Miami and its top officials have been sued for allegedly skirting their own procedures, notably potentially leasing public land without competitive bidding, when considering an unsolicited David Beckham soccer stadium proposal.
Miami attorney Douglas Muir filed a lawsuit Wednesday, just hours before a divided City Commission voted for a November referendum on the Major League Soccer stadium plan that would displace a city-owned golf course.
Commissioners voted 3-2, with Manolo Reyes and Willy Gort dissenting, to ask voters about leasing Melreese golf course land to Beckham and his partners for construction of a 25,000-seat stadium and other unrelated development.
The approval came on a swing vote by Commissioner Ken Russell, who issued a list of demands after a decision was deferred July 12.
The development team agreed to all of Russell’s requirements except two: 5 percent of the gross proceeds and a $15 per hour minimum wage for stadium construction workers and those holding permanent jobs there.
Developers vowed to do both Wednesday with the caveat that some retailers who lease property from the developers can start their workers at $11 an hour and later escalate to $15, Russell said. Also, some profit sharing would come into play.
Beckham and his business partners, including brothers Jorge and Jose Mas who head MasTec Inc., want to build the stadium, a 750-room hotel, a technology office hub, retail, a park and public soccer fields on 110 of the 150-acre International Links Melreese Country Club east of Miami International Airport.
Next, Miami voters will cast ballots Nov. 6 on whether to amend the city charter and waive competitive bidding for the land lease.
Muir, who is both the plaintiff and the attorney who filed the lawsuit, argues in part that the referendum seeks to amend one part of the city charter when a different section also prohibits a city property lease without public notice and an opportunity for a competitive process, according to the complaint.
The referendum will ask voters to amend Section 29-B of the charter, but Section 29-A mandates the notice, bidding and an award to the highest responsible bidder, the Miami-Dade Circuit Court suit said.
Other defendants are City Manager Emilio Gonzalez, City Attorney Victoria Mendez, Mayor Francis Suarez and the five city commissioners.
Muir alleged a lack of guidance from the city attorney has led to confusion about the correct process.
Mendez returned an email seeking comment from her, Gonzalez and Suarez.
“We look forward to defending this suit in court,” she said.
Another of Muir’s allegations is that the City Commission intended to “consider favorably” the Wednesday resolution in violation of a charter provision barring favorable consideration until the city seeks at least three proposals, according to the complaint.
Also, the city violated Florida law by trying to “log-roll” multiple subjects into one resolution, the complaint said.
“Any question which loads multiple subjects, requiring multiple amendments to multiple sections into a single, stuffed ballot question cannot be brought to the voters in a single referendum,” the complaint said.
Aaron Daniel, a partner at Kula & Associates in Miami who is not involved in the lawsuit, said this “log-roll” allegation could prevent the referendum.
“It’s possible that there’s no referendum that ends up on the ballot because it’s sent back down to rewrite it to the commission and the commission can’t get it back up” on time, Daniel said.
The deadline to submit ballot questions is Aug. 7.
The lawsuit seeks a writ of mandamus. Under this request, Daniel said the court can’t direct a specific outcome but could order the commission to do something such as amend the ballot language.
Reyes, one of the opposing commissioners, focused Wednesday on the no-bid deal and warned more lawsuits could follow.
“We are going against our own charter, and the only thing I have been asking is we follow the procedure, follow the charter. Don’t circumvent our own laws,” he said.
Reyes unsuccessfully pushed for a different referendum asking if different uses for the Melreese golf course should be considered.
Suarez said the city has used the same referendum process before with other proposals for city property.
“There’s been lawsuits filed in almost every single one of these cases. To me the fact that there has been a lawsuit filed here sort of follows the normal course of things,” he said at the meeting Wednesday.
For his part, Russell said he understands public sentiment about the project.
The project “has come very quickly and without enough outreach to give comfort to those who are skeptical of stadium deals in the city,” referring to the Miami Marlins stadium deal on city land. The venue opened in 2012.