Miami-Dade County

Miami’s top lawyer blasts county police deal for David Beckham stadium

A rendering of David Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood.
A rendering of David Beckham’s proposed soccer stadium in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. Miami Beckham United

Miami says Miami-Dade can’t make David Beckham hire county police and paramedics to work at a privately owned stadium in the city, the latest volley over a land deal that the county may rewrite.

Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez wrote the county’s hiring requirement was likely an “unenforceable” provision in Miami-Dade’s agreement to sell Beckham and investors a three-acre parcel in Overtown for $9 million. County commissioners added the rule minutes before the June 6 vote approving the deal. The requirement is a boon to police and fire unions eager for the prime off-duty assignments to work the stadium — shifts that the city fire and police unions want for themselves.

“The buyer was pressured into acceding to the demand of the seller to hire its employees,” Méndez wrote in a June 15 opinion that Miami released Monday. Citing commissioners’ “take-it-or-leave-it” proposition during the vote, she said the hiring rule “violates public policy” and was “procured under undue influence and therefore may be deemed unenforceable.”

The opinion, requested by city leaders two days after the county vote, ratchets up the pressure on Miami-Dade to lift its hiring requirement at the Beckham stadium. There are signs Miami-Dade may do that.

County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a former Miami fire chief, issued a statement saying he understood the city’s concerns and was ready to negotiate a solution. Audrey Edmonson, the county commissioner who sponsored the Beckham land sale, said she regrets accepting the hiring requirement demanded by Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz during the stadium debate.

“I think I somewhat agree with the city,” Edmonson, a former mayor of El Portal, said in an interview. “I was once a mayor in a city and I would not want the county to mandate who would work something inside my city.”

The blow-up over Miami-Dade’s hiring rules for police and rescue workers brought an unexpected burst of political controversy to the county vote endorsing Beckham’s stadium site. He and his partners say they plan to operate the soccer stadium without local subsidies and pay property taxes like any other private land owner.

The group needs Miami approvals for zoning changes and a street closure for the stadium, and hoped to use county approval as proof of political momentum as Beckham seeks Major League Soccer’s endorsement of an expansion franchise for Miami.

The new David Beckham stadium design is airy, and touts the absence of parking garages negotiators said at a meeting on Wed., May 17, 2017.

Gimenez said he would work with both Edmonson and Diaz to reach a solution with Miami over an agreement that passed the 13-member commissioner with a 9 to 4 vote. As Overtown’s county commissioner and sponsor of the legislation allowing the Beckham sale, Edmonson’s position would be given extra weight by fellow board members.

Asked about the situation, Diaz pointed to Gimenez.

“We’re working together with the mayor to see what we do moving forward,” he said.

Miami-Dade negotiated a similar agreement with Miami at Marlins Park, where county first-responders get the off-duty shifts inside the county-owned stadium and their city counterparts work outside on the streets of Miami. Diaz wanted the same arrangement at Beckham’s privately owned venue, and pointed to the lack of parking garages at the 25,000-seat Overtown stadium as a reason two agencies would be needed to work games.

“People will be walking,” he said. “Safety is my top concern.”

Unions on both sides have advocated for their members to have access to the off-duty shifts, given the substantial pay boosts they can bring. Police departments coordinate the assignments, and charge as much as $100 per hour to deploy the officers.

Gimenez proposed reworking the stadium deal in 2018 as the soccer venture pursues zoning approvals from the city. But Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who is leaving office in November due to term limits, criticized that approach, saying the delay isn’t warranted.

Regalado first asked for Méndez to issue a legal opinion on the county’s hiring requirements, and the Miami City Commission backed that request. The opinion noted only the Beckham group could challenge the county’s rules in court, so the city wouldn’t be able to press a legal fight itself.

Her memo suggests the county deal would compromise safety at the stadium, since Miami receives 911 calls within the city and would have to relay information about incidents to county police inside the venue. “The County must understand that off-duty opportunities for its first responders does not outweigh the safety of all persons in and around the stadium,” she wrote.

Méndez also wrote a judge could find the county rule legally “unconscionable” due to the extreme advantage the county had over the Beckham group in the run-up to the land vote. “The County has attempted to force a private buyer to use a particular vendor for emergency services when that vendor will be less efficient and more costly than alternative vendors,” she wrote.

Gimenez’s office referred questions about the opinion to Diaz, who was not immediately available for comment.

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