupted in controversy, Sarnoff staged The Trolleygate Dog and Pony Show to protect the profits of Astor Development and Coral Gables against the interests of his own constituents. After Sarnoff insisted he couldn’t talk about Trolleygate because it was before the courts, he presented a one-sided slide show to insist diesel fumes and bus traffic on residential streets is perfectly safe. However, it’s what he did in the middle of the meeting that Sarnoff demonstrated his despicable side. At one point in this contentious meeting this reporter heard Sarnoff covertly threaten to withdraw support for Gibson Plaza (and other projects) if the community continued its fight against Trolleygate.It was slyly done, but was not lost on anyone in the room.

So, colour me thrilled that Sarnoff missed his photo op — another way to grab credit. Judging from the sotto voce murmurings when he gave his short speech, he’s lucky he wasn’t booed.

Even as the Collaborative’s Jihad Rashid celebrated
this achievement, he warned against gentrification.

The slogan on the banner in front of which every speaker spoke read CATALYZE • REVITALIZE • TRANSFORM, which is everyone’s hope for this stretch of Grand Avenue. Immediately across the street from Gibson Plaza is the Collaborative offices. Just to the east of that is the brand new KROMA Gallery, which hosted a lunch for attendees after all the speakers were finished.

While everyone hopes Gibson Plaza leads to a revitalization of the west end Grand Avenue, the fear is that this is just another step along the process of slow gentrification that has been eating its way into West Grove. Even Rashid recognizes the danger. As Nick Madigan in the Miami Herald notes:

After waiting for a standing ovation to die down, Rashid reminded the crowd that there had been a “history of disinvestment and disenfranchisement” in the West Grove, and remarked on the irony of expensive hotels and condominiums perfectly visible only a few blocks to the east. Rashid also cautioned against the danger that the neighborhood’s longtime residents will be pushed out by construction projects and investors looking for profits.

“If they get gentrified out in the name of progress, I don’t think that’s progress,” Rashid said. Still, he concluded, Gibson Plaza is a huge step forward.

Those in the know tell this reporter that due to property speculation along Grand Avenue, nothing less than 5 stories will pay for itself. Nothing taller than 5 stories is allowed by the Miami 21 Plan. This means that only 5-storey high condo buildings will be built along Grand, making it a new canyon for colonization and gentrification. Otherwise, West Grand will continue to undergo Demolition by Neglect, which passes for progress in West Grove. There appears to be no room left for anything in between.

View pictures of the groundbreaking in this Facebook album.
View raw footage at this YouTube Playlist.

Unpacking the Writer ► Closing Out Another Year

Crazy angles. Just like Batman.

Long-time readers of Not Now Silly know that Unpacking The Writer is a monthly feature, in which I pull back the curtain and reveal the man pulling the levers.

AUNTY EM!!! AUNTY EM!!!

New readers may be unaware that this is also my clever way to remind people to click on the adverts on these pages. The few cents I get from the monthly clicks don’t even cover the cost of storing the pics I use. [Did I say “few”? I meant miniscule.] However, now that Google has lowered the price of storage, I might actually be at the break-even point. Whoopie!

No matter. While money was never the reason I started a blog, it would be nice to make a few dollars here and there for all the hard work I put into these posts. On your mark. Get set. Start clicking.

I compare myself to Superman whenever I can.

Something else new readers may not know: I had a residency for a few years at NewsHounds, the motto of which is “We watch Fox so you don’t have to.” Because I was concerned Right Wing Crazies™ might want to hunt me down, I used a nom de plume. Because I thought it was funny, that pseudonym was Aunty Em Ericann. Because that so upset Right Wing Crazies™, some of them decided to hunt me down.

It’s the circle of life.

So, the Right Wing Crazies™ hunted me down and exposed my secret identity, just like I was a superhero and they were trying to conquer the world. No one ever accused them of being Braniacs, however.

In an effort to destroy me — because he couldn’t refute my message — Johnny Dollar was stupid enough to publish details of my alternative lifestyle at his sewer because, clearly, my sex life falls under his stated rubric of CABLE NEWS TRUTH. That’s the story I tell in the very first post on this blog: Johnny Dollar has Proven Himself To Be A Very Dangerous Person.

TRUE STORY: This blog was launched to expose Mark Koldys. Therefore, if you like this blog, you have Johnny Dollar to thank for it. It’s my modest suggestion that the very best way to thank Johnny Dollar is to share my Johnny Dollar stories all across the World Wide Interwebs. Feel free to repost.

The more that people learn about Mark Koldys and Ashley Graham, the more repulsed they are. They are saddened such evil motherfuckers like Johnny Dollar and Grayhammy actually exist. They are outraged that people would do such a thing over political differences. They understand that I might be willing to forget this silly little cyber-feud — even after 3 years of relentless and mendacious attacks — except Koldys and/or Graham keep reminding me it’s time to write about them all over again. What’s funny is how they keep trying to convince people that they are the victims.

For all those reasons I ask my faithful readers to share, or trade, these blog posts with your family and friends. Here’s are some good places to start:

blackflon was once part of the Flying Monkey Squad, but became bored and
gave up his part in the feud. Maybe Mark Koldys & Ashley Graham will take a clue.

I guess I’m just nostalgic for the earliest days of this blog. While it started with the mission to destroy Johnny Dollar, I’ve branched out considerably since then.

For the first year — to keep the continuity and to bring along my NewsHound fans — this blog was slapped with the unweildy title of Headly Westerfield’s “Aunty Em Ericann” Blog, which I got tired of typing. A year ago, April 1st, I simplified it to Not Now Silly, the URL I had chosen a year earlier. It occurs to me that I’ve not told that story here:

When I was originally setting up this blog I was asked to come up with a URL. I knew that it was something that I’d have to live with for a while, so I typed one possibility after another. They were either already taken, or just seemed stupid when I stared at it long enough. I was just starting to get frustrated when Pops called me from the other room. “Not Now Silly” is what my fingers automatically typed. Then I hit enter. It was as good as any URL, I suppose and, just like every problem, I was over-thinking it. 

For some reason Keg tried it in blue before we settled on sepia.

When I decided to rename the blog last year, I reverted to that URL. Keg designed a logo I that I love, based on a pic I found on the innertubes.

To blow my own horn: I’m most proud of my investigative writing on Coconut Grove. Back when I was still disguised as Aunty Em, I wrote my first blog posts on the Charles Avenue Historical Marker. Accidentally stumbling across that marker led me to all my other reporting on Coconut Grove, from the Demolition by Neglect of the E.W.F. Stirrup House; to the quiet racism that led to Trolleygate; the historical racism that led to Old Smokey; right on down to documenting The Colour Line as it shifts throughout the history of Coconut Grove.

And, my Coconut Grove posts do pretty good, click-wise, because I have regular readers now who want to know what I’ve uncovered lately. However, nothing could have prepared me for the click action on my post of February 22nd, Aries Development Continues To Rape Charles Avenue, all about the illegal cutting of the trees at the E.W.F. Stirrup House. It garnered 1297 clicks in just a month, jumping to the #3 in the Not Now Silly Top Ten. Sadly that knocked one of my Johnny Dollar posts down to the #9 position.

Readers: I do it for you. Without my readers, these words would be meaningless. These last two years have been a great ride. I sure hope you’re going to stick around for the next few. Here are some videos I made that combines my love of history and my obsessive picture collecting. See you around the funny papers. Oh, and click on an advert. It won’t cost you a thing and you’ll feel better for it.