Miami-Dade County

Fire chiefs increase the heat over David Beckham stadium deal

Miami-Dade’s requirement that David Beckham hire only county police and paramedics for his planned Miami soccer stadium drew more heat on Friday — including an indirect swipe from the county’s own fire chief.

David Downey, head of Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue, signed a letter from a countywide chiefs association opposing any efforts by the county to “dictate” how rescue services are delivered within municipal jurisdictions. The statement by the Fire Officers Association of Miami-Dade came a day after Miami commissioners formally protested Miami-Dade including the demand as a condition of a $9 million land sale to the Beckham partnership earlier this week.

“We the undersigned Fire Chiefs,” reads the two-paragraph letter dated Friday, “strongly oppose any efforts which dictate, or attempt to dictate delivery of Fire and Emergency Fire Rescue Services within the prospective jurisdictions.”

The letter, signed by fire chiefs in Miami, Miami Beach and other cities, does not mention the Beckham stadium deal. But it addresses the kind of county arrangement slammed by the city’s elected leaders and its police and fire unions. It also adds fuel to the kind of political brush fire that has seemed to plague Beckham’s stadium venture since he saw Miami’s cruise industry swat down his bid for a site at PortMiami in early 2014.

With Miami’s approval needed to build a stadium and Beckham’s group hoping for Major League Soccer to grant a franchise expansion as early as this month, this latest squabble comes at a particularly bad time for the venture. On Friday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who left for Europe before the vote, announced he would step in and try to resolve the dispute.

“The mayor will address it when he returns,” spokesman Michael Hernández said. “He will meet with whoever he needs to meet with.”

In a statement released Friday evening, Gimenez suggested a compromise should wait until next year, when Miami is expected to consider the Beckham zoning application for the privately-funded stadium.

Gimenez said that as a former Miami fire chief and city manager, he “understands the concerns that have been expressed regarding the providing of public safety services at the future stadium for Miami Beckham United’s professional soccer franchise.

Demanded during Tuesday’s land-sale debate by County Commissioner José “Pepe” Diaz — who is up for reelection next year and enjoyed police union backing in past races — the provision gives county first responders exclusive access to the off-duty shifts inside the stadium. City police and fire would be hired by the Beckham group for outside the stadium.

Marlins Park, the Adrienne Arsht Center and other county-owned venues in Miami have similar arrangements, but the city objected to Miami-Dade imposing the same requirement for a privately owned stadium. County officials said the agreement was an appropriate benefit attached to a land sale.

The assignments are sought after by police and fire employees because they can substantially boost take-home pay. Miami-Dade charges between $50 and $100 an hour for private, off-hour postings.

In his statement, Gimenez said he would work with Diaz, Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose county district includes Overtown, and “the city administration to ensure that the concerns are addressed when Miami Beckham United applies for zoning changes next year.”

That proposal did not sit well with Miami’s mayor, Tomás Regalado, who has led the charge against Miami-Dade’s police-and-fire plan. In a statement Saturday, Regalado said: “Kicking the can won’t solve the problem.”

The exchange thrusts the Beckham deal back into a cross-town political rivalry. Regalado’s daughter, congressional candidate Raquel Regalado, tried to unseat Gimenez in 2016, and the two mayors are longtime foes who have already squabbled publicly over the Beckham deal.

By waiting until 2018 to address the hiring hullabaloo, Gimenez could remove Regalado from the equation, since term limits are forcing the Miami mayor to leave office this fall. The front-runner to succeed him, Commissioner Francis Suarez, sponsored the resolution condemning the Miami-Dade hiring requirements for the soccer stadium. But he’s also an Gimenez ally.

Regalado said waiting to resolve the dispute will only make it more of a political issue.

“This desire to delay by Gimenez will prolong the debate, especially in an election year in the city because the unions and residents will demand [that] candidates take positions on this matter in exchange for for their support,” he said.

Downey, an Gimenez appointee, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hernández said Gimenez spoke with Downey from Europe on Friday and that the chief group’s letter reflected the organization’s longstanding policy on city jurisdictions.

The chiefs’ letter is the latest headache for a Beckham group that was savoring a rare political win in its extended quest for a Miami stadium.

But less than 12 hours after Miami-Dade commissioners backed a no-bid sale of three acres of county-owned land in the city’s Overtown neighborhood, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado called the county’s first-responder requirement “crazy” and unfair.

The flap injected a cloud over the Beckham group’s celebration of Tuesday’s county vote, one it hoped would signal new political momentum as the venture seeks formal approval this month to bring Major League Soccer to Miami. Instead, it saw condemnation of part of the county deal from the same City Commission that must approve the zoning needed to actually build the 25,000-seat stadium.

Beckham representatives have declined to comment on the matter in order to let the two governments — and the affiliated public-safety unions — duke out a resolution. But the friction only grew Friday, with Miami’s police union issuing a blistering letter about the arrangement. “This is all about money,” wrote Javier Ortiz, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, “and puts public safety in harm’s way.”

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