A Miami-Dade police officer helped drive a county commissioner 1,000 miles to Louisiana this summer, a four-day trip that cost about $2,000 in overtime expenses.
Commissioner Javier Souto said he was entitled to security when he and two aides set out on the 14-hour drive last July for the All-American National Junior Brahman cattle show in West Monroe. Souto went there to promote Miami-Dade’s own agricultural expo, one of the District 10 commissioner’s pet projects.
The former state senator said he typically travels with a member of the commission’s sergeant-at-arms staff. But he cited extra worry for the West Monroe journey because it came on the heels of a fatal ambush of three police officers about 200 miles away in Baton Rouge.
“There were these problems in Baton Rouge. Remember?” Souto said in a recent interview. “We went to some creepy places. Spooky places.”
While the sergeant-at-arms staff does provide protection for the 13-seat commission, Souto was the only member this year to travel out-of-state with security, according to the press office. But it’s not the first time a commissioner has gone afar with a police officer. When Chairman Jean Monestime joined a county delegation to Haiti in 2015, a member of the sergeant-at-arms staff went with him, spokeswoman Griselle Marino said Tuesday.
We went to some spooky places. Creepy places.
Commissioner Javier Souto
Armed police escorts for commissioners did not sit well with the head of a Florida watchdog group that targets what it sees as excessive government spending. Dominic Calabro, president of Florida Tax Watch, said he couldn’t imagine why a commissioner traveling out of state would consider his security at risk, much less merit police protection.
“Is his life that much in danger?” Calabro asked of Souto. “If he’s in that much fear, he shouldn’t attend the conference. It defies common sense.”
Perks have always been a delicate topic for elected officials and have gotten more attention in the wake of the mayor of Opa-locka suggesting she keep her city-issued vehicle amid that municipality’s financial meltdown. County commissioners earn $6,000 a year in compensation but also are eligible for an $800 monthly car stipend and a police officer to drive them to official functions.
That meant an all-day road trip for Officer Mike Roan and two of Souto’s District 10 aides, Aldo Gonzalez and John Montes, who shared time at the wheel of a county van when they set out early in the morning of July 7 for Louisiana.
Driving from Miami to West Monroe takes about 15 hours without breaks, according to Google Maps. Souto said the foursome managed to get there a little quicker, arriving after 14 hours. A Bay of Pigs veteran, Souto said he left the driving to the younger men.
“I’m 77 years old,” said Souto, whose 23 years on the commission tie him with Dennis Moss as the board’s most senior member. “I’m alive and kicking. But I’m not 25 years old anymore.”
If he’s in that much fear, he shouldn’t attend the conference. It defies common sense.
Florida Tax Watch president Dominic Calabro
For Souto, safety is enough of a concern that he holds a concealed-weapon permit and said he often drives with a gun in his car. But he said he left the weapon in Miami for the Louisiana trip, because Roan was there for protection.
Roan filed for 33 hours of overtime from the Souto trip, which ended that Sunday with the 1,000-mile drive home. Roan’s extra time cost Miami-Dade $61 an hour, for a total of about $2,000 above Roan’s regular 40-hour week at about $41 an hour, according to figures provided by the commission’s press office. Roan declined to comment.
Souto said he opted for a van in order to save money on airfare. Expense records show the foursome spent about $2,100 on food and lodging (Gonzalez and Montes shared a room).
The commissioner has long been the top champion on the commission for the Miami International Agriculture, Horse and Cattle Show, held each spring in his district’s Tropical Park. Traveling to Louisiana, he said, was a way to boost the local event’s profile.
“We’re promoting Miami, Miami, Miami,” he said. “I’m doing my thing for agriculture.”
Souto dismissed questions about Roan accompanying him to Louisiana, saying the sergeant-at-arms staff exists to provide security for commissioners. “They’re here to protect us,” he said.