Longform

Not for Sale ... Exactly

Page 3 of 6

Shapiro has not pulled out Form 8B over the Mirabella condominium development. Instead he has tried to turn the space into a public park. But during the nearly five years that Shapiro has fought the Mirabella as a commissioner, he has spent almost a year of that time doing legal work for the Maison Grande, a property whose value would surely sink if another large condo blocked its western views, and would surely rise if the city put a pretty little park on the Mirabella site. And Shapiro has not confined his crusade to city hall. In October 1997 Shapiro requested an emergency agenda item authorizing Congressman E. Clay Shaw (R-Fort Lauderdale) to seek federal and state funding to straighten Collins Avenue between 60th and 63rd streets, and "to initiate discussions with the Florida Department of Transportation [for] the possible acquisition of the Mirabella site and adjacent properties by such agencies."

In January 1998 the city approved its 1998 legislative agenda, which included an item about the Mirabella site. The agenda states that both the state and federal transportation agencies had declined to buy the land and straighten Collins, but that the issue was not yet dead. Shapiro's votes on the emergency item and the legislative agenda took place at a time when he was not actively representing the Maison Grande. He did, however, resume working for the Grande one month after the legislative session ended in 1998.

The owner of the Mirabella site, Royal World Metropolitan, Inc., filed suit against the City of Miami Beach earlier this year, alleging that the city was illegally trying to block its right to build on privately owned land. On September 13 Royal World's attorney, Toby Brigham, filed a motion to block Shapiro from discussing the case in his capacity as a city commissioner at a closed "executive session" commission meeting scheduled for the next day. City Attorney Murray Dubbin responded that, because Shapiro was not presently retained by the Maison Grande, there was no conflict of interest.

Brigham says he respects Dubbin's opinion, but thinks that, in the absence of an actual conflict, the appearance of one is undeniable. "When it came to my attention he had represented the Maison Grande, it seemed to me that it created, let's not call it a conflict, but a preference, whether or not he represents them now," Brigham says. "When you have represented a group that prefers not to have [the Mirabella], your judgment is going to be swayed because of, I guess, loyalty."

Shapiro still thinks the Mirabella project must be stopped, and doesn't see any problem with his having opposed it. "If there's one thing I'd like to accomplish before I leave this commission, it would be getting together state and federal funds to acquire [the Mirabella] site," he says. "I don't see any conflict at all. I'm still fighting for that, and I'm not involved with that condo association anymore."

On two other issues that have come before the commission, Shapiro's representation of the Maison Grande has created the appearance of divided loyalties.

•In June 1996 the city administration proposed a plan by which 50 to 60 older condominium buildings would be retrofitted with up-to-date sprinkler and fire-safety systems. Residents of those condos rose up in opposition, led by Henry Kay, whose home at the Maison Grande was (and still is) in need of new sprinklers. When this issue went before the city commission in March 1998, Shapiro proposed an agenda item to grant the condos a no-interest loan to pay for the retrofitting. The plan passed, though Shapiro was absent for the vote. That May he began representing the Maison Grande in the first of four foreclosure suits that year.

•On September 9, 1998, the commission passed, by a 7-0 vote, a sanitation-impact fee for all commercial businesses. As defined in the agenda item, the impact fee applied to all condominiums on the Beach, including the Maison Grande, which Shapiro was representing as an attorney. Oddly Shapiro was unaware the fee would apply to any condos. In a February 1999 memorandum to City Manager Sergio Rodriguez, Shapiro noted that he had "received numerous complaints about the fee being charged to condominiums and townhouses. I voted for the ordinance based upon my understanding that it applied only to commercial businesses."

In fact he should not have voted at all. He eventually got a revised version of the ordinance on the agenda that would exempt townhouses and condos. Rodriguez, in his staff report on the ordinance, agreed that townhouses should be exempt, but recommended retaining the fee for condos. The measure passed 5-2, with Kasdin and Commissioner Simon Cruz voting against it. "That cost the city $180,000 we didn't have," Kasdin laments.

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Ted B. Kissell
Contact: Ted B. Kissell