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Mayor’s Political Crony Under Fire As Head Of Miami’s Film Office

May 11, 2010 By Carlos Miller in Miami: Local News  | 4 Comments

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Above: Harry Emilio Gottlieb. Photo by Al Crespo.

Before he was on the city payroll, Harry Emilio Gottlieb rarely bit his tongue when it came to lashing out at Miami public officials for their ineptness.

The self-described “community activist” was renowned for writing letters to the editors of the local newspapers, pulling no punches when it came to government waste.

Now it’s his turn to feel the brunt of pissed off citizens.

Gottlieb is the city’s new director of Film and Cultural Affairs, having replaced Robert Parente in late February – one of several new hires brought in under Mayor Tomas Regalado’s new administration.

And he has no clue what he is doing, according to his growing list of critics who claim he is a detriment to the local multimillion dollar film industry.

“I have no real animosity towards the guy,” said Al Crespo, a Miami film location scout who has unleashed a furor against Gottlieb on his website, The Crespo Gram Report.

He’s just completely incapable of functioning at any kind of level that requires him to think, listen, communicate intelligently and grasp the most basic and elementary procedures involved in managing an office, any office.”

Gottlieb acknowledges he has no experience in the film business other than serving on the board of the Miami International Film Festival. And he also acknowledges that he was hired because he and Regalado are old friends, going back to their days working at WQBA.

But he didn’t say much after that. Aside from a one-time phone interview, Gottlieb refused any more phone interviews with Miami Beach 411 after we started probing deeper as to what exactly does he do during the day.

And Mayor Regalado refused to return several phone calls requesting interviews as to what qualifications did Gottlieb possess for the job – besides, of course, being an old friend. This despite assurances from his press secretary, Pat Santangelo, that the mayor is one of the most accessible politicians in the city and never fails to return calls.

All Santangelo could say is there have been no complaints about Gottlieb.

He’s obviously talking to the wrong people.

Most people who criticize Gottlieb say he is a likeable fellow, but in over his head. And by not being qualified for his position, he can potentially cost the city millions of dollars because filmmakers are apt to film elsewhere if they find Miami too troubling.

“Harry is a cool guy and he tried to do the best with what he had,” said Jamil Gonzalez, who worked part-time in the city’s film department for more than a year until he recently resigned when the city would not extend his hours or give him benefits.

“But I have a serious problem as a filmmaker and a former city employee when people are being let go for strictly political reasons.”

“If this is what they’re doing with the film industry, then what other departments are they fucking up on?”

Parente was a Sanchez/Diaz guy

The city’s film office was already suffering budget cutbacks before Regalado took office in November, having gone from three full-timers and one part-timer to just one full-timer and one part-timer by the time he took office.

Parente, who held the position since 2002 when it was created under Manny Diaz’s administration, was making $82,000-a-year at his peak.

But when confronted with a possible layoff in February for further budget cuts, he offered to do his job at $40,000 a year.

That wasn’t enough. He was fired by Miami City Manager Pete Hernandez, who himself was forced to resign later that day.

Almost immediately, Gottlieb was hired at $65,000-a-year.

Parente said he stuck around to show Gottlieb the ropes, but that Gottlieb didn’t’ seem that interested in learning the job. He didn’t even bother taking notes, even though he had a notepad in his hand.

“When I told him to take notes, he started taking notes,” Parente said.

Parente said it’s obvious that the decision to replace him with Gottlieb was purely political because he had worked for Commissioner Joe Sanchez before he worked for Diaz, both who opposed Regalado on many issues. Sanchez, of course, ran against Regalado in the last mayoral election.

“The only thing I can chop it up to is that I was perceived by him to a Manny Diaz or a Joe Sanchez guy,” he said.

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Above: Robert Parente. Photo by Al Crespo.


Regalado “betrayed” filmmakers

The responsibility of the film office has always been to serve as a liaison between the city and filmmakers wishing to film movies in Miami, including issuing permits.

But he’s done a horrible job at that, according to local producer Judd Allison, who wrote the following letter to Regalado.

Mayor Regalado,

I was pleased to meet you when you took the time to address and introduce your New Film Commissioner to our industry at City Hall last month.

But I hate to say this, I feel really betrayed . You spoke like a true politician and made a lot of promises on how your transition would work. Well Sir, it has not worked and my livelihood as well as others is truly in jeopardy. Mayor, you need to fix this and you need to fix it fast. A true man can accept his mistakes and correct them.

I think you seriously need to reconsider taking Robert Parente back. This position requires job knowledge and Film Experience - Sorry to say Harry Gottlieb has neither.

As it stands now, if I want a permit to shoot I can’t even get one. That concerns me!

You took a shot at it and it backfired. Please don’t take us down with you. Do the right thing, FIX IT!!

Concerned Producer
Judd Allison / Producer / Fixer

For the past three years, the city’s biggest film client has been the creators of USA Network drama Burn Notice, which Parente persuaded into filming here.

But that relationship apparently got a little cozy when Gottlieb invited a worker on the set to access the city’s security-protected permit process.

“I asked him to come in for a couple of days to give me some tips so I could serve the film industry properly,” Gottlieb said.

This essentially is like a bartender asking a patron to come around the bar to serve his friends in an attempt to provide a better customer service experience. The results could be disastrous.

One of these “volunteers” even called Miami-Dade County Director of Film and Entertainment Jeff Peel asking for the pass code to access the website that would facilitate the issuance of permits.

“I’m not willing to give a volunteer access to the permitting system,” Peel said. “I can’t have a guy off the streets handing out permits. It’s a liability issue.”

So after an impromptu meeting between city and county officials, the permitting process was handed over to the special events division of the city’s parks department.

So now it is even less clear as to what is Gottlieb’s job description.

“One of my duties is to communicate with the public,” Gottlieb said. “I have to troubleshoot problems with people who are not happy with the filming in their neighborhood.”

Crespo said the job entails much more than that, including coordinating with the local police department to hire off-duty officers and scheduling road closures during film projects as well as coordinating with fire fighters during planned explosions, which Burn Notices seems to do on a regular basis.

“You have to protect the city against liability, protect citizens against undo hazards and disruption of live and you have to protect the filmmakers and make sure they are able to film and do what they have to do,” he said.

And there is also the process of seeking grants and other film incentives designed to stimulate local economies.

And, of course, it is also necessary to coordinate with the Miami-Dade County and Miami Beach film departments, the only two other municipal film departments in the county, to provide a more effective service to filmmakers. Under Parente, the three film agencies created a website to facilitate the permit process.

But it doesn’t appear that Gottlieb wants to do any of that.

Schmoozing with a disgraced city employee

Lately, Gottlieb has begun to officially distance himself from any film responsibilities to the point where he no longer refers to himself as the Director of Film and Cultural Affairs, but as Director of the Cultural Affairs Office, according to the Coconut Grove Grapevine blog.

And he is spending most of his time schmoozing up the art community in Wynwood, according to Crespo.

“He wants to be part of the art world,” Crespo said. “He never wanted anything to do with the film industry.”

In fact, Gottlieb has been schmoozing with a disgraced city official who was forced to resign last year after she was caught on video milking the taxpayers dry.

And he apparently wants to learn everything she knows.

Crespo somehow obtained an email exchange between Gottlieb and former Assistant Director of the Miami Building Department Christine Hernandez.

In that exchange, Gottlieb refers to Morales as his “hero” and asks her for advice on how to learn “tricks to get through the process.”

This is a woman who was caught on video arriving to work late, taking two-hour lunches before leaving the office before 5 p.m.

Crespo has filed a complaint with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office regarding Gottlieb’s alleged abuse of the public records law since he was apparently conducting city business from his private email. And he also fired off a letter to Regalado in case the mayor decides to send his henchmen after him.

So this should get interesting considering the state attorney’s office already has had some issues with Regalado.

Meanwhile, Gottlieb is calling for the hiring of a new employee to oversee the same film industry he was hired to oversee, according to Grapevine.

But considering that Regalado requires this person to be a crony, the choices are few and in between.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News,

Carlos Miller is a featured writer at Miami Beach 411. He also operates Photography is Not a Crime, a blog about photographer rights, New Media and First Amendment issues.

See more articles by Carlos Miller.

See more articles by Carlos Miller

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4 Comments on

"Mayor’s Political Crony Under Fire As Head Of Miami’s Film Office"

Under the Sun says:

Growing up in the the shadows the the world’s film capital, I assure you that concerns of citizens affected by film locations fall on deaf ears. a week didn’t go by that I didn’t confront a detour.  Producers and advertisers pay dearly for such rights, so you tell me if a cash strapped city is going to listen ? Disruptions of life is the price one pays to live and work in a city that attracts such attention.
The only requirements needed for such a post, is that you make sure off-duty cops have access to catering priviledges. Unless the job description involves recruiting business into the city, someone here is taking a free ride on the public’s dime. Why not address why New Mexico is now a top film destination for producers, and what thay are doing that Miami is not ?

Posted on 05/12/2010 at 12:39 AM

Name says:

Just to follow up: isn’t this the same office that succumbed to a certain community and forced Scarface to film primarily in LA ?

Posted on 05/12/2010 at 5:26 PM

Carlos Miller says:

This particular office was created under the Manny Diaz administration. Prior to that, permits were issued through the police department.

I’m not sure how they were handled back in the early 80s.

Posted on 05/12/2010 at 9:07 PM

Bill says:

@ name

The City of Miami film office had nothing to do with Scarface leaving Miami. The film shot scenes in Miami Beach for about two weeks and then went back to LA; mostly because of threats against the production from Cubans. http://www.tampabay.com/features/movies/article453409.ece

Posted on 06/04/2010 at 5:01 PM

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