With Parente out, new hire may lead Miami film office
By Scott E. Pacheco
A shakeup atop several of Miami's city offices may include the film office, the soon-to-be-former director says.
Robert Parente says he was notified by former city manager Pete Hernandez on Feb. 4 that he was being let go for financial reasons.
"Initially I was told that my position was being eliminated due to the city's financial crisis and I asked if my part-time person [Jamil Gonzalez] was remaining and they said yes he is.
"Subsequently I heard that apparently the mayor has somebody he wants to place in my position."
Multiple sources familiar with the industry have identified Harry Emilio Gottlieb, a Coconut Grove resident, as the talked-about successor.
Mr. Parente said while he couldn't confirm that Mr. Gottlieb is the rumored individual, one of his final conversations with Mr. Hernandez was telling.
"When I met with [Mr. Hernandez] to finalize my departure date, he actually asked me if I'd be willing to meet with "Harry,'" Mr. Parente said. "And I said, "Well, who is that?' And the manager said, "Well, somebody who might be coming in after you.'"
Mr. Gottlieb, reached by phone Tuesday, didn't confirm or deny his potential involvement with the city film office.
Since he was elected last fall, Mayor Tomás Regalado said the city has already changed directors of police, fire, code enforcement, the Neighborhood Enhancement Team and grants. One of interim City Manager Carlos Migoya's first tasks, once he is confirmed today (2/25), is to rapidly assess the city's managerial team.
Mr. Regalado and Mr. Migoya could not be reached. When Miami Today called Mr. Hernandez's cell phone, a woman answered and said, "Pete is not available to the press."
Mr. Parente said Monday he had spoken with neither the mayor nor the new city manager regarding his employment situation.
Notice of Mr. Parente's termination came shortly after he was awarded a Golden Coconut Award by the Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce, a recognition given to "outstanding members of [the] community for 2009," according to the chamber.
"Less than a week later I was being canned," he said.
Mr. Parente, whose last day is to be Friday (2/26), said he asked Mr. Hernandez "twice to be sure that [the layoff] wasn't performance-based and he assured me that it was not. I took him at his word."
Mr. Parente said he then offered to work for half his salary for 20 months, until the beginning of new budget cycle in 2011.
"Since it's about money I'm in the position to be able to work for less," Mr. Parente said he told Mr. Hernandez. "I don't have any rushing financial needs.… I can get by on a lesser salary if it would help the city out.' [Mr. Hernandez] just nodded."
Mr. Parente said he made about $82,000 before his salary was trimmed 10% in the fall. At that time, two fulltime film office employees were let go as well.
Miami Today acquired a copy of a letter he penned to both Mr. Hernandez and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado with an offer to take about a 50% cut in pay, down to about $40,000 a year.
Jeff Peel, director of the Miami-Dade Office of Film and Entertainment, said last week that if Mr. Parente is not replaced the county would be willing and able to step in and pick up the workload.
More damaging than not having a city film head, however, is lack of direction from the city administration. Mr. Peel said he never heard back after he called Mr. Hernandez a few weeks ago following news of Mr. Parente's dismissal.
Mr. Peel said Tuesday he has requested and is waiting for a meeting with Mayor Regalado, adding that whatever happens, time is of the essence. "This is going to come to a head at the end of the week when [Mr. Parente] is no longer in office and [popular cable series] Burn Notice starts" its seasonal filming two weeks later from its base at the city-owned Coconut Grove Convention Center, he said Tuesday.
"At the end of the day we're in the middle of season, there's a lot of production going on right now and kind of the last thing we need is a hiccup in the City of Miami where they can't get permits," Mr. Peel said. "Our interest is whatever happens in the City of Miami — it's kind of a seamless transition."
This may become particularly relevant later this year if film incentives pass the Florida Legislature and South Florida receives a rash of permit requests.
Senate Bill 1430 and companion House Bill 697, if passed, would take effect July 1. The legislation would boost state incentives from this year's $10.8 million covering a few projects to $75 million in annual tax credits.
The House bill would make qualified film and video productions eligible for tax credit equal to 20% of actual qualified spending. Offseason filming, certified feature films, independent films, commercials, or television series or pilots could get an extra 5% tax credit.
Mr. Peel said a perception would be likely to develop in the business that the city doesn't value the film industry. "I don't believe that is true, but until this gets resolved in a positive way I think a lot of people are going to have that question."
The county would be willing to discuss an agreement between governments or partnership of some kind with the city on film efforts, Mr. Peel said, but "nobody has asked us to do that.
"I don't want to say "Here we come,' because we are not," he said. "We are willing to help and we think we have the resources to be able to help, but we need to be asked."