Qualifying period for April 9 council race begins Feb. 5

Government By Linda Trischitta, Editor Wednesday, January 31, 2024

     Miami Lakes will hold a special election on April 9 to replace Vice Mayor Carlos O. Alvarez, who cited personal reasons for his resignation on Nov. 14.

     The winner will fulfill Alvarez’s term and serve until Nov. 3, 2026.

     The day after Alvarez resigned, Mayor Manny Cid nominated attorney Mariam D. Yanes, chair of the Planning and Zoning Board, to replace Alvarez.    

      Her appointment would have required a vote at a special call meeting during the holiday season, but some council members didn’t make themselves available for a quorum.

     The vote was set for the Jan. 16 council meeting.  

     Yanes addressed the council, saying in part that special elections often have low voter turnout and don’t reflect what the majority of residents may want.

     She also said the winner may not be as qualified as some council members might hope for.

     “You don’t even know if that candidate is going to be able to have the experience or pick it up as quickly as one person or another,” Yanes said. “Not that I’m saying I will.

    “I can’t guarantee anything,” Yanes said. “I can guarantee what everyone I have worked with personally, professionally have indicated, which is I’ll certainly do my best to give everything I have to do what’s best.”

     Council members Luis Collazo, Josh Dieguez and Marilyn Ruano voted against Cid’s proposal to appoint Yanes to a term that would have lasted until Nov. 5, 2024, Election Day.

     The trio told Yanes they respected her work on the Planning and Zoning Board and encouraged her to run for office.

     But Ruano said she was concerned that the special call process was not being followed or held in the sunshine.

     “This nomination is not timely,” Ruano said. “The charter says it has to happen within 30 days, subject to nomination by the council.”

     Collazo said the Nov. 5 election will bring five inexperienced council members to the dais. He wanted someone who would serve longer than 10 months.

     Dieguez also said he wanted a candidate to serve for several years because newcomers will have a learning curve with municipal budgets.

      After losing the vote, Cid said, “In my book this is one of the darkest days in our town’s history.” 

     He also questioned the “courage” of council members.

     Yanes had campaigned for the job. She appeared at a Nov. 27 meet and greet in Town Hall. Before the January vote, 18 people including Planning and Zoning Board members and former Vice Mayor Jeffrey Rodriguez spoke on her behalf.

     “You spent two months running around, meeting with people, bringing people to the council meeting, fighting as much as you can …,” Cid said to Yanes. “[The council] should have just approved a special call and gotten it over with. … On behalf of the town, I apologize.”

     After that first defeat, Cid made a surprise motion during the council meeting to appoint Yanes immediately until a new council member takes office in May. 

     While reading from the town statute, Town Attorney Raul Gastesi told Cid and the council, “However, if the council is unable to confirm a nominee --  you have not been able to do that -- a special election to fill that vacancy shall be held no later than 90 calendar days following the occurrence of the vacancy.”

     Dieguez called Cid’s motion a violation of the town charter, “as clear as day.”

     Collazo said Cid’s motion “Just doesn’t sit right with me. … Bringing these zingers out and not allowing everybody to prepare is legislating on the fly. I don’t want to do something … that maybe is not proper.”

     Gastesi issued a legal opinion three days later, on Jan. 19. About Cid’s efforts to appoint Yanes before an election happens, it said in part, “The charter provides no option for the town council to appoint the mayor’s nominee temporarily until an election takes place. Doing so would violate Florida law by modifying the charter to add procedures that are not provided.”

      The council was “without authority or power to add or amend this clause in a manner to allow Mrs. Mariam Llanes a “temporary appointment,”” the opinion said.  

     The council voted 4 – 2 to approve the special election in April; Cid and Vice Mayor Tony Fernandez voted against it.

      In an email sent the next day, Yanes resigned from the Planning and Zoning Board. She wrote that she felt “very strung along” by the process and that she felt like a “pawn” in the council’s “chess game,” and wished that they’d told her that she didn’t have their support.

      Collazo and Ruano both reached out to Yanes. Collazo said he asked her to reconsider her resignation. 

     “I really wanted the candidate to be selected through the election process,” Collazo said. “That was my feeling at the beginning and through the deliberations, to give the opportunity to all 33,000 Miami Lakers. That would be what’s best for the community.

     “And that’s why I voted the way I did,” he said. “Whether it’s a high turnout or low turnout, that’s to be seen. But that’s my motivation for the vote.”

     Said Ruano, “I’m sad to see her go because I know she was a good board member on the PNZ and her colleagues on the committee valued her very much. I’m very sad that this caused her to resign.”  

      In a statement emailed to The Miami Laker, Dieguez said in part, “no one is entitled to an appointment and she voluntarily accepted the obligation to build support for her nomination along with the risk of not being selected…I wish her the best.” 

     Ten days after resigning from the Planning and Zoning Board, Yanes said, “I accept the decision that they made,” and that she was “not interested in being a candidate in the special election.”

     The qualifying period for the special election is from noon, Feb. 5 through noon, Feb. 14. 

     Candidates must schedule an appointment with Town Clerk Gina Inguanzo to file paperwork during those dates by calling 305-364-6100 or emailing her at InguanzoG@MiamiLakes-fl.gov.

     Early voting and run-off dates were not announced and a special call meeting set for Jan. 29 to discuss those schedules was canceled.

     A candidate for vacant Seat 6 is public schools social worker Hector Abad, who chairs the Education Advisory Board.

     Reached by email, Abad said he planned to qualify for the April 9 race. 

     If a candidate runs unopposed, no election will be held. The winner will serve from May 2024 through Nov. 3, 2026.