Friday, July 01, 2016

Filmmaker Billy Corben schools Miami Beach Mayor and Commissioners on government transparency


Billy Corben
Miami Beach-based filmmaker Billy Corben was outraged after reading a story this morning by Miami Herald environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich on the City of Miami Beach's attempts to circumvent public records laws by attempting to charge the Herald an astounding $73,000 to furnish the paper with "emails dealing with water quality monitoring from Mayor Philip Levine and others over the past two years."

So he took  to Facebook and penned a blistering broadside calling out Levine and his colleagues at City Hall for their hypocrisy and arrogance.

You can read Corben's screed below, or on his Facebook page by clicking here - where you can also leave a comment.

Postscript: When I asked Corben for permission to re-post his letter, he said yes...and then said "you should remind the Herald that when they sue the city, which at this point appears inevitable, I hope they don't forget to demand all personal emails and text messages from city officials, as they regularly do city business using those accounts and are subject to public records laws. And they must be sure to include Mayor Levine's Hillary Clinton-esque private email server"


An Open Letter to: Mayor Philip Levine,

Commissioners Michael Grieco, Ricky Arriola, Joy V.W. Malakoff, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, John Elizabeth Aleman, City Manager Jimmy Morales

In Re: Miami Herald versus Bad Government

Dear Mayor Philip Levine, et al:

Bad government comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, ages and political persuasions. I know you probably never envisioned it coming to this when you idealistically first ran for office (in the case of Mayor Levine, never having even voted in a local election before) or become a professional bureaucrat, but it's time to look in the mirror and take stock: YOU are now the bad government you vowed to repair. No transparency, no accountability and feebly attempting to cover it up by concealing public records from the public who pays for them. Which begs the question: what are you trying to hide?

The primary role of the media is to provide vital oversight on government. It is not their job to publish propaganda generated by your agencies. That is the province of chambers of commerce, politicians' monthly newsletters and wasteful “private-public” organizations like Visit Miami.

The Herald is not supposed to be a cheerleader, politician or cruise director (or all of the above, like Mayor Levine); they’re supposed to be fact-finders and truth-tellers. Without the press, who would we rely on to accurately report government goings on? Public agencies themselves? Politicians and bureaucrats like you? Clearly not based upon the article I’ve posted below.

If Commissioner Arriola was the Herald’s publisher, he'd run the same 1A headline daily: "IT’S A BEAUTIFUL SUNNY DAY!” Hey Ricky: stop worrying so much about the sunshine and start governing in it. Our public records laws (aka “Government-in-the-Sunshine” laws) are not simply statutory — they are enshrined in our state constitution. Access to our government and records is a fundamental right in Florida.

The Herald answers to the same people you do: their readers are your constituents. Blaming the press and attacking the messenger only serves your agenda of distracting the populace from your failure to take action on the shortcomings being reported on.

I know it’s easier to sit on a dais with your blinders on, declaring "everything is awesome" than to actually confront real issues and effectuate positive change. The voters don’t want mascots, we want leaders. Leaders who aren’t too thin-skinned to open their records and accept constructive criticism from the only people who matter: the people of Miami Beach. That's who you are supposed to work for and protect. Not your own fragile egos.

Holding public records for ransom is the ultimate arrogance of power. They DO NOT belong to you. They belong to us. This is a simple search of emails. It DOES NOT require $73,000 and 48 weeks of work. Shame on you. Shame on all of you. I repeat: What are you trying to hide? Is this just mindless vindictiveness against the Herald or is there something you don’t want us to know?

Michael Grieco, you publicly removed the door from your office at City Hall as a symbolic gesture of open government. Is that all that was? An empty gesture? Mayor Levine once told the very media he assails: "This government is going to be all about transparency." All talk?

If you ever intend to run for reelection or hold further public office know that this "us versus them" war you've senselessly declared against the media is not you versus the Herald. It's you versus the people and our right to know what our government is doing.

Understand, since you clearly do not, it is the duty of the Herald to its constituents to expose this. To expose you. They are doing their job. It's time for you to do yours.

Have a Safe and Happy 4th of July Weekend (and please don't fire your guns in the air to celebrate).

Billy Corben

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