MIAMI (CBS4) – There were prayers, gospel songs and fiery speeches Wednesday as Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones took her battle for a third term in office out of the courthouse and into a church house.
The rally in Liberty City saw several hundred Spence-Jones supporters fill a sanctuary, as Spence-Jones laid out her case for a third bid for office, afer missing much of her second term while beating back corruption charges.
Spence-Jones spoke of herself in the third person as she argued that she never got to serve the terms she was elected to.
“Commissioner Spence-Jones does not want a third term,” Spence-Jones told a cheering crowd. “No, Commissioner Jones wants to complete her second term!”
The event, with all the markings of a campaign rally was advertised with blast flyers and emails produced and distrubuted by by Spence-Jones’ city hall staff.
One, urging citizens to turn out for an “hour of power, praise and prayer” for Spence-Jones was from Jonelle Adderly, the commissioner’s full-time, city-paid office manager. Adderly was in attendance at the church rally.
A flyer, complete with a glossy photo of a smiling Spence-Jones, insisted “Voters should decide” if she is allowed to continue to serve. “Come out and support her,” the flyer declared. It was sent out by Brandyss Howard, another full-time staff member on the city payroll, working in Spence-Jones’ office.
Howard was also at the politically-charged rally. She coordinated media arrangements, seated guests and speakers and distributed petitions for people to sign, supporting Smith-Jones’ claim to a third run for office.
When CBS4’s Gary Nelson reminded Spence-Jones that ethics and election laws prohibit public officials from using public resources for political or personal gain, Spence-Jones insisted the even was not a political one, but a “prayer rally,” an informational session to inform voters why she thinks she is entitled to run again.
“We did not use it for personal gain, at all,” Spence-Jones said.
One judge has already ruled Spence-Jones may not run again, because the city’s charter limits commissioners to two terms in office.
Candidate Richard Dunn, trying to block Smith-Jones’ campaign with a legal challenge, did not comment on her use of city resources to promote and coordinate Wednesday’s rally, but Dunn’s attorney, J.C. Planas, looked at one of the flyers for the even and said “if it was paid for out of city funds, it would appear extremely inappropriate.”
The rally, at which speakers said Spence-Jones has been targeted by “evil” opponents, was held as the legal case over her candidacy is still pending.
“She is trying to influence a legal decision through political means, and I think that is a huge problem,” Planas said.
CBS4 News forwarded the emails and flyers promoting the Spence-Jones event to the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics.
“We will look into this, whether this raises something, an issue that falls within our jurisdiction,” Ethics Commission Director Joe Centorino said. Centorino would not speculate on what, if any, laws may have been violated.
Ironically, Centorino is the former lead prosecutor who tried unsuccessfully to convict Spence-Jones of public corruption.