JULY 12, 2012


When I left the saga of Grove Key/Scotty’s Landing’s RFP bid last evening, I wrote that I had been informed that Miami City Attorney Julie Bru, had written a legal opinion that either cleared or tagged the Grove Key Marina with owing the $2,536,845.43 tax bill that I had first written about last week.

This morning I received a copy of that opinion, along with other documents related to this situation, and while I have often been hard on Julie Bru - and will be again in the future - her legal opinion was spot on in covering all of the legal issues and the manner in which the Florida Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court changed the process of determining the tax liability of public property leased by for-profit companies.

The latest example of this was the dust up over the City of Miami leasing the parking Lots at the Marlins’ Stadium, to the Marlins, and how the Marlins’ were slick enough to include a provision in the lessee contract that made the City liable for the taxes.

In this case, Grove Key Marina has for at least the last 17(*) years welched on paying the property taxes it owes, and the big question that DEMANDS an answer is why did the Mayors, members of the City Commission and City Managers during that period allow them to get away with this?

In order to make this whole situation as clear as possible, allow me to walk you through the process, starting with the original contract in 1976.

(*) 17 years is the period of time that this property has been on the tax rolls.)


the first contract between the City and Grove Key Marina was executed on April 1, 1976.  The salient point was the provision regarding taxes.  Here is is. (NOTE: The documents referenced in this piece can be found by clicking HERE, or by clicking on the documents.)


In 1976, the language above was the prevailing definition about the use of public land by private companies and was based on Florida statutes that exempted “governmental to governmental” functions rather than a “governmental-proprietary” function.

The first court decisions to making this distinction occurred in Walden v. Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, 375 So. 2nd 283 (Florida 1979) and Volusia County v. Daytona Beach Racing and Recreational Facilities District, 341 So. 2nd 498 (Florida 1976.)

By the 1990’s, when Julie Bru wrote her legal opinion, a significant body of case law had been developed that included City of Sarasota v. Mikos, 633 So.2d 1075 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993), Sebring Airport Authority v. McIntyre, 623 So.2d 541 (Fla. 2d DCA 1993) and Page v. Fernandina Harbor Joint Venture, 608 So.2d 520 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992), review denied, 620 So.2d 761 (Fla.1993). 


Back before she became City Attorney and started making decisions based on politics, Julie Bru was writing opinions that addressed issues in a purely legal and  lucid manner.

The version that I posted on the document page, is a copy that also includes 2 separate requests for legal opinions on this issue.  The first from from then City Manager Cesar Odio, on June 21, 1996, (Page 1), which obviously triggered the creation of the opinion, and then a 2005 Memorandum from then City Attorney Jorge Fernandez, to Laura Billberry, Assistant Director of Economic development, in March 8, 2005. (Page 14.). 

The cleanest copy of the opinion starts at Page 20.  Before taking the time to read the entire opinion,and to move this along, Here is the critical part of the legal opinion as it regards who is liable for the taxes. (Page 23)GROVE_KEY_MARINA_LEGAL_DOCUMENTS.htmlshapeimage_11_link_0

Now, legal opinions by Assistant City Attorneys do not carry the same weight as an opinion by the Florida Attorney General, or by an opinion issued by Appellate Court, but notwithstanding my complaints about the quality of her legal opinions related to other stories I’ve written about the antics at City Hall, this opinion is well researched and well reasoned, and if nothing else, reflects the fact that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

In this case, Julie Bru was absolutely right, and the big question is why has nothing happened in the 18 years since this opinion was written to force Grove Key Marina to pay their outstanding tax bill?


If doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of being crazy, then the City of Miami has become so crazy as a result of the nonsense surrounding this refusal of Grove Key Marina to pay their taxes that they need to be put in an insane asylum and strapped into a straight jacket!

Consider the following:  Since 1997, like clock work, the City has received an annual property bill from the County Tax Collector, has forwarded the bill to Grove Key Marina, and has had the bill returned with this letter.


The only break in this process occurred in 2010, when then Director of Asset Management, Madeine Valdes wrote this letter:

Counsel for Scott Wessel wrote back, essentially telling Valdez to go screw:

The reason that Grove Key/Scotty’s continued to ignore the City’s efforts to get them to pay the taxes was that they knew that the City had no real standing to force them to do squat. 

The only entity with the legal standing to go after Grove Key/Scotty’s was the Miami-Dade County Tax Collector.  The reason that I chose to go with the copy of Julie Bru’s legal opinion that also included the 2005 opinion issued by then City Attorney Jorge Fernandez, was so that you could go and read that, and focus on the Conclusion, which said:

Scott Wessel and his lawyer behaved with the arrogance that they did, because they knew that Wessel only had to worry about the County, and, the only way that the County would ever get involved is if the City went to the County and made an issue of the situation.

You see, not only did the City not have the authority to go after Grove Key for the outstanding taxes, the City had no real incentive to force the issue because, as the Conclusion above states, Florida law prohibits the City from paying property taxes.

It was a real Catch Twenty-Two.

In fact, one has to assume that over the years, there was a tacit conspiracy between the City and Wessel to engage in the annual charade where the City sent him the tax bill, and his lawyer sent it back, and both sides more or less chuckled over the fact that the only people being screwed by this game were the dumb taxpayers who had to pick up the slack left by his unpaid taxes.


The last couple weeks a growing number of people slowly started becoming aware of all that was happening behind the scenes with the RFP and with the revelation about this tax issue with Grove Key.

Because there’s real money involved in this deal to take over the Grove Key property, it’s has drawn the usual suspects, plus some new ones, all looking for an angle to knife their competitors, and support their friends.

Each of the three top 3 groups recommended by the Selection Committee to the City Manager has been working behind the scenes trying to influence the process.

Part of that effort has been to elicit my support, or challenge my efforts, and in the process, I’ve been spun a few times.

Personally, I haven’t the least interest in who gets the approval of the City Commission.  In fact, I’ve made it a point not to look at any of the 5 proposals, other than what was required to look for one document or another.

My interest in this fight was, and is, based solely on the issue of the unpaid $2,5 million in taxes.  Taking advantage of a situation, like Scott Wessel has taken advantage of this situation is something that any right thinking person should find offensive. 

It wasn’t enough that he made a good living from a piece of property owned by the taxpayers, but he had to try and screw them by playing off of the angles to avoid paying taxes on this property for the entire time that it has been on the tax rolls.

I have been told that the Miami-Dade Tax Collector has finally been brought up to speed on this situation, and that he supposedly plans to do something about it.

I will keep an eye to make sure that something happens!

On the City Commission front,  word is that there will be an effort at today’s Commission meeting to defer this RFP item until the next meeting.  Whether that happens, or not, keep a close eye on Commissioner “Ethics.”

He’s on the Grove Key team, and plans, whether today or next week, to go after DAVID ONE, in an effort to get them disqualified.  It will be a classic Sarnoff performance, so if you can’t attend, watch the show on the internet or TV.

Then pay attention to who goes after Grove Key/Scotty’s, who by rights, should have been disqualified at the beginning because of this tax issue.

The important thing is to see who leads this effort, and then, if both of these efforts succeed, figure out who’s next in line, and whose been diligently working behind the scenes all along.

If you’re someone who loves the game, it’s always a treat to watch the pros at work.



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