Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Miami media hits and misses

Here are a few things that caught my eye as I perused coverage of some recent stories in South Florida.

HIT- Miami Herald reporters Matthew Haggman and Martha Brannigan.

Haggman and Brannigan continue shining a bright light on all the creepy, slimy creatures that slither out from under the rocks at County Hall.

Sunday, Haggman and Brannigan revealed that a construction company that pays Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose ``Pepe'' Diaz "a six-figure income," has seen its business mushroom at Miami International Airport in the last three years.
U.S. Construction has pulled nearly three dozen permits at the airport to build new cafes, bars and stores, including the sprawling La Carreta restaurant, Duty Free stores and Books & Books. Thus far, in the massive new North Terminal, U.S. Construction is responsible for building more than one-third of the restaurants and shops, according to Miami-Dade Aviation Department records.

That's more than three times as many jobs as any other contractor doing similar work in the 1.4-mile terminal.

The firm's presence at MIA has spread ``like wildfire,'' said Miguel Southwell, the airport's deputy director who oversees concessions.
In the past, Haggman has reported on Miami-Dade commissioners using police officers assigned to county hall as their personal chauffers.

A year ago Haggman reported that Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez turned a blind eye while his Chief of staff Denis Morales moonlighted in Panama while on paid leave from his six-figure job.

And in August 2009, it was Haggman who revealed that Alvarez handed out double-digit pay raises to top staffers while the county was in the midst of a budget crisis.

HIT- Miami Herald reporters Laura Isensee and Toluse Olorunnipa.

Isensee and Olorunnipa reported on the shooting of two criminals who forced their way into a South Dade condo on Thanksgiving eve - a story which has been ignored by the rest of South Florida's media outlets.

HIT- The Miami Herald's Fred Grimm.

In his Sunday column, Grimm took critical look at the mass hysteria that surrounded last year's arrest of South Dade teen Tyler Weinman on charges of killing cats.
No one has yet calculated how much public money was wasted pursuing Tyler Weinman, but last year The Miami Herald's David Ovalle reported that the first 10 days of this extraordinary investigation cost Miami-Dade police $73,693.57 in overtime. That was back in July 2009, for an investigation destined to drag on for another 16 months.

By now, Macey figures, Miami-Dade has spent more than a million bucks -- for a crime that never occurred. The non-crime of the century.
Last week, prosecutors and police announced that charges against Weinman would be dropped.

HIT- WSVN 7 Sky Force videographer Ralph Rayburn.

Rayburn did a top notch job shooting live, white-knuckle-edge-of-your-seat video during the Nov. 17 police chase through parts of Miami Dade and Broward Counties....all while providing an accurate running commentary of the action. Rayburn is a rarity in Miami TV news; he can actually string sentences together without the use of a Teleprompter.

HIT- WPLG's Michael Putney.

Putney offered an important sidebar to the chase coverage. He was the only Miami newsman to question why more than 20 Miami Police units were needed to chase the suspect .
Dozens of officers converged on the scene of the crash with guns drawn, ordering the driver to give up. The driver, a man, climbed out through a window and collapsed on the pavement, his face bloodied and his leg injured in the collision.

The Miami Police Department was the first agency involved in Wednesday's chase and, although other agencies joined in to help, had the most officers following the SUV.

Two marked Miami police cruisers and one unmarked unit were in hot pursuit of the SUV when other departments joined in.

"Obviously, the question of how many police cars is going to be on the minds of most people looking on, but what you have to understand is that there's strength in numbers," said Cmdr. Delrish Moss, of the Miami Police Department.

"I don't have an exact count on how many total officers were involved, but it was basically, as you saw, basically citywide, and also we reached out to other jurisdictions to include the county and (the Florida Highway Patrol,)" Moreno said.

HIT- Miami Herald reporter Cammy Clark and photographer Tim Chapman.

Clark and Chapman did a nice job on the story of Key West lesbian-exclusive resort, Pearl's Rainbow, that now welcomes male guests. Clark's piece proved once again why she's one of the Herald's major assets. She reports on an area - the Florida Keys - that's largely underserved by the rest of South Florida's media outlets. Chapman, a tough-as-nails news photographer, who, for years has covered breaking news at the Herald, turned in a set of pictures that revealed his sentive side and that nicely complemented Clark's story.

FAIL- Miami Herald 's metro desk.

Two weeks after 20 year-old Michael Beatty was gunned down in broad daylight near NW 15 Avenue & 59th Street in Liberty City, the Herald has yet to print one word on the crime.

Beatty's murder was caught on video from several angles. The video shows a man chasing Beatty with a weapon that resembles a Mac-10. Apparently the editors at the Herald consider a cold-blooded daylight murder in Liberty City just another day in the 'hood not worthy of reporting. Even though the story was reported on the website of a British newspaper.

Gunman chases Michael Beatty

FAIL- The Miami Herald.

More than a month after a hookworm infestation on Miami Beach was reported by several media outlets, the Herald finally got around to doing a story. Hey! What's the rush?

FAIL- South Florida Sun-Sentinel business editor Cyndi Metzger.

Metzger is a prime example why newspapers are failing. Last week I emailed her an idea for a story about a successful Miami business. Metzger responded: "We’ll keep it in mind. Our focus is largely on Broward and Palm Beach counties, though." While her paper is called the SOUTH FLORIDA Sun-Sentinel, Metzger evidently believes that Miami-Dade is not a part of South Florida. Brilliant!

Friday, November 26, 2010

A life of crime comes to an end

UPDATED x1 below

Derrick Leonard Fussell / 1982 - 2010

Derrick Leonard Fussell's criminal career came to a crashing end Thanksgiving eve.

From the Miami Herald:
Miami-Dade police on Friday identified two armed intruders who were killed during a home invasion on Thanksgiving Eve.

Dead in the robbery attempt: Derrick Fussell, 28, and Gustavo Perez, 23.

Police say the two men burst into the apartment at 17255 SW 95th Ave. at about 10:20 p.m. on Wednesday. The homeowner, Antonio Luis Delpino, 27, fired at the men.

Perez was felled by the gunfire. Fussell jumped from the third-floor apartment in an attempt to escape, and died from his injuries at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Clearly, Fussell and his partner in crime, Perez, picked the wrong apartment to rob.

What's not so clear is why Fussell or Perez were on the street in the first place. Both have extensive have criminal histories.

The Herald story doesn't answer that question or offer any information other than what's contained in the Miami Dade Police press release.

So I did a little digging.

Perez, 23, has been arrested for home invasion and attempted murder but apparently never did any jail time. The Clerk of the Court website shows that Perez was convicted and given two years probation as a "youthful offender" on the home invasion and attempted murder charges in 2008.

Fussell's most recent arrest was back in September when he was busted for "Driving While License Suspended/Habitual" which is a felony.

A check of criminal court records shows that Fussell has arrests dating back to 2002.
Click image to enlarge

In July 2003, Fussell was arrested for home invasion robbery, aggravated battery, armed robbery and false imprisonment. The Clerk of the Court website says the cases were closed two months later in August with "no action taken."

In addition to the Driving while license suspended charges and the July 2003 slew of charges, Fussell also has been arrested for various drug possession charges, battery, disorderly conduct and armed robbery. In 2002 he was popped for "improper exhibition of a firearm." The disposition of the firearm case is listed as "nolle pros" which means the State attorney declined to prosecute the case.

But South Florida residents can sleep a little easier tonight.

Wednesday night, Antonio Luis Delpino accomplished in a few seconds what the county criminal justice system hadn't been able to do in 8 years. He took Derrick Fussell off the streets for good.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Channel 7, eat your heart out!

Watch as two Chicago anchors have a meltdown as a planned live shot of a bridge explosion is missed by seconds. This station makes our beloved Channel 7 News look like the PBS Newshour.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Random Pixels Quote of the Day

 "Nothing in the Constitution permits power-happy or just downright creepy people from abusing their uniforms and the real need for security."  -New York Times editorial, Nov 20, 2010

image via the Denver Post

Friday, November 19, 2010

Don't touch my junk!

That's the rallying cry at airports across the country. It's this year's version of "don't tase me bro."

You can't tune into a cable news channel without seeing a story on the "new enhanced pat downs."

If you're tired of the story, better not go anywhere near a TV set during Thanksgiving week.

The TSA justifies the new security measures because the "underwear bomber" was able to get a bomb on board a plane by hiding it in his skivvies last Christmas.

Let's hope that a terrorist doesn't figure out a way to stick a bomb up his butt or we're all in trouble.

Lewis Black offered some thoughts on airport security this week on The Daily Show.

"Wait a second. I get to go from New York to San Diego in 5 hours and someone touches my balls? That's a great deal!"

Funny stuff! Watch the video. But after you're done, check this out and suddenly it's not so funny.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Nanny State
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Pictures at an exhibition

Bruce Weber
I stopped in last night at the opening reception for fashion photographer Bruce Weber's Haiti / Little Haiti photographs at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami.

I left with photographs of some interesting people.

Miami New Times has put together a slide show of my photos.

Weber's photographs will be on display at MOCA from now through February 13, 2011. It's worth your time to see these images.

Haitian folk singer Manno Charlemagne and Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stuff we like

New Chevy ad with lyrics by Hank Williams and assorted unnamed dogs.

Who's in charge at the Herald?

The people who work in the fifth floor newsroom at the Miami Herald can see the Venetian Causeway by looking out a window.

Is it asking too much that they also know how to spell "Venetian?"

After all, they work for a newspaper.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Great Miami Car Chase of 2010: grading the coverage

Image by Jason Weitzman - WPLG - Click on all images to enlarge.

A routine police pursuit in Miami this morning quickly evolved into a nationally televised car chase.

(See WPLG's raw video of the chase and aftermath by clicking here. - NOTE: there is no audio on the tape.)

The event produced some dramatic pictures and also highlighted some glaring differences in the way breaking news is now covered in Miami in 2010.

As news stories go, this one will be a distant memory two weeks from now.

But for 45 minutes this morning, a riveting police chase shoved aside silly game shows on South Florida TV screens.

As a result, a few in Miami's media community performed professionally. And a afew others stumbled.

The story began at about 11am this morning when several Miami police officers started chasing a robbery suspect in a blue Ford Expedition.

TV news choppers were soon broadcasting live pictures that eventually made their way to Fox News and MSNBC.

WSVN's Ralph Rayburn and his chopper pilot followed the car as it sped up Biscayne Blvd and 81st Street where the suspect turned left and headed west towards I-95.

Miami police close in on robbery suspect early in chase - Image by Ralph Rayburn - WSVN

By the time the suspect jumped on I-95, CBS4 and WPLG - who share a chopper - had also broken into programming with the dramatic chase pictures.

NBC6 continued with its insipid 11am morning show. They got rid of their chopper a few years ago.

WSVN's Rayburn cooly delivered a top-notch description of the action, all while keeping his camera trained on the chase. (Click here to see Rayburn's video.)

Same for WPLG anchor Kristi Krueger. She anchored the station's coverage from the studio with a deliberate and restrained delivery that showed her knowledge of Miami.

Things were a little different over at CBS4. Thirty-year veteran newsman Eliott Rodriguez, who in the past few years has somehow managed to morph into Miami's very own Ron Burgundy, delivered his description of the action in a style that can best be described as excited and disjointed. At times Rodriguez sounded like he was hyperventilating.

At about 11:30am, the chase ended when the car smashed into the rear of a silver tanker truck at the off ramp of I-95 and Hallandale Beach Blvd.

Robbery suspect crashes - Image by Robin Russell - WPLG

It was at this point that Rodriguez breathlessly informed viewers that the car had smashed into a "gasoline tanker." Rodriguez kept repeating this mis-information several times until someone off-camera loudly informed him that it was an orange juice tanker. WSVN's Rayburn had broadcast this information minutes before.

And how did the Miami Herald report this? Well, they might have reported it immediately had they known about it.

While pictures of the chase were being broadcast live on national cable news channels, the Herald newsroom was blissfully ignorant of the drama being played out on streets just a few miles from its downtown headquarters.

A caller to the newsroom was told that they hadn't heard anything about the chase.

Within minutes of the crash, many TV stations swarmed the scene with photographers and reporters.

Channel 10 photojournalist Jason Weitzman was a standout. Arriving on the scene within minutes of the crash, he captured the morning's most dramatic ground level video of the smoking wreckage and the suspect sticking his arms out of the driver's window as cops aimed their weapons.

Image by Jason Weitzman - WPLG

The Herald finally put up a story...reported by news partner CBS4.

Meanwhile the breaking news section of the paper's website contained links to stories about People Magazine's sexiest man alive and Eva Longoria's possible divorce.

NBCMiami put up a story that misidentified Hallandale Beach Blvd. as Hallandale Beach Road and that early on was illustrated with a stock shot of a police car.

So how are we grading this morning's coverage?

Ralph Rayburn, WSVN - A plus
Kristi Krueger, WPLG - A plus
Jason Weitzman, WPLG - A plus
Eliott Rodriguez, CBS4 - D minus
NBC Miami - F
Miami Herald - unable to grade, did not complete this morning's assignment

Stuff we like

The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette turned over today's entire front page to hometown hero, Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Obama Tuesday at the White House.

Actually Sgt. Giunta is from Hiawatha, Iowa, which is just north of Cedar Rapids. But with a population of around 6,700, Hiawatha doesn't have a daily paper.

Congratulations to Staff Sgt. Giunta!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Stuff we like

This week's viral video.

This cat is in no mood to take crap from a gator!

From South Miami High School to the cover of the New York Times Magazine

Albert Gonzalez
The teachers lounge at South Miami High School must be buzzing today.

Yesterday, one of the school's alums was the focus of a New York Times Magazine cover story.

But it's a sure bet the cover of the magazine won't be displayed in one of those glass trophy cases in the hallway of the school.

The subject of the piece is 29 year-old South Miami High grad Albert Gonzalez, a "computer hacker accused of masterminding the biggest credit card data theft in history." Gonzalez was sentenced to a long stretch in federal prison back in March. If he behaves himself, he may get out in 2025 according to the Times piece.

(Miami New Times staff writer wrote the first in-depth account of the case back in May.)

Both the NYT magazine piece and Elfrink's piece are fascinating reads given the fact that much of the action takes place right here in Miami.

But while the teachers at SMHS may be speaking in hushed tones about the Gonzalez piece, perhaps - depending on your point of view - they do have reason to be proud.

Another South Miami High grad got a cover piece in the New York Times magazine last January. His name? Marco Rubio.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Get to know your Miami-Dade officials

"The ratio of [Miami-Dade] county employees earning $100,000 or more is not out of line with other governments or the general population." -Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, Nov. 9, 2010

Today Random Pixels is introducing a regular series of mini-profiles of your Miami-Dade County officials wherein we compare their duties and salary to those of similar government officials throughout the U.S.

Today's official...

MDPD director James Loftus
Name: James Loftus

Title: Director, Miami-Dade Police Department

Miami-Dade County population 2,500,000

Duties: Oversees a department with 2900 sworn officers and 1700 support personnel.

Annual salary: $200,297 a year with executive benefits of $8,942

Now let's compare Loftus's salary and duties to that of the New York City police commissioner.

Name: Raymond W. Kelly

Title: New York City Police Commissioner

New York City population: 8,391,881

Duties: Kelly oversees the largest urban police department in the world with 34,500 sworn officers

Annual salary: $205,000 a year


-a few photos from the Random Pixels archives taken on one of my favorite assignments.

That's Michael Smuclovsky in the photo above. He's listening to opera in the Miami Beach courthouse chambers of Judge Jeffrey Swartz in January, 2004.

How did he get in that predicament?

Tamara Lush of the St. Petersburg Times explains:
Michael Smuclovsky would have paid the fine, if he had the cash.

Smuclovsky, 20, was listening to rap in his Mustang on Collins Avenue when he was ticketed. He showed up in Swartz's courtroom in a white tank top, leather jacket and baggy jeans.

"What are you doing this afternoon?" Swartz asked with a grin.

"Planning on driving down to the Keys."

"No, no, no. I have something far more relaxing for you. Listening to one of my favorite operas."

Smuclovsky paused. He pushed up the sleeve of his jacket, revealing a tattoo that said "Me Against the World." He sneered.

"Are you serious?"

Smuclovsky is not an opera lover. But he's familiar with it. "I'm forced to listen to it in the car with my dad," he said later.

"But that's what earplugs are for."
Read the rest of Tamara's story here.

Michael Smuclovsky learns in Judge Judge Jeffrey 
Swartz's Miami Beach courtroom what his sentence 
will be for playing his car stereo too loud. (Jan. 2004)

Michael Smuclovsky and Michael Carreras listen to opera 
in the chambers of Judge Jeffrey Swartz as 
bailiff Alain Rodriguez keeps watch. (Jan. 2004)

Postscript: Later in 2004, Judge Swartz lost a bid to be re-elected to the bench.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The most anticipated TV event of the year...

....happens this Sunday at 11:30 am on Channel 10.

The fallout from a Random Pixels Exclusive Investigation continues!

Channel 10 veteran political reporter Michael Putney said late this afternoon that he has lined up Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez for a rare, live, one-on-one interview this Sunday on This Week in South Florida.

Putney told me that he had been trying all week to get Alvarez on his show to discuss the county documents that I published Monday.

The documents revealed that some 3,301 county employees make over $100,000 a year.

Putney said that the mayor finally agreed this afternoon to appear on Sunday's show.

Putney will almost certainly ask the mayor about other issues including the effort to recall him.

You don't want to miss this. You'll be telling your grand kids about this years from now!

A Random Pixels reader explains police overtime

A few days ago a Random Pixels reader left a comment on my post that revealed that more than 3,300 Miami-Dade employees earn over $100,000 a year.

More than 800 on the list work for the Miami-Dade police department and derive a lot of their take home pay from overtime. The reader took the time to explain how Miami-Dade police officers earn overtime and where the money comes from.

While the reader doesn't identify himself, it's almost certain that he (or she) is a police officer. I thought in the interests of being completely fair I'd highlight the comment in a separate post.
This list is VERY misleading, here is my case.

1. Insurance contribution is NOT take home pay.

2. Of my 101k, 22k was paid by the private sector working "off-duty" jobs i.e. Dolphin games, youth fair, things like that.

3. Court pay is not separated. Part of our job is writing tickets and we HAVE TO go to court, this accounts for 19k of my pay. Take into consideration I wrote 352 tickets (during that fiscal year) at an average of $250, I made at least 88k for the state, which in return gives the county funding for police.

4. Many of the officers on the list work the Port of Miami and MIA. [Their] overtime pay comes from the Feds., not the county.

5. Due to a shortage of officers many are REQUIRED to work extended shifts.

6. I worked exactly 0 hours of voluntary, county tax funded, overtime that year.

Know the WHOLE story before you get pissed at us for just doing out job.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

In case you missed it....

...Miami Today publisher Michael Lewis shares some thoughts on Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Alvarez and his Banana Republic move to have the recall signatures thrown out.
And you thought soap operas were passé.

Unfortunately, this daily drama, with its never-ending twists and turns, isn't fiction. It's impeding the county, and many players in the cast are to blame.

Start with our nominally strong mayor, who by turning to a specious loophole to avert a legally mandated recall vote is rapidly morphing from upstanding tough cop into cringing loser.

Whether a recall was ever vital — we felt mayoral missteps that ignored public need weren't so grave as to trigger such drastic action — Mayor Carlos Alvarez's fight should be at the polls.

Instead, he chooses a picayune legalism, claiming a deputy's formal signature in clerk Harvey Ruvin's office wasn't sufficient to initiate the recall process.

But Mr. Alvarez used a deputy clerk's signature himself several years ago to get voters to add to his powers.

His response: he got away with impropriety but his opponents won't. That's no tough cop talking.

Weaseling out in the face of 112,000 recall signatures is no path for Mr. Alvarez. He should go down fighting, not on a technical knockout. He's likely to be memorialized, pitifully, as the cop who couldn't shoot straight.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

To the hard-working employees of Miami-Dade County

First of all, let me welcome all my new readers.

Normally we only have about 400 to 500 page loads a day here at this sleepy, little corner of the Internet.

But since I posted county documents on Monday that list the salaries of Miami-Dade employees who make over $100,000 a year, I've experienced an explosion of visits to my blog. And many of those stopping by work for the county! More on that in a bit.

Yesterday, I had about 7,400 unique visits and and some 13,500 page loads. Today traffic is off but still way above my normal daily numbers.

It goes without saying that an issue like this is going to generate a lot of emotion. You can see some of that in the comments on my original post. Comments on Miami Herald's story have passed the 200 mark,

It's pretty easy to tell who's leaving those comments. Simply put, commenters who defend the high salaries obviously work for the county and those who condemn the high salaries are taxpayers.

No one is saying that all county employees are lazy or don't deserve what they get paid. This comment left on the Herald's website speaks for itself:
20 plus years on the job and I've seen 2 friends shot and murdered,2 die from heart attacks and 2 from accidents. Thats not counting several that left on disability for injuries and psychological problems.

How much money is it worth to you to walk into a warehouses dark alley at 3 AM alone,because you heard a strange sound or go into a dark house knowing that a deranged person was inside and waiting for you. Do you think that you would like to be covered in blood and tell a mother that your CPR failed and that her daughter was dead.
And a Herald reader responded:
Sir. This is a job that you and your friends took by choice! We have brave soldiers fighting wars for this country that do not demand such high salaries! The problem is government in employees empowered by unscrupulous unions and politicians have used taxes to fill there wallets. When their is no money to make payroll most of us downsize. Government sticks its hands into someones wallet. Please remember government is an means not an end.
The outrage from taxpayers comes from the fact that somewhere in the county's 28,000 member workforce there are people who aren't pulling their weight.

The documents reveal that a lot of those earning six figures do so by working overtime.

But as I looked at my blog's stat counter this morning, I was left wondering how many of the Miami-Dade county workers who have visited my blog in the past few days have put in for overtime this year? Or how many of my blog's new readers from county hall make more than $100,000 a year?

Here's a screen shot showing a number of visits coming from the county-run Miami International Airport. (Click all images to enlarge.)

And here's a screen shot showing numerous entries from Miami-Dade county IP addresses.

The screen shot below also shows visits from a county IP address.

There's also an intriguing entry that shows numerous entries from the Department of Homeland Security in Centreville, Virginia. The entry shows visitors landing on my blog after clicking on a link at MiamiNewTimes.com. I can't imagine how the DHS is keeping America safe by visiting my blog. Or how Miami-Dade county workers justify those high salaries when they spend so much time surfing the 'net!

By the way, some Miami-Dade employees want you to know that they don't spend all their time surfing the 'net.

Here's a page on the county's website that explains what else they do: We run the Airport and the largest Seaport in the Southeast. We protect our delicate ecosystem. We recycle your Christmas trees after the holidays.

To borrow a phrase from a friend: "...I wonder what 6-figure crony came up with this drivel."

And another question: How many more like this guy are pulling down those six-figure salaries?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Stuff we like

A couple of journalism legends promote the Washington Post's new iPad app.

South Florida media follows up on a Random Pixels post

UPDATED 3x below

Some South Florida media outlets are following up on my post yesterday that revealed more than 3,300 Miami-Dade County employees make more than $100,000 a year.

The Miami Herald's Diana Moskovitz posted a story late last night on MiamiHerald.com and graciously credited Random Pixels and linked to my post. Today, Moskovitz's story was featured prominently on the Herald's homepage and has generated 150 comments so far.

The Herald's story has driven traffic to my blog that as of noon is more than 10 times the normal daily traffic.

WSVN News was first out of the box last night following up on my post on their 10pm newscast and calling me a "local blogger."

One of WSVN's reporters emailed me today requesting an on-camera interview. Sadly, I had to tell her that Random Pixels doesn't do TV. I have a face for radio and that's the way it's going to stay!

UPDATE #1: So far Channel 7 is the only South Florida station to have followed up on this. Today at noon they aired another report and compared the salary of the Miami-Dade Animal Services director Sara Pizano to that of Florida's governor. Pizano makes $144,542 a year and Charlie Crist's salary is $130,273 a year. What's wrong with this picture?

UPDATE #2: CBS4 does a story and links to my blog.

UPDATE #3: The Miami Herald's version of the story has generated more than 150 comments. But this comment stands out and speaks for itself:
If the firefighters, police officers and others making over $100,000 per year lived, paid property taxes, supported schools and became involved in community activities in Miami-Dade County, the salaries might be one of the best investments the County could make. Unfortunately, many of these employees can't wait to get off their shifts and head north to Davie, Weston or Pembroke Pines as fast as possible to enjoy the comfort of a well run county where their spouses and kids are safer and the schools are better. Maybe they should be required to live in Miami-Dade.

Monday, November 08, 2010

In praise of mayonnaise

I called my friend Rick Bragg today to chat.

He teaches writing at the University of Alabama.

But that's just a cover.

It's my firm belief that his full time job is eating and writing about eating.

Rick is a man who thinks that white gravy is a vegetable.

Today Rick told me that he had just turned in a piece about mayonnaise for Gourmet Magazine's website.

Yes! Mayonnaise.
We wake and drive five miles, to eat pancakes. With any luck, that will be the only meal of the day at which we will not have mayonnaise. We like L.L. Bean catalogs, too, but only because they offer most of their clothes in XXL, and we like their running shoes, which we wear to Popeye’s, and the mailbox–if it is not too far.

We would not get near a canoe even if it was the only thing we could hide under during a lightning storm. We like to vacation in New Orleans, where you have to go uphill to drown, where every flat, easy street seems to dead end into a platter of shrimp rémoulade, fried eggplant drizzled with béarnaise, or fried oyster po’ boys slathered in … well, you know.

At home, we like any fish that comes with a side of tartar sauce, and if we are going to have a sandwich it will likely be roast beef and cheddar on an onion roll, with mustard and mayo, and we do not even mind some lettuce, tomato and hot Spanish onion, as long as the whole thing is buried under an avalanche of Zapp’s Hotter ‘n Hot Jalapeno potato chips, and served with a quart of Barq’s Root Beer or sweet iced tea.
Rick's written a bunch of best-selling books and he's won a Pulitzer Prize for his newspaper writing.

But his stories about food always make my mouth water.

Rick is from Alabama and is as Southern as anyone I know.

But he also loves Miami and its food.

When he passes through town, I always know that we'll end up at the Versailles if he has the time.

When he was here a few months ago, we had dinner at the Versailles. While we were there, suspected terrorist Luis Posada Carriles walked in the door and right by our table. The maitre d' calmly explained to us that Posada Carriles had blown up some airplanes and killed a bunch of people. As calmly as if he was explaining that the man had invented the Princess telephone. You always see interesting things at the Versailles.

Anyway, if you liked Rick's story about mayonnaise, here are some other Bragg stories about food.

Here's a story he wrote about the Cuban sandwich for a magazine called Garden and Gun.
Fidel dies every day at the corner of Calle Ocho and 36th Avenue, rubbed out one table, one diatribe at a time at Versailles, the sprawling restaurant and bakery that is a living history of the exile community here. Old men pound his bones to dust, scattering it with the bread crumbs at what has become a kind of House of Lords for these old men. They have been killing Castro in cafés and bakeries like this since ’59, and killing him over Cuban sandwiches much of the time. They take his life (and maybe his brother Raul’s), return democracy to Cuba, have a fine sandwich, and go home to their beds in Little Havana, Hialeah, Coral Gables, and South Miami, only to get up in the morning and go kill him all over again.
And here's one he wrote for the New York Times on Atlanta's chicken and biscuit scene.
Thelma's, named for the owner, Thelma Grundy, used to be within walking distance of the downtown city center, and everyone from sanitation workers to big-shot lawyers went there.

But the Olympic Park loomed, and they moved Thelma's out, way out, west of downtown. With pre-Olympic traffic, it takes about 30 minutes to get now from downtown (with Olympic traffic, it should be no more than a day trip). But people still come, to peer into the steam table and point to the buttery mashed potatoes -- Mrs. Grundy is not afraid of the salt shaker -- and the macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato souffle, and savory collard greens, and the chicken, better than the Colonnade's only because it is seasoned better.

Some people complain that the food is too greasy, but no one born south of Richmond complains. Grease is an integral part of Southern food, not some evil byproduct. If you do not like grease, do not visit Thelma's.
And if after reading those stories, you're hungry for more of Rick's writing, head on over to Amazon.com and pick up one of his books. But make sure you leave room for dessert.

Miami-Dade County employees: bringin' home the bacon!

According to Miami-Dade County mayor Carlos Alvarez's web page, the county has more than 28,000 employees.

And according to documents obtained by Random Pixels, 3,301 of those employees made more than $100,000 a year in take home pay for fiscal year 2009-2010. That's more than 10% of the county workforce who are livin' large on your tax dollars.

Alvarez once bragged that he had eliminated some jobs at county hall and saved money in the process. But the Miami Herald reported earlier this year that "many of the executives whose jobs disappeared are still working for the county, in some cases at higher salaries."

More than 800 of the county employees making more than $100,000 a year are employed by the Miami-Dade Police Department.

By comparison, last year Biscayne Times discovered that almost 100 of the City of Miami's much smaller workforce of 4,000 employees made over $200,000 a year.

I've uploaded the info here or you can view the document below.

Scroll down to see some of the county employees who I've singled out for special mention.

Salary Information for Miami-Dade Dade Employee Earning $100K or More

Here are some select county employees who are, no doubt, laughing all the way to the bank.

Former Miami Herald staffer Matt Pinzur who once covered county government, left the sinking ship at One Herald Plaza for greener pastures two years ago. He now pulls down over $119,000 a year as **shocked and surprised!!** assistant to the Miami-Dade county manager. He also gets almost $2,000 a year car allowance....a perk he could only have dreamed about at the Herald.
Click on all charts below to enlarge.

Carlos Ortega, a seaport enforcement specialist with 17 years on the job takes home over $101,000 a year which includes over $45,000 in overtime pay. Compare that to the $137,000 a year that Hector Pesquera gets, who as assistant director of seaport security, is Ortega's boss. Pesquera is a retired FBI agent who once ran Miami's FBI office.

Next we have a couple of Miami-Dade cops.

Lu Ann Belzaguy, an officer with just 13 years on the force, pulls down a jaw-dropping $67,214 a year in overtime pay and takes home $140,431 a year.

But she's a slacker compared to fellow cop Brian Benson, a 29 year veteran who makes over $84,000 a year in overtime and takes home $167,000 a year!

By comparison, Oscar Vigoa, Miami-Dade PD's assistant director only makes $168,000 a year. He must feel like a real schmuck!

And let's not forget the money pit that also goes by the name of Miami International Airport. Juan Basulto, a refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic at the airport with just 3 years of county service takes home almost $122,000 a year. That includes over $46,000 in overtime.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Lincoln Road Antique Market this Sunday

Another Lincoln Road Antique Market takes place this Sunday.

And the weather outlook? Do you have to ask? Should be cool, although nothing like this thankfully!

See you there!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Tina Fey for President!

She's gonna "flip your picnic table!"

Tina Fey slices and dices and serves up Sarah Palin on a plate during an appearance last night on the Late Show with David Letterman

Haiti, 10 months after the quake

photos via The Boston Globe's Big Picture photo blog (Click on images to enlarge.)

A "before" photograph shows Haitians walking in a badly damaged street after an earthquake in Port-au-Prince, on February 3, 2010. See below for the "after" photo. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

An "after" photograph from September 30, 2010 - seven months later - shows Haitians walking on the same street as above. By some estimates, only 2 percent of the 250 million cubic meters of debris in Port-au-Prince has been cleared, for reasons ranging from lack of equipment and money to an abysmal property records system. Meanwhile, most Haitians just live and work around the piles of debris. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Memo to Miami Herald executive editor Mindy Marqués Gonzalez

Dear Mindy

I wanted to take this opportunity to offer belated congratulations on your appointment as the Miami Herald's new executive editor.

Your story is truly inspiring. Twenty five short years after starting at the bottom of the ladder at a Northwest Neighbors office, you now run the entire show. Is this a great country, or what?

But I'd be lying if I said better things are ahead. Your challenges are immense.

The Herald is going through the most difficult period in its 100 year plus history.

You're now tasked with putting out a newspaper with a greatly reduced staff and diminished resources. Also in the mix is a shrinking and alienated subscriber base.

Thirty six years ago, The Miami Herald made TIME magazine's list of The Ten Best American Daily Newspapers.

Last year it made another TIME magazine list: The Ten Most Endangered Newspapers in America.

We all know newspapers are in trouble. And we've heard all the reasons why: the Internet, the economy and on and on.

And those of us who keep track of such things know the Herald has been especially hard hit.

In 1976, when it was named to TIME's top ten list, the Herald's daily circulation was almost 405,000 and over half a million on Sunday. There were very few counties in the state where the Herald wasn't available. By 1981, as South Florida was in the midst of a difficult period, the Herald was fat and sassy with a circulation that had jumped to 421,000.

But, in figures released this month, the Herald's daily circulation has fallen to 151,612 daily. And I'm told, it's impossible to find a copy of the Herald north of the Broward county line. The Herald's Sunday circulation now ranks fifth behind other newspapers in a state it once dominated.

But despite that, your predecessor Anders Gyllenhaal, wrote in his in his farewell column Sunday that "the Herald is now emerging from the downturn with strategies that will keep us serving you for many decades to come." He also pointed to the fact that "more than 25 Herald reporters, photographers and videographers traveled [to Haiti]" following January's earthquake.

All that's very nice I suppose and I'm sure the Herald will be a contender for Pulitzer Prize next year.

But what's the point of spending precious resources on a story in a country more than 700 miles from Miami when your paper finds it all but impossible to cover a story that's just across the MacArthur Causeway?

This morning, on the Herald's website, I found the first mention of a hookworm infestation on Miami Beach that was first reported by a TV station on Oct. 21. It wasn't that many years ago that local TV stations got story ideas from the Herald and not the other way around.

It's not the first time the Herald has been late or been lazy in covering a recent story.

I'm sure that you've already had discussions with your top editors on how to improve the paper.

I also realize that you're somewhat limited in what you can do because of budget considerations. But one of the first things you might want to look at is why your paper still has a dance critic on staff when it can't find the resources to cover a neighborhood health issue or flooding problem.

After you've taken care of all that, then perhaps you'll address another problem: the fact - as one long-time staffer puts it - that the Herald "appeals to an audience we don't have anymore. We're not in sync with the community. We cover serious stories in a boring way. We don't cover stories with attitude."

Well, there you have it Mindy. To borrow a phrase from a certain politician: "Let's get to work!" And here, at Random Pixels, we're only too happy to help!