Miami Lakes

Miami Lakes residents to receive mail-in ballots to decide charter’s future

Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi says some proposed charter changes are politically motivated against him.
Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi says some proposed charter changes are politically motivated against him. El Nuevo Herald File

The Miami Lakes Town Council voted 5-1 to accept the Charter Review Commission’s proposed changes. The next step is for Miami-Dade County’s Elections Department to mail ballots to residents for them to decide whether to accept the changes in the town constitution.

The commission recommends changes were to the charter’s sections on Citizen’s Bill of Rights, elections, the town’s form of government, its administration, the mayor, vice-mayor, town manager, town attorney and how vacant seats are filled.

“The changes are all about accountability, effective governance and adhering to the highest ethical standards,” Charter Review Commission member Joshua Dieguez said.

Residents can vote for all, some or none of the changes the commission recommended. The changes are available to review online.

For future elections, the charter changes provide for a 50 percent plus one vote run-off in the case of ties. Councilman Manny Cid thought that addition was the most important.

“Many great Florida politicians were elected because of a run-off,” Cid said. “If it weren’t for run-off elections there would be no Bob Graham the politician.”

Mayor Michael Pizzi was the lone dissenter at the meeting.

Pizzi told the Miami Herald it was “wrong and disgraceful” that the council allowed a “rushed process” to go through.

“If someone thinks the ballot language is misleading, they can’t object now,” he said.

Charter Review Commission Chairman David Bennett said residents will have eight weeks to consider the ballot items before having to return it. Brochures will be sent to explain the items, along with sample ballots.

Bennett said a mail-in ballot is the best option. “There’s no driving and no waiting in line,” he said.

Pizzi felt it unfair to residents that the commission’s final report, the resolution and the wording of the ballot were available less than 24 hours.

“I won’t waiver from my responsibilities for the sake of expediency,” Pizzi said.

Councilman Frank Mingo asked for a vote so the meeting could stay focused on letting Miami Lakes residents decide on the charter changes.

“I guide myself by what the city attorney is telling me, not what Michael Pizzi is orchestrating,” said Councilman Ceasar Mestre.

Mestre said Pizzi’s disagreement was just an attempt to delay the charter changes.

“It has nothing to do with reasonableness,” Mestre said. “He’s just hanging on to a thread because of changes to the perceived power of the mayor.”

The proposed charter changes to the mayor include giving the power of nominating a town manager and town attorney to the town council. It is exclusively with the mayor now and takes a majority vote of the council to confirm.

Pizzi said what concerns him is the political motivations of the commission and the lack of transparency, not the changes themselves.

“They went through the charter and crossed off ‘mayor’ at every opportunity,” Pizzi said. “That speaks for itself.”

Although he was pressed to be specific, Pizzi would only say that “a lot of people” on the Charter Review Commission have been his political opponents throughout the years and have worn the T-shirts of people who ran against him.

“I’m not concerned about the charter changes affecting me,” Pizzi said.

Pizzi said he’s concerned that the rights of citizens to be informed may have been ignored.

“Whether these changes are good or bad, is not the point. The point is the process was rushed to do a mail-in ballot. People did not get transparency during the process. The ends do not justify the means.”

Other elected officials, members of the Charter Review Commission and Town Attorney Raul Gastesi said the proper steps were followed.

“All we did today was set the election and what type of election,” Gastesi said of the meeting’s purpose.

Pizzi believes what the Town Council did was illegal; but Gastesi disagreed.

According to a town ordinance, at least 48 hours is required to notify residents of a meeting. The special meeting was noticed on March 8, Gastesi told the Herald.

The ordinance has no mention of a timeframe on when agendas for meetings should be available, but Pizzi interpreted that 48 hours is for both.

He said he sent an email to ask for the legal opinion of Joseph Centorino, executive director of Miami-Dade County’s Commission on Ethics & Public Trust.

Centorino told the Herald he spoke to Pizzi just a short time before their meeting Wednesday.

“I gave him my preliminary sense as it was not a clear cut situation,” Centorino said. “They never asked me for my opinion; the attorney’s there.”

Public comment was split during the meeting. Some residents said the process was rushed and too murky.

Esperanza Reynolds said she continually checked the town website for the agenda until about 11 p.m. and found it the next morning, the day of the meeting.

“Is that fair to we, the people?” she said.

Others, like Nancy Rogers, said all the necessary information has been available and easily retrievable.

“I incorrectly read the calendar but I still found the agenda,” said Rogers, a town resident since July 1977. “That was public notice.”

Next Charter Revision Commission meeting

▪ When: March 28

▪ Where: 6601 Main St., Miami Lakes