Miami Beach city attorney resigns after 8 years

04/04/2014 3:10 PM

04/05/2014 4:48 PM

City attorney Jose Smith is the latest high-ranking employee to leave Miami Beach.

Smith submitted his resignation letter Friday, announcing he would accept an offer from nearby North Miami Beach to become city attorney there. His last day with Miami Beach will be May 16.

Smith had another year left in his contract with Miami Beach.

Mayor Philip Levine, who won the November election, told the Miami Herald this week that he wants chief deputy city attorney Raul Aguila to lead the legal department.

The city attorney’s position is one of the few that the mayor and commission have the authority to fill. Miami Beach has a city manager form of government, meaning a professional rather than elected leader runs the day-to-day business of the city — including hiring and firing. But the city attorney works directly for the seven-member commission, of which the mayor is chairman.

“I think Jose did a wonderful job during his tenure,” said Commissioner Jonah Wolfson.

But, he added: “I think that there’s no denying that a fresh face, that energy, is positive.”

Smith joins a series of top employees to leave the Beach following the November election, when voters booted incumbents out of office following a series of public corruption arrests at city hall.

Police Chief Raymond Martinez last month announced his early retirement — shortly after his former deputy chief left to lead the Bal Harbour police force. Fire Chief Virgil Fernandez has been on the job since February. Several other department heads are also new — appointed by City Manager Jimmy Morales, who himself has been on the job for about a year.

In his resignation letter, Smith thanked the commission that named him city attorney eight years ago. He also praised his staff, who served with him through a rocky period of corruption scandals at city hall.

“Together, we helped restore stability and trust in City government after a long sad period of great turmoil. I will miss my staff a whole bunch and wish them Godspeed,” Smith wrote.

He also called on Levine to join him and Commissioner Ed Tobin to establish a scholarship fund to help send Miami Beach Senior High students to college.

Smith has been city attorney since 2006 and previously served eight years as a commissioner. His total compensation package is worth about $324,000 per year.

North Miami Beach council members voted on Tuesday night to offer Smith the city attorney’s position after abruptly firing their longtime lawyer, Darcee Siegel, in February.

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