Miami green lights lawsuit to recover fuel fee from long time tenant

The city of Miami decided Thursday it will file a lawsuit to go after more than $400,000 in fuel fees it believes it’s owed by a long-time Coconut Grove tenant.

The commission voted 4-1 to pursue collecting the money, with Commissioners Francis Suarez and Michelle Spence-Jones casting doubt on the timing of an audit that showed that Scott Wessel, owner of Scotty’s Landing and the adjacent marina and fuel station, owes the money.

The findings of the audit were handed to Wessel only a few days before a bidding process for the property he rents from the city was to take place last summer.

In the end, only Suarez voted against trying to recover the money, urging the sides to work out a deal.

“We knew what payments we were getting, and we accepted those payments,” Suarez said, calling the timing of the audit “suspicious.”

The money in question comes from a fuel station Wessel has run for more than 20 years. He initially paid a fee to marina giant Merrill Stevens when that company owned the boatyard and another fuel station, and paid fees to the city. When Merrill Stevens left, Wessel agreed to pay the city a fee of 3 cents for every gallon sold — but not the greater of either 3 cents per gallon or 10 percent of monthly sales that Merrill Stevens had agreed to.

On Thursday, Wessel — who wasn’t permitted to speak to the commission during the discussion — produced a memo from former City Manager Cesar Odio and former Property and Lease Director Albert J. Armada, from Feb. 16, 1990. The letter specifically outlines an agreement in which Wessel, the principal of Grove Key Marina, is required to pay 3 cents on every gallon of gas he sells.

Wessel said he put almost $400,000 in escrow during last summer’s bidding process, and that he will do that same in the next day or two.

“Just to show his good faith,” said Wessel’s attorney Norman Segall.

Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said going to court for the money was the right answer. He blasted the 1990 agreement, saying “no one person can alter a contract.” City policy now is that any purchase or agreement of more than $25,000 must be negotiated by commissioners.

“This way we’re not being judge, we’re not being jury, and we’re not being executioner. We’re simply saying go to a judge,” Sarnoff said.

Commissioners also voted Thursday to amend the city’s ticket surcharge ordinance to include city-owned marinas, to make some slight changes to the city’s parking rates with most of them coming for valet service, and to allow advertising on parking boxes owned by the city’s Department of Offstreet Parking.

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