A year after vacating his Miami Beach City Commission office amid a campaign finance scandal, newly elected state representative Michael Grieco wants to move back into the building. But his request to set up shop near the entrance to city hall, which would displace city employees, hasn’t gone over well with some former colleagues.
Grieco requested a space on the first floor — wedged between the elevators leading up to the commission chamber — to use as his primary district office in his new role representing Miami Beach, North Bay Village, Little Havana, downtown Miami and Fisher Island in the Florida Legislature. Grieco’s predecessor, David Richardson, rented office space on the fourth floor of a city-owned building next door for $311 a month, but Grieco argued that the city hall office would be more accessible and easier for constituents to find. He asked for a $1 annual lease, the same price Miami-Dade County pays to rent a space on the first floor for the county commissioner whose district includes Miami Beach.
City Manager Jimmy Morales told Grieco that the space he wanted wasn’t available and offered Richardson’s old office instead. The problem, Morales explained in a memo to commissioners, is that the office Grieco wants is already occupied by the Urban Forestry division and five city employees. Residents visit the office every day seeking tree permits, Morales wrote, which are often required for construction permits that can be obtained in the same building. Relocating the office, he said, “will likely result in added cost to the city, in addition to the inconvenience to our customers.”
It’s not just that the requested office isn’t available, Morales said in the memo. The city also has a shortage of office space, a problem that will soon become worse when construction on the convention center hotel requires Miami Beach to relocate two departments in a nearby building that will be demolished as part of the project.
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That response didn’t satisfy Grieco, however, who proceeded to write a letter to the mayor and city commissioners arguing that he should get the first-floor city hall office.
“Not everyone on your commission wanted to see me in this position, but I am here, and I hold no grudges, as ill will does nothing to improve quality of life in our community,” he told his former colleagues. “Fulfilling this request will go a long way in showing our shared constituents that we intend on working well together and that you want them to have easy access to my staff and I.”
Grieco added that constituent services has been “a cornerstone of my public service career” and that he did not want to “deviate from that path” by setting up his office “somewhere that is hard to find or inaccessible to residents.”
The letter didn’t sit well with some city commissioners, who will have the final say over any lease agreement.
“The aggressive tone of his letter at least indicates to me that he’s got ulterior motives in the request,” said Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who questioned why Miami Beach should give up scarce city hall office space for a state legislator who will be in Tallahassee “for a big chunk of the year.”
It’s no secret that Grieco left the city commission on bad terms. Last year, he dropped a promising bid for mayor and resigned from the commission before pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of accepting a campaign donation made in the name of another. Grieco was sentenced to probation and announced a run for the Florida Legislature in early May, just days after his probation ended.
As a state representative, Grieco will have to work with Miami Beach on a variety of issues including transportation and environmental protection. But first, the city has to resolve the question of where to put his office. And with Grieco’s former colleagues divided over his request, that question appears to be headed to the city commission for a vote.
“The City of Miami Beach should do whatever it can to support his efforts and provide him with a retail space,” Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said in a text message. “He wants people to have easy access to him! I don’t think we can ask for more in a politician, do you?”
Mayor Dan Gelber, who ran against Grieco for mayor, said he thought that the city manager had been “absolutely reasonable” in his response. Gelber noted that when he served as a state legislator representing Miami Beach, he rented office space in the Chamber of Commerce building.
Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán stressed that city hall is already so cramped the city has to rent office space for its own transportation department. “While obviously we want to accommodate everybody we can’t be pushing city staff out into spaces we’re going to have to pay market rate rents for,” she said. “If we’re able to accommodate I think that’s the right thing to do just to be collegial and helpful, but everybody might not be able to get exactly the space they were hoping for.”
In response to questions from the Herald, Grieco said he had not anticipated that his request would generate controversy.
“I do not consider it controversial to ask for similar accommodations afforded our county commissioner, and I would think our residents having comparable easy access to their state representative is something the City of Miami Beach would want,” he said in an email. “I truly hope that any push back is not the result of petty politics, because that would just be sad.”
Morales declined to comment on the office space request, but in a memo to commissioners he said that prior to Richardson, he wasn’t aware of the city housing state legislative offices. A city spokeswoman said that the lease for the first-floor office currently occupied by County Commissioner Eileen Higgins has been in place for more than a decade.
Under state law, legislators are allowed to accept discounted office space from municipalities. North Bay Village has offered Grieco a $1 a month lease for a space in their city hall, according to Village Manager Lewis Velken, the same office used by Grieco’s predecessor. The $311 Miami Beach charged Richardson is also far below market rate.
Those discounted rates are a big help to state legislators, who get less than $2,500 a month to pay for district office expenses, including rent for multiple offices.
But legislators don’t always get to pick where cities give them office space. Richardson said that when he was first elected and asked Miami Beach for an office, he had to wait two years before the city found him a space.