Reporting Jim DeFede
Legislative Session Coverage
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – This summer Diana Greenwell discovered there was trouble in paradise.
Paradise Farm of Miami – Greenwell’s horse farm for the past thirteen years – found itself in serious jeopardy. Without warning, Miami Dade County installed a traffic circle on 122nd Avenue that prevented her horse trailers from navigating the turns and making it onto her property.
“I thought somebody could fix it,” she said, admitting her view of county government was a bit naïve. “I thought there was something that could be done.”
Luckily for her, she thought, her county commissioner, Javier Souto, was scheduled to hold a meeting in September with his constituents at Concord Park.
She showed up at the proscribed day and time only to find no one there.
“I waited about 45 minutes, it rained, I still waited,” said Greenwell, a second generation Miamian. “Eventually sort of a big camper thing pulled up with a big picture of the commissioner on the side of it.”
Greenwell signed up to speak to the commissioner and a short time later was escorted into the mobile office. She said she tried to explain the problem created by the traffic circle but says Souto kept interrupting her – to tell her about all of the great things he was doing for the district.
He also chided her for not belonging to the local homeowners association.
“I got a little frustrated and I said, `I would really like to speak to you about what my issues are, would you please allow me to speak and not interrupt me?’” Greenwell recalled. “At which point he stood up and said I was being very abusive and he wasn’t going to hear me.”
Greenwell estimates her entire meeting with Souto lasted no more than two or three minutes before he stormed off.
“I thought that he had an obligation, a responsibility as a commissioner when he had these meetings to listen to what people had to say,” she said.
Greenwell admits she may have raised her voice out of frustration.
After Greenwell left, however, Souto was so incensed he called the police.
This September 15 police report shows that Souto demanded police document this “verbal dispute”
Souto complained Greenwell had “raised her voice” to him. He also complained that Greenwell’s boyfriend attempted to approach him in an aggressive manner.
A witness at the event however told officers that Greenwell and her boyfriend were “unhappy” and “loud” but “at no point made any sort of threat” to the commissioner.
Greenwell only learned about the police report when CBS4 News showed her a copy. The report also shows that in addition to a police car being out of service to handle Souto’s complaint for nearly two hours, a district lieutenant and the county commissioner’s sergeant at arms were also called to the scene.
“I was absolutely floored and a little appalled that somebody would actually waste police resources for something like that,” she said.
And as if this wasn’t bizarre enough — Souto allegedly demanded that his longtime aide – Maggie Gonzalez – support his story and tell police officers that Greenwell and her boyfriend had threatened them.
Souto suspended the 61-year-old woman on the spot, docking her a week’s pay.
In her suspension letter he wrote: “Your conduct in refusing to acknowledge that you were a witness to the conversation was disrespectful to me and was untruthful.”
Two days later Souto changed his mind — and fired Gonzalez. She worked for the county for 22 years.
“It doesn’t sound like the United States of America in the 21st century,” Greenwell said. “It sounds like some sort of repressive totalitarian regime.”
Over the past week, the Commissioner has refused to discuss the matter. On Thursday, CBS4’s Jim DeFede tried to talk to Souto as he was leaving County Hall. But when he saw DeFede and his photographer, Souto pulled back into his parking space and ducked quickly back in the building. Commission aides said Souto sat in his office watching TV into the evening to avoid CBS4 News.
“I think it was abusive of his position and I really feel for her I hope she gets her job back if it’s what she wants,” Greenwell said.
Turns out she didn’t want her job back. Her son, an attorney, negotiated a settlement in which Souto’s suspension and termination were rescinded and removed from her file. In return for Gonzalez agreeing not to sue the county, she was given a job at the West Kendall Library — where she maintains her commission salary of approximately $88,000 a year.
Both Gonzalez and her son declined comment.
This affair also exposed another serious problem in Souto’s office. Most commission offices employee five or six staffers to do everything from answer phones to help constituents with their problems to analyzing budgets and proposed legislation that comes before the commission.
Souto is down to just two staff members as more and more of his staff has reportedly resigned in recent weeks.
It is not clear how Souto’s office is able to function or serve the people in his district with so few staffers.
Given her experience it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Diana voted for term limits to get commissioners like Souto eventually out of office.
In the meantime, she is still trying to get someone to help her with her traffic problems.