Add hot Zoom microphones to the hazards facing municipal budget directors in 2020.
Nearly three hours into Thursday’s online budget hearing, the administration’s top critic on the Miami-Dade County Commission, Daniella Levine Cava, began her remarks on the 2021 spending plan. Then the Zoom screen switched to budget director Jennifer Moon, wearing a cloth mask inside a county conference room, explaining to someone off camera: “Behind my mask, I’m saying f– you.”
Levine Cava, a candidate for mayor in November, stopped her remarks. Moon’s eyes flickered on screen and the camera captured her shaking her head and saying: “I didn’t.”
Moon later interrupted the hearing to apologize, and said the Zoom microphone picked up the tail end of a conversation unrelated to Levine Cava that she was having in her office.
“I used an inappropriate word. Now you all know I’m human,” said Moon, a veteran administrator who was promoted to deputy mayor last year by Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is running for Congress against Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Levine Cava ally.
Levine Cava didn’t address the matter in her comments, but her campaign manager did. “This language is offensive, and I hope something more than an apology comes out of it,” Christian Ulvert, whose formal campaign title is senior adviser, wrote on Twitter. “This is a public hearing and it sends the wrong message to our community.”
Late Thursday, Levine Cava said she believed Moon’s explanation. “She called to apologize,” Levine Cava said in a text message. “I believe her that it was not directed at me. It was a regrettable indiscretion. What’s most important tonight is that we need a plan for our future to keep our community safe and stable.”
There’s no secret about who Gimenez favors in the mayoral race between Levine Cava and fellow commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo Jr.. Bovo and Gimenez are both Republicans in officially non-partisan posts, and Bovo has voted with the outgoing mayor on transit and development matters that Levine Cava opposed. After the Moon interjection, Levine Cava went on to say the Gimenez spending plan fell short of what the county needs.
“This budget does not adequately reflect the crisis we’re in,” she said. “The health crisis. The economic crisis. We need a responsible recovery budget.” Levine Cava still voted for the Gimenez budget for the 2021 spending year that begins Oct. 1, while Bovo voted against portions of it.
At the end of the meeting, commissioners praised Moon for her work on the budget, which included flat property tax rates and slightly increased county hiring. “We have the best budget director,” said Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who endorsed Levine Cava over Bovo in the fall campaign.
In an interview, Moon said the comments caught on Zoom weren’t referencing Levine Cava, and were part of a conversation she was having with six other people in the room. She said it was irresponsible of her to be using that kind of language during a county meeting.
“I‘m completely mortified,” she said. “I should never had said a word like that.”