Miami Beach

Miami Beach mayor taps city environment director for chief of staff

Miami Beach City Hall
Miami Beach City Hall

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has hired someone from within City Hall to be his chief of staff for the remainder of his final term.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Wheaton, the city’s environment and sustainability director, started in the new role this week. She will serve as a liaison between the mayor and department heads on developing policy, as well as arranging the City Commission’s agendas before meetings and communicating with constituents.

This video shows roads and properties in Miami Beach that would be underwater with three feet of sea level rise, which current projections indicate could happen by 2050. The animation was created using LIDAR aerial survey data from 2007 and 2015,

“I would say, to a large extent, Betsy’s the head of customer service,” Levine said.

Wheaton, a graduate of the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science with a master’s in marine affairs and policy, is about to begin her ninth year with the city. She was appointed the city’s first environment and sustainability director when the administration created the office last spring. The department is tasked with managing the city’s natural resources, often in collaboration with other city departments.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Wheaton will be Mayor Philip Levine’s fourth chief of staff in four years.

The shift means Wheaton is moving from the role of bureaucrat to policy developer as she works with Levine until after the city’s municipal election in November, when the mayor’s term expires. She’ll have the option to return to her post as department director after that.

“It’s a new challenge. I’m excited to learn what’s happening on the other side of the hall,” she said, referring to the hallway between the city manager’s office and the offices of the Beach’s elected officials on the third floor of City Hall. “I’m excited to serve the city in a new way, and to have the opportunity to come back.”

Levine, who has said he will not run for re-election this year and is seriously mulling a gubernatorial run, said he prefers to work with Wheaton on a temporary basis rather than trying to find someone to fill a position that will only last through November.

“She’s a dynamo,” Levine said. “She’s great.”

One of Wheaton’s staff members, environmental resources manager Margarita Wells, will serve as acting environment director. Wells is another Rosenstiel graduate who interned at the city in 2010 and returned full time in December 2014.

Wheaton is Levine’s fourth chief of staff in as many years. After his first election in 2013, Levine hired campaign manager Alex Miranda for the position. Miranda left the city in February 2015 to work for the Republican Party of Florida and was replaced by lobbyist Fátima Pérez. Later that year, Pérez left and returned to lobbying.

Levine’s most recent chief of staff, Gloria Baez, was named senior vice provost and chief operations officer at Miami Dade College in November.

Dutch water-management expert Henk Ovink tours Miami Beach’s sea-level-rise resiliency projects. Henk Ovink (right) talks to Miami Beach Assistant City Engineer Roger Buell during the short tour.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech