Phyllis hired Joe to defend her against a lawsuit filed by her challenger in the last city council election. Michael Joseph is contesting the results of the race based on very credible evidence indicating that Phyllis engaged in absentee ballot fraud.
As we are all too painfully aware, the wheels of justice in Miami-Dade County move slowly, especially when members of the politically connected class are forced to defend themselves. Whether politicos are facing criminal charges, as in the case of North Miami Beach EX-Mayor Myron Rosner, or responding to civil charges, as in Phyllis Smith’s case, time seems to stand still for them.
No such luck for plebes like the rest of us, who could never afford to hire the likes of Ben Kuehne and friends.
When it comes to Phyllis Smith, regardless of what’s on the Agenda for any given council meeting, she has a knack of making everything all about herself.
At the March 4, 2014 council meeting, for example, Phyllis attempted to recuse herself from voting on a controversial resolution regarding a variance on a piece of property in Eastern Shores, citing a “conflict of interest.” This was the same resolution on which Councilcritter Frantz Pierre laughably recused himself from voting, with the preposterous announcement that he was a “potential buyer” of the four million dollar home that the developer was planning to build.
Almost as hysterical as Frantzie’s excuse was Phyllis’ claim that, as a real estate agent, she might have a potential buyer for the property.
One day in the foreseeable future.
In any event, according to the Minutes of that meeting, “Councilwoman Smith returned to the dais and stated that after conversing with Interim City Attorney Joseph she does not have an active conflict.”
In fact, Phyllis didn’t even know Dotie’s name when it was time to choose an interim attorney, but merely voted to pick the one “who’s been here the longest.” Dotie got the job even though she had about eight years of legal experience at the time, including only fourteen months in the City of North Miami Beach legal department.
And yet, when it suited her, Phyllis was more than willing to trust Dotie’s opinion.
Not so much the legal opinion of the infinitely more experienced Jose Smith.
North Miami Beach’s current City Attorney has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1974 (years before Dotie was even conceived), and has been in public service since 1986 before becoming a Miami Beach Commissioner in 1997. Mr. Smith held the position of Miami Beach City Attorney from 2006 until last year, and then was hired by North Miami Beach on May 29, 2014.
At the September 21, 2015 council meeting, Phyllis pulled another recusal stunt when she refused to vote on Michael Joseph’s appointment to the Code Enforcement Board. This time she claimed her “conflict of interest” was due to the fact that Michael was suing her for absentee ballot fraud.
Despite being advised by City Attorney Jose Smith that this did not constitute a conflict of interest, Phyllis walked off the dais.
On the required Form 8B Memorandum of Voting Conflict for County, Municipal, and other Local Public Officers, Phyllis stated that Michael “has a current civil suit in which myself and the councils (sic) three employees are named defendants.” She recused herself from the vote because she “felt there may be an appearance of a conflict of interest.”
On September 30, 2015, Jose Smith issued a legal opinion, attaching “Attorney General and State Ethics opinions,” which state that “a city council member may not abstain from voting due to bias, prejudice or any other grounds, unless there is a personal financial interest involved.”
Jose Smith advised Phyllis that “under Florida Statute 286.012” she was required to vote, and recommended that she do so “should this matter come up again.”
Since Phyllis Smith is currently a de facto member of the North Miami Beach City Council (which will hopefully change once the lawsuit makes its way through the courts), her job is to keep her butt in her chair and vote. Just because she’s pissed off at Michael Joseph for challenging her allegedly illegal seat on the dais doesn’t give her the right to vindictively thwart his appointment to a city board or committee.
But, “Vindictive” is apparently Phyllis Smith’s middle name, because despite Jose Smith’s legal opinion, Phyllis recused herself once again at last night’s council meeting.
This time, her excuse was that her attorney, Joe Geller, was representing an applicant who was requesting a zoning variance from the council.
For the THIRD TIME now, Joe was able to put Phyllis’ lawsuit on hold until December 14, 2015, using the excuse that the Florida House of Representatives is holding yet another Special Session. The current Special Session began on October 19, 2015 and ends on November 6, 2015. Considering that Joe didn’t even bother to attend the previous one scheduled from August 10, 2015 to August 21, 2015, hardly anyone was surprised when he showed up in North Miami Beach at last night’s council meeting.
Representative Joseph S. Geller was supposed to be earning his taxpayer funded salary yesterday in Tallahassee by attending a meeting from 9:00 to 11:00 AM of the K-12 Subcommittee, and sitting in Session from 3:00 to 4:18 PM.
Joe apparently ditched his legislative responsibilities in order to appear before the city council at 9:26 PM to advocate for his client, Cambria Hotel & Suites, in its request for a variance (Resolution R2015-91), per page 106 of the Agenda.
And despite the fact that none of Joe Geller’s committees or subcommittees were scheduled to meet today, nor was the House in Session, he claimed that he was flying back to Tallahassee after the council meeting.
Yeah, sure. Whatever.
Due to her attorney’s planned appearance before the city council, Phyllis had apparently asked Joseph M. Centorino, Executive Director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, whether or not she should recuse herself from voting on Joe Geller’s client’s resolution since he is “also representing [her] personally as a private attorney on an unrelated matter.”
Yesterday afternoon, Centorino wrote back in an email, advising her that she would only be in violation of “the Miami-Dade County Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics Ordinance” if voting on the issue would cause her to profit, directly or indirectly, by the resolution. He also advised Phyllis that she could avoid the “appearance of a conflict” by disclosing her relationship to Joe Geller prior to the vote.
Mr. Centorino also suggested that to Phyllis that if she wished to “obtain a binding advisory opinion from the state,” that she request an opinion from the Attorney General regarding any “right to abstain under Section 286.12, Florida Statutes.”
Per City Attorney Jose Smith’s response to Joseph M. Centorino, he indicated that Phyllis’ own attorney, Joe Geller, had already advised her to ask the city attorney for his legal opinion. She ignored Geller’s advice, as well as Jose Smith’s opinion that there was no conflict of interest, and instead requested an opinion from the Ethics Commission.
Jose Smith also added:
“While C/W Smith kept mentioning an “appearance of a conflict” as her reason for abstaining, that is NOT the criteria for recusal under 286.012. Interestingly, C/W Beth Spiegel and C/M Frantz Pierre BOTH voted despite having retained Joe Geller in various matters. Commendably, they BOTH disclosed their professional relationships with Joe Geller prior to the vote.
In sum, I am deeply troubled by Council members who willy-nilly recuse themselves on difficult votes. In North Miami Beach, 5 members are required for a quorum. At the September 21, 2015 meeting, 3 members walked out to avoid voting. One of those was C/W Smith who claimed a conflict where none was present. We could end up in gridlock if this nonsense continues. I firmly believe that C/W Smith relationship with Mr. Geller did not require a recusal under Florida Statute 286.012 and she should have voted.”
By hiding behind Florida Statute 11.111, Joseph S. Geller, Esq. and his client, Phyllis Smith, have been able to stymie the progress of the absentee ballot fraud lawsuit filed against her on June 2, 2015. Due to the nature of the case, this lawsuit was supposed to be heard on an expedited basis. Joe has made damn sure to stall it as long as possible.
His legislative duties, however, didn’t stop him from representing a real estate developer from getting its variance heard as quickly as possible.
After all, time is money!
By not attending an entire Legislative Special Session in August, and skipping out on yesterday’s Session as well, Joseph S. Geller is derelict in his duties as an elected official.
By constantly recusing herself from voting on North Miami Beach legislation, Phyllis Smith is derelict in her duties as an elected official.
How fitting that they found each other.
“Spreading the Wealth”
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