The North Miami Beach commission has a solid quorum again, ending a month when a series of unexpected vacancies prevented any business that required a vote.
At an emergency session Thursday, the commission appointed Fortuna Smukler, a community activist, to fill seat seven, vacated by Marlen Martell when she left to become North Bay Village city manager at the end of March. Smukler will hold the seat until the November elections.
Smukler was sworn in at the end of Thursday's meeting to cheers from a crowd, relieved that the city's embarrassing political situation seems to be over — at least for now.
City ordinances require that at least five of the seven-member commission be present to vote on "any matter submitted for consideration of the Commission."
In early April, former Mayor George Vallejo abruptly left office after pleading guilty to violating state campaign finance laws when he diverted political contributions to accounts he and his wife used to pay personal bills. He was sentenced to house arrest and 18 months of probation. His departure left the commission in a lurch, as it followed Martell's departure and the removal of Commissioner Frantz Pierre in January. Pierre lost his seat for chronic absenteeism because of health issues.
That left the commission with only four members. Without enough for a quorum, the commission was unable to pass laws, approve contracts, rezone property or do anything else that required a vote.
Thursday's appointment vote was made possible by a judgment in early May, temporarily granting Pierre his seat back, until his lawsuit claiming wrongful removal is resolved.
With that judgment and Smukler's appointment, the commission has six seats filled, five of which seem to be secure through the November election.
In addition to the uncertainty over whether he will be removed for absenteeism, Pierre is currently facing a corruption probe by the state attorney's office.
Smukler was one of 11 candidates who presented themselves to the commission during Thursday's special session. A few, like Smukler, were familiar to the board.
In her 17 years as a North Miami Beach resident, Smukler has served on many committees and boards around the city, but has no formal political experience. Smukler started in the Eastern Shores Citizens Crime Watch program and won the NMB Champion award. In her opening statements to the commission, she stressed that her connection to the city goes further back than when she moved there in 2001 . "About 38 years ago my husband told me for the first time that he loved me, here in NMB," Smukler said. In 1979, she even attended prom in North Miami Beach.
Now, it's time to get down to business. "There is a lot to get done, like the budget," Smukler said as she left the meeting.
The original version of this story misstated where Fortuna Smukler resides.