For months, Miami Lakes residents have found themselves at the epicenter of an ongoing legal saga between two mayors: Michael Pizzi and Wayne Slaton.
On Tuesday, the town’s mayoral drama hit a climax as Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Gisela Cardonne Ely ruled in favor of Pizzi in a reinstatement lawsuit he’d filed against the town and Slaton back in January.
Ely issued a 30-day stay of her ruling, pending appellate review, and the town has already filed appeal documents with the Third District Court of Appeal — a move that has residents of the Northwest Miami-Dade community talking.
“Why are you going to spend more of our tax money filing an appeal?” said Abraham Abdemur, 41, a surgical resident, who has been living in Miami Lakes for about 30 years.
To date the town has spent $174,060.95 in legal fees on the Miami-Dade Circuit Court case, and an appeals process is expected to add to that number.
Some residents, like Abdemur are now calling for Miami Lakes to “let it go” — and allow Pizzi to return to office.
“I don’t think it’s worth it,” Abdemur said. “They should just let it go and when Pizzi is up for reelection then Mr. Slaton can go against him as a candidate.”
Abdemur discussed his views sitting outside of an area Starbucks with Gregory Villafane, 25, who holds an opposing opinion.
Villafane, a student, said he supports the appeal, as he doesn’t want Pizzi return to the office he was suspended from in August 2013, following his arrest on federal bribery charges.
“I think the town is doing the right thing,” said Villafane, who has been living in Miami Lakes for 17 years. “Once someone gives a community a reason to question them, then those questions will always be there.”
Pizzi was acquitted of those charges in August 2014 and has been demanding reinstatement ever since.
In December, Florida Gov. Rick Scott revoked Pizzi’s suspension from office following a decision by the Florida Supreme Court; however, neither Scott nor the high court reinstated Pizzi as mayor, as Pizzi’s legal team had only asked the court to order the governor to revoke his suspension.
Pizzi was first elected mayor in 2008 and reelected to his second four year term in 2012. Although Miami Lakes limits elected officials to two consecutive terms in office, those elected prior to the 2010 election are eligible to serve for an additional two terms, according to the Town Charter. This allows Pizzi the opportunity to run in 2016 if he so chooses.
Slaton, Miami Lakes’ first mayor who served two terms from 2000 to 2008, returned to the mayor’s seat in October 2013 after winning a special election.
Pizzi’s reinstatement lawsuit was filed in January and ruled upon on Tuesday by Ely.
Pizzi has since slammed Town Attorney Raul Gastesi for appealing the loss, and calls the move a waste of taxpayer money. Gastesi has stood his ground, saying the appeal is about upholding the Town Charter, and protecting the town’s and the mayor’s rights.
Residents are chiming in.
“I don’t think a guy who has a track record — who hasn’t been clean — should be reinstated to a position of power in the town he’s accused of stealing from,” said Chris Torres, a teacher living in Miami Lakes for 14 years.
For Paul Pena, a 17-year resident of Miami Lakes, the mayoral drama has become a hot topic on his block.
“All our neighbors talk about this,” said Pena, 49, who works remodeling homes. “As residents we are disgusted with the town council, it’s obvious they have something against [Pizzi]. They keep claiming they are protecting the charter, but it’s not about the charter — they’re going against the general public.”
Pena said the town’s mayoral issues have caused him and his neighbors to discuss taking measures such as having a recall election of the current council members.
“Or instead of a recall, a lot my neighbors also wouldn’t mind dissolving the town and going back to county rule,” Pena said. “We don’t need a town, it’s an added expense on our taxes.”