North Miami Beach City Council members are expected to finalize a deal April 22 to make Jose Smith the new city attorney.
Smith turned in his official resignation as Miami Beach’s city attorney Friday afternoon in response to North Miami Beach’s offer.
North Miami Beach has been without a lead lawyer since late February, when the council abruptly fired its longtime attorney, Darcee Siegel.
Smith, 64, had served as Miami Beach’s city attorney since 2006 and was a city commissioner before that. He has extensive experience with zoning and land issues, a top priority for North Miami Beach. Smith joins a series of top employees to leave Miami Beach after the November election, when voters elected a new mayor and booted incumbents out of office following a series of public-corruption arrests at City Hall.
“There were a set of new fresh faces, and even though I had one year left on my contract this move was a great opportunity,” Smith said.
Smith, who was born in Cuba, also has roots in North Miami Beach. When he was in private practice, his law office was in the city for 23 years. On his 2012 financial disclosure statement with Miami Beach, two sources of income are listed with North Miami Beach addresses: the commercial center at Greynolds Park Village Shoppes, 17800 West Dixie Hwy., and Tuna’s Garden Grille Restaurant, which is in the same center.
Despite their addresses, both properties actually are just outside the city, in unincorporated Miami-Dade County.
“Both of those properties have nothing to do with North Miami Beach. . . . The city supplies the water but nothing else,” Smith said.
North Miami Beach is embarking on urban revitalization plans that would combine residential, commercial and office development in several parts of the city. Council members and city planners have long complained that conflicting zoning and land-use laws have stymied efforts to bring more economic development in the city, and hired an outside contractor to reconcile all the rules.
Kevin Crowder, director of economic development of Redevelopment Management Associates, the contractor handling that project, said Smith’s arrival “means one more piece of the puzzle is coming together for this city.”
Crowder worked closely with Smith when Crowder was Miami Beach’s economic development director from 1998 to 2012.
“Every city is different, but we all use the same tools,” said Crowder. “The changes are already happening here, but Jose has got all the experience.”
Most likely, Smith will take a substantial salary cut from his total compensation package with Miami Beach, which is worth about $324,000 per year. Siegel was paid $188,000, and at the April 1 council meeting, Councilwoman Barbara Kramer said Smith told her he would accept the current salary without requiring insurance or a pension plan.
“To me it’s not about the money,” said Smith. “I am more interested in quality of life.”