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Former North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin sues city over terminated contract

Former North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin has sued the city and the council, and claims he was wrongfully terminated from his job at the municipal Biscayne Landing site.

Celestin, who served as mayor from 2001-2005, filed a lawsuit March 12 and is seeking injunctive relief to keep North Miami from terminating his contract until he can address any defaults of his contract and for any additional financial relief.

Celestin’s company, Joe Celestin Civil Engineering & General Builder, was hired in 2011 for project management services at the 190-acre site at Biscayne Boulevard between Northeast 151st and 137th streets.

The City Council voted unanimously to terminate his contract at the Feb. 10 meeting, and a new request for qualifications was issued to hire an on-site compliance officer. At that meeting, Celestin said the council was misinformed about claims that he was not often at the site and not carrying out the duties as outlined in the original job description.

City staff said Celestin did not submit required performance reports and would show up for about four hours a day at most or sometimes as few as 15 minutes.

Mayor Smith Joseph asked whether Celestin or his staff had ever been given written or verbal notice of not being compliant. City Manager Aleem Ghany said North Miami had not issued any formal warnings.

In the lawsuit, Celestin argues that he should have been given 15 days notice to fix any default of his contract.

The original agreement gives North Miami the right to terminate the contract without cause if it gives the contractor 30 days notice. Additionally, the agreement states “the city shall not be liable to property manager for any additional amounts or damages.”

Ghany and City Attorney Regine Monestime declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In 2011, when the Biscayne Landing project didn’t have a developer, North Miami sought a company to “manage and oversee the day-to-day activities” while the property was vacant. The city eventually found a developer, but Celestin continued to hold his position, which initially ran on a month-to-month basis.

Celestin and his staff were paid $25,000 a month for their services on the site.

The City Council most recently extended Celestin’s contract for a year in November 2013, on a 3-2 vote with Councilman Scott Galvin and Vice Mayor Carol Keys dissenting. The extension expired Oct. 31, 2014, and the city reverted to paying Celestin on a monthly basis until the termination.

Keys said the council’s decision was based on the duties described in the original job description.

“There was no longer a need for that scope of work, and the council gave direction to staff to re-bid with a new scope of work,” Keys said.