Miami Beach

Ethics complaint accuses Kristen Rosen Gonzalez of violating lobbying rules

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez
Kristen Rosen Gonzalez

An ethics complaint has been filed against former Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez alleging that she lobbied senior city staff on behalf of three construction companies in violation of the county’s ethics code. Executives of all three companies have donated to Rosen Gonzalez’s political campaigns.

The document, which was filed this week according to a source with knowledge of the complaint, centers on an April 3 meeting between Rosen Gonzalez, Assistant City Manager Eric Carpenter and Public Works Director Roy Coley.

Rosen Gonzalez asked Carpenter to meet her at Roasters ‘N Toasters deli in Miami Beach “under the pretense” of discussing flooding infrastructure, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Miami Herald. Carpenter brought Coley with him. During the meeting, the complaint alleges, Rosen Gonzalez invited Emmanuel Pacin, the president and CEO of marine contractor Pac Comm Inc., to join their table.

Pac Comm has had a contract with Miami Beach since 2016 to perform work on the city’s seawalls as needed, according to city records, but hasn’t yet been hired for any city jobs. Rosen Gonzalez asked city staff why Miami Beach isn’t using a type of seawall construction material that Pac Comm uses, according to the complaint, and why the city isn’t doing business with the company.

The former commissioner also asked the city staff why Miami Beach hadn’t paid outstanding invoices to two companies, Ric-Man and David Mancini & Sons, the complaint says.

When contacted by the Herald, Coley confirmed that Rosen Gonzalez introduced the city staff to Pacin and said that she made a comment about Pacin’s business “having a superior product.” He said Pacin also gave him marketing materials.

“I’m not exactly sure about the wording,” Coley said, “whether she asked me if I thought his products were superior or she thought his products were superior, but something about his products being superior and she thought we should consider them.”

Coley also confirmed that Rosen Gonzalez asked about work David Mancini & Sons and Ric-Man had done for the city.

Rosen Gonzalez, who is running for another term on the City Commission, requested the meeting with Carpenter on March 29 — the same day she received a $1,000 donation from Pacin’s 18-year-old son, contribution records show, and a week after receiving a $1,000 donation registered in the name of Pacin’s 4-year-old son, Emmanuel N. Pacin Jr. A $1,000 donation is the maximum contribution from an individual allowed under state law.

Pacin first told the Herald that he had not donated to Rosen Gonzalez, but “recommended” that his children do so. He later said that he made the first donation and that the middle initial — which made the donation appear to come from his 4-year-old son — was a typo.

Both the meeting and the campaign contribution from Pacin raise legal questions. Former city officials are prohibited from engaging in any activity that could be considered lobbying for two years after they leave office. City vendors are banned from making donations to commission candidates, although their family members are allowed to do so.

Rosen Gonzalez resigned from the City Commission last year in order to run for Congress after changes to the state’s resign-to-run law forced her to choose between her city post and a congressional bid. She submitted her resignation last April, but didn’t have to step down until Jan. 3.

While she was running for Congress, Rosen Gonzalez accepted campaign contributions from David Mancini, president of David Mancini & Sons, and Paul Jankowski, vice president of Ric-Man, records show. She also took contributions from other lobbyists, developers and businesses with Miami Beach contracts, as previously reported by the Herald. Although these donors are prohibited from contributing to commission campaigns, they are not barred from contributing to congressional races.

Mancini did not respond to a request for comment. Jankowski said in an email that Ric-Man did not ask Rosen Gonzalez “to inquire about our jobs with the city.”

‘I lied about it because I got nervous’

Rosen Gonzalez initially told the Herald that she did not know Pacin was going to be at Roasters ‘N Toasters on April 3 or tell him about the meeting, but had spotted him at the restaurant and “motioned him over.” Pacin also denied knowing about the meeting ahead of time and said he happened to be there eating breakfast.

In a subsequent interview, however, Rosen Gonzalez admitted that she had told Pacin about the meeting ahead of time after hearing his complaints about the city’s bidding process, but she said she “hadn’t really invited him to the meeting.” She denied advocating for the seawall construction product Pacin’s company uses.

“I didn’t think of this as lobbying because number one, there’s nothing on the table, I’m not voting on anything,” she said. “I wanted [city staff] to understand the narrative that he had told me.”

Pacin denied that he had asked Rosen Gonzalez to lobby for him. He said the gist of his conversation with city staff during the meeting was “I would love to work for you guys.” He said he told them that he had been the second-lowest bidder for work on the city’s seawalls, but hadn’t yet been given city jobs.

Rosen Gonzalez said she had previously “lied” to a reporter about the meeting “because I got nervous.” She said she thought the ethics complaint had been filed against her because she was asking tough questions about the city’s bidding process.

While the assistant city manager and public works director don’t oversee the bidding process for contracts, which is handled by the procurement department, they do oversee the city’s resiliency infrastructure, including seawalls. They also advise the city manager on infrastructure projects.

In requesting a meeting with Carpenter, according to e-mails and text messages obtained through a public records request, Rosen Gonzalez said she wanted to “catch up on some city issues” and get an update on the city’s plans to address sea level rise.

Coley and Carpenter said that while they didn’t know they were going to be introduced to Pacin during the meeting, they did not have any concerns about the discussion. Carpenter said that hearing the perspective of a contractor who hasn’t had a good experience with the city was helpful.

“We got into a good conversation in my perspective on seeing things from a contractor’s point of view as to what we could do differently or better to get a bigger participation on these public bids,” he said.

Coley said he was not concerned at the time that the meeting could be seen as lobbying, but realized later that it might be.

“At the time it just never occurred to me that it might be lobbying when we were sitting there chatting,” he said. “It had to be brought to my attention to realize that it might be lobbying.”

Legal questions

It’s unclear who filed the ethics complaint against Rosen Gonzalez. The copy obtained by the Herald does not include the cover sheet with the complainant’s name.

Complaints are exempt from public records requests until the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust finishes its investigation. Jose Arrojo, the commission’s executive director, said he could not confirm or deny the existence of a complaint against Rosen Gonzalez.

Under Miami-Dade County’s ethics code, former city officials are prohibited from lobbying for two years after they leave office.

The ethics rule, which is designed to keep former officials from using their contacts for personal gain or to benefit businesses, prohibits former officials from arranging or participating in meetings or negotiations with city staff “with the purpose or intent to influence that official, staff or employee to take any type of official action or decision.” The rule applies regardless of whether that decision will be made by elected officials or city personnel.

It’s unclear whether the county rule would apply if the former official wasn’t paid to lobby, however. It’s also unclear whether campaign contributions would be considered payment. Miami Beach’s legal definition of a lobbyist includes people who are paid and unpaid if they are trying to influence any action, decision or recommendation by city personnel that “foreseeably will be heard or reviewed by the city commission, or a city board or committee.”

Miami Beach laws also prohibit vendors who do business with the city from donating to commission candidates. Pac Comm wasn’t listed on the city’s prohibited vendors list, which Rosen Gonzalez said she checked before accepting the donations. A city spokeswoman said that Pac Comm should have been on the list because the company meets the city’s definition of a prohibited vendor.

The ban on contributions applies to both companies who do business with the city and their owners, but not to the owners’ family members.

Rosen Gonzalez said that Pacin gave her both checks when she “stopped by his office to see his operation” a few weeks ago. She said she didn’t know Pacin had a contract with the city. Pac Comm’s contract with Miami Beach is valid through February 2020, according to a city spokeswoman.

Miami Beach’s prohibition on campaign contributions from vendors appears to apply regardless of whether a vendor has done work for the city. The city’s legal definition of vendor includes companies that have been selected by the city as contractors and that have “been approved by the city on a present or pending award for goods, equipment or services.”

Rosen Gonzalez said Wednesday that she had returned the checks to the Pacin family after she was contacted by the Herald about the campaign contributions.

Arrojo declined to comment on the allegations against Rosen Gonzalez. In response to general questions about the county’s lobbying rules, he said that former officials are “cautioned to avoid participating in negotiations or other discussions directly with city officers or staff because these actions may be characterized as seeking to influence elected officers and/or city employees to take an official action or make an official decision.” He noted, however, that “any potential enforcement action” against a former official or employee “would require an in-depth review of credible evidence” by ethics investigators.

This isn’t the first time an ethics complaint has been filed against Rosen Gonzalez. She was also the subject of a 2017 complaint alleging that she used her official position to intervene in the police investigation of a political supporter. The county ethics commission scolded Rosen Gonzalez for a “lapse in judgment,” but ultimately cleared her in the probe.

Kyra Gurney lives in Miami Beach and covers the island for the Miami Herald. She attended Columbia University and Colorado College and grew up in New Mexico.
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