Beach to Grieco: No room at the inn

For­mer Mi­ami Beach com­mis­sioner Michael Grieco, who was elected to the Florida Leg­is­la­ture, wants to move back into city hall and use space on the first floor for his district of­fice. That re­quest is gen­er­at­ing con­tro­versy.

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Local & State - BY KYRA GUR­NEY kgur­[email protected]­ami­her­

A year af­ter va­cat­ing his Mi­ami Beach City Com­mis­sion of­fice amid a cam­paign fi­nance scan­dal, newly elected state rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Grieco wants to move back into the build­ing. But his re­quest to set up shop near the en­trance to city hall, which would dis­place city em­ploy­ees, hasn’t gone over well with some for­mer col­leagues.

Grieco re­quested a space on the first floor — wedged be­tween the el­e­va­tors lead­ing up to the com­mis­sion cham­ber — to use as his pri­mary district of­fice in his new role rep­re­sent­ing Mi­ami Beach, North Bay Vil­lage, Lit­tle Ha­vana, down­town Mi­ami and Fisher Is­land in the Florida Leg­is­la­ture. Grieco’s pre­de­ces­sor, David Richard­son, rented of­fice space on the fourth floor of a city-owned build­ing next door for $311 a month, but Grieco ar­gued that the city hall of­fice would be more ac­ces­si­ble and eas­ier for con­stituents to find. He asked for a $1 an­nual lease, the same price Mi­amiDade County pays to rent a space on the first floor for the county com­mis­sioner whose district in­cludes Mi­ami Beach.

City Man­ager Jimmy Mo­rales told Grieco that the space he wanted wasn’t avail­able and of­fered Richard­son’s old of­fice in­stead. The prob­lem, Mo­rales ex­plained in a memo to com­mis­sion­ers, is that the of­fice Grieco wants is al­ready oc­cu­pied by the Ur­ban Forestry di­vi­sion and five city em­ploy­ees. Res­i­dents visit the of­fice ev­ery day seek­ing tree per­mits, Mo­rales wrote, which are of­ten re­quired for con­struc­tion per­mits that can be ob­tained in the same build­ing. Re­lo­cat­ing the of­fice, he said, “will likely re­sult in added cost to the city, in ad­di­tion to the in­con­ve­nience to our cus­tomers.”

It’s not just that the re­quested of­fice isn’t avail­able, Mo­rales said in the memo. The city also has a short­age of of­fice space, a prob­lem that will soon be­come worse when con­struc­tion on the con­ven­tion cen­ter ho­tel re­quires Mi­ami Beach to re­lo­cate two de­part­ments in a nearby build­ing that will be de­mol­ished as part of the project.

That re­sponse didn’t sat­isfy Grieco, how­ever, who pro­ceeded to write a let­ter to the mayor and city com­mis­sion­ers ar­gu­ing that he should get the first­floor city hall of­fice.

“Not ev­ery­one on your com­mis­sion wanted to see me in this po­si­tion, but I am here, and I hold no grudges, as ill will does noth­ing to im­prove qual­ity of life in our com­mu­nity,” he told his for­mer col­leagues. “Ful­fill­ing this re­quest will go a long way

in show­ing our shared con­stituents that we in­tend on work­ing well to­gether and that you want them to have easy ac­cess to my staff and I.”

Grieco added that con­stituent ser­vices has been “a cor­ner­stone of my pub­lic ser­vice ca­reer” and that he did not want to “de­vi­ate from that path” by set­ting up his of­fice “some­where that is hard to find or in­ac­ces­si­ble to res­i­dents.”

The let­ter didn’t sit well with some city com­mis­sion­ers, who will have the fi­nal say over any lease agree­ment.

“The ag­gres­sive tone of his let­ter at least in­di­cates to me that he’s got ul­te­rior mo­tives in the re­quest,” said Com­mis­sioner Ricky Ar­riola, who ques­tioned why Mi­ami Beach should give up scarce city hall of­fice space for a state leg­is­la­tor who will be in Tal­la­has­see “for a big chunk of the year.”

It’s no se­cret that Grieco left the city com­mis­sion on bad terms. Last year, he dropped a promis­ing bid for mayor and re­signed from the com­mis­sion be­fore plead­ing no con­test to a mis­de­meanor charge of ac­cept­ing a cam­paign do­na­tion made in the name of an­other.

Grieco was sen­tenced to pro­ba­tion and an­nounced a run for the Florida Leg­is­la­ture in early May, just days af­ter his pro­ba­tion ended.

As a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Grieco will have to work with Mi­ami Beach on a va­ri­ety of is­sues in­clud­ing trans­porta­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

But first, the city has to re­solve the ques­tion of where to put his of­fice.

And with Grieco’s for­mer col­leagues di­vided over his re­quest, that ques­tion ap­pears to be headed to the city com­mis­sion for a vote.

“The City of Mi­ami Beach should do what­ever it can to sup­port his ef­forts and pro­vide him with a re­tail space,” Com­mis­sioner Kris­ten Rosen Gon­za­lez said in a text mes­sage. “He wants peo­ple to have easy ac­cess to him! I don’t think we can ask for more in a politi­cian, do you?”

Mayor Dan Gel­ber, who ran against Grieco for mayor, said he thought that the city man­ager had been “ab­so­lutely rea­son­able” in his re­sponse. Gel­ber noted that when he served as a state leg­is­la­tor rep­re­sent­ing Mi­ami Beach, he rented of­fice space in the Cham­ber of Com­merce build­ing.

Com­mis­sioner John El­iz­a­beth Alemán stressed that city hall is al­ready so cramped the city has to rent of­fice space for its own trans­porta­tion de­part­ment. “While ob­vi­ously we want to ac­com­mo­date ev­ery­body we can’t be push­ing city staff out into spa­ces we’re go­ing to have to pay mar­ket rate rents for,” she said. “If we’re able to ac­com­mo­date I think that’s the right thing to do just to be col­le­gial and help­ful, but ev­ery­body might not be able to get ex­actly the space they were hop­ing for.”

In re­sponse to ques­tions from the Her­ald, Grieco said he had not an­tic­i­pated that his re­quest would gen­er­ate con­tro­versy.

“I do not con­sider it con­tro­ver­sial to ask for sim­i­lar ac­com­mo­da­tions af­forded our county com­mis­sioner, and I would think our res­i­dents hav­ing com­pa­ra­ble easy ac­cess to their state rep­re­sen­ta­tive is some­thing the City of Mi­ami Beach would want,” he said in an email.

“I truly hope that any push back is not the re­sult of petty pol­i­tics, be­cause that would just be sad.”

Mo­rales de­clined to com­ment on the of­fice space re­quest, but in a memo to com­mis­sion­ers he said that prior to Richard­son, he wasn’t aware of the city hous­ing state leg­isla­tive of­fices. A city spokes­woman said that the lease for the first-floor of­fice cur­rently oc­cu­pied by County Com­mis­sioner Eileen Hig­gins has been in place for more than a decade.

Un­der state law, leg­is­la­tors are al­lowed to ac­cept dis­counted of­fice space from mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. North Bay Vil­lage has of­fered Grieco a $1 a month lease for a space in their city hall, ac­cord­ing to Vil­lage Man­ager Lewis Velken, the same of­fice used by Grieco’s pre­de­ces­sor. The $311 Mi­ami Beach charged Richard­son is also far be­low mar­ket rate.

Those dis­counted rates are a big help to state leg­is­la­tors, who get less than $2,500 a month to pay for district of­fice ex­penses, in­clud­ing rent for mul­ti­ple of­fices.

But leg­is­la­tors don’t al­ways get to pick where cities give them of­fice space.

Richard­son said that when he was first elected and asked Mi­ami Beach for an of­fice, he had to wait two years be­fore the city found him a space.


Com­mis­sioner Kris­ten Rosen Gon­za­lez


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