North Miami Beach City Attorney Darcee “Street Furniture” Siegel never met a law, statute or ordinance that she couldn’t “interpret” to suit her agenda. That strategy might work well while trying to persuade a jury of some illiterate Joe Schmuck’s peers. But it certainly doesn’t fly when she tries it on anyone who can actually read and write English with an above average level of comprehension. Unfortunately for Darcee, in North Miami Beach, the latter far outnumbers the former.
Her latest attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the Mayor and Council and all 39,000 plus of the residents of our city involves the development formerly (and fondly) known as Marina Grande, now known as Marina Palms. As many of you already know, this project has been stalled and stopped and stalled again since 2006, hitting one roadblock after another. Based on the latest round of Let’s Play Lawyer, it sure seems to me that Darcee would like to add one more roadblock to the mix. One can’t help but wonder just whose interests she’s protecting here. It certainly doesn’t appear to be the city’s.
This new brouhaha revolves around a legal document known as a Covenant in Lieu of Unity of Title. In simplified terms, this document is used mostly when a large tract of land is contemplated for building a development consisting of more than one building. Basically this document allows the title (ownership) of the different buildings, or phases, to be held in separate names, usually of related corporations, as opposed to a single owner of the entire property. There are several reasons to do this, but the main reason is so that the owners will be able to obtain financing for each individual building as they need it. Since the phases of a development are usually built one at a time, it’s easier to obtain a construction loan for each phase and pay them off individually as they are being constructed, rather than one larger mortgage that would require repayment immediately. There is no reason to start paying a mortgage on undeveloped land long before construction is scheduled to begin. That wouldn’t make financial sense!
Back in the 1980s, when condominium development was booming, I worked on several large projects in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties as a paralegal for lawyers representing developers. A Covenant in Lieu of Unity of Title was one of the many standard documents that required execution and recording in order to get the projects off the ground. The law firm I worked for considered this document a routine part of construction. To my knowledge, this is still the case. Among real estate lawyers, this is not rocket science.
In the case of Marina Palms, one of the attorneys for the developer wrote to Darcee on October 10, 2012 and asked her to discuss a proposed Covenant in Lieu of Unity of Title. Darcee said she was out of town. On October 19, 2012, an attorney sent the proposed document asking her to review it and call him to discuss. On November 2, 2012, the attorney sent her a reminder email. Darcee said she was out of town again. On November 13, 2012, the attorney wrote her yet again, asking her to discuss the document, to which Darcee responded that she is waiting to hear from outside council, Charles Siemon, of the law firm of Siemon & Larson, P.A., in Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, Florida. On November 14, 2012, Darcee wrote to the attorneys telling them that she will be speaking to Mr. Siemon on Friday, November 16, 2012 and that she will contact them after the phone call. On November 21, 2012 (one week later), Mr. Siemon finally deigned to respond with his opinion that he is “perplexed” about the document and that even though “this approach to compliance with development approvals is established in the Metropolitan Dade County Code (for reasons we do not understand) and is apparently followed in a number of municipalities in the County,” he does “not understand how and why the Proposed Covenant advances a City interest.”
So, let me get this straight. An attorney in Palm Beach County, who is allegedly an expert in land use and development, is “perplexed” and does “not understand” the need for a document that is commonly used and “followed in a number of municipalities in [Miami-Dade] County,” was hired as outside council by the City Attorney of North Miami Beach, which was located in Miami-Dade County last time I checked.
The first question is: WHY?
The second question is: HOW MUCH DID IT COST?
Glad you asked. I have no reasonable or intelligent explanation for the first question. For some inexplicable reason, Darcee decided to hire a Palm Beach attorney to review a project in Miami-Dade County. Um, yeah. Okaaaaay.
The second question is infinitely more interesting. According to copies of Charles Siemon, Esquire’s legal bills to the City of North Miami Beach from June 1, 2012 through December 3, 2012, taxpayers doled out the sum of $27,744.54 to a “perplexed” attorney, who does “not understand” a Covenant in Lieu of Unity of Title.
That’s not chump change.
But, what has me even more “perplexed” and what I do “not understand” is why it took Darcee almost an entire month from the time she received the proposed Covenant (October 19th) before she finally decided to consult with her outside council (November 16th).
By far, however, the most “perplexing” thing about this entire fiasco, which I definitely do “not understand,” is whether or not Darcee even realizes that she is in violation of the Charter of the City of North Miami Beach.
Yes, that’s right, folks. The City Attorney has decided that even though she is a lawyer and is supposed to follow the law, Darcee “Street Furniture” Siegel just keeps on doing whatever the hell she pleases. Sorta like what EX-mayor Myron Rosner did. (With Darcee’s help, of course!)
Article VIII, Sections 42 through 47 describe the entire scope of the duties and responsibilities of the city attorney and the legal department. Section 45. Duties. specifically states:
“It shall be the duty of the city attorney to act as legal advisor to the city council, the city manager, and department heads in the City of North Miami Beach. He shall prepare all ordinances, resolutions or regulations submitted for consideration of the council. He shall examine and approve as to legal sufficiency all contracts, franchises, deeds or other undertakings of the City of North Miami Beach. He shall represent the city in bond validations, condemnations under eminent domain, and other legal proceedings in which the City of North Miami Beach is a party. Provided, however, the city council may, in its discretion, associate other counsel in any matter in which the City of North Miami Beach has an interest, and pay the compensation of such associate counsel. The city attorney or a duly appointed assistant shall prosecute cases in the county or circuit court. (Ord. No. 79-31, § 14, 11-20-79)”
Please note the sentence I emphasized in bold print, which clearly states that outside counsel may be hired by the city council, “in its discretion.” It does NOT say, “in the city attorney’s discretion.”
Yet, in the manner in which she allowed EX-mayor Myron Rosner to “legally” violate our City’s Charter with his campaign sign bus benches, Darcee Siegel has decided that she’s also above the law.
Regardless of any of the legal issues surrounding Marina Palms, her less than timely response to the developer’s attorneys, and her uncanny ability to cover her own ass, the fact that she violated our City Charter should be enough to wake up the Mayor and Council and convince them that Darcee has got to go!
“Spreading the Wealth”