Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Two years after his election, it appears that Mayor Philip Levine has broken his promise to manage Miami Beach's finances

Philip Levine campaign ad, July 2013. 

When Philip Levine campaigned for Miami Beach mayor in 2013, he promised to "get control of city finances, before we're all swimming in debt."

Last Sept. 10, Miami Beach commissioners held a budget meeting. Levine skipped the meeting to go shopping in New York City.

So it was up to Miami Beach Vice Mayor Ed Tobin to run things.

Tobin got the ball rolling by asking questions about Mayor Levine's massive and costly, taxpayer-funded public relations machine.

As a candidate, Levine promised to "manage the city's finances." But once elected he started spending taxpayer dollars like a drunken sailor on shore leave.

Tobin wanted answers on how much Levine's "chauffeur" was costing the city, and also asked why the mayor needed a staff of PR people following him around the city.

The commissioners returned six days later at the request of Weithorn for a "Sunshine Meeting" that was intended to discuss budget policies.

(The meeting was recorded but never uploaded to the archived meetings section of the city's website. A Random Pixels reader called City Hall to ask about the video and was told, "We were directed not to put the video on the website, but if you'd like a copy, you can pick up a DVD at City Hall.")

In the video, Weithorn begins by asking why the city's assistant emergency management director, Clarise Ferguson, got a a 24.6% salary increase.

After moving from the police department's communications unit, Ferguson's salary jumped from $60,183 to $93,849.

Human Resources Director Sylvia Crespo-Tabak told Weithorn that Ferguson's responsibilities had "expanded exponentially," adding that "[Ferguson] gets along with [emergency manager] Chuck [Tear]."

Countered Weithorn, "In the private sector I don't know anyone who gets a 25% increase."

What no one mentioned is the fact that Ferguson's boss, emergency management director Chuck Tear pulls down an annual salary of $150,958.

Also not named at the Sept. 16 meeting was another of Tear's employees, emergency management coordinator Eric Kolbinsky.

Kolbinsky, a retired DEA agent, worked for Levine as his driver/bodyguard during the 2013 mayoral campaign.

A few months after Levine's election, Kolbinsky was given a part time position in the city's emergency management department at an annual salary of $65,015.

Kolbinsky is now a full-time employee with the city and makes $91,020 a year. (It's good to be the mayor's friend.)

But despite the fact that there are three top employees in the city's emergency management department making a combined total of $335,827 a year, no one seems to be tackling any emergencies.

Less than a month after the Sept. 10 budget meeting, a Miami Herald photographer captured images of people coping with severe street flooding.

Chuck Tear's highly-paid emergency managers could have used the flooding as a dry run for a more serious incident, but its appears they were caught unprepared. So much for those huge salaries.

Father-and-son Carlos Coello Sr. and Carlos Coello Jr. give 
Maria Posada, 65, a lift back to her condo in Miami Beach 
on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. 
Photographs by Walt Michot/Miami Herald.

Phil Levine talks a lot about spending taxpayer dollars wisely. But his actions speak louder than his empty promises.

On his campaign website Levine says, "Taxpayers work hard for their money. This City should work equally hard to ensure that money is wisely spent."

So, Mr. Mayor, when are you going to start?

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