At the Tuesday, August 25th City Commission meeting, Coral Gables Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli, attempted to shame Vice Mayor Vince Lago for his recent letter with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez to Governor Ron DeSantis, asking for his intervention on the current issues affecting Biscayne Bay.
“We cannot write private letters, regardless of the subject, using City stationery, and this has happened, and I am not going to say who, but this has happened and we absolutely cannot use official Coral Gables stationery without the consent having been approved, regardless of the, and how good it could be, without being approved by the City Commission.”
Commissioner Michael Mena immediately responded, “Is that a new rule?”
City Attorney Miriam Ramos countered the Mayor’s interpretation, stating that, “the use of the city seal, itself, is reserved for things having to do with the city. The city seal is reproduced on city letterhead. It came to my attention that city letterhead that we give to each of the commissioners says from the Office of Commission and has the city seal on it…if you read the charter provision about the city seal, its all about use by another entity and it gives the privilege to the manager. Letterhead is a little bit different. While our seal is reproduced on our letterhead…the general gist of the opinion is that you can use letterhead whenever you are conducting city business.”
She goes on to explain that “Yes, it can be used, as long as it is for city business.”
Vice Mayor Lago stepped in “I find this interesting because I find that we are a very collegial commission. I am the person who wrote the letter. I coauthored a letter with Mayor Suarez after being reached out to by three different environmental organizations, and they asked me to address issues of water contamination, issues of bay health, and we wrote a letter to Mr. Ron DeSantis, our governor,…and the letter is very clear. It talks about requesting the governor to provide the necessary assistance to ensure the viability of Biscayne Bay. And it talks about the economic impact, which is over $7 billion a year, that the Bay has to the business community here in South Florida. And all that the letter asked for was that the governor focus on fertilizer prevention, which Commissioner Keon has advocated on behalf of and the whole commission has. It talks about reduction of septic tanks,…dealing with the issues of overflow, which we are seeing what is happening right now in Biscayne Bay…and also cleaning up Lake Okeechobee…the letter was asking for the governor to address these critical issues affecting South Florida.”
The Mayor interrupted the Vice Mayor and launched a personal attack on the Vice Mayor and once again reiterated his point, which had been refuted by the City Attorney.
The Vice Mayor went on to explain and show that he had an interpretation provided to him by the City Attorney.
“This entire commission has been leading in regards to the environment and sustainability, so how does this letter differentiate from our stances in the past?…In fact, I want to make a motion to adopt the points in that letter as a resolution asking that the governor adopt and take action in regards to fertilizer, septic tanks, overflow into the Bay and cleaning up Lake Okeechobee,” Lago added.
“My issue is not what is in the letter, my issue is it coming on behalf of the City, which it wasn’t,” said the Mayor.
Commissioner Mena voiced his concern over the Mayor’s stance and if a member of the Commission who dissented on a vote was unable to communicate that dissent. “Whether or not I agree with your opinion, you have the right and the duty as an elected official to voice that opinion on whatever the matter is…Mayor, with all due respect, when we had that emergency meeting, we had a discussion for example about taking a more tactful approach with the county in approving the emergency ordinance we passed, and you went to the press conference and you insulted his son on our behalf. That was just as bad!”
Mena was referring to our previously reported comments by Valdes-Fauli at a press conference with Mayor Francis Suarez, denouncing County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the County for their appropriation of CARES funds. At that press conference Valdes-Fauli, speaking on behalf of the City of Coral Gables said that “maybe we should hire the mayor’s son to be our lobbyist to distribute the money.” At the same press conference, Valdes-Fauli said we should “we should amend the Florida constitution to abolish the county.”
“I did not insult his son on our behalf. I expressed our opinion,” Valdes-Fauli added at the meeting.
“That wasn’t my opinion. That was the opposite of the opinion I expressed that morning,” interjected Mena.
A visibly irate Valdes-Fauli then stated, in defense of his comments, that he “opposed the diplomatic road” and proceeded to try to get the commission back to the Lago letter and asks that he wants to “end this meeting please.”
“I recently wrote a letter on the exact same authority that Vice Mayor Lago did…it was a matter of public concern like this one was….if there is a problem with the letterhead, then you need to propose a different one. But I am going to continue using that letterhead as long as that’s the only one we have.” said Commissioner Jorge L. Fors, Jr.
Seeing the lost cause, Valdes-Fauli dropped the issue and adjourned the meeting.