Dr. Michael Salzhauer is many things — a famous plastic surgeon, a prolific Snapchatter, a shameless self-promoter — but subtle isn't one of them. So when Bay Harbor Islands cited his medical office for a code violation, he showed up at a council meeting dressed in a red velvet robe and crown and declared independence from the tiny town.
Never has a municipal government meeting been so regal. As town officials looked on with a mixture of amusement and annoyance, Salzhauer made bugle sounds while marching up to the podium. Then, stifling laughter, he invoked his "sovereign immunity as a king."
Why pull such a stunt? "Because it’s funnier," explains Salzhauer, AKA Dr. Miami, whose nonstop antics and eccentric personality last year landed him a reality TV show. "I mean, I could go there and shake my fist at them like most people, and they would just kind of laugh. So, since obviously the deck is stacked in their favor, I'd at least like to mock their power if I have the opportunity."
The code enforcement issue arose in late April, when the town sent Salzhauer a notice demanding he take down a "Dr. Miami" backdrop outside his office building at 1140 Kane Concourse, because Bay Harbor Islands code forbids banners in that area. The notice asked him to kindly remove the sign by the next day.
Salzhauer, whose exploits New Times detailed in a 2012 profile, didn't feel like complying. Instead, he created a Change.org petition asking the "Bay Harbor Islands Town Council of Darkness" for sovereign immunity. The entreaty declares the first, second, third, and fifth floors of 1140 Kane Concourse as "Dr. Miamiland," a new country that "shall have its own flag, lawful constitution, national anthem, official bird, flower, and Olympic team."
The surgeon took a rolled-up copy of the petition — plus practice manager Rosy Zion, who wore a tiara, and other giggling employees, who wielded iPhones to record the episode — to the town's May 8 council meeting. Besides "declaring independence" from Bay Harbor Islands, Salzhauer argued to council members that his backdrop, which he uses each day for the first of his many Snapchats, is a work of art. He called the council members "nartists — nonartists that have no feeling for art whatsoever!"
Absurd as that stunt might sound, Salzhauer's office and the town's lawyer have actually been arguing for weeks. Attorney Frank Simone wrote to the town clerk: "We found no case law upon which the doctor could rely that would support his position that the step and repeat banner is art." In response, Salzhauer's business manager pointed out that the surgeon signed a corner of the banner. He also compared it to work by Andy Warhol.
Town officials don't seem to find the saga quite as funny as Salzhauer finds it.
"This could all be very easily resolved if Dr. Salzhauer would simply remove the display and put it inside his office, which is located on the second floor of the building," town clerk/code compliance director Marlene Siegel tells New Times in an email.
Salzhauer has requested an appeal at the town's next special master hearing and says he might bring an art professor along with him. If he leaves the banner up after Friday, he'll begin getting fined $250 a day, so he has to decide soon how much he cares to push the issue.
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"God bless them all. They're my neighbors and friends, and I love them," Salzhauer says of local officials. "But small-town politics is a lot, and people take it seriously, maybe too seriously."
He says taking on the town council over his "artwork" is about the "principle of the thing."
Plus, he got a Snapchat video out of it.