Federal prosecution of a police chief, continued search for superintendents and restoration of the Everglades

In October, Police Chief Art Acevedo was fired, but not before writing a memo to the mayor, city manager, federal and local prosecutors accusing three city commissioners of interfering in internal police affairs. He claims they were using their office to target personal enemies and were interfering with his efforts to shake up the police department.

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Acevedo referred this to local and federal prosecutors, including the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s Office, which eventually forwarded the case. According to Miami Herald investigative reporter Nicholas Nehamas, it was because of a potential conflict of interest.

“Prosecutors in Katherine Fernandez Rundle’s Miami-Dade office launched a criminal investigation and soon discovered that a potential key witness to Acevedo’s alleged criminal activity is the brother of one of Fernandez’s top lawyers. Rundle,” Nehamas said.

They asked Governor Ron DeSantis if they could reassign the case, which he did. He turned the case over to Broward prosecutors who are now conducting their own investigation. The December governor’s order was confidential. The Miami Herald found out earlier this week.

In addition to that, this week the former police chief also filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Miami and four city officials: City Manager Art Noriega and City Commissioners Joe Carollo, Alex Díaz de la Portilla and Manolo. Kings. Acevedo claims they violated his First Amendment rights and that he suffered retaliation for being a whistleblower.

In his lawsuit, he claims he was granted whistleblower status when he filed his eight-page memo, and he was fired soon after.

“It’s an interesting legal case. You don’t often see such an important and highly placed official in the city as a police chief claiming whistleblower status,” Nehamas said.

The commissioners named in the lawsuit have denied all the allegations from the start. According to Nehamas, they say Acevedo is trying to cover up his incompetence and inability to lead the department by blaming them.

Interestingly, Mayor Francis Suarez, the one who played a key role in Acevedo’s arrival in Miami, was the quietest.

“He made very few public statements, did not appear at town hall meetings to discuss it, and did not respond to comments on our story,” Nehamas said.

The trial will proceed normally, with defendants to be served before filing their response. The case will be heard by a judge at some point.

Acevedo made a request for public documents that he says could help his trial after he was fired and was cited a figure of $2.3 million, Nehamas said.

“It should be noted that his request was very broad and produced 10 million documents,” Nehamas said. “But it’s a fact of life that Miami city officials, [and] Florida state officials often quote exorbitant numbers for public records requests, and it can be very difficult to adhere to the spirit of Florida’s very broad public records law. »

Searching for high speed and slower superintendents

Florida’s two largest public school districts, which are two of the largest in the country, are both looking for new bosses.

Broward County Public Schools have been without a permanent superintendent the entire school year. Broward spent weeks accepting applications and evaluating candidates.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools will be without a superintendent early next month. It has been accepting applications for a week and has already reduced the number of qualified applicants to three.

Both school boards have public meetings scheduled for next week, as they have operated on very different schedules.

The Miami-Dade County School Board really wants an educator in charge of the nation’s fourth-largest district, according to WLRN education reporter Kate Payne.

“They’re looking for teaching experience in a public school, but also someone with an advanced degree — a master’s or doctorate. But they also wanted someone who’s been a principal, has district-wide experience. , administrative experience,” Payne said. “Another key factor is really finding someone who understands Miami-Dade’s diverse community and student needs.”

Despite criticism that the board is rushing the process, they provided an essentially united front to quickly select their new superintendent, Payne said.

The Miami-Dade County Public School Board is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon and could select a new superintendent at that meeting.

WLRN editor Jessica Bakeman described the three candidates as “an inside candidate, an outside candidate and a Tallahassee candidate.”

Jacob Oliva is the “Tallahassee Candidate,” currently with the Florida Department of Education, where he works closely with Secretary of Education Richard Corcoran.

He is from South Dade and served as superintendent in Flagler County. And he’s getting support in unusually open political terms, in a TV ad that airs on Spanish-language television.

Oliva would “endorse and promote Governor Ron DeSantis’ law,” including teaching the dangers of communism and banning critical race theory, the ad said. It is presented by Cuban-American lawyer Marcell Felipe, with the logo of the Inspire America Foundation, founded by Felipe.

“It’s an acceleration and a continuation of what we’ve seen, which is more politicization of education policy,” Bakeman said. She said there were also parallels to Miami-Dade College’s search for a president when longtime Eduardo Padron stepped down.

The “internal” candidate is José Dotres. He rose through the ranks in public schools in Miami-Dade County, rising from teacher to principal to high-level administrative positions before leaving to become assistant superintendent in Collier County.

The “external” candidate is Rafaela Espinal. She is an assistant superintendent in the New York City Department of Education and has served as a teacher, librarian, principal, and regional superintendent. She is also a finalist for Superintendent Broward.

The Broward County Public School Board meets on Tuesday. Candidates there include Acting Superintendent Vickie Cartwright. Espinal is also a finalist for this position.

River of Grass receiving an infusion of spending

This week, the White House announced that the US Army Corps of Engineers plans to spend nearly $1.1 billion on Everglades restoration and preservation this fiscal year.

The White House calls it “the largest single investment to restore and revitalize the Florida Everglades.” The money is part of the more than $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, approved by Congress and President Joe Biden in November.

The money will go to five projects that “need to be linked for the whole system to work,” said WLRN environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich.

Projects include: two small reservoirs to combat pollution in the Indian River Lagoon Basin, restoring and cleaning up sheet flow in the Western Everglades where polluted water now enters Miccosukee Tribal Lands and Seminole as well as the Big Cypress National Preserve; a plan to clean up the water in West Broward; and a pump along the Tamiami Trail that would allow water to rise and over the dam formed by the platform; and planning to provide drinking water for South Miami-Dade and Biscayne Bay.

Staletovich said the projects were part of the original 2000 Everglades Restoration Plan and the money fully funds the projects, a requirement of the legislation.

A different reservoir, over 11,500 acres of storage and 6,500 acres of processing, will cost about $2 billion and is being done gradually, Staletovich said.

The five fully funded projects will help control flooding and clean up pollution, Staletovich said.

“The pollution in the past hasn’t been addressed. Now we’re trying to catch up on that and that’s why you see these issues in areas like the Indian River Lagoon and Biscayne Bay,” he said. she declared.

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