Doral residents are finally getting the chance to discuss a topic that’s rattled them over the past several months — the city’s $2.5 million dollar contribution to the Miss Universe pageant.
Or not. Many working-class residents are enraged, saying they can’t attend a meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday afternoon.
“I wrote the mayor a letter asking him to change it to 6 p.m., because people who work can’t be there,” said 90-year-old Morgan Levy, a 27-year Doral Park resident. “They said they will not change it.”
The tension between residents and city council members has been simmering since last year when billionaire Donald Trump’s put up a wall of areca palm trees around residents’ homes on his golf course. It escalated in September when the city pledged $2.5 million from its reserves to support of Trump’s beauty pageant.
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This pledge came at an emergency meeting two days after hundreds of residents went to city hall and asked the city to intervene about the trees that had been blocking their views of the Trump National Doral golf complex for about a year, but city officials said all they can do is try to mediate.
The Sept. 12 meeting to discuss whether to sponsor Trump’s pageant was called with only 24 hours notice and set at 10 a.m. No residents attended. There were five Miss Universe representatives in attendance, along with Trump’s attorney.
Many residents were upset that they were unable to participate during decision-making moments.
“I’m very upset about it because it’s an attempt to do things without public input, without public comment,” Levy said. “This has been done before when they originally voted to fund the money for the Miss Universe pageant, holding a meeting that no one knew about. It’s not open government. It’s not in the sunshine.”
At the meeting, council members were not given any documentation, copies of the contract or literature prior to the meeting. The vote was 3-1, with Councilwoman Christi Fraga voting no; former Councilwoman Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera was out-of-town. At that point the venue for the event was not secured.
Fraga asked the city staff if they’ve done research on how the event would benefit the city, along with a series of other questions.
Silence filled the room as members on the dais looked around in confusion.
At the end, the city of Doral agreed to kick in the $2.5 million for next year’s pageant. Boria said the Jan. 18 event will be “an important economic stimulator for the community.”
Doral residents were outraged with the outcome; they asked the city council to rescind their decision at several council meetings. Fraga asked too, but was ignored.
Fraga is prohibited from placing the motion herself according to the city charter, because she was not on the prevailing side of the vote.
On. Oct 1, it was announced at a press conference that the pageant will be held at the Florida International University arena, located a few miles away in unincorporated Miami-Dade — not in Doral — although some events leading up to the pageant, including the Coronation Ball, will be in Doral.
“What is in it for us? Nothing,” Michael Claus said in an email to the council. “The only beneficiary is Mr. Trump and his organization.”
At the press conference, Boria announced that the $2.5 million that residents were upset about won’t come from taxpayer dollars.
“In just two weeks, we already collected more than $1 million in sponsorships,” Boria said. We will not have to even touch taxpayer money. I have the utmost faith.”
But the city still has no written documentation or signed contracts, records show. Boria said businesses had committed to sponsorships, but those monetary promises were oral, not written, according to the city manager’s office.
The Herald was then told that all questions regarding contracts should be forwarded to the Miss Universe Organization (a private organization).
Records showed that a $500,000 check from city funds was written, sent out and cashed by the Miss Universe Organization on Oct. 2, according to the city’s finance department.
According to the contract signed by the city of Doral and the Miss Universe Organization, the city was set to pay $500,000 within five days of signing the agreement (Sept. 26), $1 million by Dec. 1, and the final $1 million by Feb 1.
On Nov. 12, more than 100 residents showed up at a council meeting to voice their frustration on the wall of trees, which has still gone unresolved.
City Attorney Dan Espino informed council members that after dissecting the city’s code, there’s very little wiggle room for the city to act.
“We’ve diligently been troubleshooting the issue,” Espino said. “But we’ve run out of code. There is no silver bullet that can simply cause the resort to remove their plantings.”
After a lengthy discussion, the council unanimously decided to invest at least $50,000 in legal advice in hopes of finding legal grounds to defend residents.
Before that meeting, advocate group Concerned Citizens of Doral asked the city in a formal letter for an analysis of the $2.5 million invested by the city in Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant.
They didn’t get it.
When residents asked the council for answers, Boria said the comments were off topic (trees) and dismissed them.
Toward the end of the meeting, Boria told the residents he would set up a special meeting dedicated to the residents’ concern on the $2.5 million.
“We will set a date and we will not fight,” Boria said.
That date was set for Monday, Nov. 24, at 11 a.m. After residents complained that it was during working hours, it was moved to 3 p.m.
“It’s not good enough,” Levy said. “People usually work ’til 4:30 or 5 p.m. It’s not possible for them to get to a three o’clock meeting.”