Miami Lakes

Miami Lakes seeks voice in Pizzi’s fight to return to his mayoral post

Miami Lakes town leaders want to have a say in whether suspended Mayor Michael Pizzi gets his old job back.

The Town Council authorized town attorney Raul Gastesi on Wednesday to file a “friend of the court” brief as an interested party in the lawsuit that Pizzi has brought against Gov. Rick Scott.

Pizzi wants the Florida Supreme Court to ask the governor to remove the suspension ordered last year after his arrest on federal bribery charges. He was acquitted earlier this month and immediately demanded to be reinstated as mayor.

But Miami Lakes had already elected a new mayor — Wayne Slaton — in a special election after Pizzi’s arrest.

Scott chose to uphold Pizzi’s removal, saying he was following Miami Lakes’ own town charter. Pizzi filed his lawsuit last week seeking relief from the high court.

Pizzi, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said he thought the council’s actions were political and supported the current mayor. He also accused the council of not giving residents proper notice of the meeting.

“They voted to potentially spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a political agenda,” Pizzi said. “They have decided to spend taxpayer dollars to keep Mr. Slaton in office.”

Pizzi and his legal team said that the same law that required Scott to automatically suspend him when he was arrested last year requires the governor to remove the suspension now that Pizzi has been cleared.

Dozens of residents showed up at Town Hall on Wednesday and many spoke in support of Pizzi during public comment. They said they did not approve of the town getting involved and thought they it should wait for the court to make a decision.

“If the town charter is so clear and so perfect and so well written, why do we have to pay [Gastesi] more money?” resident Ana Molina asked.

Gastesi told council members it was their duty to “defend the town charter.”

The council agreed to allow Gastesi to work with the law firm Akerman LLP to provide additional legal counsel.

“We may ask for permission to file a longer document, but for now we will have a limited role,” Gastesi said.

There are still details to be cleared up, Gastesi said. And the town would potentially be involved if the case should be moved to a lower court.

Pizzi’s case has also prompted discussion of Scott’s quick decision to reinstate Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones in 2011.

Spence-Jones was suspended by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009 after she was charged with corruption. After she was cleared, Scott issued an executive order returning her to her seat.

Richard Dunn, who was appointed to her seat and later elected to it, left the office without any fanfare.