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Ethics commission finds no problem with North Miami mayor’s security

 

pbuteau@MiamiHerald.com

North Miami Mayor Lucie Tondreau’s use of police officers as personal bodyguards and chauffeurs did not violate Miami-Dade or city ethics rules, according to the county’s ethics commission.

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust investigated whether Tondreau used her official position to secure special privileges. The commission interviewed Tondreau, City Manager Stephen Johnson and Police Chief Marc Elias, reviewed a police report on threatening phone calls made to City Hall and the powers and duties of the city manager.

Based on the available evidence, the ethics commission concluded there was “no basis for filing an ethics complaint,” according to their report and closed the case without doing any further.

“What happened was connected to public business, and based on what we found there was no basis for complaint,” said Joseph Centorino, executive director of the commission. “If it were for purely private trips or business that would have been different because part of our ethics code is to avoid exploitation of office.”

In response to threatening phone calls to another city official, Tondreau had a police officer chauffeur her around to city functions. During a two-week period in August – the start of the school year – Tondreau was scheduled to visit about 30 schools in North Miami. A police officer drove her to and from the schools.

Tondreau acknowledged that the police chief drove her on one occasion. That was the day she visited four schools; her daughter’s school was the first one Tondreau visited. Instead of letting her daughter take the bus to school, Elias recommended they give the child a ride.

Elias and Johnson told the ethics commission they both discussed and agreed that Tondreau should receive security during her visits to the schools, but Johnson did not know the police chief drove the child to school in a city police car. He also told the commission that the threats to City Hall coincided with the mayor’s scheduled visits.

Johnson discontinued police officers being stationed at City Hall, and as a result of the threats authorized the use of armed private security guards. “It’s cheaper and more effective,” Johnson told the Herald on Tuesday.

According to the ethics commission’s report, Johnson decided to include a “sergeant at arms” position as part of the North Miami Police Department’s fiscal year 2013-2014 budget. However, he told the Herald that he is still working on the policy for that position. Instead of paying police officers overtime for being at City Council meetings and various other city meetings, it will be the main responsibility of the sergeant at arms.

“The sergeant at arms will handle all of that,” said Johnson, the city’s former police chief.

This includes serving as personal security to any member of the City Council who feels they need it.

“The requests have not been there, but all they gotta do is let me know and they got it,” Johnson said.

The menacing calls to city staffers were made in August by a man upset over his expensive city water bill. Many North Miami utility customers received back-to-back bills because of a delay in the city's billing system.

“You are going to have a war on your hands, and they are going to storm the building,” the upset caller told North Miami information technology director Ricardo Castillo, according to a police report.

The report also noted the caller spoke “negatively of Haitians and Cubans.”

Tondreau, who did not return phone calls Tuesday, was the only City Council member to use the service.

She took issue with the ethics complaint during a City Council meeting in September.

“Whoever is calling the ethics committee to complain, it is my right to be accompanied by a police officer when the city is being threatened by God knows all types of crazy people,” she said at the time. “I think my safety is as valuable as anybody else's safety.”

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