The Biscayne Times

Aug 23rd
Scoundrels in High Office PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Ise, BT Contributor   
September 2018

Keep an eye on the good guys in these treacherous times

EPix_JohnIse_9-18ver see the old bumper sticker “Miami: Sunny Place…Shady People”? Reading the Miami Herald and Biscayne Times makes me think it’s due for a reissue.

Consider the ever-evolving tale of Biscayne Park’s former police chief, Raimundo Atesiano, who, in an effort to impress Village leaders with a perfect 100 percent crime-clearance rate, is charged with falsely pinning a string of home burglaries on an innocent teenager. In early August, two village police officers pleaded guilty to framing the Haitian-American teen at Atesiano’s direction during his 2013-2014 tenure as police chief.

Now consider that Atesiano came to Biscayne Park in 2008, having left the Sunny Isles Beach Police Department in 2006, after investigators discovered he’d forged on a court document a man’s name who’d been arrested for marijuana possession. Throw in rumors of racism, sexism, homophobia, and on-the-job drinking within the police department, detailed in a 2014 internal probe, and this…this is the village hub of law-and-order?!?

Then there’s Judge Timothy Robert Maher, who was recently arrested outside his El Portal home after allegedly threatening the mother of his child with a gun. After being charged with aggravated assault with a firearm, child abuse, and resisting arrest, Maher took his own life August 24 during a standoff with police.

Miami Shores had the surreal experience of a village comptroller who, in 2012, stole $200,000 of village funds as part of an Internet scam where -- wait for it -- two orphans with a massive inheritance were stranded in Ghana and needed someone to rescue them and their cash, with the rescuer to be rewarded millions. This incident strikes me as leaning more on the “dumb as a rock” side of the ledger over unethical.

Zooming out, an examination of Miami Shores, Biscayne Park, and El Portal’s elected representation to the Tallahassee statehouse and the sinking sensation has fully set in. Start with state Sen. Daphne Campbell, whose history leaves a long trail of ethically dubious transgressions.

As a brief recap, Campbell has been connected to a family-owned health-care company investigated for Medicaid fraud (her son was charged); is credibly accused of living outside her senate district; owes the IRS nearly $200,000; has used her position, even concocting a phony tale about her deceased mother, to get FPL to restore electricity to her home post-Irma; was subject of a 2017 viral video at her Miami Shores Country Club birthday celebration, where a purse stuffed with cash was gifted to Campbell by a businessman she had helped. Campbell’s behavior is egregious, even when graded on the Miami curve for corruption.

State Rep. Roy Hardemon’s troubles predate his current tenure in office. A 2016 Herald profile of then candidate Hardemon detailed 19 arrests since 1987. Hardemon was charged with 35 different crimes, 12 being felonies. Charges (most later dropped or pleaded down to misdemeanors) ranged from resisting arrest, battery, armed burglary, criminal mischief, and even kidnapping. Yes, kidnapping.

And then, of course, there’s President Donald Trump and his daily tirade of profane tweets, insults, race baiting, his sordid history with porn stars, the casual lying, and unrelenting assaults on democratic values and institutions. Not a day goes by that I wonder if there’s a parent somewhere who hopes his or her child grows up to emulate this president’s character.

This is all the long way of emphasizing that personal moral character is supremely important. Honesty, humility, trustworthiness, and citizenship are perhaps the most important traits for every endeavor of life.

Miami Shores Police Chief Kevin Lystad told a group of earnest Cub Scouts that the first thing he looks at in police recruits is their character. To Lystad, an applicant’s history of service toward others or country is valued above intelligence, résumé, or connections. As an employer, it makes all the difference. Skills, techniques, and rules can be learned on the job, but character is generally formed well before candidates walk through the door.

There’s hope and optimism by just looking around us. It doesn’t take me long to name more than a dozen locals who cheerfully contribute to the greater good on an ongoing basis.

El Portal’s Virginia Emmons and husband Brett McNaught, after a stint in the Peace Corps, founded the nonprofit Educate Tomorrow, serving Miami’s foster youth. Chris Gaviria of Miami Shores operates a group home for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, while leading a Cub Scout pack on the side.

Lama Karma Chötso, in addition to running El Portal’s Open Awareness Buddhist Center, brings faith teachings to the incarcerated and in hospice care. Biscayne Park’s David Raymond, retired after a lifetime leading the Homeless Trust and serving in child welfare agencies, has now undertaken a renewed endeavor to create a village dog park.

Gina Nicole Vlasek of North Miami served our four-legged pals for years in Miami Shores via the animal rescue and adoption activism of Saving Sage. Donna Walker teaches young people with profound physical and mental needs, and still finds time to sing choir at Miami Shores Community Church. Roni Bennett of Miami Shores strives for racial awareness and equity through South Florida People of Color.

Mary Benton’s Bound by Beauty seeks to raise environmental awareness by making Miami Shores the “Village of Butterflies.” Doctors Charter School teacher Abeer Jadallah has raised thousands to allow middle and high school students to travel to places as remote as Iceland.

And that just scratches the surface. A multitude of others contribute to the collective betterment of our community.

In his book The Road to Character, New York Times columnist David Brooks describes these kinds of people: “They perform acts of sacrificial service with the same modest everyday spirit they would display if they were just getting groceries. They are not thinking about what impressive work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all. They just seem delighted by the flawed people around them. They just recognize what needs to be done and they do it.”

But admiration is not enough. It’s high time that people of all political and lifestyle stripes come to demand high character from all in public leadership and positions of responsibility. What Donald Trump and Daphne Campbell share is not so much their political ideology as their atrocious behavior in office.

In a time where societal divisions are deep and distrust of important institutions on the rise, revisiting Martin Luther King’s call for us to value the content of character might be a first step in creating his aspired “beloved community.” King recognized what seems so obvious, but what needs constant repeating -- that moral character is, as George Washington put it, “the first essential in a man.”


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