Paradise Squandered: Why South Beach's Failure-Prone Government Censors Upset Residents

Left: Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine. Right: Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales
Left: Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine. Right: Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales

There’s a government fighting the press, censoring citizens, spreading misinformation with their allied group of cyber propagandists hoping to sway public opinion.

They’re also mismanaging public funds, polluting water, denying science and hoping that citizens won’t speak out about their massive public works projects.

The thin-skinned regime even fired off a controversial lawyer’s letter to threaten a respected newspaper with litigation, and demanding the retraction of a factual story about the results of scientific water testing.

No, it’s not the Trump regime, it’s not House Republicans and it’s not a boondoggle border wall project concocted by a neo-nazi promoting news editor.

It’s happening on South Beach.

Miami Beach’s floundering local government has become a textbook example of what not to do from the top down, mostly in the course of the last twelve months.

But now that the city’s economy is ailing and anger levels at the city administration’s policies and results rise, the Levine Machine at City Hall is working overtime to shut down critics

A new pair of official initiatives will curb city residents already limited chances to present public comment at City Hall at public meetings, and even proposing legislation to move the goalposts on activists and people who want get citizen ballot initiatives voted on by residents.

The City Manager’s new rules intended to force Miami Beach residents to submit their public meeting comments 24-hours in advance, if they require a multi-media demonstration.

There’s new legislation proposed, which make it more difficult for citizens to access to the ballot box for direct legislative initiatives, to regulate matters in which they believe their city needs public guidance.

Miami Beach’s Mayor Phillip Levine’s government official Facebook page has become a vast public comment forum, with over 40,000 followers and hundreds of posts with discussion topics where he communicates about the city of 90,000 residents’ official business.

Additionally, Mayor Levine won’t deny that he frequently uses Facebook’s “block user” feature to determine based on the speaker’s content, who may or may not post comments.

The Mayor’s critics are blocked.

That’s censorship.

It helps to examine why Miami Beach residents are upset, which leads to at least one specific activist, whom they wish to freeze out with this latest flurry of activity.

The City of Miami Beach has two of Florida’s top tourist attractions - South Beach and Lincoln Road - in addition to glittering towers in generally high demand by the world’s elite.

Visitors would be appalled to find out what the man who runs the city has actually been doing to harm the hundreds of businesses they wish to patronize, and residents have been up in arms virtually since Mayor Levine’s re-election back in 2015.

But the intense public uproar and the city’s successive, self-inflicted failures caused Phillip Levine to become the first the incumbent Mayor of Miami Beach to abandon his third and final re-election bid since the city assumed its current form of government in the mid-90s.

He’ll also become the first Miami Beach Mayor since then who hasn’t served a third term.

Even, Levine’s embattled predecessor - who lost a city Commission race after being term limited as Mayor - still managed to obtain three, full terms as Mayor from the city’s voters.

Now, Philip Levine’s quixotic plan is to run for State Governor on his city’s rancid record of mismanagement, bad decisions and blatant abuse of power. Still, some members of the Democratic Party’s donor class prefer to look at the bright side.

“Mayor Levine has raised the minimum wage, passed paid family leave and taking bold action on climate change,” says millennial fundraiser, Democrat Andrew Korge, “Even Gov. Rick Scott and [Attorney General] Pam Bondi are suing him for his progressive record.

Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen-Gonzalez said that Levine’s backers mistakenly give the Mayor credit for her initiative to support women’s right to paid maternity leave.

Also, the Miami Herald has frequently called Levine’s initiative to raise the city’s minimum wage his first step towards running for Governor.

Taxpayers will foot the bill to defend the Mayor’s minimum wage legislation.

Since there’s no other city in Florida who has changed their minimum wage, it could set a court precedent ending the practice in this state, if Miami Beach loses the high stakes litigation.

The City of Miami Beach communications office was contacted before publication of this story, but neither Mayor Levine, nor City Manager Jimmy Morales replied with a comment.

Paradise Mismanaged, Pollution Spewed and A Censorship Coverup

Miami Beach’s Mayor Levine pollutes water like Republican Governor Rick Snyder, denies science like Republican Governor Rick Scott.

He is also wealthy, vain, and an attention hogging 'public servant' in the mold of America’s new Republican President.

Mayor Levine loves to say that he “floated into office in a kayak,” but these days, his ultimate goal is to hide the water pollution caused by his ill-conceived implementation of a pump system to mitigate sea level rise related flooding.

Some of Mayor Levine's other early high profile decisions were to badmouth the Beach as a place of business and say that hospitality was most important; he then proceeded to blow up a done deal on the Convention center which was years in the making, and pitch a hotel deal nobody wanted, which lost at referendum.

Today, the Miami Beach Convention Center is totally closed for renovations which businesses say is causing economic havoc, combined with a reactive policy to fighting the zika virus, which began when the Mayor denied that the mosquito-borne illness had struck, before telling the real facts to upset residents a day later.

Levine’s administration has had a fitful follow through in the pump project, whose aim keep the city afloat as sea levels rise, after a rapid start which saw four pump locations installed.

Critics have accused the Mayor of using excessive self-interest in decisions about those major public works, as well as rushing complex engineering which has created unintended consequences, like water pollution.

The pollution problem is so serious, that the City presented a hefty bill to the Miami Herald in order to stall mandatory public records releases showing that they’ve known about the pollution issues for quite some time now.

Worse yet, the city spent millions to move water from public rights of way, right into the lower floors of residential high rise towers.

“On West Ave, flooding has moved to condominium garages and private property.” Stephen Cohen said when discussing his experience living and owning a condo in South Beach’s West Avenue area, the most popular neighborhood of high rise apartments for year-round residents.

“I was told by a high level member of the city’s engineering department that this is a band aid,” says Cohen, “and long-term the city needs to raise many buildings by 2050.”

“Besides there’s fecal matter coming out of pumps,” noted Cohen, which caused the state to declare the world famous beaches dangerously unfit for swimming during a weekend in which a tri-athalon was taking place nearby.

Luckily, that race’s organizers that weekend responsibly took every precaution, extensive samples and all participants safely competed that weekend.

But the City doesn’t issue warnings about near shore water quality, and to this day denies officially that there is a problem.

Lately, Levine has been busy blaming tourists for being involved in criminal incidents, and his police department’s stunning inability to police areas or the city’s crushing of tourist driven businesses on Ocean Drive by imposing early shut down orders on nightclubs.

Levine was also part of the RFP PAC aka Relentless For Progress, a political fund run by another city Commissioner whose acronym resembled Request for Proposal.

Those doing business with the city of Miami Beach complained that they were being directed to donate to the PAC by the Mayor and Commissioner.

Levine also managed to leave the Venetian Causeway closed for the 2015 Art Basel events, causing one of the world's great traffic jams.

Then he capped it off by trying to build a “train to nowhere,” which residents say was at best, a thinly veiled effort to up zone a property for developer and Levine-ally Russell Galbut, on Alton Road.

At worst Levine’s laughable train - which had no committment to link to the mainland - would've been a financial folly on par with the monorail from the Simpsons, or a waste of money to pay for studies that the County should be performing for a real system to alleviate the island’s nightmare level traffic problems.

Beach Mayor’s Fake Russian Propaganda Machine

He’s an ardent practitioner of official censorship, paired with an official propaganda machine that would make Putin proud.

The Mayor’s supporters include a few outrageous trolls promoting the Administration’s line.

Numerous citizens have alleged both on Facebook and by the phone to me, that Levine deploys paid trolls along with staunch supporters who might live outside the city and/or secret accounts managed by local Commission.

Even one of the City Commissioners fell under attack by the City Administration’s troll army.

Commissioner Michael Grieco went onto Facebook Live last month, to defend his family from being dragged into the city’s lowbrow politics after one of the Mayor’s trolls began publishing salacious headlines across official social media accounts related to the city’s government.

“Conveniently, all of the comments negatively directed towards me or my family tend to always stay up.” One by one, Commissioner Greico says supporters responses were deleted from the Mayor’s public forum, and because of the Sunshine law he cannot comment directly on the Facebook accounts of other public officials of the city.

“The comments defending me,” he concluded, “or speaking glowingly of me or my mayoral campaign get deleted.”

Miami Beach Public Funds Stolen By Mysterious Bank Robbers

Meanwhile, Harvard-educated Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales is setting standards for financial mismanagement. The city lost $3.6 million dollars from a SunTrust bank account holding up to $150 million dollars, for which the city declined enhanced fraud protection.

“All I can say is that the criminal investigation is going well and we are confident that we will get back every penny of the $3.6 million,” said Miami Beach City Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who chairs the Citywide Projects and Finance Committee.

“Audits are the responsibility of the City's outside auditors and the City's CFO.”

The thief is still at large.

Miami Beach has only recovered about just shy of $700,000 to date.

Moving The Goalposts To Defeat Citizens Ballot Initiatives

Miami Beach activist Daniel Ciraldo is fighting city hall’s pro-development positions on a frequent basis.

He’s seeking to preserve the island’s historic architecture, which itself helped create the island’s resurgence in the 1980s.

Currently, Ciraldo is circulating a ballot initiative to set maximum building heights, because citizens no longer trust their elected officials in Miami Beach to fairly balance quality of life needs with the desires of property developers.

This morning, Ciraldo alerted me to a new legislative proposal which would raise the bar for collecting those signatures, without lowering the staggering number of petitions needed or modernizing the method for collecting them electronically. He wrote:

Commissioner Joy Malakoff has proposed a new ordinance that would make it more difficult for voters to send in their own signatures for a ballot initiative. Unlike absentee ballots and state referenda, the Miami Beach proposal would require a third party to witness all signatures, effectively disqualifying a voter from mailing in a signed petition directly. Malakoff previously rejected a compromise that would have required 6/7 Commission vote for increasing heights, instead of the current 5/7 vote requirement. Furthermore, the new disqualification standards also work to make it much harder to get a petition signed.

There’s already a high bar set to place a citizen initiative on the ballot in Miami Beach; Ten percent of all registered voters must sign the petition, which must then be sent to the group, who then sends the signed forms to the County Supervisor of Elections for verification of signatures.

Ciraldo fears that this will freeze citizens of Miami Beach entirely out of the ballot box, where many of the most controversial issues are decided by direct democracy, like Convention Center Hotel proposals or up-zoning requests for North Beach, both voted down by the city’s residents.

“We don’t want our elected officials raising new roadblocks to democracy.” Ciraldo said that, “we hope to keep the activist spirit of Miami Beach alive.”

Footloose: Miami Beach Mayor Bans Music At Restaurants, Then Mocks Businesses Suing Over Free Speech Restrictions

The Miami Herald reported that another law Mayor Levine voted for has backfired, causing even more litigation against the city for violating the free speech rights of citizens and entrepreneurs.

The ordinance limits music from being played at some establishments, not others, and created a patchwork quilt of business regulations. Mayor Levine voted for the measure, then backtracked when it blew up in his face.

“Sometimes you pass things, and sometimes you have to reconsider,” Levine said. “I wasn’t under the impression that [the ordinance] disallowed other types of music. I thought it was more about volume.” The rule was meant to allow music in a commercial area of the Beach’s fashionable South of Fifth neighborhood, while respecting the concerns of noise-averse neighbors, according to an agenda.
“First it’s a live piano, then it’s a saxophone, then it’s the end of Western civilization,” Levine joked. “To have low-level live music at a restaurant, I think it’s great. I don’t think we should stifle the creativity of our entrepreneurs.”

“I don’t think he should make fun of residents who are concerned about protecting the tranquility of our neighborhoods,” Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen-Gonzalez said. and she is concerned that as a matter of governance, the Mayor’s comments were flippant and reckless, “What does that mean for our lawsuit? Does that mean that he pled guilty?

“Instead of defending the city’s ordinance, and knowing that the city is in a lawsuit, he behaved recklessly and made those remarks.

“It’s very disappointing.”

Conclusion

Miami Beach is a vibrant cultural destination city, in need of wise leadership to inform and assist its residents with life on an island whose population can easily triple on a busy weekend.

The City’s leadership faces unusual challenges managing the island city.

Nobody believes it’s an easy job.

But the City of Miami Beach’s response to those problems has been to seek to suppress citizen input, making arbitrary decisions and falling short on the basics of running a city with vast revenues and expenses.

Mayor Levine has shamefully led the city in its charge to wage a public relations campaign against residents and ultimately the decisions to silence critics.

It’s a clear signal that this Miami Beach’s elections coming this November should be about change.

“We’ve got to act as good stewards of this city’s quality of life for everyone to enjoy,” said Daniel Ciraldo, “and the next Administration needs to work proactively with its residents.”

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