[Updated to reflect comments from Malakoff]
The City is proceeding with its plans to seek voter approval of a General Obligation – or GO – bond to fund citywide projects but the appointment of former Commissioner Joy Malakoff to head the outreach effort is a no go. Miami Beach Commissioners this week voted 5-2 to waive the ethics rules prohibiting elected officials from doing business with the City for two years after they leave office, but by Friday, Malakoff had withdrawn.
City Manager Jimmy Morales and Mayor Dan Gelber argued Malakoff’s extensive experience with a previous GO bond, her 50 years in the banking business, and relationships with residents and the business community made her uniquely qualified for the role.
Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez objected to waiving the ethics rule. “Joy. I love you as a former colleague,” she said, “but we have ethics rules in the City. To waive the ethics rules, why have them if we’re going to waive them?” She wanted to open the job for applications from the community.
Mayor Dan Gelber said, “You have a provision to waive an ethics rule so you can waive it, so it can give you that flexibility.” He pointed out it required a 5/7 vote, a higher hurdle than a simple 4/7 majority.
“I don’t think this is a scenario where sending it out to the community would necessarily help us because, frankly, I think former Commissioner Malakoff has a very unique skill set for this,” Gelber said. “She was involved in the last GO bond. She’s been in the business community, in our community for a long time … and, frankly, I think it’s so unique that it’s one of those situations where the waiver is appropriate … I was one of the people who thought it was a very good idea. I still think it’s a good idea … I think the community does believe that she has some credibility on this and, honestly I think she’ll have some judgments on this that’ll help our staff.”
Rosen Gonzalez then objected to the short notice. ”I just heard about this yesterday … It wasn’t part of the agenda. It wasn’t noticed … it’s taken us all by surprise. It’s a waiver of an ethics rule. Nobody else is getting to apply. I’m just wondering why.” (The appointment was raised under a general item titled GO Bond Update.)
“I feel comfortable,” Gelber responded. “I appreciate and respect your concerns.”
Commissioner Ricky Arriola said that while he agreed with Rosen Gonzalez, “This case is unique for a variety of factors.” In addition to her GO bond experience in Miami Beach and her banking experience, Arriola noted “the continuity” of Malakoff who “worked with me on [the Finance Committee] for two years, working on the GO Bond that’s being brought now to this Commission so she can hit the ground running so I’m very comfortable supporting her.”
To questions raised by Commissoner Michael Góngora, Morales said the position would be temporary, a consultant role not to exceed $50,000.
Góngora said, “I think she would do a very good job but I have to raise a different concern.” He said there were “rumors” that Malakoff might be called upon to fill Rosen Gonzalez’s unexpired term if Rosen Gonzalez is forced to resign her seat in order to continue her race for Congress due to a bill pending in the state legislature. His support, he said, would be “contingent on her not coming back to the Commission in another role”.
“If this is the role that she wants, I support her for it. I think she would be great for it, but it would be important to me that it be contingent upon her not coming back to the Commission in another role. Would you be comfortable with that?” he asked Malakoff.
“I don’t believe that one thing has anything to do with the other,” she answered. “I was asked if I could help sell the GO Bonds to the community and I am willing to do so.” She reiterated that she chose not to run this past election cycle because of a spinal injury but “It doesn’t mean in the future I won’t run or look to fill an uncompleted term.”
Góngora said, “I don’t have a problem with you running. I think that that’s your right but what I’ve been hearing is that there’s a movement” for her to fill a potential unexpired term.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Malakoff said. “No one has spoken to me about filling an unexpired term … If that were to happen, I would be very happy to serve the City again but one has nothing to do with the other” she said regarding the GO Bond appointment.
Gelber joked, “I’m not aware of this conspiracy” then added, “But I would just say that I don’t know that they are related. And if you’re concerned, you’ll have to vote the way you want to vote but I don’t see it the same. She was sort of an obvious person for this task and I’m pretty confident, by the way, that this particular task isn’t going to put her in better stead should she ever want to run again.”
“It’s not the running that concerns me,” Góngora said. “It’s a double appointment from Commission for an advantageous role. It would be a concern for me.”
Commissioner John Alemán said, in addition to her experience, Malakoff’s recent service on the Commission and Finance Committee means “She is well-versed on items in the GO Bond. What she could do in two hours, it might take someone else twenty because of her knowledge and experience.”
When a motion was made for an ethics waiver to allow the manager to negotiate a contract of no more than $50,000, Góngora said he was not going to support it as he thought the item was “mislabeled and misleading without notice to the community. And, number two, for the reasons I stated before, if it’s going to involve a potential double appointment, I’m not going to support it …. I thought this was ‘test the water’, bring it back on a Commission agenda properly titled and labeled, and get our questions answered."
Rosen Gonzalez said, “There was no notice to the community whatsoever and it’s an ethics waiver.”
Gelber asked if there was an issue putting the item on the March agenda, saying he had no problem doing so. City Attorney Raul Aguila said the item did not require a public hearing but just a 5/7 vote that the appointment is in the best interests of the City.
Then, noting the motion already on the table and a second, Gelber said, “We’re going to vote. I don’t see a legal reason not to.”
During the roll call vote, Rosen Gonzalez voted no. Góngora hesitated before saying. “No, with a caveat. I want to vote for it but I think the item was mislabeled and misleading … not because I don’t think Commissioner Malakoff would do a great job, but I’m forced to vote no because of the way the item was presented.”
Commissioners Mark Samuelian, Micky Steinberg, Alemán and Arriola joined Mayor Gelber in voting in favor.
By Friday, Malakoff had withdrawn from the position.
We reached out to Malakoff who told RE:MiamiBeach the City approached her to help. It was not a position she sought. In the end, she said the process had become too politicized. She withdrew she said because "I didn't want to get in the way of the GO bond. It's too important. Every commissioner and the mayor need to speak in favor of it. It's really important that it pass."