Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez comments on monorail project raise ethics questions

Martinez violated a cone of silence rule.

Comments from Commissioner Joe Martinez at a Tuesday County Commission meeting show he appears to have violated the county’s “cone of silence” rules barring certain communication between commissioners and potential vendors.

At issue is a mass transit project connecting Miami and Miami Beach. Last year, Miami-Dade received an unsolicited bid from a company called Genting to build a monorail line connecting those two cities.

That kicked off a formal bidding process which began last fall. In the end, only one bid was submitted — an offer from a team led by Meridiam.

The process to approve the $770 million project has gone to the Board of County Commissioners twice in recent weeks after the County Mayor brought forth a report on the procurement.

During bidding processes such as these, county ethics rules limit the ability for Commissioners or their staff to reach out to vendors, save certain exceptions. For instance, communication via writing is generally allowed.

Those restrictions last until the County Mayor issues a written recommendation to the Board regarding a formal proposal. The Commission voted 11-1 in late May to consider Meridiam’s proposal, but the Mayor has not yet issued a recommendation.

Yet at Tuesday’s Commission meeting, Martinez openly admitted he had called a potential rival bidder. That company relayed concerns to him that the bidding process for the new mass transit system was only limited to monorail.

“I was wondering if there was another alternate technology,” Martinez said.

“I remembered the company that was from here, so I contacted them.”

He later elaborated.

“CAF is the one I contacted, C-A-F.”

Martinez said Jitendra Tomar of CAF explained his company had been told by the Mayor’s staff that only bids to construct a monorail system would be considered. CAF is a rail provider.

Incidentally, the company — Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) — is based in Spain, not the U.S.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez has said that other transit systems would have been considered. A Request for Proposals (RFP) approved by the county also stated that “elevated technologies” such as “monorail, light rail, and automated people mover” would be considered.

Though the deadline to submit bids expired in March, the county’s cone of silence has not yet lifted. The RFP itself also limited Commissioners’ communications.

Section 2-11.1(t)(v) of the Miami-Dade County Code bars “any communication regarding a particular RFP, [Request for Proposal] or bid between a potential vendor, service provider, bidder, lobbyist or consultant and the Mayor, County Commissioners and their respective staffs.”

Section 2.6 of the RFP for this specific project also blocks any communication between “potential Proposers, service providers, lobbyists or consultants and the County’s professional staff including, but not limited to, the County Mayor and the County Mayor’s staff, County Commissioners or their respective staffs.”

Florida Politics has reached out to Martinez regarding his Tuesday comments. This piece will be updated if he replies.

If this RFP process was not be approved or was canceled by the County Commission, there is a possibility that the bidding process could be reopened. Should that happen, CAF could be among those bidders.

In 2018, Giménez and other county staff traveled to China and met with a Malaysian company, Genting, that showed interest in investing in Miami-Dade.

Records surrounding those meetings are hard to come by. The FBI recommended county officials take “burner” phones to the region for fear China could monitor their personal mobile devices.

Some of those burners were wiped upon returning to the U.S. County officials have said they were following FBI advice and that different protocols would be used to preserve records during future trips.

While the County’s ethics commission issued a closeout memo stating that no county laws had been violated, the county’s inspector general backed a proposal from Commissioner Eileen Higgins to reconsider the 11-1 vote in May. That proposal was adopted and the ensuing vote resulted in 9 commissioners supporting the proposal moves to evaluation.

That brings into question whether Martinez will face an ethics probe of his own into his contact with CAF. Should Martinez be found to have violated the county’s code, he could be subject to a fine of $500. Intentional violations can trigger a $1,000 fine.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected]


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