River Cities Gazette

The 2013 Year in Review: July through September

BIG PROBLEMS: Medley town attorney Michael Pizzi, who was also the mayor of Miami Lakes, was arrested on Aug. 6 by the FBI on bribery charges, eventually forcing his resignation as Medley's town attorney.
BIG PROBLEMS: Medley town attorney Michael Pizzi, who was also the mayor of Miami Lakes, was arrested on Aug. 6 by the FBI on bribery charges, eventually forcing his resignation as Medley's town attorney.
Gazette Photo/BILL DALEY

River Cities Gazette


The second half of 2013 began with  the annual Fourth of July parade in Miami Springs, with Miami Springs Optimist Club President Tony Silva serving as the grand marshall. Close to 100 components were a part of the parade, which went down Westward Drive and Curtiss Parkway to the Miami Springs Country Club. 

The parade took place on Thursday, July 4 and the night before many enjoyed the Classic Car Show on the Circle. After the parade, everyone enjoyed the festivities at the Miami Springs Country Club. The annual Baby Contest was a highlight.

And, of course, the Independence Day weekend, celebrating the 237th year of our country, would not have been complete without the spectacular fireworks display above the country club sky on the night of July 4.


One had to go all the way back to 1996 to look up the last time the Miami Springs Minors All-Star baseball team had made it all the way to the District 8 championship game. But on Friday, July 5 that all changed when the minors stars, after rolling to a perfect 4-0 record in the four-team round-robin north pool qualifying tournament, hosted Homestead in a semifinal elimination game at Prince Field and emerged with a 4-1 victory.


Longtime Miami Springs resident (53 years) Don Skelton passed away early on Sunday morning, July 7. Skelton was a true-life war hero, serving in Korea in what he called “the forgotten war” and earning 25 medals for bravery as a combat soldier and a Purple Heart.


It didn’t last long, but for a short while the Miami Springs Minors All-Star team dreamed big. Competing in the District 8 championship game for the first time since 1996 and a prohibitive underdog taking on three-time defending champion Kendall on Sunday, July 7 at Prince Field, the locals jumped all over Kendall with three runs in the first inning to lead 3-0 after one.

But Kendall eventually answered with five runs in the third inning to take a lead it would not relinquish on its way to an 11-5 victory. “What a great run and I can’t be more proud of our kids and I hope the community is as well,” said Springs head coach Robert Gonzalez-Pino.


The Miami Springs special meeting on Thursday, July 25 was scheduled to set the ceiling for the tax rate for the new fiscal year and it was expected to be over in just a few minutes. Instead, there was an hour-long discussion by the council not only on the proposed budget but also on the problems at the golf course.

The job at hand, to set the millage rate, was not enough for this council and their candid conversation served as a prelude to the very difficult budget decisions they would have to make over the next two months. The sobering fact that taxes were probably going to go up was accentuated when City Manager Ron Gorland spoke of a possible $1 million expense that could be required at the golf course by the Miami-Dade County Department of Resources Management (DERM).  


         The arrests by the FBI of two mayors on Tuesday, Aug. 6 created big headlines in South Florida, but also created a dilemma for the Town of Medley.

One of those arrested was Miami Lakes mayor Michael Pizzi, who also served as Medley’s town attorney. Pizzi and Sweetwater Mayor Manuel Moroño were suspended immediately as mayors by Gov. Rick Scott, but the Town of Medley would soon after be forced to decide what action to take with Pizzi.

On Aug. 6, Pizzi found himself escorted from Miami Lakes Town Hall in handcuffs, placed in the back of an FBI unmarked car and transported to the Broward County Federal Courthouse.

Pizzi and Moroño were charged with taking nearly $50,000 combined in bribes and kickbacks after applying for a fake grantwriting scheme that actually turned out to be an undercover FBI sting operation. Pizzi, Miami Lakes’ mayor since 2008 and Medley’s full-time town attorney for the previous 22 months, allegedly took $6,750. According to the feds, Pizzi first pushed the bribery and kickback scheme through Medley before eventually moving it to Miami Lakes.


Tuesday, Aug. 20 turned out to be a very special day for River Cities Gazette publisher Tom Curtis but it had nothing to do with the newspaper business. Curtis had learned only a week before that he, along with all other living members of the 1972 undefeated Miami Dolphins football team, would be flown to the nation’s capital to be honored at the White House by President Barack Obama.

A special ceremonial dinner in Washington took place the night before Curtis and the entire team, including head coach Don Shula, were bussed to the White House on Tuesday morning, first to enjoy a three-hour tour of the White House followed by the President’s appearance in the Green Room for a 15-minute ceremony where he was presented with a commemorative 17-0 jersey.


Two weeks of turmoil and not-so-great publicity for the Town of Medley came to a conclusion on Wednesday, Aug. 21 when the town council held a special meeting for the second straight week to figure out not only what to do about Town Attorney Michael Pizzi but also entertain presentations from prospective law firms with the idea of hiring someone on a temporary basis.

When the evening was over, both issues had been resolved.

Pizzi, in a deal negotiated by special Tallahassee labor attorney John Griffin, resigned from his $192,000-a-year job, slightly less than two years after being named to the post. Pizzi, who agreed to a series of conditions in his resignation, was also mayor of Miami Lakes but was quickly suspended from that job and a special election in Miami Lakes was scheduled to take place to find his replacement.

With the Pizzi hurdle cleared, 11 different law firms then stepped to the podium to “pitch their case” to be the town’s temporary special counsel and, after nearly 90 minutes, the job went to Stephen Helfman from the law firm of Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Pastoriza, Cole & Boniske.


The Miami Springs council got together for their second regular meeting of August on Monday night, Aug. 26 and their task of finalizing the budget for fiscal 2013-14 was clearly the top priority. The council set the tax ceiling for the new year at 7.8597 mils in late July and at the Monday meeting was trying to balance a budget at 7.6995 mils, up from the current rate of just under 7 mils. The only decisions made were to reduce the new “tree” budget by $17,000 and to include the requested $35,000 by Curtiss Mansion Inc. (CMI) in the budget.


The quiet, usually under-the-radar Village of Virginia Gardens was anything but on Thursday, Aug. 29 when a major event came to the small community.

It was a real “who’s who” event when a huge air-conditioned tent was erected on the grounds of Boeing Flight Services, just a few hundred yards from VG Village Hall.

Boeing was moving 14 flight simulators for its newest model plane, the 787, and on Aug. 29 the operation was completed and the celebrating began.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Congressmen Mario Diaz-Balart and Joe Garcia, and State Senator Rene Garcia all were in attendance, but the real “get” of the morning was Florida Governor Rick Scott, who attended as well.

And, of course, proudly seated in the front row was Virginia Gardens Mayor Spencer Deno IV and the entire VG council as this newest arrival from Boeing will mean upwards of 100 new jobs for the area.


Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 turned out to be a date that will go down as perhaps the day the Miami Springs Senior High School boys golf program “stepped to the next level” of golf’s elite.

For the past two decades and beyond, Miami Springs/Columbus golf matches were always met with the same ho-hum result — a Columbus victory and usually not close.

But on this day, when Columbus’ Francisco De La Torre lipped out a 3-foot par putt on the first playoff hole of a match that had finished in a 147-147 tie, history was made. Springs had beaten Columbus, a multiple state champion over the years and the Tiger Woods of Miami-Dade County boys golf, for the first time.

“I’m not gonna lie, my hands were shaking that entire hole and I’ve been in a lot of pressure situations before but never one like this,” said senior Pat Bolton, who dropped in a 6-footer for birdie on the playoff hole (the par-4 ninth at Miami Springs Country Club). “We all knew what was on the line and that we could make history, and it was one of the greatest feelings when we got it.”


The City of Miami Springs was well represented on Friday evening, Aug. 30 when a private party to celebrate the opening of Hialeah Park Casino was held.

Showing support for the new gambling establishment were Miami Springs City Manager Ron Gorland, Mayor Zavier Garcia and council members Jaime Petralanda, Michael Windrem and Billy Bain. Windrem and Garcia sported pink guayaberas in honor of the track’s famous flamingo population.


What eventually would turn out to be a historic season for the Miami Springs Golden Hawks football team got off to a rocky start on Friday, Aug. 30 when the Hawks hosted Hialeah at Milander stadium in the 2013 regular season opener and struggled all night as the T-Breds whipped up on Springs, winning the contest 32-0 and keeping the Mayor’s Cup for another year.


The lighting at Prince Field got brighter and more energy-efficient on Thursday, Sept. 5 when a special ceremony was held to celebrate the addition of new lights and a computerized control system. The best part was that the upgrade was paid for by state and federal grants.

Miami Springs grant writer Carol Foster wrote the $130,000 grant that will cut annual energy costs by 20 percent and, including maintenance costs, save the city about $70,000 over 10 years.


Blessed Trinity Catholic Church never looked as beautiful as it did on Friday evening, Sept. 6 when hundreds gathered to celebrate the church’s 60th anniversary.  

More than 700 parishioners squeezed into the pews to attend the special Anniversary Mass along with the dedication and blessing of the new Father Joseph T. Carney Enrichment Center. Pomp and circumstance was in full effect as notable guest Archbishop Thomas Wenski was the celebrated speaker.


What started as nothing more than an idea and a few passionate local folks who love to shoot a bow and arrow continued to grow into something really remarkable on Saturday morning, Sept. 7 in the open thicket behind the Miami Springs Country Club’s restaurant and pro shop.

That’s when, two years after getting the Miami Springs/Virginia Gardens Optimist Indoor Archery Club off the ground, thanks to the vision and passionate pursuit of president Mark Bain, it officially became the Outdoor Archery Club as well when the ribbon was cut and archers began firing their crossbows at six different targets.


The normal peaceful and friendly Miami Springs council meeting was anything but on Monday night, Sept. 9 as the impending budget had everybody uptight.

The problems started after Mayor Zavier Garcia closed the public hearing and asked for the vote to approve the tentative budget. He got a motion from Vice Mayor Michael Windrem and a second from Councilman George Lob, who made it clear he seconded the motion only to get to the “discussion” phase.

Councilmen Billy Bain and Jaime Petralanda both wanted to know why they had not been provided the detailed information they had requested from Curtiss mansion Inc. (CMI) so they could get comfortable in giving the organization $35,000 for operating in the next fiscal year.

Garcia asked both Bain and Petralanda if they wanted to remove the $35,000 from the budget, knowing that if the information was provided before the next public hearing on Sept. 23, the money could be added back in before the final vote. Both refused.

It got more convoluted when the vote was taken and Bain, Lob and Petralanda voted against the tentative budget. The legality of the 2-3 vote on a budget the council had approved through a series of meetings and workshops got the attention of the city attorney who informed them that they needed to follow the guidelines of the State of Florida and approve a budget that night.

Since no councilman was willing to pull any item from the budget, the only way another vote could be taken was if one of the dissenters — Bain, Lob or Petralanda — asked for the vote to be re-considered. Finally, Lob made the motion to retake the vote and Windrem quickly seconded it. This time the vote was 3-2 in favor of approving the tentative budget for fiscal 2013-14. Lob was the swing vote, as Bain and Petralanda again voted “no.”


The Miami Springs Golden Hawks football team won its second straight contest in dramatic fashion on Thursday, Sept. 12 when the Hawks overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to rally and knock off Miami Edison 25-24 in overtime at Curtis Park.


Former Miami Springs Golden Hawks football star T.Y. Hilton went up against his hometown Miami Dolphins for the second straight year on Sunday, Sept. 15 and once again made the Dolphins wish they had drafted him instead of the Indianapolis Colts in the third round of the 2012 draft. Even though the Dolphins prevailed by a 24-20 score, that didn’t prevent Hilton — who played at Miami Springs High from 2004-07 — from having a huge day as he recorded six receptions for 124 yards, including a spectacular 47-yard completion over Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes in the second quarter.


Mayor Zavier Garcia called a special meeting on Monday night, Sept. 16 to get assurance from his Miami Springs council that come the following Monday (Sept. 23) the proposed budget would get legally passed.

Following a 3-2 vote on the budget at the last regular meeting (Sept. 9) it was learned that that was not in accordance with Florida law, as a 4-1 super majority vote was needed to approve the 7.6995 tax rate.

Councilmen Billy Bain and Jaime Petralanda were the dissenters the first time and if Garcia could not get at least one of them to change their mind, the city would be required to cut another $380,000 from the budget and set the tax rate at 7.2601. 

Garcia asked Petralanda first and then Bain if they would like to discuss changing any line items in the budget, and if not, whether he could count on them for a “yes” vote the following week. Neither acquiesced.


On Sunday, Sept. 22, more than 800 people packed the auditorium at Miami Springs Middle School when Christ Fellowship Church officially kicked off its Miami Springs Chapter, its seventh different campus, with a big service. CF volunteers were wearing their blue shirts and smiles with Christian music playing in the hallways and a makeshift café for guests to enjoy refreshments.


Councilman Billy Bain saved every resident in Miami Springs about $6 on their tax bill at a Sept. 23 council meeting, but it was not enough for him to vote in favor of the 2013-14 budget that would take effect the next week.

Mayor Zavier Garcia needed a super majority vote for the 10 percent tax increase the budget called for and he got it when Councilman Jaime Petralanda joined the others with his “yes” vote.

It looked for a while that the council was heading for an instant replay of the 3-2 vote of the last regular meeting two weeks earlier, which would have put the proposed budget in jeopardy and forced cuts in spending of $380,000.

However, Petralanda “reluctantly” voted in favor of the reduced 7.6710 millage and, after months of disagreement over the numbers involving the budget among council members, it was back to business as usual in Miami Springs.


It was get down and get funky time at the Miami Springs/Virginia Gardens Optimist Club on Saturday, Sept. 27 as the club presented Boogie Night with people getting into the disco era with tacky outfits and wigs, mostly afros. The fundraising event began at 9 p.m. and was ongoing late into the night. Optimist Club member Vivette Bain came up with the concept and organized the event. She strived for authenticity by doing research on Google and YouTube.

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