MESSAGE FROM THE CITY ATTORNEY
MESSAGE FROM THE CITY ATTORNEY - NOVEMBER 2011 **
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My office recently organized a class field trip for all second grade students from Miami Country Day School to learn about city government. The field trip was organized by my Legal Administrator Maria Elia Moya Posas and second grade teacher Ms. Rachel Block. I commend them both for an outstanding job of making this wonderful event possible.
Ms. Moya Posas writes about the activities planned for the day and posts pictures of the students engaged in conversations with city leaders.
CLASS FIELD TRIP
By: Maria Elia Moya Posas, Legal Administrator
On November 7, 2011, over 50 second grade students from Miami Country Day School, along with their teachers, visited City Hall to learn about city government.
The City Attorney greeted them, gave his opening remarks and introduced the first speaker, Police Chief Ray Martinez.
While meeting with the Police Chief, the students asked questions such as:
Why are police officers tricky sometimes? What do you have to do be a police officer? “Have a clean record”.
Can I see your gun? The Chief politely declined.
The City Clerk, Bob Parcher, then introduced the students to an “election”. The students voted for their favorite cartoon characters. Once the votes were counted, the results were announced by Ms. Lilliam Hatfield. “Sponge Bob Square Pants” won with “Hello Kitti” in second place.
The Clerk was asked questions such as: what kind of records do you keep? Have you ever lost a record?
City Attorney Jose Smith, also gave a brief overview of City Government, explaining the three different branches of city government. The Mayor’s office, the City Manager’s Office and the City Attorney’s Office.
Then, the students walked to the Commission Chambers where attorney Michael Larkin and Sherry Roberts spoke about the role of the city’s Land Use Boards.
Next stop was a meeting with Mayor Matti Herrera Bower and City Manager Jorge Gonzalez. Mayor Bower was asked questions such as:
What do you do when you are not in your office as Mayor? To which she replied, I walk my dog, I am mother, a grandmother… I am a regular person like everybody else.”
The Mayor talked to the children about the importance of voting. She said: “If we want somebody elected but we do not vote then we will have somebody in office that might do things that we do not agree with or don’t like. That is why it is important to vote so that we can have a choice on what gets done.”
The City Manager explained how he oversees the administration of all the city departments. He told the students that one of the departments in which the city has allocated more funds is the Parks Department. He asked the children which park do they like the most. Several of them replied that they like the new Lincoln Road park, and Maurice Gibb Park.
The City Manager explained how he helps to run the city and the kind of services the city provides.
The last stop was the City Attorney’s Office. The students had refreshments and listened to City Attorney Jose Smith as well as Don Papy, Raul Aguila, Rhonda Montoya Hasan and Debora Turner.
At the end, the students, at the count of three, gave a powerful: THANK YOU!! to the speakers and left having much more knowledge about what role public officials play in the City of Miami Beach.
US SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS ETHICS LEGISLATION
In a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court unanimously upheld Nevada’s Ethics Laws barring legislators from voting if they have a personal interest in the outcome.
The law had been challenged by a City Council member who voted on an application for a hotel/casino project whose paid consultant was the councilman’s campaign manager.
The Court drew a sharp distinction between last year’s Citizen United case reflecting electioneering and campaign finance restrictions and official legislative actions which do not involve the exercise of personal First Amendment rights.
Citing ethics standards dating to 1789, when the first Congress adopted a conflict of interest rules, the Supreme Court said that the councilman’s vote was not a form of personal speech. Instead, it was “his apportioned share of the legislature’s power,” and thus subject to ethics regulations in a way that individual expression (i.e. campaign expenditures) was not.
Please find a copy of the Supreme Court decision.(See link) If you have any questions, please let me know.
MESSAGE FROM THE CITY ATTORNEY
BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS;
OBEY THE LAW WHILE ON THE CITY’S BOARDWALK AND BEACHWALK
The City’s boardwalk and beachwalk are among our most spectacular recreational amenities. On any given day, we see people jogging, walking or watching the ocean. There are mothers with baby strollers, youngsters with I-pods and elderly on benches reading newspapers.
Unfortunately, this small piece of paradise is often tarnished by those inconsiderate few who ignore our laws. Bicycles, Segways and skateboards rapidly squeeze by without regard to people’s safety, often, at high speeds and in close proximity to children and elderly.
Unlike the beachwalk, the boardwalk is narrow and congested with little room to maneuver a bicycle. Thus, City Code Section 82-438 makes it “unlawful for any person to operate any wheeled conveyance” on the boardwalk.
Even on the beachwalk, where bicycles and skateboards are permitted, Code Section 70-69 requires riders to use caution at all times and particularly when pedestrians are present:
“Whenever any person is riding a bicycle, skateboarding, in-line skating, or roller skating, such person shall engage in such activity at a controlled speed which does not endanger the safety of pedestrians or others, shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian, and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing such pedestrian.”Because of the risk of serious injury, and the increasing number of complaints, the City is committed to enforcing the law. In that regard, my office will vigorously prosecute all violations. If you see any violation taking place, please contact the city’s “hotline.” During normal business hours please call 305-673-7555. During weekends and evening hours, Code Compliance can be reached at 305-604-CITY.
Please obey the rules which are clearly posted on signs throughout the boardwalk and beachwalk.
CITY ATTORNEY’S MESSAGE
A TRIBUTE TO LEGENDARY BASEBALL COACH SKIP BERTMAN
By: Jose Smith, Miami Beach City Attorney
On Friday, November 19, 2010, I was privileged to present a Proclamation and a key to the City of Miami Beach, on behalf of the Mayor and City Commission, to legendary baseball coach Skip Bertman and the Miami Beach High School Senior class of 1970 which celebrated its 40th reunion at the Doral Miami Beach Resort.
Skip Bertman was raised in Miami Beach and ran the City’s baseball leagues for nearly 15 years. He coached and taught at Miami Beach Senior High School for 11 years, leading the 1970 baseball team to a state championship. While at Beach High, he was named Florida’s Coach of the Year three times.
On a personal note, I first came to know Skip when my parents signed me up for little league at Flamingo park in 1961. While I spoke little English and he spoke no Spanish, we had a common language – baseball. We both understood balls and strikes.
He was more than a teacher and coach. He was a father figure, a role model. Once, while pitching in an important Beach High game, I could not get the ball over the plate. I lost my control; poise and confidence. After much counseling, Skip made me read Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy. I did. While it did not help my pitching, it made me interested in law and government. And who knows, maybe it had something to do with the choices I made later on.
No one has ever had a greater impact on the youth of our community than Skip Bertman. Many residents, and community leaders (me included), can share personal stories about how Skip positively touched their lives. Most would not be where they are today without him. Skip welcomed kids who did not have great talent or natural ability, and through discipline and dedication, made them champions. He embraced diversity at a time when South Florida was not all that progressive.
Skip later became assistant head coach at the University of Miami, and head coach at Louisiana State University. During his long and successful career, Skip won numerous national championships. He coached the 1996 U.S. Olympic team which received the bronze medal in Atlanta. He has been inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
Skip has never forgotten his roots in this community. He returns often and visits with old friends, colleagues and students. The 1970 Beach High class reunion was a special night for me and a testament to a great man.
Note: For this message the City Attorney has allowed Maria Moya Posas, Legal Administrator, to discuss a recent conference that took place in the City of Miami Beach
By: Maria Elia Moya Posas
On October 22, I attended an important two-day conference in Miami Beach. There were about 200 attendants from several states and countries there as well; some came from as far as Nigeria. All of them were gathered for the Association of Legal Administrators Regional Conference, which is one of several put on by the National Legal Administrators Association. ALA was founded in 1971 and now has more than ten thousand members in thirty countries.
We were introduced to several speakers that gave seminars on issues such as technical tips, human relations and green initiatives. I learned about a company that can keep my passwords securely so that I don’t have to remember all my logins, named Roboform, (www.roboform.com) and other software related tips specifically related to the legal field. In addition, I learned about the space planning initiatives in law offices, and ways to keep the department more environmentally friendly from a company named Gensler. (www.gensler.com). The speakers touched upon several areas in which the Association helps to educate its members, which includes a whole spectrum of areas regarding law firms and law departments. We were given handouts and ideas to share.
There were many vendors that showcased new technology and services. Several of them had money saving ideas. A mailing company had an idea to save us money by saving on certified mailings. Others had ideas about reducing storage costs.
Also, I participated in an event which the organizers named “Cocktails for the Cure”. All the proceeds from this event, benefited the Susan G. Komen foundation for the Cure, a non-for profit group engaged in the fight against breast cancer. Besides contributing to the Susan G. Komen foundation, the Association helps other charitable organizations such as the Smile Train, Habitat for Humanity and others, encouraged by the Association’s Community Challenge Initiative. In its website, ALA states that the Association provided The Smile Train, (an organization that provides free cleft lip and palate surgeries to children around the world), a $103,400.00 check with donations collected by its members. (www.smiletrain.com). In addition, ALA through its South Florida chapter, collects funds to award scholarships for deserving college students.
At the end, I wished that the conference had lasted longer to have time to take advantage of all the seminars and that I had been able to meet more participants. I look forward to helping out this chapter in their activities to benefit the community at large.
MESSAGE FROM THE CITY ATTORNEY*
Have you ever felt that a total stranger “made your day” with a kind word, a compliment, or simply by helping you solve a problem? The City Attorney’s office strives to help people every day.
The City has a program that determines whether its employees are being helpful. The City of Miami Beach Customer Service program was created to monitor employee performance. It operates similarly to a “mystery shopper”. Employees receive phone calls or visits and are asked questions or are asked for help. The requester could be anyone so the employee never knows if he or she is being “shopped”. They are then “rated”. Those that do well, receive letters congratulating them. Recently, several members of the City Attorney’s office support staff received commendation letters:
Receptionist, Gloria Dieguez,Office Manager, Guadalupe “Lupita” Ramos andLegal Administrator, Maria Elia Moya Posas
As members of my staff, they are asked questions on many issues. They may refer the public to a different department or handle a matter themselves. I too would like to congratulate them for their service.
While they are representative of my support staff, I would like also to acknowledge and congratulate the other members of my support staff. With their help we are able to address the legal challenges we face every day:
Brett Becker, ParalegalSandra Caba, Legal AssistantElizabeth Damien, Legal AssistantAmada Gonzalez, Legal AssistantYamilex “Jaime” Morales, Legal AssistantMiriam Merino, Legal Assistant
The City Attorney’s Office prides itself in providing excellent customer service while at the same time adhering to its role under the City Charter that limits our ability to provide legal services to the Mayor, Commission and City Administration. Although attorneys have provided pro bono services at a legal clinic for residents, they are unable to provide legal advice to the public. Thus, the City Attorney’s office when necessary, directs the public to attorney referral services provided by the Florida Bar at 1-800-342-8011 or low cost legal services such as those provided by Legal Services of Greater Miami (305) 232-9680 or the Legal Aid Society (305)579-5733.
We enjoy being part of this community and we are glad to be of service!
In a memorandum to the Mayor and City Commission dated December 10, 2009, I reported on the City Attorney’s Office successful defense of a constitutional challenge to the City’s noise ordinance. The memorandum along with Federal District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga’s Order is attached. Florida Carpenters Regional Council v. City of Miami Beach memorandum. SEPTEMBER 2009
I recently received an e-mail from a mid-beach resident complimenting one of our attorneys for helping him resolve an issue with the building department. He stated that the attorney:
“fully understood the situation, offered advice to me, and was central to its satisfactory resolution. She represents the city very well, and I consider it my good fortune to have come to her office for help. My highest compliments.”
I responded to him by saying that “customer service” is very important and that during these difficult economics times when public servants are being unfairly tarnished his comments were quite refreshing.
While many residents celebrated Halloween, and others took advantage of the wonderful weather to play or go to the beach, three of our attorneys, along with my Legal Administrator and Paralegal, prepared for a Monday trial in Federal Court. It is not unusual for members of my staff to work on weekends.
Our attorneys also (on their time) provide free legal services to the poor, teach at our local colleges and help local charities and community organizations. We are part of the City’s Leadership Academy.
I make it a practice on weekends to walk around different sections of the city. I do it in order to get a pulse for the community and familiarize myself with the issues that are important to our residents. This makes me a better lawyer and a better public servant. I do it with pleasure.
Please feel free to call or write me if my office can be of service to you.
*Note: For this message, the City Attorney has allowed Legal Administrator, Maria E. Moya Posas to discuss the new Miami Beach Courthouse.
NOTE: THE MIAMI BEACH COURTHOUSE IS NOW OPEN.
OLD CITY HALL COURTHOUSE TO REOPEN IN MIAMI BEACH
By: Maria Elia Moya Posas
Miami Beach will soon have a courthouse again. Residents will be able to file court documents, pay a fine, or apply for a marriage license at the newly renovated facility.
The Miami Beach Courthouse is located at 1130 Washington Avenue at the building commonly known as “Old City Hall”, built in 1927 after the great hurricane of 1926.
Before moving to is current address the court was housed at 120 Meridian Avenue at the old Police station seen here.
In 1987 the Police department and the court facilities moved to Old city Hall on the second floor where the fire department used to be. In this picture taken by Lenny Cohen, Judge Jeffrey Rosinek, presides.
Judge Rosinek, in an interview for the Miami Times recalls a case in which a plaintiff and a defendant (One an 85-year-old and the other a 65-year-old), who spoke different languages, fought about a battery charge. The weapon was a bedroom slipper. The Judge told them that if they continued to fight he was “going to get a 95-year-old to give them both spankings”
In 1995 the courthouse sustained a fire causing significant damage. At that time, Judge Scott Silverman presided and he noted that tar from the roof caused the fire. He took this picture.
So, after extensive renovations paid by the City of Miami Beach, the Courthouse is now ready to welcome those seeking their day in court.
When it opens in March the Municipal Courthouse will hear cases where the amount of controversy is under $5,000.00.
MESSAGE FROM THE CITY ATTORNEY - ARCHIVE February, 2008
As we begin a new budget year, I want to say how proud I am of my staff and their accomplishments this year.
Their dedication and professionalism is appreciated by our elected leaders and administration, as well as by the residents we serve.
Their excellent work has enhanced our reputation throughout the State. We are often contacted by colleagues in other cities and counties for advice on complex legal issues. Some of our lawyers lecture at law schools and professional seminars. Others provide pro bono work on their own time to assist the less fortunate.
A few days ago, we consulted with a County Attorney from Maryland who wanted to discuss our art vendors and street performers ordinance. We draft ordinances dealing with ethics, panhandlers, sidewalk cafes, party houses, noise, short-term rentals and other quality of life issues. These ordinances have served as models in other cities.
We also aggressively defend the city from frivolous lawsuits and have reduced our reliance on outside counsel. Our transactional and land use attorneys are among the most talented and experienced in the State. They have worked on large public-private partnerships with world class organizations.
I spent 32 years in private practice before becoming City Attorney in 2006. I had the privilege of working with many fine lawyers. The attorneys and staff at the Miami Beach City Attorney’s office are among the very best legal professionals I have known.
They should be commended for a job well done.
MESSAGE FROM THE CITY ATTORNEY - ARCHIVE December 2007
PROPERTY OWNERS AND LANDSCAPING
PROPERTY OWNERS AND LANDSCAPING
PROPERTY OWNERS AND LANDSCAPING
The Florida Supreme Court recently clarified the law on whether property owners are responsible if overgrown foliage contributes to a traffic accident.
In Williams v. Davis (Case No. SC05-1817, Opinion filed November 21, 2007) the Court ruled that property owners who allow landscaping to intrude into the right of way so as to interfere with a motorist’s ability to travel safely on the roadway are liable for injuries resulting from such intrusions.
While the law protects a residential property owner whose foliage does not extend into a public street, the Court observed that commercial property owners can be held responsible even where the landscaping is entirely within their property.
Commercial property owners fall under principles discussed by the Florida Supreme Court in Whitt v. Silverman, 788 So. 2d 210 (Fla. 2001), a case which involved a service station in Miami Beach.
The Supreme Court noted that “every year highway accidents kill thousands and injure millions of our citizens, while inflicting economic costs in the billions of dollars.” Many of these accidents are caused by foliage that blocks traffic signs and intersections.
When landscaping properties, owners should always be mindful of any potential danger to pedestrians and motor vehicle drivers. Otherwise, they may subject themselves to substantial damages in personal injury claims.
People often ask me about the role of the City Attorney in Miami Beach. Under the Charter, my office is responsible for providing legal counsel to the elected officials, the city administration as well as to all city boards and committees.My office does not get involved in personal disputes between residents or business owners.Nor are we permitted to interfere with administrative or policy decisions. We will, however, be happy to forward any issue or concerns you may have to the appropriate city department for handling.I am proud to serve as City Attorney. Working with our elected leaders and appointed officials on so many challenging issues is a privilege and an honor.