South Dade Matters

Looking at the World South of Miami: Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Pinecrest, South Miami and Miami-Dade County.

Tag: Howard Cohen

PB: Palmer’s Latest News – Positive & Perplexing

SDM sometimes wakes up wondering how the universe functions, especially after reading this momentous article in the Miami Herald:

Court rules Palmetto Bay is not on the hook for Palmer Trinity’s legal fees

By Howard Cohen
The Miami Herald

The Miami-Dade Circuit Court has ruled in favor of Palmetto Bay, which argued it does not have to pay the legal fees connected with its longstanding battle over Palmer Trinity School’s expansion.On Nov. 5 the court denied the school’s request that the village pay its attorney’s fees and costs, which could have totaled more than $300,000.

In July, the school won the right to expand to 1,150 students and, with that victory, filed a motion to collect legal fees.

In August, Palmetto Bay petitioned the Third District Court of Appeal to reconsider its July order that the village pay the school’s attorney’s fees. In September, the appeals court reversed its earlier ruling that the village pay the school’s legal fees. The case went back to the Circuit Court, which ruled in favor of the village.

“It’s over. The appeal is over and hopefully everyone can get back to doing what we do,’’ says Palmetto Bay Village Attorney Eve Boutsis. “The city continues to be a city and Palmer Trinity already has its development order and will do what it has to do and hopefully everyone can move on,” Boutsis said Tuesday afternoon. “This was a great result for the village and it ends this cleanly.” (Emphasis added by SDM.)

[SDM Question: Does this mean the transcripts of the shade sessions will be released now?]

Stan Price, the attorney for Palmer Trinity, commented on Wednesday. “We’re extremely disappointed. We don’t know what you have to do to prove bad faith on behalf of government entities before you can get fees, but we’ll continue with the litigation and hopefully, at the end of the day, we’ll be totally vindicated.”

The village still faces a civil suit filed by the school, which contends it’s owed more than $12 million in lost tuition and other revenue as a result of the suits. The village is fighting those charges.

Palmetto Bay Mayor Shelley Stanczyk has faced criticism from some residents who formed a political action committee to have her recalled next year along with Council Member Joan Lindsay for their decisions to fight the school. The Recall Palmetto Bay group has also worked against re-electing Vice Mayor Brian Pariser, who faces a runoff on Nov. 20.

The group is upset because the three council members continued to lead the fight against Palmer, after the court ruled against the village. The village has spent more than $600,000 in legal fees since the dispute began in 2006.

The recall group used the Third District Court of Appeal’s strongly worded language against the village as ammunition. The appeals court ruled that Palmetto Bay acted with “willful disobedience” regarding previous judicial instructions. The court had also noted the village’s appeals were “an exercise in superfluousness and futility.”

Village supporters strongly disagreed with the unusually harsh language. The battle has divided the village during the recent Nov. 6th elections. Pariser finished a close second and faces challenger John DuBois in the runoff. Council member Howard Tendrich, who disagreed with Pariser, Stanczyk and Lindsay, lost his bid for reelection. His challengers, Tim Schaffer and Jim Araiza, will be in the runoff.

On Tuesday, Stanczyk expressed satisfaction with the latest court decision. The court did not elaborate on its decision, saying only the motion was denied.

“This ruling continues the statement that the village has not acted with willful disobedience and that our actions were not frivolous,” she said.

First off, SDM wants to say bravo to the village’s legal team for protecting the taxpayers from this cost. Having to pay $300,000 to Palmer would have been a blow to the village, though a manageable one. Palmetto Bay’s lawyers lost the case, but won a critical skirmish over fees and costs and Ms. Boutsis deserves praise for achieving this result.

But the result also sparks questions in SDM’s tiny mind. For example, why are Palmer’s legal fees and costs half the amount the village has incurred in defending the lawsuit? If the village’s financial exposure was $300,000, why didn’t someone try to settle the matter before we incurred more than half-a-million in legal fees and costs on our end?

Perhaps more importantly, did it make sense for the village to spend tax dollars and to drag Palmer through all of this torment over a net difference of 250 children spread over more than 50 acres of land? Earlier posts noted that village staff believed Palmer could have added some 2,000 students based on the code.  (Staff essentially talked them down to their 1,150 recommendation.) Was this result worth all the time and money spent by the village on this lawsuit?

SDM also wonders why the village elders and legal counsel never discussed the dimensions of the village’s financial exposure with residents. With all due respect, the calls for settlement that have emanated from SDM and the Palmetto Bay News for at least 18 months appear well-founded. While the village attorney deserves kudos for this victory, her obsession with keeping the rest of us in the dark looks to have extended this lawsuit. Inevitably SDM must ask: who benefits when a lawsuit drags on?

Finally, SDM wonders how the Mayor can be so clueless. Seriously, does she not understand that the village lost the lawsuit? That the court said specifically that the village’s behavior in the Palmer litigation amounted to “willful disobedience of the court’s instructions”? [Read more at Palmer Litigation: An Exercise in Superfluousness and Futility.] Frankly, SDM cannot figure out why the village lets her speak to reporters.

SDM Wonders: How does Ms. Boutsis conclude that “[t]his was a great result for the village and it ends this cleanly” given the following:

  • The village lost the underlying suit and spent a small fortune defending its position.
  • Palmetto Bay was slapped with a humiliating and harshly worded order questioning the village’s motives. (Judges are human, too, they talk about cases to one another. SDM cannot see how this case was good for Palmetto Bay’s reputation.)
  • One of the village’s most important institutions (and one of its largest employers, too) has been unable to expand for a minimum of four years. (How many kids missed out on a Palmer education, Mme. “Education” Mayor?)
  • Palmer still has a lawsuit pending on damages.
  • A once tranquil village finds itself divided.

SDM Says: This not so great and not so clean “victory” rings a little hollow. Do the candidates for Vice Mayor and District 2 agree with Ms. Boutsis?

PB: More Quick Bites

SDM feels a little overwhelmed by all the material thrown at it over the past week or so, especially the nuggets that continue to bestowed by Mayor Stanczyk. So, in violation of the strict rules customarily followed here at SDM :), another serving of quick bites follows:

What did she know and when did she know it?

Mayor Shelley Stanczyk attempted to cool rising tempers in Palmetto Bay in a letter to the Miami Herald.  The letter is filled with the usual misleading statements like “[t]he council has discussed the moratorium and zoning ordinance seven times.” As SDM’s educated readers know from quick bites like The Lindsay Two-Step that the council has NEVER made public the Neighborhood Preservation and Compatibility Ordinance or its provisions.

Palmetto Bay residents are getting used to the constant drumbeat of falsehoods emanating from the Franjo Triangle (where village hall is located). (Maybe SDM will call it the Devil’s Triangle – a place where common sense disappeared without a trace.)

What’s unusual about Mayor Stanczyk’s letter is her frank admission that she knows what’s in what she calls the NPO:

The ordinance under preparation relates to non-residential uses in residential areas, such as libraries, hospitals, clinics, fire stations, utilities and government buildings — as well as schools and churches.

This ordinance will create a level playing field for applicants and the community during the zoning application process. Its goal is fairness and equity while removing uncertainty for all in a zoning outcome. It will address residential issues such as light, noise, dust and landscaping, which are not addressed in our current code. It will not limit any church or school as to how many members it may have.

Funny, SDM’s been paying pretty close attention and can’t recall a single time Councilwoman Lindsay stated that her ordinance would address hospitals, clinics, utilities and government buildings. SDM knows Lindsay discussed verbally that the ordinance would address light, noise and dust but neither can SDM recall a discussion on the dais about landscaping.

How does the Mayor know all this? Hmmm…

One of SDM’s criticisms of Councilwoman Lindsay’s ordinance is that she has no business — under the code provisions related to moratoriums — in drafting it. She is neither permitted by the code to do so, nor does she have any training related to such a task. There’s also the little problem that by retaining control over the drafts, she is essentially preventing her colleagues from having input into the legislation.

But, then again, maybe she’s only keeping her draft from some members of council. Mayor Stanczyk sure seems to be fully versed in its contents.

Something is rotten in Denmark.

Rennaissance woman

Funny quote from Howard Cohen’s article in the Herald titled Voters to have say on charter amendments:

“I disagreed with the attorney, the word ‘shall’ means we should pass everything they said to the ballot,” [Councilwoman Joan] Lindsay said.

What a renaissance woman! Lindsay’s already known as an amateur traffic engineer. At the now notorious Palmer hearing last year, Lindsay tried to take apart a professional traffic study despite the fact that she had ZERO professional training in the area. The appeals court said that hearing showed the village to be “intransigent.”

Just when Palmetto Bay thought it knew everything about her, Lindsay surprises by revealing her legal training! She’s so vastly knowledgeable that she can overrule a village attorney with a couple decades of experience.

Move over Brian; there’s a new sheriff…er, lawyer in town.

Where the sheeple meet

Charter Revision Commission member Warren Lovely offered an amusing anecdote from his grandson. SDM paraphrases:

My six year old grandson asked me if I was going to do something and I said I needed to talk to grandma nana first. He looked at me and asked, are you going to be like a sheep and do what you’re told or be like a people and make up your own mind? I said, I’m going to be a sheeple until I talk to your nana.

Mr. Lovely didn’t catch the irony. Just before offering the cute story, Lovely and the usual suspects urged – demanded, really – the council place every one of the revision commissions “suggestions” directly on the ballot without any pesky interference from elected officials. (As noted above, the firm of Lindsay & Gerald agreed with the legal neutering of the village council.)

In the end, of course, the three amigos – in full sheeple mode – bowed to their nanas. Out of the mouths of babes!

Rude behavior does not help the cause

Normally, SDM doesn’t like to criticize – directly anyway – individual speakers at village council meetings, but at 3:12:40 a resident took his criticism too far.

Here’s the thing SDM wishes: That Palmetto Bay residents and voters keep the shenanigans going on in the Devil’s Triangle in perspective. What irks Palmetto Bay residents would make folks in other cities yawn.

To be clear: SDM does not condone rudeness. Strong criticism – fair game. Rude confrontational behavior – out of bounds.

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