A mid-day rally at Miami Beach City Hall is planned for Thursday, April 26, by opponents of the City Commission’s “unprecedented” granting of permission to a private developer to use the Commission chambers to hold a meeting.
Local attorney and civic activist Frank Del Vecchio, who spearheaded an anti-casino demonstration outside the city’s convention center last December, says a “City Hall is Not For Sale!” rally will be held at City Hall at noon that day to protest the Commission’s approval of Russell W. Galbut’s meeting.
Galbut will discuss his Crescent Heights project, a proposed development for 5th, 6th, and 7th Streets and Alton Rd. His meeting is slated to begin an hour after the rally starts.
“We object to this disrespect for the city’s legislative chambers, a symbol of our representative democracy,” said Del Vecchio. “The use of city commission chambers in this way is unprecedented in Miami Beach history.”
The Commission’s April 11 vote to approve Galbut’s meeting was prefaced by City Clerk Robert Parcher’s advising the group that “typically, we don’t use the chamber for outside entities.”
“So there is a precedent being set if the commission agrees to go with that,” Parcher said. “Other groups may come along and want to use it.”
To which one commissioner replied, “Good, I hope they do.” Another concurred.
“Okay, I just want to make sure that [you are aware],” Parcher followed up.
Jerry Libbin explained his support:
“One of the things that you should look at is, What is the impact of a project? The project that we’re talking about here is probably one of the largest projects that we’ve considered in a long, long time. Clearly, at some point, it’s going to come to this chamber. If it moves forward it’s going to go before every board. It’s going to get here anyway and I think to have the public’s input early is much better than late, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
Deede Weithorn added her support:
“There is a public benefit piece to what they’re offering. And I think that if they’re going to offer a public benefit, we should offer a place for the public to tell them what benefit the public prefers.
“The public benefit piece is an important criteria that we shouldn’t overlook. When we don’t reach out to the community before we plan things – and after-the-fact – the community [later] says, Why didn’t we get input?”
Said Mayor Bower:
“I think that we need to come up with a criteria. There is an expense to opening the chambers. We charge for things to happen in any city building. I know this developer will pay but I think that we need to set some kind of rules so that we are not overwhelmed” with meeting requests by others.
Ed Tobin summed up the issue:
“Somebody wants to develop 5th, 6th, and 7th Street on Alton Road. It’s like a three-block project that’s going to impact a lot of the residents in the entire community because it’s the entrance to the city. So the developer says, ‘Hey, listen, I’ve got architects, I’m in my design phase. If you want, I’ll come to the commission chambers, I’ll invite anyone who wants to come so that they can opine, they can give their suggestions, they can take a look at what I’m thinking about doing, and if there’s something that I need to change or alter or consider, I’m happy to do it.’
“The more public input, the better.”
Whitehorn emphasized that though the meetings would be open to the public, the responsibility for notifying the public of the meeting should fall upon the developer, not the city.
Mayor Bower, in a memo days before the April 11 Commission meeting, asked the city manager to include the matter as a discussion item for the meeting so that the body could decide whether the use of chambers for a developer’s meeting about a private matter would be “appropriate.”
Their okay came with two caveats. Galbut must pay a fee to use the chambers. Also, the city’s local access TV channel would not be made available to broadcast the meeting.
Galbut, who was not present for the Commission’s vote on his request, was represented at the speakers podium by civic activist Gabrielle Redfern. Public documents show that Redfern registered Feb. 15 with the city clerk’s office as a staff lobbyist for Crescent Heights in order to lobby commissioners on “planning, permitting, construction, [and] development of properties controlled by Russell Galbut or Crescent Heights.” She lists her compensation by Galbut as $500 per week.
The Commission also agreed in last week’s vote to refer the matter to committee in order to devise a uniform procedure by which to apply future applications seeking use of the chambers.
By Frank Del Vecchio, Special to the SunPost
For years Miami Beach Fire Department and Code Compliance officers used the powers of their office in a criminal extortion conspiracy without detection by anyone in the supervisory chain of command right up to the city manager. Residents who complained repeatedly about the 80% to 90% “invalidity” rate for their noise complaints were dismissed as chronic complainers. Calls for an audit and investigation were set aside by the city manager and the city commission. It took the FBI to uncover the plot.
If our city government had acted on the invalidity rate smoking gun and calls from residents, by investigating Code Compliance when they should have, Miami Beach would have been spared this latest in a string of national embarrassments and may have been able to recover from its plunge in reputation and a judgment of no confidence by its residents.
I hold the Miami Beach mayor and commissioners to account.
Del Vecchio, of the South Pointe Residents Association, is a civic activist and retired attorney.