Some Bay Harbor Islands residents have called into question the ethics of a Town Council member and attorney.
Both Vice Mayor Jordan Leonard and Special Counsel Stanley Price attended an Oct. 7 meeting of the Miami-Dade County Commission, where they spoke in support of an ordinance that would allow municipalities to opt out of the jurisdiction of the county historic preservation board and form their own. The ordinance sponsored by Commissioner Sally Heyman was tentatively adopted at the meeting.
Residents argue that Leonard and Price should not have represented the town to support a matter that has not been recently considered by the Town Council. Many questioned what authority enabled them to present the Town Council’s stance. A complaint was filed last week by resident Kathleen Kennedy with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.
When pressed for answers by residents at the Oct. 13 town meeting, Leonard maintained that he was speaking for himself.
But his testimony, which was posted to YouTube by the Neighborhood Defense Fund, was peppered with mentions of “we.”
“We want to have the right to govern ourselves,” Leonard told the County Commission.
However, the last time the Town Council considered establishing its own preservation board was in February 2013. The ordinance was sponsored by Leonard, but failed to pass.
Leonard had also placed an item on the September meeting agenda that would urge the county to require the property owner’s consent for historic designation and give the Town Council jurisdiction over appeals filed by the county preservation board. He later withdrew the item for discussion at the meeting as requested by Commissioner Heyman, and no formal action was taken to determine the council’s stance on county historic preservation.
But Leonard told the County Commission, “We, as far as the town of Bay Harbor Islands, want to have the opportunity to vote on the issue to have that right again because we missed that opportunity originally.”
Bay Harbor Islands is a town divided when it comes to preservation. Development is a contentious issue, one that has been at the forefront of recent town meetings.
Preservation-minded residents have criticized the Town Council for decisions they say are detrimental to the town’s architectural history. Tensions then escalated when a national historic-preservation group deemed the town’s East Island “one of America’s 11 most endangered historic places.”
Those who champion the East Island’s MiMo architecture are reluctant to trust the Town Council with the responsibility of historic preservation. Teri D’Amico, a longtime East Island resident, spoke against the item Leonard and Price addressed at the Oct. 7 meeting.
“This amendment would circumvent historic preservation in our town,” D’Amico told the County Commission.
She criticized Leonard and Price’s conduct when she addressed the council at the Oct. 13 town meeting. D’Amico said the two should have clearly established they were speaking on their own behalf as the other officials did.
“They voted thinking he was representing our town,” D’Amico told the Town Council.
Town Manger Ronald Wasson says he retained Price to attend the county meeting. Price expressed unequivocal support of the ordinance.
“I am here today speaking as special counsel to the town of Bay Harbor Islands in support of item 4C,” Price told the County Commission.
He added, “Self government is very important in this area. Historic preservation has economic consequences, which are best handled by the municipality in which the properties are located.”
Price then reiterated support.
“We are a supporter of this amendment and we look forward to the discussions at the county level,” Price said.
Price was not at the Town Council meeting, but Leonard was there and defended his testimony.
“I happen to be the vice mayor and I mentioned that I was the vice mayor, but regardless of whether I am elected or not, I have the right to speak before the county just like any other citizen,” Leonard said.
Wasson also defended Leonard.
“I don’t think Jordan was speaking for the town,” Wasson said. “He was speaking for himself.”
He added that Price was there, along with other town staff, because of his expertise with land-use legislation.
But Councilwoman Kelly Reid says she thinks Price spoke too specifically.
“I really think that there is a line there and the line was crossed,” Reid said. “I feel like when Stanley Price gave his opinion he seemed to be representing the town on that issue not just that he was there to keep an eye on affairs and represent the town philosophically. I would have preferred to have the opportunity to vote on that before it went forward.”