Before Miami-Dade ethics officials could give their opinion on whether Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has a conflict of interest in a land use vote that could affect the value of an adjacent property he owns, the mayor decided Tuesday afternoon that he would voluntarily abstain from voting.
Earlier Tuesday, City Attorney Raul Aguila met with Joseph Centorino, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, to discuss the matter. Levine had requested an opinion on whether he had a voting conflict on a height increase for a development that would go next to one of his properties in Sunset Harbour. The vote is scheduled for Wednesday’s city commission meeting.
Following their meeting, Aguila emailed Centorino telling him that Levine was going to voluntarily recuse himself from the upcoming vote.
“In speaking further with Mayor Levine, he has decided to voluntarily recuse himself from voting on the above referenced matter,” Aguila wrote. “Therefore, I withdraw my prior request to your office for a written opinion regarding any voting conflict the Mayor may have, as his decision renders same moot.”
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The decision comes almost two weeks after the Florida Commission on Ethics ruled Levine had no conflict. It appears as though the opinion from county ethics officials might not have turned out the same way.
Centorino told the Miami Herald that no official opinion was given, but he noted that the county’s ethics ordinance is broader than the state statute in that it covers instances where an elected official “might” directly or indirectly profit from a vote.
“The county ordinance is a stricter rule than the state statute,” he said.
In a statement, Levine said that while the state ethics commission ruled he did not have a conflict, he said he decided to recuse himself because there was a “small group of detractors” whose sole purpose was to “create a crisis.”
“Therefore, I will be abstaining from tomorrow’s zoning vote affecting a very limited area, and as such, have communicated with the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission that we no longer need an opinion from their office as I have made my own decision,” he wrote.
Developer Deco Capital LLC wants the city to grant a height increase for a mixed-use project called Sunset Harbor Residences. The project is planned for a group of adjacent lots on the east side of Purdy Avenue, south of 18th Street.
Deco Capital wants the city to make an exception to existing height limits by raising the maximum from 50 feet to 90 feet for properties with at least 200 feet of frontage on Purdy. The developer has some support from residents in the neighborhood, while others oppose the development.
The development itself is already a topic of debate for the neighborhood. Then questions of possible conflict of interest arose because Levine owns the property next door.
When asked if he decided not to vote because he felt he wasn’t going to get a favorable opinion from the county ethics board, Levine said no.
“I just felt that this is not such a crucial issue for me and therefore not necessary for me to vote on the matter,” he said.