News: City Does Not Have Legal Waivers from Either Prospective Convention Center Developers

In what started as a subdued acceptance of the City Manager’s recommendations on the Convention Center by the Land Use Commission, quickly turned into a heated discussion of legal semantics and Florida law.

It became clear on Monday that the City did not have signed waivers from both teams stating they would not sue the city in case they were not chosen.

South Beach ACE refused to sign the waiver by the Monday deadline because it was “overly broad” according to their legal staff.

Portman CMC signed the waiver with the clause that it would only be effective if South Beach ACE agreed to sign as well.

Effectively, the city has neither.

According to Raul Aguila, Chief Deputy City Attorney, the problem with not having such assurances in place arise from the potential that construction on the Convention Center could be delayed due to litigation.

Such an agreement appears not to be a new stipulation in such projects, as the principals of both teams, Portman and Tishman, both agreed to a nearly identical waiver in a past San Diego bid.

“We basically used the same agreement,” said Aguila during the meeting.

Al Dotson, the attorney representing South Beach ACE at the Land Use meeting, says it’s a whole new game in Florida.

“Florida law will not permit us to grant you a waiver of a statue or a public policy that protects the public or an individual,” said Dotson. “Your document asked us to do was to violate a law.”

“Miami-Dade country code of ordinance requires us by law that if we found a violation of ethics of code, we must report it,” he said. “What was said in your agreement that we would be prevented from doing so if we found out that in a later date.”

Commissioner Michael Gongora, who ran the meeting, was having none of it.

“I think that’s pretty out there, that your talking about violating an ethics code,” said Gongora.

“We don’t want to be involved in a construction negotiations with somebody, if somebody violated an ethics code, that could be carved out,” he said.

Aguila assured the commission that the city was well within it’s rights in the negotiating phase to ask for such waivers.

Still the meeting devolved into a battle of legalese that prompted a frustrated Mayor Mattie Bower to abruptly yell out: “Are you going to sign it or not?”

Dotson expertly avoided answering the direct question, but eventually said “I’d be happy to speak with your assistant city attorney.”

City Attorney Jose Smith opined from the dais that he believed the waiver was legal, and if South Beach ACE had such grievances they should have made them known to him before the deadline so he had a time to review it.

Gongora and Commissioner Deede Weithorn made it public that not signing the waivers would effect their choices.

The Commission demeaned the waivers to be necessary before they could make a decision, and asked for updates.

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