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North Miami council votes to end contract with ex-mayor

North Miami will soon be searching for a new property manager for its Biscayne Landing project after ending a contract with former mayor Joe Celestin.

The council voted unanimously to terminate the deal and issue a new request for proposals to handle the management services on the site at Biscayne Boulevard between Northeast 151st and 137th streets. Staff was also directed to clarify what duties the next property manager and his staff would handle moving forward.

Celestin and the staff of his company, Joe Celestin Civil Engineer & General Builder, were paid $25,000 a month for their services, but Vice Mayor Carol Keys and other council members questioned whether the work was being done and whether it was meeting the initial scope of work for the project.

“Things have changed dramatically since 2011; we do have a developer on site who is performing a good bit of this work,” Councilman Scott Galvin said.

The city issued the bid to have a manager “manage and oversee the day-to-day activities” while the property was vacant. The city eventually found a new developer, but Celestin continued to hold his position.

Some of the original duties outlined included: escorting potential bidders around the site, inspecting and maintaining all the buildings on the site, being on call at all times for emergency responses, monitoring water wells and handling all complaints made about the property.

In addition to that, according to staff, he did not submit weekly and monthly performance reports — as required in the original job description — to the city manager’s office and was often not present at the site. City Manager Aleem Ghany said the work logs with an on-site security guard showed that Celestin’s staff was often present but Celestin would show up for about four hours a day at most or sometimes as few as 15 minutes.

Celestin, who served two terms as mayor from 2001-05, strongly denied the claims several times duringTuesday night’s council meeting and accused Keys and staff members of lying about his work on the property and his reports over the nearly four years he’s worked at Biscayne Landing.

“Everything that was said tonight was all a lie and you guys ingested it without giving me an opportunity for rebuttal,” Celestin said. “You received misinformation and you were misguided.”

Mayor Smith Joseph asked whether Celestin or his staff had ever been given written or verbal notice of not being compliant with his duties. Ghany said the city hadn’t issued any formal warnings. The contract states the manager would be in default if he didn’t comply with any of the contract’s terms and hadn’t resolved the issue within 15 days.

Celestin’s company was awarded the bid in May 2011, and the original job description indicated that the contract would be for four months and then renewed monthly. The council most recently extended the contract for a year in November 2013, on a 3-2 vote with Galvin and Keys voting against it. The extension expired Oct. 31, 2014, and the city has been paying Celestin on a monthly basis.

Councilman Philippe Bien-Aime, who proposed putting out the new bid, said that while staff indicated that the property management could be handled by the city, he preferred having a third party manage the site.

“I don’t think I’m going to rely on staff just to tell me if Biscayne Landing is in compliance,” Bien-Aime said.

Staff will give 30 days notice to Celestin before formally terminating the contract. Celestin said he plans to obtain records and take action to defend himself and “clear his name.”

“This is not the end,” Celestin said.

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