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North Miami to renegotiate city attorney’s contract

In North Miami’s final City Council meeting of the year, the council eliminated a controversial water meter fee, agreed to negotiate a new contract with the city attorney and voted to appoint a new vice mayor.

The item discussing City Attorney Regine Monestime’s contract was sponsored by Councilwoman Carol Keys, who said a resident pointed out that it was near expiration, and the city’s 90-day notification to terminate the contract was also coming soon.

Another portion of the contract that prompted discussion: Monestime can only be terminated with cause if she is charged with “fraud or conviction of a criminal offense involving moral turpitude.”

“The reason we’re here today is that the city was not being properly represented at the time the contract was negotiated,” resident Richard Champagne, who is an attorney, said.

The council voted to remove the clause in Monestime’s contract that allowed for automatic renewal and allowed City Manager Aleem Ghany to negotiate new terms for her contract. The contract was set to automatically renew on March 11.

The council also voted unanimously to remove an additional water meter fee for hundreds of residents and business owners. Many said that fee, which began in 2013, was an unexpected increase in their bills.

“When I compare the water rates in our city compared to neighboring cities, our rates are much higher,” Abe Rudman, a board member of the Sans Souci Homeowners Association, said.

More than 600 residents and businesses use a second water meter for irrigation, with most of them on the east side of town in neighborhoods like Keystone Point and Sans Souci. In 2012, the city approved a resolution that changed the way water billing was handled in the city and added an additional fee for those individuals after conducting a study.

Keys said that many residents didn’t receive notice of the new fees until their bills arrived. And she said she believed the 2012 study was “manipulated.”

“I think the council wanted to lower the water bill for a lot of people, and one of the ways was to take a big chunk of the water expense and put it on to the second-irrigation homeowners,” Keys said.

Budget director Arthur Sorey said the city will have to find a way to offset about $250,000 in annual losses due to the removal of the base rate. Sorey said that the budget set aside $1million for water and sewer capital improvement projects.

“And when the time comes, we’ll be able to pay the bills and not ask our regular homeowners to foot the bill,” Councilman Scott Galvin said.

The council also voted 4-1 to allow city staff to pursue about $800,000 in grant funding to build an amphitheater in Griffing Park as part of the city’s downtown redevelopment master plan. The city would receive $400,000 and have to pay back the full amount from its own funds.

Galvin voted against the measure and criticized staff for applying for the grant, back in October, and not notifying the council or bringing it to them for a vote.

“You can’t submit things without our approval, you’re moving autonomously,” Galvin said. “You bring it to us, you get our approval and then you apply.”

Also at the meeting, the council voted to elect Keys as vice mayor for the next six months. The city’s charter calls for the council members to elect a new vice mayor every six months.

The first City Council meeting of 2015 will take place at 7 p.m. Jan. 13 at City Hall, 776 NE 125th St.

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