Rise News has learned that there is an ongoing investigation into allegations that members of the supervisory board of a Miami area charter school may have criminally violated Florida Sunshine Laws.
One of the members of the board at the time of the alleged law violations was the current Mayor of Miami Shores, Alice Burch.
At least two members of the Doctors Charter School (DCS) Board of Directors and a high-ranking school official have been subpoenaed and interviewed by an Assistant State Attorney and an investigator with the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission.
Sources close to the investigation indicate that the inquiry is focused around the events of the controversial non-renewal of contract of DCS Executive Director Nick Dorn.
DCS is a highly rated charter school with 600 students nestled in the sleepy neighborhood of Miami Shores.
Rise Miami News, the predecessor website to Rise News first broke the story of the scandal in June of 2015 and showed that Burch had improperly coordinated with a few other members of the unpaid DCS board to remove Dorn in a secret meeting.
“Rise Miami News has learned that Burch supplied DCS board members meeting in the ‘shade’ a dossier of information that she had been collecting for over eight months, meant to act as justification for the non-renewal of the school director’s contract.
Burch has also admitted to violating state Sunshine Laws by continuing to volunteer as the de-facto secretary of the DCS board of directors while serving as the acting mayor of the Village.
Burch apologized to the Miami Shores community at a Village Council meeting on June 2 but did not discuss her level of involvement in the dismissal of Nick Dorn, the director of DCS.”
Due to the public outrage, Dorn was eventually offered a contract and a raise. Dorn accepted the contract extension but did not agree to a raise. He is currently leading the school.
While Burch did not vote in the secret meeting, she openly discussed the idea of not renewing Dorn’s contract with members of the board both before and immediately after the “shade” meeting.
Additional public records including text messages show the extent of communications between Burch and other board members. It also showed how important Burch was to the lifeblood of the board and therefore potentially to the Sunshine Law violations she later admitted to.
According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the matter, the inquiry is being headed up by Assistant State Attorney Luis Perez-Medina and Miami-Dade Ethics Commission investigator Larry Lebowitz.
Perez-Medina works out of the Public Corruption Unit under Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle while Lebowitz, a former Miami Herald reporter works under Joseph Centorino, the longtime former head of the Public Corruption Unit and current director of the county Ethics Commission.
Neither the State Attorney’s office or Ethics Commission would confirm or deny that there is an ongoing investigation.
Paul Calli, an attorney and current member of the DCS board first blew the whistle on the “shade” meeting in a series of Facebook posts last spring.
The Commission referred the complaint to the State Attorney as it said that it does not have jurisdiction over Sunshine Laws.
“The rules should not and cannot be different for elected officials and Village administrators in Miami Shores,” Calli said in an interview with Rise News. “The residents of Miami Shores do not deserve to be excluded from the political process and government administration by elected or appointed officials who hold the trust of residents and voters. The Shores is not a fiefdom, with its residents vassals.”
Mayor Burch did not respond to a request for comment.
Vice Mayor Steven Zelkowitz said that he was not aware of any investigation ongoing in Miami Shores but said that public officials should be careful of Sunshine Law violations.
“I live and breathe the Sunshine Law,” Zelkowitz, a lawyer who deals with many local municipalities in his practice said in a phone interview. “I’m very cognizant and I’m very careful with it. Maybe elected officials should read the laws and understand them before acting.”
Another member of the Village council had a similar view.
“What is important is what[ever] the investigation reveals, it will help bring closure and restore confidence in our leaders,” Councilwoman Ivonne Ledesma said in an email statement.
READ: The 14 page dossier of information Miami Shores Mayor Alice Burch presented to DCS board members before secret, “shade” meeting
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Cover Photo Credit: Rise News/ Rich Robinson