After months of talks, Miami Lakes and attorneys for Mayor Michael Pizzi have reached a settlement for his reinstatement lawsuit.
The council voted 4-3 to pay Pizzi’s legal team $460,000 during a special call meeting Wednesday night. Pizzi cast the deciding vote.
“This isn’t a decision we take lightly,” Councilman Tony Lama said. “I am inclined to vote for this, but it wasn’t without significant thought and prayer.”
For Lama, it came down to money — and if it was worth risking spending more on this case.
Councilman Ceasar Mestre said he had to “put aside his emotions” and that it wasn’t a decision he came to easily.
It came down to money for him as well.
Councilman Nelson Rodriguez echoed that message, and in an interview after the meeting pointed out that a judge had denied a motion to dismiss the case twice.
“It wouldn’t make financial sense for me to support a legal fight that could cost us more than the settlement,” he said. “I refuse to continue throwing money in the trash.”
Miami Lakes has already spent about $487,000 to cover its costs in the legal battle, which came from money recovered from an audit. That amount, coupled with the $460,000 approved Wednesday night, puts the total cost of reinstatement close to $947,000.
The money to cover the reinstatement settlement will come from the town’s surplus budget from 2014-15, in addition to the $250,000 set aside in this year’s budget.
Pizzi began vying for his reinstatement in August 2014, when he was acquitted on federal bribery charges. He ultimately sued the town in January and returned to office in April.
“It’s a bitter pill to everybody, but I think everybody did their best to do what’s in the overall best interest of the taxpayer,” Pizzi said.
Councilman Manny Cid and Frank Mingo were among the no votes, and perhaps the most vocal against the vote was Vice Mayor Tim Daubert.
“I want the residents to understand why I have such a hard time trying to OK the town spending money when it was all your fault,” Daubert said, who went over details of the federal case.
The council also voted unanimously to hire the firm Trujillo Vargas Ortiz & Gonzalez to represent the town in litigation against its insurance provider for costs associated with all lawsuits involving the mayor.
The deal is based on contingent fee retainer.
Meanwhile, despite the agreement, the battle over legal fees isn’t over. The town still needs to negotiate the roughly $2.25 million Pizzi’s legal team is asking for the federal case.
Both sides remain at an impasse over the issue.
Meanwhile, Pizzi called the vote a Christmas and Hanukkah gift to the town.
Rodriguez quickly came back with: “Mr. Mayor, with all due respect, I wouldn’t say that the $460,000 just spent by this council is a Christmas gift to the taxpayers and not a moment to celebrate.”