Nearly eight months after voters approved a $100 million Bond Referendum to potentially fund resiliency projects which would help protect the Village of Key Biscayne from effects of sea-level rise and hurricanes, Miami-Dade Circuit County Judge Samantha Ruiz Cohen on Tuesday ruled in favor of the Village, granting the summary judgement on all three counts.
Village Mayor Mike Davey was satisfied with the ruling, which has cost the city time and money.
“We can now move on and focus resources on the things that are important to the future of the Village,” Davey said, adding that “this was a good result.”
Gustavo Tellez, represented by attorney David Winker, had filed the lawsuit contending he and others didn’t have the proper information to cast a reasonable ballot and sought to invalidate that vote.
The lawsuit, which Judge Cohen did not dismiss in late February when the Village filed for dismissal of the case, was based on three counts:
1. The Bond Referendum should have been authorized by an ordinance rather than a resolution. On this, Judge Ruiz-Cohen wrote “the Resolution makes clear that no money has been or can be borrowed without subsequent action by the Village Council.”
2. The Bond Referendum language was “defective” as should have included the words “Yes” and “No” (as opposed to “For Bonds” and “Against Bonds”). On this claim, the Judge wrote “binding case law establishes that such “highly technical” arguments are insufficient to invalidate ballot language.”
3. Voters were not informed of the Bond Referendum’s purpose because the specific projects to be funded were not in the referendum or resolution authorizing the vote, thereby giving Council members “a blank check” is how Tellez described it through his attorney. In her ruling,
Judge Cohen Ruiz said voters had “extensive” public notice and information regarding the bonds, stating in her order that “the record reflects extensive public notice and information as to how the money would be used.”
Judge also said there was “no evidence of any money being borrowed by the Village and that pending discovery by Mr. Winker would not prevent the Court from ruling on this motion.”
Voters on the island approved the General Obligation Bonds (referred to as GO Bonds) by a 57-43 percent margin back on Nov. 3.
By filing the Summary Judgement, the Village was hoping the judge would see there was sufficient evidence to declare one party the clear winner and avoid a longer court case.
Tuesday’s ruling prevents Winker from deposing 10 witnesses, including former Village Manager Andrea Agha and two Council members.
Mr. Winker’s client can, of course, appeal the ruling.
Money from the bonds is to be used in three areas of resiliency and sustainability, the Nov. 3 ballot read:
1. Mitigate effects of sea level rise and flooding.
2. Protect Village beaches and shoreline; and
3. Harden infrastructure to the effects of hurricanes.
Earlier this year, a beach nourishment and cleanup project was completed and appreciated by residents. That project was led by Dr. Roland Samimy, a senior scientist who was hired last year as the island’s first Chief Resilience and Sustainability Officer.