MIAMI (CBS4) — The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics, which investigates the behavior of public officials, is investigating its own director, Robert Meyers, who is alleged to have engaged in a “personal relationship” with an aide. Meyers denies any inappropriate behavior.
The probe has evolved into a soap opera-like drama at the commission offices, where staff members are being required to give sworn statements about how hand-written notes from Meyers to his aide may have come to get out of the office.
The allegations against Meyers came in an anonymous complaint sent to Mayor Carlos Alvarez. The author of the complaint writes that it is “apparent that the Ethics Commission Executive Director” is in a “personal relationship” with the assistant.
The complaint includes hand-written notes from Meyers to the assistant discussing various lunch plans. In one note, Meyers writes that he got an offer from American Express for complimentary lunch for two at a Coral Way restaurant. “I got this invitation, and I thought of you,” Meyers wrote to the assistant.
In another note to the woman, Meyers writes, “I’d like to have another…lunch with you before the end of the month.” The note goes on to say, “I’d prefer to go on a Friday, that way if I have wine or a cocktail, it’s no big deal.”
In another note, Meyers confirms a lunch date, writing that “It’s supposed to be a beautiful restaurant, overlooking Biscayne Bay, so wear something nice.”
In an interview with CBS4 News Wednesday Meyers, who is married, said his lunches with “a co-worker” were innocent, and that he had engaged in no inappropriate behavior.
“Clearly not,” Meyers said. “I go out to lunch with people all the time and I don’t see where that’s a big deal. Having a glass of wine or two, it’s not a matter of anybody’s concern but mine.”
Meyers said the anonymous complaint to the Mayor’s office was “completely groundless.”
“There is nothing inappropriate about my relationship with anyone in this office,” Meyers said.
The complaint also alleged that the mother of Meyer’s assistant was illegally receiving welfare benefits. Meyers said he became aware of that allegation only after he saw it in the anonymous complaint.
The assistant to whom Meyer’s wrote the lunch notes did not return a voice mail message left by CBS4 News.
Mayor Alvarez wrote a memo to Ethics Commission Chairman Kerry Rosenthal informing him of the allegations and asking that he “handle accordingly and notify me of the outcome.”
The investigation, being conducted by Ethics Commission Advocate Michael Murawski, who is also called a prosecutor, appears to be focusing on who obtained the purloined lunch notes, apparently from the office of Meyers’ assistant.
In a memo to most of the staff, Murawski wrote that he was going to conduct “an investigation” to “determine the person(s) responsible for rummaging through a co-worker’s office.” The memo directed eight members of the staff to submit to interviews starting Wednesday morning.
Some Ethics Commission staff members were livid over being dragged into the investigation.
Breno Penichet is an investigator for the commission, who previously had a 31 year career as a police officer. In a scorching note to Murawski, Penichet said requiring so many employees to submit to questioning “impugns the integrity of all of us.”
“Most of us have no idea what’s going on with this, and we have to submit to this type of investigation, this kind of scrutiny?” Penichet told CBS4 News. “We are being interrogated.”
Penichet said staff members were being required to give their statements under oath, with a court reporter present. He said he did not mind being questioned, but felt the questioning should be conducted by an “outside, impartial” agency.
“They are focusing on all the employees instead of all these notes between the director” and his assistant, Penichet said.
Another Ethics Commission employee, Kennedy Rosario, called the process an “inquisition.” Rosario, who is also a former cop, said he too was willing to be questioned, but agreed that an outside agency should conduct the investigation.
If documents were stolen from the commission offices, Rosario said, “that would a criminal offense.” The ethics commission, he said, was not equipped to investigate criminal matters.
“It should have been thought out a lot better, how to conduct this investigation,” Rosario said.
Murawski, in an off-camera interview with CBS4 News, defended the investigation.
“The chairman directed me to do this, and I am,” Murawski said. He added that he referred the matter of the alleged welfare violations by the employee’s mother to the public corruption prosecutors at the state attorney’s office.
In a reply to Penichet’s written complaint, Murawski wrote that “we are fully within our rights” to conduct an internal investigation. The internal investigation was particularly appropriate, Murawski wrote, given the “highly sensitive” nature of the probes and documents the ethics commission routinely handles.
Jose Herrera, an attorney representing Penichet and Rosario, told CBS4 News that his clients know nothing of how the “lunch notes” came to leave the ethics commission office, but he slammed the commission’s handling of the matter.
“Instead of encouraging people to disclose apparent impropriety, they are conducting an investigation that will have a chilling effect on anyone who wants to reveal waste, fraud or abuse,” Herrera said.
The ethics commission chairman, Rosenthal, did not respond to CBS4′s request for comment.