Michelle Spence-Jones Knuckles Up
It was close to 1 p.m. this past Friday the 13th. Fourteen friends and family members gathered around her and listened raptly. She spoke authoritatively, gesticulating with both hands, her long black dreadlocks bouncing to the beat of her high-pitched voice.
"It is amazing how wicked the timing of this whole thing was," Spence-Jones railed. "They knew I had a swearing-in ceremony. They had at least 10 days since I was reelected to tell me that they had something on Spence-Jones; that I had to come in."
Earlier that morning, the 42-year-old politician had turned herself into law enforcement authorities, who arrested her on one count of second degree grand theft. She is accused of stealing $22,000 in county grant money. By the time she bonded out of jail, Gov. Charlie Crist had suspended her from the Miami City Commission.
"Now with only two commissioners there, it allows the governor to step in," Spence-Jones continued. "And the governor is going to put in his own person; someone who can be controlled."
Everyone in the room either nodded in agreement or let out a collective, emphatic "Yeah!"
"We cannot lay down," Spence-Jones continued. "We will not lay down. All this craziness they made up about Spence-Jones is gonna go away. But we must continue to fight. We must send a message to the new mayor to make sure we get the best person to represent District Five. We must tell the governor, 'Mr. Charlie Crist, you cannot tell us who is going to represent district five.'"
One of her backers, Miami architect Neil Hall, put his arm around her. "I love your spirit," he said.
"What did you think?" Spence-Jones responded. "That you were coming to a funeral? This is no time to be moping."
Spence-Jones has reason to be optimistic considering the case against her is not as strong as Miami-Dade State Attorney Katharine Fernandez-Rundle made it out to be. For starters, one of the state's main witnesses, Barbara Carey-Shuler is apparently backing off her sworn statements against her protege. Spence-Jones criminal defense lawyer Richard Alayon claims the former county commissioner called him to inform him "she never intended for Spence-Jones to get arrested" and that her testimony "has been taken out of context."
And two other witnesses against her have an axe to grind. Leroy Jones, a local black activist who supports Spence-Jones, told Banana Republican that Harlan Woodard and Nathaniel Styles -- who claim Spence-Jones forged a letter on their company letter head so she could obtain a $25,000 grant that was meant for them -- were upset with the ousted commissioner because she would not help them secure $8,000 from the city.
Jones says his organization Neighbors for Neighbors Association had partnered with KDI Architecture, a company owned by Woodard and Styles, on a $500,000 project to renovate building facades along NW Seventh Avenue with Afrocentric designs. "KDI has been paid $71,000 by the city but they have never submitted any drawings," Jones says. "Michelle took the position that they needed to turn in the plans before the city gave them any more money."
Meanwhile, Miami city hall still hasn't figured out how to replace Spence-Jones and Angel Gonzalez, who today turned himself in on an unrelated corruption charge. In all likelihood, the city will have to call a special election to fill the vacancies.