Tomás Regalado is one commissioner short of a quorum.
That’s not a joke about his sanity. It’s a commentary on his political agenda during his final months in office.
Regalado asked commissioners to show up at City Hall at 9 a.m. Monday to place a proposed $80 million redevelopment of the Rickenbacker and Marine Stadium marinas on the November ballot. The mayor, who must step down in November because of term limits, called the meeting hoping to beat a Sept. 8 elections department deadline for ballot questions.
But despite the mayor’s efforts to goad several reluctant commissioners into attending, only Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort and Chairman Keon Hardemon showed up to the meeting Monday. Regalado, needing three commissioners in order to hold a vote, was forced to ask for a delay until Friday when he hopes he can find one more elected official to participate.
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“We have to make decisions. That’s what leaders are elected to do,” said Hardemon, who said skipping meetings for political reasons comes close to “nonfeasance,” the failure to perform an act required by law. “When things become a hindrance to the business of the city, that’s when you run into heartache.”
Regalado and City Manager Daniel Alfonso have argued that the proposed redevelopment is crucial to overhauling an aging public marina complex on Virginia Key and bringing in new money to help pay for the $45 million renovation of the historic Marine Stadium. The project, to be pursued by RCI Group and Suntex Marinas, includes 162 wet slips, a mechanical Aero-Docks boat garage with 750 spaces, restaurants, a public bay walk and 30,000 square feet of marina-related retail.
A proposed 45-year lease with up to 30 years in extensions would have the developer pay rent starting at $2.2 million a year for a facility that currently brings the city about $1 million a year.
But the city’s pursuit of the project has been dogged by controversy, going back years. Just last summer, when Suntex and RCI were competitors, attorneys for Suntex accused the city of rigging the solicitation process in favor of RCI. Now, the current marina operator, Aabad Melwani, says he plans to appeal the city’s award of the contract and a hearing officer’s rejection this month of his bid protest.
With that appeal potentially hanging over the city’s head, Commissioner Ken Russell, whose district includes Virginia Key, said he’s uncomfortable voting on the project. Meanwhile, Commissioner Francis Suarez said last week he would be in Orlando on Monday attending a previously scheduled conference by his law firm, GrayRobinson. Commissioner Frank Carollo, an accountant, was in Tallahassee on Monday attending a CPA conference, according to what Regalado says he was told by a member of the commissioner’s office staff.
Heading into Monday’s meeting, Regalado said any effort to block a referendum by playing hooky from a special meeting was tantamount to “voter suppression.” He said he called for a Friday vote because he knows Suarez, at least, will be in town Friday since he has a 3 p.m. celebration to attend at a park.
Neither Suarez nor Carollo responded to text messages seeking comment.
Russell, who tweeted Monday morning that he was attending a meeting in the West Grove, ripped Regalado’s efforts over the weekend in a Facebook post, calling the special meeting “a rush job to jam a billion dollar marina onto the ballot for approval before it has survived an appropriate dispute and appeal process.”