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Judge Sounds Skeptical Note Over Challenge To $100 Million Bond

A Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge expressed skepticism Tuesday about one of the claims being made to challenge a $100 million resiliency bond approved by Key Biscayne voters last November. The hearing ended because of court time constraints and will resume Monday. 

But before adjourning, Judge Samantha Ruiz Cohen questioned plaintiff’s attorney David Winker about one of his arguments: that the vote should be nullified because it authorizes the borrowing of money, a claim Village Attorney Joseph Serota says is nonsense. 

“Mr. Serota has argued in his motion that it is an undisputed fact that the Village has not borrowed money. Are you in agreement?,” Ruiz Cohen asked. (Scroll down to listen to full court hearing)

Winker struggled to answer, as Cohen repeated her question. He conceded there was no evidence that the Village has borrowed any money. “I have no idea whether they borrowed money or not,” Winker told the judge. 

After the exchange, Winker pivoted to another claim, that the website the village used to inform voters about potential resiliency projects was misleading to his client, property owner Gustavo Tellez. 

Winker said that because the site ends in a “.org” address, it is not technically on the Village’s website, contending the information is actually on a site owned by a private company. But the Village website has a prominent link to the resilience site on its home page. In court papers, Winker has also argued that the ballot question should have been posed as “yes” or “no,” instead of “for bonds” or “against bonds.” 

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They are all arguments that should be summarily rejected, Serota told the court. He said voters had plenty of information about the bond issue and potential projects including putting sand on beaches, raising streets and burying power lines. 

“These bonds are critical to the Village’s future,” Serota said. “The referendum was properly and legally conceived, it’s what the voters wanted and voted for.” The measure passed 57% to 43% and was the dominant election issue. 

The hearing ended after about 50 minutes because Cohen had another matter pending, but she scheduled the arguments to resume at 9:00 a.m. Monday. 

Among those watching the Zoom hearing was Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey, who dialed in while on vacation with his family on a wildlife preserve in South Africa. He characterized Winker’s statement about borrowing as “disingenuous” because the Village has not borrowed any resiliency funds.

The Village had submitted an affidavit from Chief Financial Officer Benjamin Nussbaum attesting to the lack of borrowing, but Winker objected on a technicality, and Judge Cohen struck it from consideration at this step in the case.

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Here is a link to audio of the full hearing

Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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