Former Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi sent three letters to town officials Tuesday demanding to be reinstated to his mayoral post, in addition to back payments for his time away from office and compensation for legal fees.
“I’ve been through a lot,” Pizzi said. “But I think I’ve conducted myself with class and professionalism — and I haven’t lost my sense of humor. I’m not going to do anything that’s going to turn this into a circus. I’ve taken my battle to the courts not the streets.”
In one of the letters, Pizzi’s attorney Benedict P. Kuehne gave the town a 2 p.m. Tuesday deadline to respond to the reinstatement issue, in order for Pizzi to transition back to office.
The town’s response was that Mayor Wayne Slaton is the rightful mayor of Miami Lakes and that Pizzi cannot be reinstated to office. Slaton took office in October 2013, following a special election after Pizzi was arrested on federal bribery charges.
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Pizzi has since been cleared of charges in that case.
On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott lifted the suspension on Pizzi, following a decision by the Florida Supreme Court. Neither Scott nor the court reinstated Pizzi to the mayoral seat. In fact, Pizzi never asked the high court to reinstate him as mayor.
“He cannot be, and has not been reinstated,” said Raul Gastesi, town attorney. “Mayor Slaton is the mayor until November 2016.”
Kuehne calls the town’s response “misguided” and said he is preparing to file a lawsuit in the Miami-Dade Circuit Court, in order to seek reinstatement.
The town charter is one source of disagreement between the parties in this case.
The town charter calls for a special election to be held if a seat is vacated by an official with six months or more left in a term. However, the charter is silent on what happens if the official is cleared of charges.
Town officials say that the charter doesn't allow Pizzi back to his seat given that Slaton was elected to the position.
“The seat was permanently filled,” Gastesi said. “The governor’s order explicitly states that he’s not being reinstated, and the Florida Supreme Court — for the third time in two different orders — said the seat has been filled.”
Pizzi doesn't agree, saying that the charter allowed for this return to the dais once the suspension was removed.
“The charter doesn’t say that if a mayor is suspended, and then the suspension is revoked, that he doesn’t go back to office,” Pizzi said, adding that the current stance of the town opens the way for any official to lose their spot on the dais following an accusation they’re cleared of.
Pizzi said town officials are behaving like “spoiled children who didn’t get their way.”
“It’s time for town officials to accept the reality that I was acquitted, and I am no longer suspended,” Pizzi said. “This is a simple matter that a 5-year-old can understand. I was never removed, I was only suspended because a false allegation was made.”
Gastesi said he won’t “engage in name calling” in this matter, and that he’ll “vigorously defend the lawsuit,” if Pizzi proceeds with litigation.
In addition, Gastesi says he wasn’t given an amount for how much Pizzi’s legal fees are, and has asked for clarification on that issue. He said he’s “inclined” to think that Pizzi may be entitled to back payments, but needs to look into the issue further.
“I will need to evaluate it and discuss it with the town council who will ultimately make the decision in that regard,” Gastesi said.
Said Pizzi: “I got my life back, I’m enjoying it, and the political stuff will take care of itself.”