Friday, November 28, 2014

'We are unglued' - Miami Herald continues to treat some South Florida neighborhoods as though they don't exist


Last August, after seven teenagers walked through an open door and gave themselves a self-guided tour at the multi-million dollar Coral Gables home of former Miami Heat star Ray Allen, the Miami Herald published no fewer than seven stories on the incident.

The highlight of the paper's Pulitzer-worthy package of stories was an insightful column by the Herald's Crotchety-Old-Lady-in-Residence, Fabiola Santiago.

And just last month, the Herald ran a 2,000 word piece on the rise in the number of burglaries in Coral Gables.

“You don’t feel safe in your home. We decided to live in Coral Gables because it’s safe. But the minute you start feeling insecure in your home, that’s where it all changes,” PR executive and lobbyist Freddy Balsera told the Herald.

The Herald does an excellent job of covering Coral Gables, because that's where its moneyed readers live. And it's probably just a coincidence, but the Herald's publisher, Alexandra Villoch, also lives in Coral Gables in a very nice 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 2,000 sq. ft. home that's a million miles away from some of Miami's grittier neighborhoods.

And maybe that explains why when it comes to covering some of those gritty, impoverished South Florida neighborhoods, the Herald continues to come up short.

What follows are a series of text messages sent earlier this week by a Herald editor to former colleagues.
"We are now copying even the most basic stories from CBS4."

"A mother is killed and we lost the ability to do our own story. We are unglued."

"We scour CBS4 for stories we miss and lift them."

"If victim had lived in Coral Gables it would have been on front page."

"Mother of 3 gunned down -- dead -- no apparent ties to anything nefarious, works 9/5 and she's just another inner city killing."

"An 8am home invasion and a mother of 3 is executed and [we] cannot muster a team of reporters."

Miami Herald, Nov. 26, 2014, page 3B.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Miami Beach Commissioner who bent the rules so he could to apply to become a cop, has withdrawn his application

Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin
has dreamed of becoming a cop
since he was knee-high to a grasshopper.
Less than a month after Miami Beach commissioners voted unanimously to grant fellow commissioner Ed "Mad Dog" Tobin a waiver that allowed him to bypass a city rule and apply to become a Miami Beach cop, his lifelong dream of wearing a badge and gun has crashed and burned.

The Miami Herald's Joey Flechas reports today that the 53 year-old Tobin has withdrawn his application to become a police officer.

Tobin told Flechas that he made the decision “in the best interest of me and my family.”

But Random Pixels has learned from a high-level City Hall source that Tobin's application never made it past first base.

Last week, Tobin appeared before an oral board that's the first part of the police department's screening process designed to weed out and eliminate unfit candidates. My source tells me that Tobin incorrectly answered an important question relating to ethics.

A few hours after his appearance before the board - and in what sources term a highly unusual move - Tobin got a phone call from Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates who informed him that his application was dead in the water.

My City Hall source tells me that after receiving the bad news, Tobin decided to withdraw his application rather than risk the embarrassment of being rejected by the department as unfit.

Last year the Miami Herald reported that a Miami Beach police major filed an ethics complaint against Tobin.
A Miami Beach police major who was wrapped up in a politically-charged internal affairs probe has filed an ethics complaint against City Commissioner Ed Tobin.

Maj. Angel Vazquez claims that Tobin used his political office to influence hirings and firings of a police chief and city manager, as well as two police recruits.

Tobin denies the allegations and said Vazquez is just a disgruntled employee.

Vazquez’s complaint to the Miami-Dade ethics commission, says that Tobin “used his official position to influence and secure special privileges” for a friend who was being considered for Miami Beach’s chief of police job. The friend was former Bal Harbour Police Chief Tom Hunker, who was later fired from that city as the U.S. Department of Justice investigates questionable spending of millions of dollars confiscated by Bal Harbour from drug dealers and money launderers. [Vazquez's complaint was eventually dismissed.]
By withdrawing his application, Tobin can apply again at a future date. His term as commissioner expires next year.

Last month Miami New Times reported that "it's been [Tobin's] dream to be a cop since was a kid."
Miami Beach Commissioner
Ed "Mad Dog" Tobin.
From the age of 13 to 18, [New Times reported] he was a Miami Beach Police Explorer, a kind of traineeship facilitated by the Boy Scouts. As part of the program, Tobin did community service and tagged along on midnight patrols with officers.

"I was in uniform," Tobin says. "And we were trained -- we would use the radio, and a lot of times they would let us drive."
If he's hired, Tobin says, he'll give up his commissioner benefits and start as an entry-level policeman, just like anyone else would.

"Just wait till you see," he says. "I'm going to be great at it."
So what's Tobin's next move?

He told the Herald's Flechas, "I have something else I’m looking into, which I can’t get into.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

The way we were...'Little blonde girl lawyer' in 'sweaters and tight skirts' puts hoods in jail

Miami News, Nov. 4, 1962.


Girl Puts Hoods in Jail

by Miller Davis
Reporter of the Miami News

A little blonde with a tough mind is helping State Attorney Richard Gerstein send bad people to jail.

Assistant prosecutor Ellen Morphonios ... is 105 pounds of bad news to women who get in trouble...

"Most jurors melt under her tender gaze," says one of Miami's top criminal lawyers who has several clients behind bars, courtesy of perky Ellen.

Adds the same attorney ruefully, "and in a good old-fashioned cat fight between Ellen and a lady defendant, the defendant usually leaves the witness stand with tears and mascara dripping down her face."

Almost every weekday Mrs. Morphonios stands in front of Judge Jack Falk's bench, hands on hips, tapping a high-heeled pump, and her voice is as warm and gentle as a Minnesota frost.


Born on the outer banks of North Carolina, Ellen grew up to a pleasant-looking 35-22-37 and came to Miami with a high school education, a legal pad and pencil, and a fierce interest in the law.

She served as a legal secretary for seven years for veteran Miami attorney Roscoe Brunstetter and used her natural endowments profitably as a part-time photographers' model.

But pride gleams in her blue eyes, as she recalls that she was admitted to the bar on a Thursday in 1957 and tried her first law case the next day before the Florida Supreme Court...

Gerstein named her an assistant in 1961, and her batting average for successful prosecutions is 94.1 per cent.

Sweaters and tight skirts help in some cases, claims prosecutor Morphonios, and then there are times when a girl lawyer comes to court in something demure.

"It's a simple matter of when and how you want to distract somebody," she noted, with the matter-of-factness of an infantry officer sizing up a battlefield.


"Right now I'm happy...I think I'm doing a man's job..."

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Key West 'True Crime' writer gets a little too involved with true crime in Key West

Terry Schmida
Booking photo.
Terry Schmida is a reporter at the Key West Citizen newspaper where he covers education and social services.

Schmida tured 45 on Friday, and apparently decided to cap off a night of celebration by stopping in at the Denny's on Duval Street in Key West.

Larry Kahn of KeysInfoNet has the story:
A Key West Citizen reporter skipped out on his meal tab and tried to run a restaurant manager over with his car early Saturday morning, Key West police say.

Terry Schmida .... turned 45 on Friday. [...] He remained in the Keys jail early Saturday with no bond allowed.

Schmida posed for a gag photo at the old
Monroe County Jail in Key West in 2005.
Via Facebook.
(Click image to enlarge)
According to a report from Key West police officer Michael Diaz, Schmida was at the Denny's at 925 Duval St. When it came time to pay his $9.23 bill around 2 a.m., all he could produce was a stack of his business cards and a $5 bill. He told manager Nicole Estep he would go to his car, a white Toyota, to get money.

She and another employee went outside, as well. That's when Schmida decided to drive away, Diaz wrote. He allegedly accelerated his car with Estep in front of him, forcing her onto the hood. Then he took off, with Estep left on the ground.

But the story doesn't end there.

The cops eventually caught up with Schmida and arrested him. He's been charged him with "felony aggravated assault ... misdemeanor drunk driving and theft."

Kahn also reports that officers at the jail pepper-sprayed and Tased Schmida because he was "noncompliant."

By the way, Schmida is also the author of a trilogy of books appropriately titled "True Crime Stories of Key West and the Florida Keys."

_______ Citizen writer arrested

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What's killing the alligators of the Florida Everglades?

Via CBS News:
Alligators have thrived in the Florida Everglades for years, but scientists studying their population are now finding fewer and smaller gators.

"The best of them are skinny," said Frank Mazzotti, a wildlife ecologist with the University of Florida. "They weigh maybe 80 percent of what an alligator should weigh, but what is of greater concern to us is the proportion of alligators that are emaciated."

A classic Don Wright cartoon from 30 years ago...

From the Miami News, Nov. 21, 1984.

Click image to enlarge.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Drone footage of snowstorm in West Seneca, NY

Why we live in Florida.....

Video by James Grimaldi.

A Random Pixels investigation reveals that an 8-week-old kitten is more popular than Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine

It's been two weeks since Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine gave his State of the City address. One of my Facebook friends called it an "over the (big) top State of the City Broadway production."

Here in the Random Pixels newsroom, we were impressed by the mayor's ability to transform a usually dull affair into something resembling a Presidential inauguration, Papal Coronation and Heisman Trophy ceremony, all rolled into one spectacular, self-aggrandizing, dull affair.

But the mayor is worried that some may have missed it.

In the two weeks since he gave the speech, he's been promoting it ad nauseam on social media.

He's even paid for an ad that's running on the state's most widely-read political blog, SaintPetersBlog.

Click to enlarge. 

But despite all that promotion, the mayor's speech has been viewed just slightly more than 1,700 times.

By comparison, a YouTube video posted just two days ago of a tiny kitten battling its reflection in a mirror has been viewed more than 80,000 times.

This kitten is infinitely more popular than Miami Beach
Mayor Philip Levine. 

But back to the speech. At about 17 minutes into his 45 minute snooze-fest, the mayor talks about the city's search for a new police chief with "ability and an enviable record."

"We found those qualities in Chief Dan Oates, who only five months into the job, is already making a difference and you can feel it," the mayor said.

Last April, Levine was quoted as saying, "We believe that a culture of excellence should be in every [city] department head and Police Chief Dan Oates exemplifies that."

But if I had one wish, it would be to listen in on the conversation that Mayor Levine is almost certain to have very soon with his "world-class" police chief.

While the mayor was concluding his trip to Israel, someone broke into a house on Sunset Island.

The burglary might have gone unnoticed except for the fact that it occurred just two blocks from the mayor's house.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when the mayor has that talk with the chief.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Michael Peyton abruptly quits Friends of WLRN

Random Pixels has learned that Michael Peyton, the longtime Director of Corporate Marketing for Friends of WLRN, the fundraising arm of the school board-owned radio station WLRN, quietly resigned earlier this week.

"There's been no announcement or email," a source told me this morning, "I think they want to keep it quiet."

Reached on his cell phone this morning, Peyton told me, "After 20 years it was time to move move on. I had an incredible run." He declined further comment.

Peyton's departure comes two months after the hushed-up firing in September of Friends of WLRN CEO, Victor Kendall. 

Last January, Miami New Times staff writer Michael Miller reported that Peyton was making about $400,000 a year at Friends.

In June 2010, reported that Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho "described compensation for Friends’ employees as 'tantamount to insulting' in light of school salaries and the system’s budget problems..."

Peyton has told associates that in his 20 years at Friends he raised close to $32 million.

But a school board source tells me that sales are down 30%, and Peyton was being pressured to take a demotion at Friends.


Random Pixels, Jan. 21, 2014: With 'Friends' like these...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Miami Beach City Manager and Commissioners disrespect the nation's veterans on Veterans Day

Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco's self-serving
Veterans Day placard. 

Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales, and Commissioners Michael Grieco and Ed "Mad Dog" Tobin have never served in the military.

But whenever a holiday day like Memorial Day or Veterans Day rolls around, Morales, Grieco and Tobin - like all politicians - send out press releases and stand in front of TV cameras professing their love of country, and their immense respect for the veterans who - unlike them - have actually put on a uniform and made sacrifices when their country needed them.

But while Grieco, Tobin and Morales avoided military service, you'd think the least they could do would be to show some actual respect for those who did serve, on a day that honors those who fought the nation's wars.

Let's get to City Manager Morales, first.

Here's an email he sent out to city employees earlier today:


Just a short note to wish you and your families a wonderful Veteran's Day. I want to particularly shout out to those City employees that have served in one of the four military branches.

Thank you for your service and sacrifice. On this day we also remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedom and way of life.

I also want to thank the dozens of employees that participated in today's parade. It was a grand affair, and long time participants tell me it was the biggest crowds ever, punctuated by a flyover by two F-16 fighter jets.

And what beautiful weather!! Special thanks go to Major Causey and Marcia Monserrat for spearheading this great event and kickoff to our Centennial year. Again my best wishes to each and every one of you. God bless Miami Beach and God bless America.


Sent from my iPad

Memo to Jimmy: There are FIVE branches of the military, not four.

Morales, for some reason, left out the Coast Guard.

While the Coast Guard is technically a branch of  the Department of Transportation, under "Title 14 of the United States Code ... 'The Coast Guard as established January 28, 1915, shall be a military service and a branch of the armed forces of the United States at all times.' Upon the declaration of war or when the President directs, the Coast Guard operates under the authority of the Department of the Navy."

Had Morales taken the time to do some research, he would have learned that Coast Guard members have served their nation during World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War, to name four.

Now, let's take a look at how Commissioners Ed Tobin and Michael Grieco chose to honor the nation's veterans at today's parade on Miami Beach.

Remember, these are two guys who like to associate themselves with the brave men and women in the military, but who have never served a day in combat.

Miami Beach Commissioners Michael Grieco, left, and Ed Tobin chose to honor
the nation's veterans while dressed like a couple of schlubs. 

Tobin and Grieco - both dressed like slobs - rode on a city float. I've seen better-dressed drunks at tail-gate parties.

Couldn't you clowns have at least tucked in your shirts? Showing up dressed like that was an act of total disrespect.

Morales, Tobin and Grieco, owe veterans everywhere, an apology.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Colbert Report: Busted for feeding the homeless

“One of the police officers said, ‘Drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon.” - Arnold Abbott, WWII veteran who's been busted twice for defying Ft. Lauderdale's law against feeding the homeless. 

Oh, food is much worse than weapons in Florida. If George Zimmerman had fed a guy in a hoodie, he’d be in jail.” - Stephen Colbert

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Miami Beach Police having trouble getting cops to volunteer for off-duty work at Ocean Drive nightclubs

Last July 14, decorated Miami Beach police sergeant Mike Muley was suspended after it was alleged he had been drinking at an Ocean Drive night spot where he had been working off-duty.

The next day, Miami Beach's new police chief, Dan Oates, responded to the incident by announcing that officers would no longer be allowed to work off-duty at nightclubs.

The Miami Herald's Chuck Rabin reported, "critics say the move will hamper policing efforts as patrol officers will have to respond to the thousands of yearly calls from the clubs."

Miami Beach Police Chief Dan
Oates was caught napping at 

a recent Command Staff meeting.
However another effect of Oates' ban on off-duty work was its financial impact to the city. Nightclubs and other businesses that employ off-duty officers, pay the city $10 for every hour an officer works, in addition to the $35 an hour an officer makes. One Miami Beach business that's not a nightclub, paid the city almost $22,000 last year.

But six weeks after banning off-duty work, Chief Oates reversed himself.

Cops would now be allowed, once again, to work off-duty at clubs.

But there would be revisions to the off-duty policy...the biggest change being that officers would "be rotated to different locations during the off-duty shift at the discretion of the supervisor in charge," and off-duty officers would no longer work an entire shift at any one club as had been the practice for years.


Earlier on Random Pixels: Miami Beach Police investigating drive-by shooting at Fat Tuesday's on Ocean Drive

Now it appears that Chief Oates' attempt to fix something that wasn't really broken in the first place, is coming back to bite him in the ass.

In a letter sent yesterday [embedded below] to Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and the city commissioners, City Manager Jimmy Morales writes:
The following five Ocean Drive clubs, all of which participated to some degree in the previous off-duty program, continue to go without coverage because officers have not volunteered in sufficient numbers to make these work details practical for the Department:
1 The Clevelander - 1020 Ocean Drive
2 Fat Tuesday's - 918 Ocean Drive
3 Mango's - 900 Ocean Drive
4 Ocean's Ten - 960 Ocean Drive
5 Wet Willies - 760 Ocean Drive
Through the Ocean Drive Association, these five clubs have sought to begin off~duty coverage again. They have expressed their willingness to pay for up to four officers a night to cover these clubs. However, despite repeated offers to our police officers of such work and despite several adjustments of the hours and assignments to entice interest, the Department has been unable to get sufficient numbers of officers to volunteer for this nightclub work on Ocean Drive. [Emphasis mine.]

That last line is not sitting well with many rank and file members of the force who feel that Morales is blaming them for a problem that stems from Chief Oates' heavy-handed overreaction to an isolated incident.

Morales continues:
Off-duty work is always a volunteer assignment. It has not been unusual to have nightclub jobs go unfilled in the past because officers do not volunteer, including for jobs on Ocean Drive. Unless there are sufficient volunteers to regularly staff the entire Ocean Drive nightclub detail, it is not productive for the Department to expend the effort to coordinate incomplete and ad hoc, week~to-week and day~to-day coverage. The Ocean Drive Association has been informed that because of the staffing problem, for the time being, the Department is dropping further efforts to fill the Ocean Drive off-duty nightclub assignments.

Your move, Chief Oates.


Monday, November 03, 2014

A classic Don Wright cartoon from Nov. 15, 1984

Miami News cartoon by Don Wright,  Nov. 15, 1984.
(Click image to enlarge.)

Saturday, November 01, 2014

What is jazz?

This is jazz.

Via NPR:
On Dec. 8, 1957, CBS producer Robert Herridge assembled many of the great pioneers of jazz to perform together on live television, as part of "The Sound of Jazz." One of the most memorable performances of the night was Billie Holiday's "Fine and Mellow."

By 1957, Holiday had experienced her share of trouble with drugs and hard living, and her voice was not what it once had been. Yet that day, on the set of "The Sound of Jazz," it was clear that she was still a singer with an impeccable sense of timing and a style that could convey both joy and suffering. In this interview, Nat Hentoff, music writer and part of the production team that organized "The Sound of Jazz," recalls the highlight of the broadcast.