Monday, July 02, 2007

Kendrick Meek shoots back

Responding to revelations of shady moves by a developer he supported, Rep. Kendrick Meek defended himself Friday in an op-ed piece in the Miami Herald.

Recent Herald articles establish that the promoter of the Poinciana Biopharmaceutical project had a shady past, made promises he didn't keep, double billed for expenses and had neither tenants nor financing; that the developer hired my mother, former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, as a consultant and provided her with a leased car and free rent to her nonprofit foundation; and that I sought and obtained federal funds and loans for the project.

Some have interpreted this information in the worst light: that Carrie Meek sold out to a developer for her gain and that of her charitable foundation, and that I used my office to enrich my mother and the developer by funding a phony project at public expense.

Well, yeah.

Meek, though, doesn't beat around the bush:

This is utterly, totally and completely false.

A little redundant there, but we get his point. No equivocating.

My mother and I are very close. However, while her predecessors in Congress were paid consultants and lobbied her, she has never lobbied me nor asked me to support a grant, bill or other kind of funding or government decision, precisely because her congressman is also her son.

Fair enough. But if you're so close, how come she didn't tell you she was being paid by a developer you were supporting? She had to have known you were supporting the project, and she had to have known how bad it would look if the payments to her became public.

Columnist and novelist Carl Hiaasen, for one, isn't buying it.

Back to Meek:

Poinciana is in my congressional district. It is my job to support development there -- no easy task. For decades there have been no prospects, despite the fact that we have three major chambers of commerce and strong growth elsewhere in the county.

Based on all of the information available to me, the biopharmaceutical project appeared to me and to a lot of other responsible people to have a good chance for the public-private partnership we need.... I was not informed of the overdue reports, missed deadlines, pending audits and other concerns apparently known for months by other officials until just two weeks before The Miami Herald's story appeared.

Agreed. This is why so many legislators have financial connections in their district that can look very bad. Constituents give money to legislators; legislators' own businesses, if they have them, are in their district; and legislators try to bring money home to their district. The interplay -- especially in poor districts where the number of power players is few -- can look very bad indeed even if it's all aboveboard.

I also agree that actually overseeing the project was the county's job, not Meek's.

That said, Meek doesn't seem to have done any due diligence on the developer or the project. And he should take great care to avoid the appearance of impropriety in his efforts.

Because of my commitment to economic development, the former Miami-Dade mayor asked me to chair the Urban Revitalization Task Force, which approved loans for the developer's project in Opa-locka.... One lesson I have learned is not to agree to chair any entity in which I do not personally participate. Because of my duties in Washington, over the entire three years I was chairman, I attended only two Task Force meetings.

Translation: "I wasn't corrupt; I simply accepted a job I didn't have time for, overseeing a group that seemed to have suffered from.... lack of oversight."

Meek's explanations are plausible, even if they do show a representative willing to accept titles without doing the accompanying work, and one who was remarkably incurious about projects he was seeking funding for. Whether they hold up under scrutiny is another matter. And beyond that is the bigger question of "what steps is he taking to ensure this never happens again?"

P.S.: In his continuing efforts to distance himself from the matter, Meek is donating to charity a $5,500 donation from the developer in question. As the story notes, $5,500 was pocket change to Meek's campaign, so it's unlikely it bought any influence.

His mom, meanwhile, chose to attack the messenger.

Both Meeks, interestingly, say they learned about Stackhouse's misdeeds about 10 days before the Herald published its stories on him. That probably means the Herald led to their learning, either directly (the reporters called them) or indirectly (people contacted by the Herald knew the story was going to come out, and told those involved). Which raises a secondary question: Did they wait until the Herald articles came out to do something about it? And if so, why?

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