North Miami - NMB

After early exits, this city wants to make staying at meetings a law

Councilwoman Phyllis Smith exits the Aug. 25 North Miami Beach special council meeting. The city is considering an ordinance that would make leaving before the end of a meeting a violation, except in emergency situations.
Councilwoman Phyllis Smith exits the Aug. 25 North Miami Beach special council meeting. The city is considering an ordinance that would make leaving before the end of a meeting a violation, except in emergency situations. City of North Miami Beach

After at least two recent council meetings were halted by members leaving early, the North Miami Beach City Council will vote on a proposed law Tuesday that would prevent elected officials from leaving meetings unless there’s an emergency.

The proposed ordinance was sponsored by Councilwoman Barbara Kramer, who has expressed frustration over early departures by her colleagues. It would add a new provision to the city’s quorum requirements, saying that if a council member leaves the meeting without stating an emergency, a voting conflict or giving another reason (like taking a bathroom break), that member would be violating city code and be subject to penalties from the Miami-Dade ethics commission. The ordinance does not specify if those penalties would be fines or other discipline.

“It is unconscionable for an elected official who is elected to vote on a matter to take it upon themselves to walk out of a meeting,” said City Attorney Jose Smith, who wrote the ordinance with assistance from the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust.

The ordinance comes about two weeks after Councilwoman Phyllis Smith left the dais and caused the council to lose the five-member quorum needed to continue the meeting. The Aug. 25 meeting continued after Councilman Anthony DeFillipo showed up and cast a vote.

That meeting, which contained only one agenda item — to choose a new health insurance provider for the city — was a special meeting, the city’s second within the past few months. Smith argued that the city seemed to be having too many special meetings lately. When Mayor George Vallejo attempted to steer discussion back to the agenda item, she left the meeting.

“Well then I’ll leave, because you don’t need me,” Smith said. “You know what, you don’t want to hear about the special meetings I come to.”

When DeFillipo brought the council back up to a quorum, the members in attendance unanimously approved the choice of a health insurance provider.

It is unconscionable for an elected official who is elected to vote on a matter to take it upon themselves to walk out of a meeting.

North Miami Beach City Attorney Jose Smith

The previous special meeting, on July 26, was called after Smith, Vice Mayor Frantz Pierre and Councilwoman Beth Spiegel left the July 19 regular council meeting and eliminated quorum.

The three left after an extended discussion about where the council members would be positioned on the dais in relation to Vallejo, who sits in the middle of the council. Spiegel said she thought the meeting and the discussion were a “hostile environment” and left, with Smith and Pierre following suit.

The items on the July 26 special meeting included setting a special election for November and the city’s tentative tax rate for the new fiscal year.

Smith, the city attorney, said that to his knowledge, this is the first instance where a Miami-Dade city has proposed this kind of ordinance.

Last month, the lack of quorum at a County Commission meeting led to a lawsuit after the Accountable Miami-Dade group called for commissioners to meet and vote for petitions to be counted on a campaign-finance item it hopes to put on the November ballot. Eventually the commission met and approved the petition count.

The North Miami Beach council meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6 at North Miami Beach City Hall, 17011 NE 19th Ave.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3

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