Two village code enforcement officers filed sworn statements Wednesday accusing Key Biscayne candidates Fausto Gomez and Andy Herrera of threatening their jobs. A police report says the code officers asked for law enforcement help in removing signs that had been planted into the ground in public sidewalk areas, as the contentious Key Biscayne election heads to a close Nov. 8.
Dario Gonzalez, the village’s chief code enforcement officer, wrote that Village Council Candidate Andy Herrera called him Oct. 26 and said “my job was at risk if I collect his signs.” In a separate incident Wednesday, Gonzalez stated that mayoral candidate Fausto Gomez approached him and whispered in his ear, “better for you if I don’t get elected.”
Herrera also posted a photo of Gonzalez removing a political sign from a sidewalk along the island’s intersection, adding a “MOST WANTED” graphic. A similar report was made by Walker Izquierdo, another code enforcement officer who wrote he heard the Herrera conversation. Gonzalez said it was on speaker phone. The police report noted that Herrera was “upset because he was a recipient of selective enforcement.”
But it wasn’t clear Thursday how the reports, made to Key Biscayne police, are being handled by top village officials. Police Chief Frank Sousa initially said the case wasn’t being investigated further, based on the comments of the code officers. But later in the day, Village Manager Steve Williamson said the case had not been closed.
“This is an ongoing process as we continue to enforce the code of the village,” Williamson said. The village code bans all signs on public property except those placed by governmental agencies, including political signs. Williamson said he fully supported code enforcement’s action to remove signs.
Threatening to harm a public official in the performance of their duty is a felony in Florida, a law enforcement official said, without any specific knowledge or review of the Key Biscayne matter.
The statute is not limited to physical harm, but includes financial harm as well.
In a 2015 case, a code enforcement officer said he was threatened by a North Miami Beach councilman in the middle of an election campaign.
Williamson said the matter has not been discussed with the village attorney, to his knowledge. Code officers are not considered law enforcement but are civilian officials who report to the Building, Zoning, and Public Works department.
Gonzalez said he was happy with the village’s response so far, saying he’ll accept however the police want to proceed. “They got the case and they will decide.”
Calls and messages to Herrera were not returned. Gomez declined to confirm or deny the interaction reported between Gonzalez, responding with a terse “Ed London was there. Call him.”
London said Gomez did ask questions of code officers, but said he didn’t see anything threatening. He also said he wasn’t standing close enough to hear anything that might have been whispered.
The incidents are the latest in a series of tense interactions during the campaign season. Last week, council candidate Oscar Sardiñas filed a police report accusing Gomez of belly-bumping him and shoving, but he declined to press charges. And a Christian nationalist group, the County Citizens Defending Freedom, has been active in the election with misleading electioneering about Sardiñas.
Fernando Vazquez, another council candidate, also said the atmosphere of this year’s election has been threatening, including the activities of the CCDF. He said he had also made calls to the village officials about Herrera’s signs.
“There is no space for this type of political operative actions,” Vazquez said.
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Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.