A North Miami councilwoman and the mayor’s wife each had “joint partnerships” with the city that were never disclosed to the public, according to the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.
Councilwoman Marie Steril used city staff to solicit donations on behalf of her nonprofit Family Corners and the mayor’s wife, Bernadette Pierre, partnered with the city to host a fundraising event for another nonprofit.
The commission did not charge the women with wrongdoing, or levy fines, but did issue the city two strongly worded letters of instruction warning North Miami to avoid similar entanglements in the future.
The commission’s investigation found fundraisers for Steril’s nonprofit, Family Corners were organized in part by Natasha Colebrook-Williams and Stephanie Thomas while working on the city’s clock.
E-mails and computer records show from 2010 to 2012 Colebrook-Williams and Thomas, both of whom are constituent service coordinators, sent letters to sponsors and organized efforts to collect medical supplies for Family Corners, according to the report.
Steril’s fundraisers were for an annual mobile clinic in Haiti.
Steril told ethics investigators that she does get a $1,000 monthly stipend from the non-profit. She also noted that other council members partner with non-profits and planned to introduce a resolution about the issue.
But the commission cautioned against council members drawing a salary from non-profits and using city resources to help those programs, saying in this case the relationship between North Miami and Steril’s charity was vague.
Reached on Tuesday , Steril said she will clarify the relationship between her nonprofit and the city.
“What the ethics commission said, I agree with it. If we need to make it clearer I will through a resolution,” Steril said.
Thomas told ethics investigators Steril and the city manager told her that Family Corners and the city had a joint partnership. It was unclear which city manager she was referring to; the city had two during that time period.
The investigation found “on several occasions, Steril forwarded e-mail relating to the fundraising events to city staff and requested city staff to pass them on to other individuals.”
The “joint effort” between the city and Family Corners was never publicly established, according to the report.
In the future, the commission instructed Steril to seek an opinion from the ethics commission before “contemplating any activity that might entangle her non-profit agency with the city.”
In a separate investigation, the commission looked into whether Pierre’s dance company Laissez-Faire may have profited from a joint partnership with North Miami in a fundraiser project to benefit the Miami Choral Academy.
Laissez-Faire staged a dance concert to raise money, but all the expenses were paid for by North Miami from money donated by sponsors, according to Pierre.
The investigation found that North Miami and Laissez-Faire donated $8,880 from their fundraising efforts to the Miami Choral Academy, but investigators could not conclude whether the mayor’s wife profited from the arrangement.
Pierre did not respond to calls to her cell phone and she did not respond to a request for comment sent through her husband, Mayor Andre Pierre.
But the commission again warned that the city should not create so-called joint partnerships without public discussion. In this case, the commission wrote, even if there was no profit made by Laissez-Faire, the matter should have been brought up to the council as a possible conflict of interest.
“Obviously, such an arrangement can be perceived as an appearance of impropriety which could have easily been avoided with open, public acknowledgement and debate.”