Opinion: Time To Go

Leon Kellner

Former federal prosecutor who indicted Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega. Kellner now serves as the Secretary of the Coral Gables Neighbors Association.

The saga of 350 Greco Avenue is an embarrassment to our City Government and demonstrates that Commissioner Mena and his enabler, City Attorney Miriam Ramos, have overstayed their welcome and it is time for them to resign.

On Tuesday, May 11, the first Commission post-election meeting was held. On the agenda was a first reading of an ordinance to sell 350 Greco Avenue, a city-owned property, to a private developer. What was missing from the agenda were the facts: why was the city selling the property? who was the purchaser?  what was the price? what had been done to ensure that the residents were getting a fair price?

One could not find any facts about this transaction on the City website. The first time we, the citizens, found out about this transaction was when the commission meeting agenda was published just days before the meeting.  Further, what we learned at the meeting was both revealing and troubling. We found out that the Commission had circumvented the normal process of seeking bids to ensure the citizens obtained the highest price. More troubling was the identity of the buyer – Frank Quesada, who was a Coral Gables commissioner when this process started years ago. He and his partners approached the city about buying the property and the city staff was directed to deal solely with his group. Being a Commissioner has its advantages, you know.

It also turns out that when Quesada left the Commission, his influence did not end.  Quesada’s Belen-Jesuit brother, Michael Mena joined the Commission and in 2019, Quesada hired Mena to join his law firm.  
To most rational people, this employment relationship would require Mena to recuse himself from deliberations and voting on the Greco sale because, at the very least, this employment created an appearance of impropriety. Our government, however, is not made up of rational folks but rather those who want to take advantage of us, the residents.

Mena only disclosed his ties to Quesada, the Greco purchaser, in a mumbled reference during the discussion of the sale during the commission meeting.  Could he be so brazen because he has his city-paid enabler, City Attorney Miriam Ramos, covering for him?

According to Mena, he cast a “yes” vote and was relying on an opinion handed down by Ms. Ramos. Yet, when a local publication reached out to Ms. Ramos for a copy of the opinion, they were told that the opinion was verbal, not written. When asked who the purchaser was, she reportedly said she did not know. How a lawyer can opine about conflicts without knowing all the facts escapes me. It appears to have escaped Ms. Ramos as well because the day after the Commission meeting, Ms. Ramos issued a 4-page opinion that, lo and behold, disclosed the purchaser. 

Peculiar to this series of events, Ms. Ramos issued that 4-page opinion with reliance on a “special ethics counsel”.  Did she need outside help to protect her reputation?  By the way, Ms. Ramos has not disclosed who that “special ethics counsel” is.

We deserve better. First, the sale should be removed from a second reading coming up at the next commission meeting on May 25th, and the sale should go through the normal bidding process. Second, both Mena and Ramos should resign.

Mena knew he was doing something wrong and tried to cover his tracks. At the commission meeting he blurted out that his vote would not make a difference because he said he knew there were four “yes” votes from the mayor and 3 other commissioners. That’s uncanny given Florida’s strict Sunshine Laws which prohibit commissioners from speaking to each other in private about city business.  So, how did he know the other commissioners would vote in favor of the sale?

Ramos similarly understood that a verbal opinion was unprofessional so, after the vote when light was starting to shine on this insider deal, she prepared a CYA opinion with the alleged help of a secret expert. We deserve a city attorney who protects our interests and does not capitulate to whatever Commissioners want.

Commissioner Mena and City Attorney Ramos, it’s TIME TO GO!


31 thoughts on “Opinion: Time To Go

  1. We weren’t always aligned with Mr. Kellner and his policies or philosophies when he was United States Attorney for this District, but he has surely nailed this one, this time.

    It would only take the most rudimentary and low-impact investigation to develop enough facts to ready the matter for indictment. Then the question would be: state? Or federal?

    Easy call, that.

  2. Mr Leon Kellner thank God for persons serving our community as yourself. Thank you. Please keep it up. God bless you and your family.

  3. Guilty until proven innocent. I am sad that many residents in the Gables have taken up this Mantra. As a former prosecutor Kellner knows there is not a shred of hard evidence to prove his unfounded allegations. Rather there is a ton of evidence to prove a severe lack of good judgement. This property sale was approved by 4 City Boards, the City Manager and his grossly overpaid staff including “Asset Manager” Zeida Sardinas, the City Attorney, and most importantly the whole City Commission. Let me repeat The 5 City Commissioners approved this transaction. There is no question that other buyers for this property should have been sought so that the price could be verified. If there is corruption here one would have to agree that the corruption should be attributed to all or most of the above mentioned parties but rather Mena and Ramos are being singled out. The fact is there is no corruption but rather just one of many recent decisions by our city leaders that demonstrates their lack of understanding of the will of the people. This lack of understanding needs to be rectified at the ballot box not on the soapbox!!!

  4. I am saddened by the guilty until proven innocent mentality going on with many of our city residents.This transaction passed muster with 3-4 City boards,the City Manager and his way overpaid staff including the “asset manager” for the city Zeida Saldinas, the City attorney, and the whole Commission and I emphasize whole. There is little question this issue should have been handled substantially differently as in a search for another buyer in order to validate the sale price. However when the City attorney and Commissioner Mena are being accused of being crooks without one shred of hard evidence a bridge too far has been crossed. Why not accuse the whole cast of characters mentioned above of being crooks. What you can say, with a ton of evidence to back up the accusations, is that there was a severe lack of prudent man judgement amongst a whole bunch of City officials. Everyone needs to take a breath and stop with the corruption allegations if and until some hard evidence is brought forth.

  5. Hi Peter “Money”, it’s not necessary to use quotes with my name – it’s legit. Thank you for the Greco property evaluation information, it’s good to know. The bigger issue here is not the value of the property or the possible ethical violations by our City Attorney and Commissioner, although this should get every resident WORKED UP. The reason that me and many other residents are WORKED UP, is that yet another piece of OUR property is being sold without our prior knowledge or consent!
    I would be surprised to learn that, if our elected officials bothered to ask, a majority of the residents near the property in question wouldn’t want to keep the existing parking lot or just an open green space regardless of the revenue stream that selling it to a developer may generate. At this time there is no reason not to wait and see what the impact of the many projects in the surrounding area may be once completed. Given what is happening now with real estate prices in our city, it may be to our advantage to wait and then if selling for development makes sense, use the approved process.
    Many of my neighbors tell me that they no longer vote in our city elections because the candidates all tell us that they are for the residents and reasonable development. Yet, when the next election comes up, there are several more mega projects in the pipeline.
    I still have hope that our elected officials will do right by the residents/voters/friends and neighbours. Shout out to Rhonda Anderson for doing just that at the last commission meeting!! Glad I voted for you.

  6. “Rob Roark”

    Your question is a very valid one and was addressed at the City Commission meeting at nauseum.
    As a stand-alone property, it is a small lot with little buildable value. The only folks that would be interested in the property would be folks with real estate interest in the surrounding area. The property was discussed with one previous developer that is building adjacent to this lot and the developer passed/showed no interest. Either the City sells it to the other developer left (who expressed interest) or keep it as an ugly parking lot generating very little value for the city.

    In this case, the City gets 50 years of cashflow up front and pays $0 in commission fees (funds which will be used to build a much needed parking garage else where) and the City still keeps the right to use the parking forever. The sale price was based on two appraisals performed by two very reputable firms. Are they on the take too?

    This is a huge win for the City and wat most people call an absolute “no brainer”. But you, “Rob” and others here are letting yourselves get worked up for no good reason. Especially when the majority of the people opining here do not understand the issue. I say again. This is why we have so many crappy people run for office. Because not very many people would take kindly to the stupidity that is going on here. That is why crap folks like Banos goes from City to city trying to win an election and sh*t stain Cabrera’s 12 years weren’t enough and needs to come back for more.

    And as for Former Commissioner sh*t stain. You are correct. I do not want you to know my last name as I am afraid of what you are capable of. Everyone knows you are an unstable fella. Go away forever, sir.

  7. Why do the citizens of Coral Gables have to put up with these sleazy, back room deals?

  8. What allowed the commission to circumvent the normal bidding process? Whatever loophole allowed this to happen needs to be closed. Mena has shown his true colors. At the last commission meeting we clearly saw that the wishes of the residents is not his concern. He and the City Attorney clearly need to step down.
    Oh, and “Mr Peter Money”, how do we know if the City got a good deal and that the developer didn’t get a sweetheart deal – if bidding wasn’t allowed in the open market?!!

  9. Thank you Gables Insider and Mr. Kellner for getting out the facts. We need a city attorney and commissioners who follow ethics rules and act in the best interest of residents. Its common sense that what happened in this case was wrong.

  10. “Pete Money,” Which I seriously doubt is your real name. You see… most cowards like you are gutless human beings who enjoy using a fake name when disparaging others. You are and will always be an ignorant ASSHOLE with very little knowledge or courage to stand behind your name when insulting others.

  11. The Gables Insider does it again with excellent reporting. It’s so sad that this new commission is just “one meeting old” and the shit has already hit the fan. This doesn’t speak well of new beginnings or transparency that Lago has promised as our new mayor. Thank you to Mr. Kellner for a well-written letter that spells out the grim reality: we have yet another round of commissioners that must be watched carefully or they’ll be more of these shenanigans. Thank goodness for Rhonda Anderson; she appears to be the most honest of the bunch and she’ll hopefully rub-off on the others. I agree with Mr. Kellner: Mena and Ramos need to go; Gables citizens deserve much better!

  12. Thank you Mr. Kellner for bringing the self serving so called public servants into a bright light.
    Thank you for applying your expertise for the good of the citizens of Coral Gables. Please keep on helping us-we need it desperately.
    Native Miamian

  13. When Mena first ran for office, he showed up at my front door. I was point blank…”why is a young, Belen educated attorney running for office? You are either a lousy attorney or a crook”, I stated. Well, now I know…he is both!!! And we must all believe that there are numerous City employees involved in this beyond Ramos. Does anyone believe it is a coincidence that the City spent hundreds of thousands on curb, gutter and parking at the restaurant across the street just in time for this vote? Public works has to be in on this deal too (JK maybe??) Just saying….there is a lot of stink in this City, and it’s not coming from our septic tanks that Vince wants to remove at our cost.

  14. The only way to know if this is fair market price is to fairly place it on the market.

  15. Mena does not seem to understand “conflict of interest”. Any knowledgeable attorney would have encouraged him to abstain & it would have passed 4-0!
    At last Tuesday Commission meeting, Mena argued with me that a Special Lighting District[SLD] is not a conflict-of-interest for City. Really?? City transfers all costs going forward to SLD which they actively promote to community and that does not require disclosure?? No need to go to Law School for that one!!
    T R A N S P A R E N C Y – PLEASE!!

  16. Agree the optics are bad, but let us not lose sight of the point that this is a great deal or the City. To think that the developer in this case is getting a sweetheart deal is plain wrong.

    We end up with the Government we deserve when we make hay out of benign things to score political points. This is why people like trash bag Javier Banos and his allies like shi*t stain Ralph Cabrera feel embolden to run for office. While highly qualified candidates stay on the sidelines because they don’t want to deal with this crap. For shame.

  17. Thank you Mr. Kellner for your detailed article. Sadly enough it sheds light on the corruption that clouds out City Besutiful.

  18. Thank you Mr. Kellner and CGNA. This is blatantly unethical and illegal. Keep up the great work in exposing corruption and dishonesty.

    City Staff in many areas of our government are playing the same game for personal self-interest to the detriment of tax paying residents. Then the “wagons circle” and they cover-up for each other to hang on to their 6 figure salaries.

    Please keep up the great work in shining light on these dishonest persons that are harming all of us. Mena and Ramos need to go.

  19. Thank you Leon Kellner. Totally agree they should resign. Is there a way to start a petition among the residents requesting they resign?

  20. I did support Mayor Lago, now he has to take care of this situation. At this area there is not public parking spaces. For citizens & visitors.

  21. Bravo Leon Kellner. I am glad someone with ethics and knowledge and courage is shedding light on this. Maybe now you can look into why only those residents who use a certain contractor who “knows all the right people” are the only ones who can get a permit to build without waiting years. And why an “expediter” must be hired to get a permit if you don’t use that one contractor. And even when the “expediter” is paid large sums of money the permit still takes a ridiculous amount of time. Something smells bad in the whole process. CG eventually got rid of the thieving and corrupt Margaret Pass ( after paying a huge “settlement” for discrimination using taxpayer dollars). Maybe the minions have kept the gravy train going. Residents pay high property taxes and the “service” at city hall is a travesty. The cost of delaying projects because it is impossible to get a permit in a reasonable time is legendary in the Gables. Even tiny Palmetto Bay, with their employees who do not get huge pensions, can do a permit in a reasonable amount of time.

  22. thank you for reporting on these happenings and shedding light where there are shades of gray. very disappointing.

  23. What did we expect? This is the same, bloated City Attorney’s office that orchestrated the entire back room Wawa/Carver dark deal. Four or five full time lawyers in a city of 50,000? And Miriam still needs to hire outside “special ethics counsel” to issue this belated, CYA opinion? And Holland and Knight to fight the Wawa parents and children? It is obvious their time is being spent catering to special interests, championed by Mena in this instance.

  24. I read a similar article in Political Cortadito but now you make it very clear how corrupt and dishonest Mena and Ramos are. Thank you Leon for shining a spotlight on this issue and they must resign immediately. You are right Leon, Gables residents deserve much better than these two crooks, and I find it sad that Mena being a Belen Jesuit graduate whose motto is “men for others” , but sadly Mena only knows man for himself.

  25. Lago, it is now time for you to show yourself and do what you promised. We placed our faith in you to clean up the mess of the horrid Valdes-Fauli, Keon and now Mena leadership. We have spoken and we want none of this to continue in our City. All employees who worked behind the scenes for this including the City Attorney HAVE TO GO. Mena first !!! If any of you discussed your vote, you need to be severely punished per the Sunshine Law. Mena, you are as much of a creep as those who just left the Chambers and you need to resign like a gentleman. The construction in this City has probably been largely crooked and the development and backroom deals need to stop here.

  26. Yet another case of insider trading.

    The city continues to provide public property to developers at bargain basement prices.

  27. Good for you, Mr. Kellner, for being an active citizen. I appreciate your diligence over our local government’s matters!

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