Miami Herald (Sunday)
Miami hires City Hall lobbyist to help redraw voting districts
A frequent City Hall lobbyist and former state lawmaker will redraw Miami’s voting districts after the city’s previous consultant canceled his contract amid scrutiny.
On Thursday, four of five Miami commissioners voted to give experienced redistricting consultant Miguel De Grandy — an attorney at Holland and Knight who has lobbied Miami commissioners for years — a $100,000 contract to study 2020 U.S. Census data and determine if boundaries for the city’s voting districts should shift.
One commissioner opposed hiring De Grandy because the deal included a broad conflict waiver for his entire law firm, which represents many clients who have business before the city.
Every census allows the city to review the population and demographics of its five commission districts to ensure fair representation. Miami voters passed a referendum in 1997 creating the districts after a city
wide election the previous year left Miami without a Black elected official. Afterward, three districts in the majority-Hispanic city were drawn to favor Hispanics, one to favor white non-Hispanics and another to favor Blacks.
De Grandy led Miami’s last redistricting in 2013, charging the same $100,000 fee. This time around, he is partnering with Palmetto Bay Councilman Steve Cody, a longtime political consultant, suspended lawyer and children’s book author who worked with De Grandy on the 2013 redistricting. He will receive $50,000 for the redistricting work.
Documents posted on the Florida Bar’s website show that Cody’s law license was suspended in 2013 after he bounced a check and failed to keep a client informed about a case. After failing to pay restitution to the client, he agreed in 2016 not to seek reinstatement until he paid.
On Friday, Cody told the Miami Herald that he and De Grandy have “a really good feel” for the neighborhood compositions of Miami, and that they will work with the new faces on the commission to make sure they come up with a plan that best represents residents.
“It’s like putting together a massive jigsaw puzzle,” Cody said. “We are going to follow the law and use our best efforts to give each neighborhood a voice on the city commission.”
De Grandy, who represented a Miami-Dade district in the Florida House from 1989 to 1994, declined to comment for this story.
The lone vote against the new redistricting contract: Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla, who’d recommended friend and former state Senate President Bill Galvano for the job last year. In October, City Manager Art Noriega hired Galvano, a Bradenton lawyer, to do the work for $120,000. Questions later arose about Galvano’s experience after the Miami Herald reported on his role leading a controversial redrawing of voting districts following the 2010 census for the Florida Legislature, which resulted in years of litigation and an admission that Republicans intentionally drew districts that favored incumbents and parties.
In January, Galvano ended his contract after a majority of the commission indicated they would fire him. Commissioner Jeffrey Watson recommended De Grandy at the time.
Before Thursday’s vote, Díaz de la Portilla said he was concerned that De Grandy was requesting a conflict waiver extending to every attorney in his law firm for as long as De Grandy is working on redistricting; it’s unclear how long it will take. Holland and Knight attorneys, including De Grandy, lobby for several high-profile interests at City Hall. The client list includes Inter Miami CF owners Jorge Mas and David Beckham, who want to redevelop Melreese golf course into a sprawling commercial and soccer stadium complex, Ultra Music Festival and a marina operator who has been involved in several controversial bids to control a valuable slice of cityowned waterfront land.
Díaz de la Portilla, a former state senator, said that because it’s unclear when the city will receive the Census data necessary to redraw districts, Holland and Knight could have permission for more than a year to lobby commissioners while one of its attorneys redraws commissioners’ voting districts.
“Mr. Galvano did not request a conflict waiver for an entire law firm because number one, he doesn’t lobby us. He doesn’t have two dozen clients, and that’s why there wasn’t a debate,” Díaz de la Portilla said during Thursday’s meeting. “My problem with this is that he’s requesting an across-the-board-conflict waiver for two years or more. I wouldn’t give that to anybody.”
According to the waiver approved Thursday, Holland and Knight would have to obtain a waiver from their clients as well, and the city can cancel the contract if commissioners see a conflict issue.
Political allies in the past, Commissioner Joe Carollo and Díaz de la Portilla had a testy exchange over the conflict waiver before the vote. Carollo said he wasn’t worried because the city could cancel if there’s a problem, then he took aim at Díaz de la Portilla’s intentions.
“With all due respect, I don’t believe your concern is about that all. It’s about that Mr. Galvano’s not here, and Mr. De Grandy’s here,” Carollo said.
Speaking over Carollo, Díaz de la Portilla bristled. “No, you don’t know what my concerns are.”
“So you’re finding every which way to berate Mr. De Grandy,” Carollo said.
“Nah, I disagree,” Díaz de la Portilla responded. “This is not personal. It’s one of the things that I never do. I never turn anything personal. So maybe you’re projecting.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
In his Feb. 9 written proposal, De Grandy said the city has a tight timeline to shift district boundaries before this year’s November municipal election. Carollo is up for reelection in 2021 in District 3, and the District 5 seat, held by Watson, is expected to be wide open this year.
De Grandy’s proposal said the normally lengthy process that includes meeting with commissioners, studying census information, holding a series of public meetings and redrawing the boundaries would be fast-tracked in order to leave time for the Miami-Dade Elections Department to adjust to a new voting map.
“Much of the work that usually takes over a year will have to be compressed into a six-month timeline,” he wrote.
The schedule would leave little or no time for amendments once the plans are drafted. If commissioners want to make major changes, they would likely miss the cut to redraw lines for this year’s election.
The census data might not even be available fast enough to work for De Grandy’s tight schedule. In a statement released Feb. 12, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it would deliver redistricting data by Sept. 30, pushing back its original deadline of March 31.
Public reaction played a role in the last redistricting, which began in 2012 and ended in 2013. The process ignited debate when the plan called for residents in Miami’s Upper East Side neighborhood, then in District 2, to be moved to District 5, which includes Liberty City,
Little Haiti, Wynwood and Overtown. People living in Shorecrest spoke out against the shift in multiple public meetings. Commissioners approved the new district map in 2013 after several delays.