Ocean Drive has been a contentious topic on Miami Beach for the past few years.
Former Mayor Philip Levine called the iconic beachfront stretch "a scene of chaos and crime," while police have argued there's actually been a reduction in major crimes. Residents such as Mitch Novick, owner of the Sherbrooke Hotel, have raised Cain about loud music from politically connected restaurants and clubs, the largest of which have been exempted from city restrictions.
To date, there's no consensus about what if anything should be done to improve Ocean Drive. But this week, two of the most vocal factions collided over a new panel assembled by Mayor Dan Gelber to address issues with the city's most famous street.
On Tuesday, Clevelander Hotel owner Mike Palma sent a letter to Gelber and city commissioners demanding resident Jo Manning be removed from the panel.
Palma cited a January 31 Facebook comment in which Manning called the Ocean Drive Association — a chamber-of-commerce-type group Palma leads — "odious to me." Manning also referred to campaign donations Palma and other business owners have made to various commissioners in recent years.
In his letter to the mayor, Palma requested "immediate removal of Jo Manning from the Mayor’s Ocean Drive ‘Blue Ribbon’ Panel."
"It is obvious by the attached social media communication and others that can be exposed that Mrs. Manning has negative perceptions and presumptions of our leadership and will be unable to act fairly and objectively on ODA’s or City of Miami Beach’s behalf," the letter continues.
Palma did not respond to a request for comment from New Times. The mayor says he has "no intention" of removing Manning from the panel.
"It’s my appointment and it's my panel, and I always appreciate a vigorous debate," Gelber says. "I’d like everybody to disagree agreeably."
Although the letter had already begun circulating among city officials, Manning didn't find out about it until after the panel met on Wednesday afternoon. "I didn't know whether to laugh or cry," she says. "It's just so absurd."
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Manning, who is retired, has lived in the same building on Ocean Drive for 23 years. A former member of the city's Historic Preservation Board and current condo board president, she has been one of the Beach's most outspoken residents. Her Facebook posts have criticized the entertainment-district zoning and the businesses that have lobbied Ocean Drive restrictions. "My issue with the Ocean Drive Association dates back many years. They have different goals, different aims than residents," she says. "They don't like people who criticize them."
The association's executive director, Ceci Velasco, who emailed Palma's letter to the mayor and commissioners, denies the demand to remove Manning was meant to silence a critical resident. "If you have somebody who's already demonstrated that they are completely against working with another stakeholder, that won't lead to a productive outcome," Velasco says. "It’s not the association against the longterm residents; it has everything to do with how she represents herself in public and how she represents the mayor."
The panel, which is split into two subcommittees, will meet again Friday at 2 p.m. in City Hall. Velasco says she is "absolutely" willing to work with Manning.
Manning says she's not