Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Down at Town Hall, two heads not better than one

A diarchy worked for ancient Sparta and dual consuls did a fine job running the Roman Republic. That ought to reassure residents of Miami Lakes, who seem to be stuck with two duly elected mayors.

In the modern world, both the Principality of Andorra and the Republic of San Marina get along with two heads of government. Same with Swaziland, though executive power there is ostensibly divvied up between the king and his momma — a model not likely to provide much guidance for Miami Lakes, where Mayor Michael Pizzi and Mayor Wayne Slaton do not regard one another with familial affection.

The situation in Miami Lakes is more like the acrimonious mess facing Burkina Faso (which translates into “Land of the Upright People,”), where two rival military officers are currently claiming the top job. Except that warring parties in Burkina Faso will likely settle their leadership dispute long before Florida courts finally decide who’s in charge in Miami Lakes (aka: “Land of the Uptight People.”).

So far, the Florida Supreme Court and governor have done piddling little to settle the town’s leadership imbroglio.

Gov. Rick Scott rightfully suspended Pizzi from office last year after federal prosecutors popped the mayor with seven counts of public corruption. Slaton, who had served two previous terms as mayor (2000-08) won a special election to replace Pizzi. During the campaign, Slaton disparaged the suspended Pizzi (who wasn’t on the ballot) as a “rogue individual.” These fellows — the only two mayors in the short history of Miami Lakes — share a mutual antipathy.

But, in August, the criminal case against Pizzi fizzled. A federal jury acquitted Slaton’s roguish rival, which turned things hinky down at Town Hall. Pizzi immediately demanded that the governor give him back his job, which, of course, would have sent Slaton packing.

Except the governor, for reasons he never bothered to articulate, refused to reinstate Pizzi. It could be that Gov. Scott, in the midst of a tough re-election campaign, didn’t want his name associated with the suspended mayor’s return to glory. Pizzi might have escaped a criminal conviction but testimony and evidence presented at the trial indicated that the mayor was given to unseemly behavior.

After Pizzi took his case for reinstatement to the Florida Supreme Court, Scott responded with a convoluted argument. The governor’s lawyers wrote that Scott really couldn’t revoke the suspension because Pizzi’s 2012-to-2016 term actually ended with the special election in 2013. “Because his suspension has expired, the governor can no longer revoke it.”

The court rolled its collective eyes. Last Monday, the justices ruled 5-2 that Scott must officially revoke Pizzi’s suspension. Scott immediately complied with the court’s decision. So Pizzi can once again call himself mayor.

Except neither the court nor Scott did anything about getting rid of that other mayor. Justice Charles Canady, one of two dissenters in the high court decision, noted that “it is not clear that the petitioner [Pizzi] would benefit in any way from the act of revocation unaccompanied by an act of restoration.”

On Tuesday, Pizzi’s lawyer fired off letters to the town manager and clerk demanding back pay and compensation for legal bills incurred trying to get his old job back. And he demanded that town administrators come up with a transition plan so he can “resume the office of mayor of Miami Lakes to which he was elected to serve until 2016.”

Folks down at Town Hall, however, are no more inclined to capitulate than the generals in Burkina Faso. They’re ready for a tussle. “He cannot be and has not been reinstated,” town attorney Raul Gastesi told the Miami Herald’s Paradise Afshar. Gastesi insisted that he was ready to “vigorously defend” any litigation Pizzi throws at the city.

By the time a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge decides who’s right — neither state law nor the town charter seems to have anticipated this kind of predicament — the parallel terms of Miami Lakes’ simultaneous mayors might well be over.

Better if Miami Lakes’ dual mayors simply agreed to a power-sharing plan. Let the garrulous and occasionally bombastic Mayor Pizzi do the speechifying and glad-handing and baby kissing. Mayor Slaton, meanwhile, can handle budgetary matters (Testimony at his federal trial, along with transcriptions of secretly taped conversations, indicated that Pizzi’s judgment gets a little iffy around money.).

A diarchy has got to be cheaper than months of litigation. Hey, it worked for the Romans.

  Comments