Miami Lakes

Mayor saga costs Miami Lakes

Photo illustration of Michael Pizzi, left, and Wayne Slaton
Photo illustration of Michael Pizzi, left, and Wayne Slaton Miami Herald Staff

Miami Lakes has become a political battleground as both Mayor Wayne Slaton and former Mayor Michael Pizzi claim to be the town’s rightful mayor.

This saga began in August 2013, when Pizzi was suspended as the town’s mayor after he was arrested on federal bribery charges. Pizzi was serving his second four-year term, slated to end in November 2016.

In October 2013, after 57 days of Pizzi’s suspension, Miami Lakes held a special election for mayor. Wayne Slaton won.

The latest in the ongoing controversy happened earlier this month, when an exonerated Pizzi filed suit against the city, Slaton and town clerk Marjorie Tejeda-Castillo demanding his old job back. He is also asking for back payments for his time away from office and compensation for legal fees.

When Pizzi was found not guilty of the bribery charges in August 2014, he immediately attempted to resume his former role as mayor, but was denied. He then sued Gov. Rick Scott’s office in a bid to reclaim the office.

In December, Scott revoked Pizzi’s suspension, following a Florida Supreme Court decision. But Slaton and the town’s position is that Slaton permanently filled the role of mayor when he won the special election, and that only a judge can make the decision to reinstate Pizzi.

The Town Council has agreed to pay two outside law firms to defend Slaton and clerk Tejeda-Castillo. The town attorney, already on retainer, will be defending Miami Lakes.

Pizzi has said that he’s willing to pay his own legal bills in the reinstatement case if Slaton pays his own legal bills and if the town “stays neutral” in this case, but in the meantime, it is uncertain how much his fees will add up to.

Here is a breakdown of some of the main figures and costs associated with this case.

538: Number of days this has been going on, as of Jan. 25.

30,571: The population of Miami Lakes.

8,431: Number of Miami Lakes residents who voted for Pizzi for mayor in the November 2012 election. This amounts to 68.33 percent of the vote. Slaton, who ran against him, received 3,907 votes.

1,626: Number of Miami Lakes residents who voted for Wayne Slaton in the October 2013 special election, in which Slaton was opposed by four other candidates. This amounts to 47.91 percent of the vote.

$18,000: Annual salary for the mayor of Miami Lakes.

$400,000: An unallocated reserve from the town’s general fund that is being used to pay these fees. Not all of this money will be put toward the case, but it is available.

$70,000: Approximate amount that the town has paid in attorney’s fees and costs associated with the initial federal indictment, as well as Pizzi’s lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott. The Florida Supreme Court didn’t consider the town’s legal brief in Pizzi’s case against Scott as the document wasn’t filed in time.

$200: Amount per hour that the town is paying Raul Gastesi to defend the town in the reinstatement suit. Raul Gastesi’s law firm, Gastesi & Associates, already earns $12,500 per month for representing Miami Lakes.

$375: Amount per hour that the town is paying Akerman Law Firm to defend Slaton in the reinstatement suit.

$375: Amount per hour that the town is paying the law firm Gelber Schachter & Greenberg to defend clerk Marjorie Tejeda-Castillo in the reinstatement suit.

Sources: Population is according to the United States Census 2013 population estimate, as of July 1, 2013; election results were found via the Miami-Dade County Elections department website; town documents, public information requests and information stated at public hearings were used to gather this information.