Major Rift Opens in Preservation Community

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Major Rift Opens in Preservation Community:

Battle for control of miami design preservation league

A major rift has developed within the Miami Beach historic preservation community following a contentious election for the Board of Directors of the Miami Design Preservation League with two different groups each declaring themselves the legitimate Board. Amidst the infighting, the Miami Beach City Attorney has asked that no one speak on behalf of MDPL before any of the City’s land use boards or Commission until the issue is resolved.
 
In the past week, one group elected along with Board Chair Steve Pynes has suspended the current Executive Director, Daniel Ciraldo, with pay and taken possession of the MDPL office, locking Ciraldo out. The other side, which is affiliated with Ciraldo, has removed Pynes as Board Chair and taken possession of the website, social media, and data base accounts, locking out the MDPL staff and Pynes' Board. In an interview with RE:MiamiBeach, Pynes said his group is in control of the bank accounts. Ciraldo, when asked who was in control of the money, replied, “No comment on that right now.” Both sides have hired attorneys. Both claim to be the leaders representing “good governance.”
 
[UPDATE: City National Bank has frozen MDPL's bank accounts as a result of the dispute. Neither group has access.]

MDPL, founded by noted preservationist Barbara Baer Capitman and friends in 1976, is the oldest Art Deco Society in the world according to the organization’s website. It provides cultural and educational programs with its signature event, Art Deco Weekend, held each January. Earlier this year, MDPL released a survey by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau indicating the impact of the weekend at over $13m in direct business to the City. It also advocates on behalf of preservation of significant architecture.
 
The MDPL offices, Art Deco Welcome Center, museum, and gift shop are located in a City-owned building at 1001 Ocean Drive. Because of the arrangement with Miami Beach to manage the facility as well as City funding provided for MDPL events, the City is in an awkward position. 
 
City Attorney Raul Aguila Tuesday sent an email to both sides:
 
Dear Sirs:
 
On behalf of the City Manager and me, this e-mail responds to the numerous conflicting e-mails received by the City from different persons, all purporting to represent that they are the “correct contacts for MDPL.”
 
Due to the election discrepancies, the City is not in a position to determine who the correct contact is for MDPL.  It is my understanding that both factions have now retained counsel to address this situation. Once you have all finalized your dispute, please contact us with the accurate information. Again, the City will not be involved in determining who is (are) the correct MDPL representative(s).
 
In the meantime, I respectfully request that no one should appear purporting to speak on behalf of MDPL at any of the City’s land use board meetings and hearings, or before the City Commission, until this matter is resolved. We would not, of course, prohibit any interested party from exercising his/her right to speak at a public meeting; however, pending resolution of your internal dispute, we would prefer that any such speaker identify that he/she is speaking in his/her individual capacity, and not as a representative of MDPL. The Manager and I ask that you honor this request.
 
Finally, while the City is not, and cannot, be involved in what is essentially a private dispute for control of the MDPL board, we are extremely concerned how this will play out, inasmuch as:
 
               1)    Pursuant to its Management Agreement with the City for the 10th Street Auditorium, Section 12 thereof, requires that MDPL maintain its not-for-profit status. (The current dispute, if left unresolved, could potentially put MDPL in default of its Agreement); and
 
2)    As MDPL receives significant annual funding from the City, and such funding is up for review during the City’s FY 18/19 budget process, the current unresolved conflict my [sic] jeopardize or, at the very least, delay such funding.
 
Please keep us informed of any and all developments. Again, we urge you to resolve this matter quickly and expeditiously, so as not to jeopardize MDPL’s contractual status and/or funding with the City.
 
The “election discrepancies” include claims of fraud and vote buying according to Ciraldo’s side and vote influencing according to Pynes’ group.

 
Franziska Medina, Clotilde Luce, Steve Pynes, Daniel Ciraldo in April 2018. Photo: MDPL


Though simmering for several months, the fissure became public around the middle of June when Ciraldo sent an email to MDPL members and posted on Facebook his response to an email sent by “Jose Viernes” (yes, Joe Friday), also to the full membership. Saying the email was full of “accusations, mischaracterizations, and half-truths,” he wrote the action “is the remnant of a dying Miami Beach political machine based on corruption and developer giveaways that is hopefully living its last breath as we speak.”
 
He laid out his accomplishments as noted in these excerpts:
 
I joined MDPL 5 years ago as a volunteer to help stop the demolition of single-family homes that were being knocked down and replaced with McMansions. At the time, MDPL was a weak organization with poor financials.. it was also involved in a lawsuit that led to a major legal judgment against us. Because MDPL was on the brink of insolvency and its leadership had no plans for a turnaround, I offered to become Executive Director at no change to my existing salary, in order to help raise funds, put in best practices, and turn the organization around. I am proud of the record of accomplishment that the organization has made over the last year. There are many, but most notably is the designation of the largest historic districts in over thirty years as well as paying back a significant portion of our legal judgment. One year later, the Board voted to give me a salary commensurate with similar sized organizations with preservation missions. This happened after an attempt by just a handful of Board members to reduce my already-approved salary considerably. I am eternally grateful for the Board believing in me.
 
Unfortunately, with success comes disagreement. Several long-time board members have not been happy with our progress, nor with our implementation of budget rules, financial planning, and a more professional work place environment. Those board members are now attempting to smear me as well as MDPL, Miami Beach's leading historic preservation organization. They are on their last breath and this is their big "boom" to see if they gain any traction. It is no longer about the best for the organization - it is about them protecting themselves.
 
Please, do not follow their advice and vote for their "slate". Indeed, many of the people they ask you to "Vote Yes" for are people that I have never met, nor are they known to our community or to our other Board members. The governance of the organization is incredibly important. Without good board members, we are nothing. Don't let MDPL be destroyed from within.
 
On that note, I would strongly encourage you to vote for what I would consider the “Dream Team” of Board members. 
 
Ciraldo’s supported candidates were:

John Bachay 
Timothy Dupont-Stinedorf 
Jack Finglass 
Ira Giller
Jack Johnson
Michael Kinerk
Christina Labuzetta 
Henry Lares
Sarah Leddick
Joel Levine
Nancy Liebman
Clotilde Luce
Franziska Medina
Mitch Novick
Kirk Paskal
Marcella Paz
Micheal Raynes
Stuart Reed
Nina Weber Worth 
Marta Zayas
 
The “Viernes’” email touted an “Accountability Slate” claiming MDPL is not being managed transparently as he wrote in these excerpts:
 
“Three months ago, an MDPL member requested copies of MDPL’s audited financial statements and board meeting minutes, an accurate membership list, and the credit card receipts. These are all standards for properly managing a non-profit, and a requirement to comply with the very generous operating agreement that the City of Miami Beach gives MDPL. Shockingly, it took MDPL three months to produce the audited financial reports because they had not been done for several years. It is a contractual breach with the City of Miami Beach to not provide these documents on a yearly basis. It had been years since MDPL had provided them to CMB. Any MDPL member who believes that transparency and accountability are the most critical ingredients for a membership organization being genuinely accountable should be outraged.”

 
MDPL Welcome Center, 1001 Ocean Drive. Photo: GMCVB


Other “failures” according to the “Viernes” email: “The executive director — using a shell organization — collected and submitted 4,800+ signatures to place a height-restrictive charter amendment on the ballot. 4,800 was the barest minimum required to get the amendment on the ballot, and, like most other projects undertaken by the executive director, a failure: not even half of the signatures were valid. While some people maintain the Tatum Waterway historic designation was a victory, we believe it was a failure because the district is too small and should encompass more of North Beach. Claiming there was an “emergency” as a reason to bypass the board of directors, certain rogue board members allowed the use of MDPL’s name as a supposed endorser of a developer’s plans for Ocean Terrace. Many board members and members are very upset about this and believe the full board should have been consulted.”
 
“Viernes” also laid out concerns about Ciraldo’s salary. “Recently, these same rogue members rammed through hiring the person responsible for all this failure as executive director for reasons unknown to us. Even more gallingly, they increased his salary from $67,000 to $114,000. We do not believe the new executive director’s resume warrants the position or the salary.”
 
The email included three attachments, Ciraldo’s resume, a resignation letter from a former employee, as well as an email citing her difficulties working with Ciraldo.
 
The “Accountability Slate” included a few of the same names on Ciraldo’s “Dream Team”:
            
John Bachay
Lori Bakkum
Timothy Dupont-Steindurf
Jane Dee Gross
Beatriz Gutierrez
Randall Hilliard
Eric Holland
Stacy Kilroy
Michael Kinerk
Russell Lee
Ada Llerandi
Ronald Lowy
Richard McKinnon
Millie Membiela
April Murphy
Marie Osbourne 
Steven Pynes
Elsa Urquiza
Robert Wolfarth
Frank Wolland
Donna Zemo
 
In the early morning hours after the June 18 election, Ciraldo posted a video on Facebook showing MDPL member and Board candidate Randy Hilliard with a stack of cash which he was affixing to papers in front of him with this comment: 
 
Here's what a rigged election looks like, folks. Prince of Darkness brought in stacks of member applications and is now affixing $50 bills to each one. Along with Rusty Lee the Art Deco Chair. 
 
The post is no longer available. “The Prince of Darkness” refers to Hilliard who according to a 2007 article in Miami New Times listed himself that way in a Key West phone book. 
 
The day after the election, Ciraldo sent an email to a small list which included members from each slate as well as the independent accountant reviewing the results and the MDPL attorney declaring the proxies submitted on election night should not be counted and the new memberships would be refunded. 
 
He wrote: “The Election Committee graciously provided me with the membership applications submitted last night, and I have spent the better part of today reviewing them. Upon review of 131+ member applications submitted last night between 6pm and 7pm by 3 MDPL members, I have made the decision to refund all these applications and ask those individual applicants to sign up via our online membership system, at mdpl.org/join. Since June 2017, this has been the exclusive way of signing up members per policy.”
 
He said he “reminded [Art Deco Welcome Center Director] Sara Aedo of this policy after I saw her beginning to process paper applications. Unfortunately, she did not comply with my request and she allowed 131 member applications to be submitted in an unapproved manner.”

The email goes on:
 
The applications that were submitted used an old paper copy of the membership application... many of the applications are hard to read or are incomplete. I tried calling several people at the numbers listed on the applications but was not able to connect. I will continue trying. 

Because we are a not-for-profit that receives public funds, it is imperative that our election process maintain integrity and follow best practices. Allowing applications outside of the normal accepted process is simply not acceptable. All members could have signed up easily online and come in person to vote, or submitted a proxy by the Friday 7pm deadline. In addition, they could have signed up at MDPL using the online system. However, allowing 3rd parties to submit paper membership applications using cash and without verifiable identifying information is not a best practice nor something that MDPL can allow under my watch.

I will direct staff to refund all member applications submitted yesterday, and we'll ask those applicants to visit our website so that they may fully complete the application individually. This will ensure we have their email and phone numbers so that we can truly build a lasting relationship. We will look forward to having them active in MDPL and voting at the 2019 annual meeting.

In the meantime, all votes from applications submitted last night should not be counted.

Thank you as always and I look forward to a great year ahead!
 
On June 20th, Rafael Venegas of Brody & Associates, the firm acting as the third-party certifier, sent this email to Ciraldo:
 
Dear Daniel,
 
Thank you for your voicing your concerns regarding the election process. You have also left me two voice messages and have sent me several emails today. Please note however that I was instructed by the Election Committee not to communicate with you or any other MDPL staff other than the one appointed by the Committee for this election.
 
I kindly ask you to please express your concerns directly to the Election Committee. Unfortunately I cannot respond directly to any of your information requests and questions regarding this election.
 
The Election Committee was made up of John Bachay (who appeared on both Ciraldo’s “Dream Team” list as well as the Accountability Slate touted by “Viernes”), Christina Labuzetta (on Ciraldo’s slate), and Lori Bakkum (aligned with Pynes).
 
The same day, Steve Pynes wrote:
 
Mr. Ciraldo:  You have exceeded your authority as Executive Director of this organization. Your continuous and ongoing attempts to interfere with this election process, despite direction from the Election Committee to not interfere, are unacceptable. MDPL is a membership organization and accepts all new members. MDPL has accepted all membership applications received. MDPL has no formalized policy for restricting membership and will not allow a staff member to decide who should be a member and who should not.  All membership applications are accepted. This election is to proceed to its conclusion under the direction of the Election Committee without your interference. The Election Committee appointed for this process and the staff assigned to assist them are to be allowed to proceed without any further interference from you.

Ciraldo, meanwhile, contacted a couple of people who submitted proxies via Hilliard. In an email obtained by RE:MiamiBeach, Vic Ruggiero writes:
 
Randy email [sic] us on Saturday, 16 June, asking if we would support his effort to join the MDPL board because "LaGorce/Pinetree" needs better representation.  We competed the proxy and application and he said he would "gift" our membership fee.
 
Ciraldo responded, “I am guessing Randy didn’t let you know that he was advocating to remove nearly all of the existing MDPL board members and replace them with people of his choosing. Is that correct? Thank you for helping us investigate.”
 
“Yes he only said that he was concerned about LaGorce/Pinetree area, nothing about a coup,” Ruggiero replied.
 
Despite saying results would be released 48 hours after the election (Wednesday, June 20), the first results weren’t released until June 23 at 12:52 am when Pynes sent an email announcing the elected board (which were the members listed on the “Accountability Slate”).
 
That same morning, a group from Ciraldo’s slate held an “emergency board meeting” in which they rejected “any and all handwritten ballots that were presented at the election with cash attached” and declared any proxy signed by someone before they became an official member invalid. According to the unofficial minutes, “Memberships need to be correctly processed on-line with valid credit cards demonstrated.  A prospective member, according to the by-laws, must have a demonstrated common interest in Historic preservation to become a member.  By arriving with stacks of proxies, there is no way to tell who is voting, let alone if there is any valid interest in the work of the organization.  We therefore resolve that such ballots/proxies be rejected by our Executive Directror [sic] As he reviews the ballots and finds them to be invalid.”
 
Ciraldo’s Board also voted to remove Steve Pynes as Chairman and gave Ciraldo “the authority to review all ballots and reject those that are improperly completed.”
 
In another twist following the emergency meeting, Christina Labuzetta, one of Ciraldo’s “Dream Team” and a member of the Election Committee resigned her seat on the Board effective the day before the emergency meeting.
 
On the 24th, Ciraldo sent an email to City Manager Jimmy Morales, the City Commission, and City Attorney among others, in which he notified them that his group was the legitimate Board. Excerpts:
 
Unfortunately, the prior Chair of the board, Mr Steve Pynes, along with several board members who were not re-elected (including Lori Bakkum and Rusty Lee) are communicating with the city, our staff, and partners claiming to represent MDPL. These people are no longer on the MDPL board and do not represent the organization. However, they have changed the lock on the administrative office that we manage for the city, blocking the legitimate board out of that office. They have also co-opted staff with their false count of the election results.
 
This is not a movie, this is happening right now at MDPL. And it is a real shame.
 
Please find attached the draft minutes from an emergency meeting of the prior MDPL board, which took actions to ensure the election's proper conclusion. This included removing the Chair Steve Pynes as well as rejecting nearly 131 proxy ballots submitted on June 18th by 3 individuals: Randy Hilliard, Russell Lee, and Lori Bakkum, which were past the required June 15th deadline. In one case an individual brought stacks of $50 bills for 'gift' memberships he was buying, along with already pre-filled out proxies for voting - totally against not only our corporate policy but any semblance of decency or ethics….
 
I urge the City to take immediate action to ensure that the rightfully elected board is able to access the MDPL offices and join us in stopping this unelected coup board from installing itself at our helm. 
 
Please continue to communicate with me as the primary liaison to City Hall for the MDPL.
 
Meanwhile, Pynes sent his own email to the City Manager and Commission announcing his Board in which he notes “Twenty diverse and multiply talented individuals were elected, including eleven individuals who have served on the board in the past.”

Other excerpts:
 
The Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) 2018–2019 Board of Directors election certifying twenty directors following continuation of its Annual Meeting on June 18, 2018, has been verified. Tabulation of the voting was by Brody & Associates; an independent third-party certified public accounting firm was hired by the board to ensure voting security. Brody & Associates conducted the ballot under all applicable State of Florida statutes and non-profit proper governance procedures. Brody & Associates is the only entity that has had authorized possession of the ballots since they were cast.

As Chairman, I would like to assure you that all the business of the Miami Design Preservation League, 1001 Ocean Drive, has continued at the highest level since the official election results were released early Saturday, June 23, 2018. Under the leadership of the new Board, MDPL Business Manager, Marie Hernandez, and Art Deco Welcome Center Director, Sara Aedo, and the assistance and dedication of the MDPL support staff, the real work has continued.

Unfortunately, what should be a simple transition has been hampered by the actions of a disgruntled employee, Daniel Ciraldo. We are in the process of going through proper channels to retrieve the resources owned by MDPL, to be used by MDPL for official purposes. We anticipate having these transition issues resolved rapidly, so we may put all our energy and resources in to the work and responsibilities of the Miami Design Preservation League. Mr. Ciraldo has been suspended and Ms. Hernandez has been named Acting Executive Director, and retains her title of MDPL Business Manager, to better facilitate the transition responsibilities.

MDPL’s recent robust membership growth, open process and the preservation activists who expressed interest in serving has already strengthened our community involvement and renewed our dedication to the organization, whose mission is historic preservation and the cultural arts. Continuing to grow membership and community outreach will be one of our paramount goals this year.

Pynes also sent a separate email to City Manager Jimmy Morales on June 25:
 
Jimmy:  See attached email below suspending MDPL’s Executive Director.  Please advise those in the City that you feel should be informed that he does not represent MDPL at this time. Call if you have any questions.  

From: Steve Pynes
Sent: Saturday, June 23, 2018 3:59 PM
To: 'Daniel Ciraldo

Subject: MDPL Executive Director is Suspended

Daniel:  As Executive Director of MDPL you are immediately suspended with pay until further notice. You are directed to immediately return control of all web site access to our staff that you illegally removed or deleted this morning and earlier this week. Based on consultation with and advice from the MDPL attorneys, Joseph S. Geller of Greenspoon Marder LLP, you are hereby directed to cease and desist from ALL ACTIVITIES associated with MDPL including but not limited to; accessing our electronic sites, contacting MDPL Staff, contacting Board Members or contacting any MDPL Membership. You are not authorized to communicate on MDPL’s behalf on any media format and in any capacity whatsoever until further notice.

Both sides told their stories this week to RE:MiamiBeach. 
 
Pynes said for the 20 years that he’s been a member of the Board, the process has involved a Nominating Committee which reviews resumes and makes recommendations to the Board which then reviews and can modify the recommendations, though he’s never seen that happen. Then, a list of nominees goes to the membership at its annual meeting which has, in the past, taken a verbal “Yay or Nay” vote. This year, he explained, four Board members initially expressed their intent to step down and the Nominating Committee recommended four new members. Later, two of those members decided to continue their Board service and the Nominating Committee narrowed its list to two recommendations. Randy Hilliard’s name was one of those originally recommended but not included on the shortened list.
 
Pynes said the organization’s bylaws allow anyone to be put up for nomination if they submit a petition with signatures from ten MDPL members which Hilliard presented along with three others. “It was at that point in time that I sought out expert consultants to assist the Board through this process,” he said. “I was particularly concerned about following the rules of our bylaws in detail but also following State statutes which govern non-profits.”
 
The election was originally scheduled for May 17th but Pynes delayed it when “All of a sudden Board members were showing up with 10-20-30 proxies requesting they be allowed to vote.” According to Pynes, the organization had never had proxies presented before nor had they been provided as an option to the entire membership. Further complicating the day, MDPL’s website was down for seven hours meaning membership applications could not be processed online, he said. After consulting with MDPL's attorney, Pynes delayed the election until the rules around proxies could be set up and everyone had the same option available to them. 
 
“We came to discover after that May 17th meeting, that Mr. Ciraldo was calling members individually and requesting that they provide their proxy to another Board member… using an online system that gave your proxy to another Board member and were stunned that our Executive Director was trying to influence the election for the Board of Directors who would govern him,” Pynes said. 
 
Recognizing there was “tension and contention related to how the vote was to be run,” Pynes said he formed the three-member Election Committee. Lori Bakkum, one of the members of the Committee said, “Once appointed, we never spoke with Steve Pynes about the process. He stepped out, let us do our work, and if we had questions, he told us to ‘Ask the attorney’s’ advice, not mine” and that’s what we did.”

Bakkum said Pynes began putting good governance processes in place several months ago. At that point, Pynes said, "The Board meetings started to get more contentious." He said there was "micro analyzing of our bylaws and how we govern ourselves and so I felt it was important to try to understand that because a lot of Board members don't read the bylaws and understand them." The Board hired Greenspoon Marder due to their broad experience with non-profits, he said, which then assigned Joe Geller to work on the election issues. 

Of the new members who signed up on election day, Pynes said, “The two most important things to us, the MDPL Board, in the whole process [was that] anyone who wanted to become a member of MDPL would not be curtailed or hampered in that effort and anyone who wanted to vote would not be hampered in any way.”
 
Bakkum said, “The entire Election Committee had worked with staff to set up the area to accept new memberships that day… and we have this documented.” 

Both Bakkum and Pynes noted there had been a surge in membership since April before the initial election. Bakkum said those members were recruited by multiple people including Ciraldo “and some people that I think support his style of doing things and that’s totally fine. We totally welcome those new members." Speaking of herself, Hilliard, Lee “and others who were also on the Board running again or running for the first time wanting to work with MDPL. Our efforts to go out and gain new members is no different. A real purpose of board members of any non-profit is to grow membership. We’re a membership organization and all the members are welcome. We want them and it’s actually an important function to happen.”
 
“I just feel it was misconstrued,” she said of the election night memberships. “I don’t know why anyone would think the new members brought in in the weeks before the election with one point of view are anything different from those brought in with the view of others. All members are equal.” Multiple points of view, she said, are “how you have a healthy, wonderful dialogue that breathes life into an organization.
 
Ciraldo told RE:MiamiBeach, “It feels like MDPL is being attacked.” He links the unrest to former Mayor Matti Bower and others who “are not happy about the new director of MDPL and the idea that we compromised with North Beach” referring to his support to increase density in Town Center for developers’ support to designate the Tatum Waterway historic, a position later supported by voters. (Marie Hernandez, the MDPL Business Manager, who was named Acting Executive Director by Pynes’ Board, is Bower’s daughter.)
 
Ciraldo also said of Hilliard, “Then there’s people like Randy Hilliard who, I don’t know what his intention is. He’s a political operative who was rejected by the Board when we went through the regular nominating process, came back with the petitions to put himself and five other people then a second batch with five more people. These are people we don’t even know and we don’t know what their motivations are or why they want to be on the MDPL Board.”
 
He said the new membership applications “have been hidden” from him after “asking the Board members running the election to let me view them.” He claims “No one has verified their authenticity.” 
 
Immediately prior to the election, Ciraldo said MDPL had 250 paid members. “You can see how with 100 votes like this, it could really sway things.”
 
The original election date was May 17th, he said “but a lot of people showed up with proxies to vote because they knew what was going down.” Ciraldo, who is on a long planned trip to Italy explained that comment further via Facebook Messenger. “Many people were aware about how Mr. Hilliard was trying to install himself on to the board and bring several people along with him. There was concern about this.” He said, “Approximately 40 members in good standing submitted proxies to vote at that meeting.”
 
Ciraldo said, “The Chair of the Board made a decision to defer the vote to a later date to figure out how to deal with proxies. That then led to a series of rules that were set up by the Board that included a third party to count them. We’ve never had anything like this before.”
 
“I have been locked out of the whole process even though I’m not on the ballot,” Ciraldo said.
 
His contact with the accounting firm, he said, was to say "Look, you need to really verify and do the right thing.”
 
“There’s only so much I can do given that they’ve basically taken the keys away from me and I have these bad actors,” he said. “It’s really like a coup d’etat.”
 
An email from the Election Committee to members on June 16 notes all votes are confidential and only able to be viewed by Brody & Associates. “MDPL has enlisted Brody and Associates, a local accounting firm, to record, compile, and certify the board election results. To ensure the integrity of the election results, only Brody and Associates will be able to view and record the electronic and in-person voting ballots. Your vote is confidential.”
 
Pynes said, “No one on the Board has seen any of the ballots.” He said they were “only in the possession of the third party.”
 
Asked how Ciraldo could count the votes and declare his side the victor, Bakkum said, “He should not have had access.” 
 
Ciraldo said he has “all the votes submitted online up to the Friday deadline outlined on the ballot. That is what we used to get the preliminary results. We are only missing a small number of those people who voted in person on Monday, just a handful. The accounting firm that Steve Pynes hired refuses to answer me.”
 
Regarding the video of the memberships and proxies with the $50 bills, Bakkum said, “One person brought in several. I myself brought in 11 people that support me, many of whom who had volunteered for MDPL Art Deco Weekend,” which she Chairs. Bakkum said those were not people who had been members before but who “certainly supported” MDPL.
 
“Each [membership application] that I saw was signed as required and each one had payment with it. We have accepted memberships like that in the past and I did not witness anything improper at all,” she said.
 
Pynes noted there has been a surge in membership since April. “We have probably signed up close to 200 new members with MDPL online and in person, so people are not restricted in how they apply for membership. They can apply through an online system on our website but they can also become a member by submitting cash, credit card or whatever they do.” Often, he said, people who come in to take tours sign up for membership at the Welcome Center to receive discounts on shopping at the gift shop.

 
MDPL Gift Shop, 1001 Ocean Drive


What about “Jose Viernes”? Bakkum said, “Neither of us knew who Jose Viernes was when a slate was pressed by him, but we have since learned it is a pen name for Randy Hillard, a nominee and new board member." She added, "The 'Accountability Slate' wasn't Steve's slate. Steve did not have a slate. Actually, neither Steve or I voted by slate. It is my understanding the 'Accountability Slate' was from an MDPL supporter, and new board nominee who was driven by the desire to insure good governnance, oversight, and fiscal responsibility at MDPL." She said neither she nor Pynes knows how he got access to the MDPL email list.

"Board nominees should have access to promote themselves and their views to members, so we will plan to find a way to do that in the future to insure everyone has an opportunity," she said. "Perhaps with bios on the website the month before or something. We have good ideas on how to improve the process.”
 
When asked what he thought the dissent was about, Pynes said, “I see this as a disgruntled staff member who wanted to have more control over the organization and the Board of Directors.” The Board, he said, “elected by the membership is the managing, governing body of this organization and the Board went about its business as usual in that process. We have a Nominating Committee that reviews potential candidates. There have been times in the past where it’s an effort to find people – and qualified people – to serve on the Board and the Board goes through that process very carefully with the Nominating Committee. The Executive Director, Mr. Ciraldo wanted to influence that and we think that’s not appropriate for the staff to try to influence the Board that governs the staff.”
 
“It’s absolutely appropriate for the Executive Director to ensure a proper board that upholds its duties,” Ciraldo said. “It’s one of the most important tasks.” He said Bakkum and Pynes raised the issue at a Board meeting but that the Board “did not agree.” 
 
“The other members did not appear to mind,” he said. “One even said ‘Daniel knows most of our members’ and they trust me and ask me for advice.”
 
Regarding Ciraldo’s salary increase, Bakkum said there was an initial vote to increase his salary by 25% which she said “We all voted for,” including her and Pynes. When he asked for more, Bakkum said some of the Board balked. Those Board members were left off Ciraldo’s “Dream Team” of candidates, she said. “That was a cause for concern."
 
Pynes said, “We’re focused on what’s best for the Miami Design Preservation League, not what’s best for any individual. We’re managing our facilities and we’re meeting our obligation to manage the Welcome Center and museum for the City of Miami Beach.”

He emphasized the importance of the organization’s role in educational activities – tours, lectures, outreach to schools, and the annual Art Deco Weekend – in helping people understand “there’s something worth protecting here in Miami Beach.” He noted the designation of historic districts as a “huge victory but we have to continue to protect that because there’s a constant effort to chip away at that protection and so education is a big part of that as is advocating before City boards.” Ciraldo has been a major presence at the City land use board meetings as well as before the City Commission. 
 
Bakkum said “It seems over the past year because Mr. Ciraldo went from Advocacy Officer, which was a consulting position, to the Executive Director staff position there’s been an effort to move MDPL toward politics… That’s not our role or mission.”
 
MDPL’s annual budget is $1.2m according to Pynes. “We’ve been around that number for many years and we’re trying to grow that. Part of the effort is to bring in more sponsorship and more membership support.”
 
Regarding Aguila’s email urging the parties to resolve their differences, Bakkum said, “We respect the City's response. We are confident that when the facts and documentation are available, there will be no question of the correct outcome.”
 
Ciraldo responded that he did not wish to comment “at this moment.”
 
Bakkum and Pynes said they are looking forward to their Board getting to work. “I’m excited by the ideas, the expertise, and the energy,” Bakkum said. “We look forward to a strong, healthy year once we get through this process.”
 
Ciraldo said of his Board, “The future of MDPL is looking brighter than ever.”
 
To be continued…
 
 
 
 

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