Rejecting claims that voters were misled, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Samantha Ruiz Cohen upheld a decision by Key Biscayne voters to approve up to $100 million in bonds to fight the effects of sea level rise.
“As a matter of law, the Court finds that the referendum language is neither confusing nor misleading. In plain and unambiguous language, the referendum asked voters whether they supported the issuance of bonds,” Cohen wrote in her nine-page order.
A property owner, Gustavo Tellez, sought to nullify the November referendum, saying he didn’t have enough information to make a decision. Tellez also said the wording of the ballot violated the Village Charter because it used the words “for bonds” and “against bonds” instead of a “Yes or “No.” Cohen called that argument “highly technical” and insufficient to invalidate ballot language.
Cohen also found no merit in Tellez’ claim that the ballot measure authorizes borrowing without an ordinance. “There is no evidence presented that any money has been borrowed or can be borrowed without an ordinance,” she wrote. Opponents had deemed the bond measure a “blank check,” even though the language only put another borrowing method at the Council’s disposal.
Tellez’ attorney, David Winker, said he was reviewing the court’s ruling and declined further comment. Tellez is a board member of the Botanica condominium association.
But Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey, who watched Monday’s second hearing from a vacation to Africa, said he feels vindicated by the court ruling.
“I’m happy it’s over,” Davey said. “I hope everyone understands that the point of the bonds was the betterment of the Village.”
The resiliency bond was the primary election issue. Voters approved it 57% to 43%, and all of the candidates who opposed the measure were unsuccessful in the contest for three seats on the Village Council.
Still, the battle over the borrowing appears far from over. To actually borrow money using general obligation bonds, a supermajority of five council members would have to agree after a public hearing process that involves passing an ordinance.
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.