Tensions mount between mayor and council members

Government By David L. Snelling, The Miami Laker staff Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Last month’s Miami Lakes Town Council meeting saw a continuation of the intense animosity between the mayor and lawmakers. 

At the July 21 regular meeting, Mayor Michael Pizzi and council members had several heated exchanges while debating Councilmember Tony Lama’s legislative proposal that prevents lawmakers from using the town’s resources for non-town sponsored events.  

Lama, who was out of the country on business but joined the meeting via Skype, along with council members, accused the mayor of being self-serving by using the town’s letterhead and logo to advertise non-town events for residents while excluding them.

Lama said in 2004, then-Councilmember Pizzi sponsored a similar rule after accusing Mayor Wayne Slaton of using taxpayer’s dollars for quasi-campaign purposes, and he is not exempt from his own legislation.

“The rule you sponsored in 2004 should apply to everyone,” Lama said. “My item is all about protecting taxpayers. Emails for events not sponsored by the town should not include the town’s letterhead for privately funded events.”

Pizzi said he has been hosting pig roasts, barbecues and lakeside gatherings for 20 years, and the events shouldn't be a problem for council members since he is paying for them out of his own pocket. 

Council members, who voted 6-1 in drafting a resolution in support of Lama’s proposal, said the legislation doesn’t stop the mayor from hosting the events, it only prevents him from using the town’s resources for events not sponsored by Miami Lakes.

“Your pig roast is fine, do your pig roast, I don’t have a problem with that,” said Councilmember Frank Mingo. “But don’t use the town’s letterhead, don’t use the resources for that if it’s not a town-sponsored event.”  

The hurricane preparedness event at Costco in June was another example of what council members indicated was quasi-campaigning. 

Councilmember Nelson Rodriguez said he learned about the event from a resident and later discovered it was not sponsored by the town despite an email with the town letterhead promoting the event. 

"I put on my town shirt and went to Costco only to find out it wasn't a town event, but you sent an email saying it was a town event," said Rodriguez. "If you have to hold an event, hold it, we're just asking that you invite the rest of the council if you are going to use the town letterhead on emails. People are attacking us for not being there saying we don't care."

Mestre, who was also at Costco, said the event was a disaster.

“It was embarrassing to only have 14 flashlights,” Mestre said. “It doesn’t look good on us and we need to have a different image. That’s why I think this legislation is necessary.”

Pizzi said he will continue to host his pig roasts and other events despite the disapproval of his colleagues.

Lama said the mayor is not practicing what he preached 11 years ago. 

"You are clearly at odds with your own words that you wrote in 2004," Lama said. 

Lama’s proposed legislation and Rodriguez’s recommendation to give the town clerk control over the speaker cards and calling up residents, instead of the mayor, to give everyone a chance to address lawmakers, initially caused a problem between Pizzi, Town Clerk Marjorie Tejeda-Castillo and Town Manager Alex Rey.

The mayor spurned the two new business agenda items the day before the regular meeting and allegedly threatened legal action against Tejeda-Castillo and Rey if they become law. 

The alleged threat of a lawsuit reportedly happened in a private meeting at Town Hall, which led to Tejeda-Castillo’s abrupt resignation, Rey said in a memo to council members.

As a result, the Town Council, at the July regular meeting, unanimously voted to ask the state’s attorney office to investigate the deportment of the mayor for conceivably violating the town’s charter that might have caused Tejeda-Castillo to quit a $72,000 a year job.

Pizzi left the six-hour meeting early for personal reasons and didn’t vote.

Mestre, who called for the investigation, indicated some town employees quit their jobs because they could no longer tolerate a domineering and bullying mayor.

"This is not something to be taken lightly," said Mestre.

According to the town’s charter, no individual council member shall give orders to the town manager or any other town employees. 

The mayor and council members can be removed from office by the state’s attorney office if they violate the charter. 

Pizzi denied the lawsuit threat and told reporters Rey’s memo to council members explaining Tejeda-Castillo’s resignation was inaccurate.

“This is absolutely not true and I made no such statements,” Pizzi said in an email addressed to Rey. “What I told you and not Marjorie, was that I thought that we were all obligated to follow the town charter and state law that I was concerned about any attempt to request that town staff of anything that was ever illegal or in violation of any laws of our charter.”

In her own email responseTejeda-Castillo confirmed that Rey's account was accurate.

In a related action, lawmakers approved Rey’s nomination of former Deputy Town Clerk Gina Inguanzo to replace Tejeda-Castillo as Town Clerk.

Pizzi called the investigations and Lama’s and Rodriguez’s proposed legislation an act of revenge to prevent him from performing his mayoral duties after the town fought so hard to keep him from returning to political office following his acquittal on public corruption charges.

Second staff member resigns

On Friday, July 31, Lissette Molina, who had been serving as an assistant to Pizzi for the last two months, resigned from her position effective August 12.

Molina texted a message to The Miami Herald saying, “It is unfortunate that due to the mayor’s continued actions, I have resigned. My parents have instilled in me a strong work ethic, dignity and self respect. I am looking forward to continuing to pursue my career.”