HOMESTEAD — A city resident alleges in a complaint that Mayor Lynda Bell and Councilwoman Wendy Lobos violated Florida’s Sunshine Law by meeting together privately to discuss trash and other conditions in Lobos’ neighborhood.
Resident Cindy Stingone’s complaint is in response to a letter she received from Lobos in which Lobos states that she met with Bell and City Manager Mike Shehadeh about the issues. The meeting was about lawns in the Villages of Homestead neighborhood that have not been mowed properly and that are reportedly littered with garbage.
“After meeting with the residents, I met with Mayor Bell as well as Mr. Mike Shehadeh, the City Manager,’’ Lobos wrote in the letter, which is postmarked April 24. “I want to assure you that they have told me that any available resources will be made accessible to ensure that our community continues to be one that we are proud to be a part of.’’
First enacted in 1967, the Florida statutes commonly known as the Sunshine Law seek to provide transparency to government functions and give citizens access and input in public operations. The law prohibits elected officials from secretly discussing matters that they may decide later at public meetings.
Neither Lobos nor Bell responded to calls made to them at city hall or emails sent to them seeking comment.
“This shows they have little regard for a law intended to ensure citizens are aware of what’s going on in city hall, and it’s unfortunate,” said Jimmie L. Williams III, a local pastor who has filed to run for the city council Seat 4 in the approaching November election. “I think this is cause for them to fully explain their actions, and if not they should resign.”
Stingone sent her complaint on April 28 to the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.
The Commission on Ethics turned over the complaint to prosecutors in the Public Corruption Unit of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, which is conducting a review.
Violating Florida’s open-government statutes can have civil and criminal consequences.
“This is to confirm that I received your e-mail alleging violations of the Sunshine Law,” Robert Meyers, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, wrote in a May 27 email to Stingone. “Since our office does not have the authority to enforce state law, I will forward your e-mail to Joe Centorino in the State Attorney’s Office for his review.”
Centorino heads the Public Corruption Unit of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, which has confirmed receipt of the complaint.
“We have received information from the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics & Public Trust on this matter,” State Attorney’s office spokesman Ed Griffith said in an email to the South Florida Times on Friday, May 29.
Griffith would not elaborate on the complaint or the State Attorney’s Office’s response to it.
“Attached please find a letter I received from Councilwoman Wendy Lobos, City of Homestead, along with the delivery envelope,’’ Stingone’s complaint states. “There are 554 homes in our community and it appears that this was mailed to all.”
During an interview with the South Florida Times, Stingone explained why the letter’s content concerns her.
“When I first got it in the mail, I thought, ‘How ridiculous.’’’ Stingone said. “The reason I filed the complaint is to find out if this is how government is supposed to work because I think this was an unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ money during a time that money could have been used for other things.”
The letter is written on paper that was modified to include the photographs of Lobos and Bell on the upper left and right sides, respectively, with the city seal in the center.
Even though it was mailed in city envelopes, the letter is not on the city’s official letterhead. The official city letterhead has no photographs, and lists names and titles of all seven of the elected officials, along with that of Shehadeh, the city manager, along the left side.
Stingone said she believes that allocating additional resources to her neighborhood may require approval from a majority of the city’s seven council members, and that therefore a violation of state laws may have occurred if only Lobos and Bell met with each other about the matter.
“I’m anxious to see what happens, but at the very least I would like see them conduct business in a more professional manner,” Stingone said.
Photo: Mayor Lynda Bell, left, and Councilwoman Wendy Lobos, right.