Miami Beach Considers Taking Over Scandal-Plagued North Bay Village

Since revelations surfaced last year of a blackmail plot against a commissioner with an undisclosed arrest for cocaine in his past, scandal after scandal has rocked tiny North Bay Village, a two-island town on the 79th Street Causeway. Now Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola is proposing a dramatic fix: He wants his city to take over the troubled village.

"Frankly, North Bay Village residents that I've spoken to, they're so exasperated with their government, they are so frustrated with their government, that they're looking for a solution," he says. "And I think some of them love the idea of the cachet of Miami Beach's moniker."

At least one person does not love the idea: North Bay Village Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps, who, not coincidentally, has been at the heart of most of the local turmoil. Among other things, the mayor fired a cop who was investigating a blackmail plot in which she was labeled a "person of interest" and threatened to sue a local blogger covering the case.

"Thankfully, this is not Wall Street, where hostile takeovers rule the day," Leon-Kreps writes to New Times in an email about Arriola's proposal. "I suppose they can simply seek to gobble up smaller municipalities because they feel like it. Well, the process works both ways: NBV can seek to annex Miami Beach because we wake up and feel like we can run the Beach better."

For now, the idea is just in the discussion stages in Miami Beach. Arriola first brought up the plan during a commission retreat earlier this year. He says the idea came to him because many North Bay Village children feed into Miami Beach schools, and then he started thinking about what Miami Beach could do with more land.

The ongoing drama in North Bay Village only made Arriola more convinced that annexation — which he says he prefers to call "a merger" — could benefit both municipalities. The village is so small that governing itself becomes difficult, he says. 

"What happens is what you're starting to see in the headlines, just a town of 4,000 trying to elect a body of five elected officials every few years, you know, the talent pool starts to run low after a while," Arriola says. "And then you start seeing some of the things that have happened. But this is true of many towns."

Arriola says he knows local officials such as Leon-Kreps would resist a takeover. But he says City of Miami Beach staffers believe annexation can be done without North Bay Village City Hall's approval as long as the village's residents agree and the county commission approves it — a process he thinks might take two years.

Leon-Kreps says she will do "everything [she] can" to prevent annexation, claiming it would raise taxes and slow police response times. She adds that Arriola and City of Miami Beach staff are wrong about not needing the village commission's approval.

"I hope this will... enlighten those that feel 'they can divide and conquer,'" she writes in her email. 
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas