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Nonbudgeted ceremonies and other special events draw criticism in North Miami

A picture of the “wet tot lot” at the Thomas Sasso Pool from Sept. 2000.
A picture of the “wet tot lot” at the Thomas Sasso Pool from Sept. 2000. Sunkist Grove Homeowners Association

North Miami this year spent $17,000 on nonbudgeted receptions and ceremonies for city council members. At the same time, some residents and officials contend that other budgeted projects in the city have been ignored.

“Here we are in the summer months and the city’s only swimming pool is not operating at top capacity, where are our priorities?” Councilman Scott Galvin said at his own induction ceremony in May, held outside in the MOCA plaza next to City Hall, and costing the city about $12,000.

The spending was primarily for the event’s staging, lighting and catering. The city also inducted Mayor Smith Joseph and City Clerk Michael Etienne. All three ran unopposed and kept their positions in the May election.

Other nonbudgeted special events included a farewell reception for Councilwoman Marie Steril and a ceremony for Nelson “Piman Bouk” Voltaire’s induction into the citizen’s hall of fame.

At his fifth-term induction, Galvin said the city needs to place a priority on other projects such as a “wet tot lot” at Thomas Sasso Pool, which has not been fully operational for nearly a year.

About a week before the induction ceremony, Vice Mayor Carol Keys also expressed concerns about North Miami spending and wondered whether it would affect the city’s Independence Day, NOMI Nights and Hispanic Heritage Month events, according to emails acquired by the Miami Herald.

“I am seeing a tremendous amount of money being spent on events lately, that I am not sure has been budgeted for,” Keys wrote in a May 20 email. “I am requesting that adequate money is reserved for this originally contemplated event, as it was I who requested the NOMI Nights be placed back in the budget.”

In his reply to Keys’ email, budget director Arthur Sorey said the city exceeded its $104,600 budget for special events by about $5,000 but found funding from the parks and recreation budget to pay for the Hispanic Heritage events and a separate allocation for Independence Day.

He added that NOMI Nights and other cultural events were also included in the special-events spending.

City Manager Aleem Ghany said he saw the costs as a “justifiable expenditure” and staff found ways to pay for the events through other funding sources, including about $858,000 in staff benefits.

“We reallocated the funds and we made it happen,” Ghany said.

Ghany said that moving forward the city council and staff have to consider the costs of special events and items such as beautification projects when compared to infrastructure needs and dilapidated buildings.

“Infrastructure requirements, public parks, public facilities, under my tenure I have to get these things done,” Ghany said. “I’m not going to allocate money until all my pools, all my parks, all my sidewalk improvements are taken care of.”

Ghany said work on Sasso Pool has already begun and the tot lot should be operational by mid July.

Resident Judy Brown, who lives in the Sunkist Grove neighborhood near the pool, said she couldn’t understand how things got so dire without being addressed by city staff.

“For the city not to feel the need to have a pool ready for the children in this heat, I think it’s unfathomable,” Brown said.

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