Waiting hours for a turn to speak before the Miami-Dade County Commission can be drudgery, but would $75 help?
A student leader at Florida International University on Wednesday posted an offer from an unknown person seeking people willing to endorse the proposed State Road 836 extension before the County Commission on Thursday.
“Are you or any of your friends available tomorrow 9/27 from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in County Hall,” read the text message invitation posted on Instagram by FIU student Leo Cosio. “Will get paid $75 to attend and speak in favor of the Kendall Parkway.”
Cosio posted a screen grab of the text message, with bold-faced lettering offering more details. “If you’re interested DM me,” the headline of the post said. “Script provided.”
When the Miami Herald posted the offer on Twitter, it sparked a scramble at the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, the independent toll agency behind the proposed $1 billion extension of the 836 into West Kendall.
It faces a final commission vote on Thursday.
MDX director Javier Rodriguez said he first saw the post during a television appearance touting the project, and that his phone was buzzing throughout the show as the agency hustled to see if the offer had come from within.
Rodriguez said he pressed the agency’s outreach team and is confident the MDX had nothing to do with it.
“It wasn’t anyone associated with MDX or paid by MDX,” Rodriguez said Thursday at the start of the meeting at County Hall in downtown Miami. Aides to Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who also serves as chairman of the MDX, said the post could be a plant by opponents of the project trying to make MDX look bad.
Gimenez said he recorded a robo-call that MDX broadcast to West Kendall residents this week, urging them to attend Thursday’s hearing.
The meeting began with the chambers about half full, far short of the standing-room only crowds that can pack the seating area for some high-profile issues.
As the 836 item came up on the agenda late Thursday morning, Commissioner Rebeca Sosa seemed to be referring to Cosio’s post when she asked a county attorney the rules for people paid to represent others before the board. “If somebody is getting paid, they have to disclose it?” Sosa asked.
County lawyer Dennis Kerbel took the question to refer to paid lobbyists, and said that kind of representation must be disclosed. He did not address the idea of people being paid to attend a public meeting and address commissioners.
In his Instagram post, Cosio scratched out the name of the original sender, and declined to identify the person to the Miami Herald. “Not at liberty to share,” he said in a direct message on Twitter to a reporter.
Cosio also said no students responded to the offer, saying the post was up for only 30 minutes.
He removed the post after he was contacted by the Herald. The former student-government president of FIU’s Biscayne Bay campus said he didn’t realize the “Kendall Parkway” was the proposed 13-mile extension of the 836 expressway. Once he knew, Cosio said he decided to remove the post.
“I personally believe the county should be focused on mass transit,” he said, “not expanding and extending current roadways.”