Local “Media” Needs to Stick to the Facts
It is not the habit of this magazine to correct misinformation about the city published by other local media, but lately, it has gotten out of hand. The most recent attack on Commissioner Michael Mena and City Attorney Miriam Ramos is so egregiously misinformed that we had to address the balderdash.
In the first meeting in May of the new city commission – with Rhonda Anderson and Kirk Menendez as new commissioners and Vince Lago as the new mayor – the commission unanimously voted to sell a 34-space parking lot on Le Jeune Road to developers who intend to build a low-rise parking garage on the spot. The price of $3.5 million was based on two independent appraisals of the property’s value.
Commissioner Mena, for the record, let everyone know that the purchasing entity – JRFQ Holdings, LLC – was owned by two of the principals in the MSP Recovery Law Firm where Mena works. Since there was no connection otherwise to his place of employment, and since there was no benefit to himself, City Attorney Miriam Ramos opined that there was no conflict of interest. The commissioners then voted 5-0 to approve the sale on first reading, with a second vote to come later.
For this act, Gables Insider and Community Newspapers both ran the same opinion piece demanding the resignations of both Mena and Ramos. The opinion piece, by Leon Kellner, portrayed the vote by Mena as an unethical, insider deal engineered to cheat the public. Nothing could be more ridiculous.
Negotiations to sell the parking lot began in 2019 when the commission voted to allow the city manager to negotiate with two adjacent property owners to see if they wanted to buy the property. On its own, the property was too small to be of interest; it would have to be part of a larger tract to be of value. Negotiations with the first property owner fell through, so talks began with the second. As the deal got closer, JRFQ Holdings (the initials stand for John Ruiz and former Commissioner Frank Quesada) bought out the second property owner and completed negotiations for purchase.
That’s it. No mystery. The connection to Mena was not even known by the Gables Insider and Community Newspapers until he publicly declared it. Yet they portrayed this information as some dirty secret they uncovered.
The hypocrisy of these publications is what really needs to be uncovered. Why didn’t Gables Insider note that the other city commissioners, who also voted for this deal, had all been endorsed by former Commissioner Quesada. Some were even financed by him. Could it be because Gables Insider is owned by a political operative who had been paid by both Commissioner Anderson and Mayor Vince Lago to run aspects of their election campaigns?
As for Community Newspapers accusing Mena and Ramos of questionable ethics, this publication should make no claim to objective journalism. Most of its stories are simply press releases published verbatim by whoever cares to supply them. Likewise, the Kellner piece was run as a factual story, not as opinion.
As for Gables Insider, at least they identified the story as opinion. But they positioned it as a news item on their blog, with no refutation. Nor is this the first time they have played loosely with the facts. During the recent election campaign, their attacks on the city commission for its rezoning of Miracle Mile were astonishingly inaccurate. While its parent company, the Americas Strategy Group, represented three anti-development candidates (Anderson, Lago and Javier Baños) Insider went out of its way to portray the commission as rabidly pro-development. Their headline “Developers Defeat Residents: Miracle Mile Up-Zoned” was the opposite of the truth. The new code actually down-zoned the Mile from six stories to four stories, with the fourth story set back, so as not to create a canyon effect.
The story ran with a picture of a proposed six-story hotel at Ponce and Miracle Mile – a project not only previously blocked by the commission but the very proposal that sparked the effort to reduce permissible heights. The story was so wrong that even normally reserved Commissioner Jorge Fors blasted it on social media. “It was completely out of control and disgraceful in my opinion,” says Fors. “I don’t know how you can call it an up-zoning with a straight face. You could build six stories before, and now you can only build four. That is the opposite of up-zoning.”
Interestingly enough, Mena was the commissioner who proposed the final iteration of down-zoning the Mile. Perhaps that was why Gables Insider has been looking for any way to blast him. As for City Attorney Miriam Ramos, anyone acquainted with her work knows she is a consummate professional who has served the city with integrity and hard work. Gables Insider and Community Newspaper should be ashamed.