Joe Martinez suspended hours before final budget hearing; no replacement

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis finally suspended Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez Tuesday, three whole weeks after he was arrested on public corruption charges for allegedly taking $15,000 in exchange for sponsoring legislation that would benefit the owners of a shopping center and grocery store.

Martinez, who attended the first budget hearing and voted against it, did not return calls and texts to his phone. But he has previously said that he will speak when he can, by which he means after the trial is over or when the charges are dropped.

But his attorney, Ben Kuehne, distributed a statement, calling the charges “baseless” and “completely unfounded.”

Read related: State attorney: Joe Martinez broke our trust for $15,000, help with bank loan

“Commissioner Martinez, his legal team, and his many supporters will focus on clearing his name and fighting these baseless allegations arising from his work as a consultant when he was a private citizen and not an elected official,” the statement said.

Martinez was arrested Aug. 30 and spent five hours in jail Tuesday after he was charged with unlawful compensation. According to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, Martinez got that compensation in three checks of $5,000. One was just days before he was sworn in after he was elected in 2016. That was from Jorge Negrin, owner of Xtra Supermarket on Southwest 8th Street. He and the owner of the shopping center, Sergio Delgado, were getting hit with code violations for having five storage containers on the property where none was allowed. They had accrued $25,000 in fines but needed the containers for storage. They wanted Martinez to do something to help them. He got another $5,000 check in early December and a third one in March 2017.

That same month, his office started working on legislation that would allow containers on the property. It’s also about the time that Martinez — whose payroll checks from Centurian Security were bouncing — strong-armed Delgado into helping his employer get a bank loan. The container legislation progressed and there were meetings and emails back with Delgado to discuss it.

“Martinez was directly involved in developing the container legislation,” Fernandez Rundle said. “Martinez solicited information from Delgado… [he] led Delgado to believe that new container legislation was forthcoming.”

The legislation made it to a September agenda but then was quickly put on hold by the commissioner. Probably because Delgado couldn’t help with the loan.

Read related: Joe Martinez claims public corruption charge is really a political hatchet job

Kuehne disputes the whole investigation.

“Commissioner Martinez looks forward to being completely vindicated and cleared of any wrongdoing,” the attorney wrote in his statement. “He has devoted his entire adult life to serving the best interests of the public and he is humbled by the outpouring of support and confidence from the people of District 11 and throughout Miami-Dade County.”

DeSantis did not name a replacement. He didn’t say exactly when he would. Just soon.

The short list, as far as Ladra knows, is still Rob Gonzalez, who came in second in the Republican primary for House District 119, Annette Hernandez, an aide to Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and the treasurer of the Miami-Dade Republican Party, Esteban “Steve” Fereiro, chief of staff to Miami Commissoner Manolo Reyes, who had been the longtime campaign consultant for former District 11 commissioner Juan Zapata and Sen. Anitere Flores, whose district overlaps the county commission district and former Miami-Dade Fire Chief and fire union leader Al Cruz.

Read related: Ron DeSantis to suspend Miami-Dade’s Joe Martinez–when he finds a stand-in

There is a very strong grassroots campaign to have the governor name Christian Cevallos, a member of the District 11 Community Council who has been elected by voters twice.

Martinez has not publicly supported any contender.

“The Commissioner offers his support to whomever the Governor decides to appoint to the Miami-Dade County District 11 seat,” reads Kuehne’s statement. “The most important issue continues to be providing services and protecting the well-being of the residents.”

But if Martinez really cared about the well-being of the residents of District 11, he would have resigned so there could be a special election and they could vote for their replacement. Too late now.

And whoever the guv does appoint is going to have an advantage if he or she decides to run for the seat in 2024.