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'Shame on you': Former Virginia Key trustees still seek apology from Miami Commission

N. Patrick Range, former chair of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, speaking to the Miami Commission on Jan. 12, 2023
Screenshot from City of Miami via YouTube
N. Patrick Range, former chair of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, speaking to the Miami Commission on Jan. 12, 2023

The people formerly in charge of Miami's historically Black beach still seek an apology from the city's elected leaders months after they were removed from their positions.

Former members of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, the body in charge of maintaining what was once Miami-Dade County's only beach open to Black visitors, came to the City of Miami commission chambers on Thursday to rail against city commissioners.

"Shame on you, city commission. You've dropped the ball, you've missed the mark, you've insulted and disrespected this community. We've received nothing but disrespect at every turn from you," said N. Patrick Range, former chair of the trust.

Last year, the commission voted to remove the existing board of trustees and place themselves on the trust, with Commissioner Christine King as chairwoman with the power to appoint two other trustees.

The ouster came after commissioners Joe Carollo and Alex Diaz de la Portilla claimed the trust was poorly managed, and accused the trust members of "malfeasance," or fiscal wrongdoing. To justify their claims, the commissioners pointed to a draft audit report on the trust prepared by the city, which at that time was not available to the public.

Diaz de la Portilla said from the dais last year that the trust members were caught with "their hands in the cookie jar."

"Shame on you, city commission. We've received nothing but disrespect at every turn from you."
N. Patrick Range, former chair of the Virginia Key Trust

When the audit was finalized and made available for review on Oct. 11, it revealed that the trust was guilty of bad bookkeeping, lax accounting and failing to issue monthly financial reports to the city. The auditor noted, however, that most issues mentioned in the audit were already fixed or being dealt with.

There was no mention of malfeasance in the report.

Range, the former chair, asked the commission in October for an apology for those comments. This week, he said from the podium that the trust had still not received said apology almost three months later.

Commissioner King said from the dais Thursday that there was no evidence of malfeasance with the trust, and that the decision to change its leadership did not have to do with the audit report.

But the two commissioners who spoke poorly of the trust, Carollo and Diaz de la Portilla, were absent from the chambers when Range addressed them —with Carollo, who was later said to have not been feeling well, walking out as he began to speak.

As he came up to the podium, he was told he was scheduled in the agenda as a "personal appearance" and would have only three minutes to address the commission. Taken aback, Range said he had requested a discussion item on the commission agenda to speak at length on the trust's governance.

"This was to be a discussion item, as opposed to a personal appearance for me," he said. "This is not about me."

"That's not how I interpreted what you requested," said City Manager Art Noriega, prompting an incredulous look from Range.

Aerial photo of Virginia Key
Getty Images Signature
Aerial photo of Virginia Key

An email exchange shared with WLRN shows that Range requested a discussion item in early November, and the city manager's office said a discussion item would be placed on the Dec. 8 commission agenda. That Dec. 8 meeting would later be cancelled, and items from that day's agenda moved to Jan. 12.

"We will add the requested discussion item to the agenda for 12/8," wrote Melissa Fernandez-Stiers, Noriega's chief of staff, to Range on Nov. 8.

"I am disappointed that I will only have 3 minutes to make my presentation. I don't feel like that's fair for the time and effort that's been put into what we have done as former trust members," Range said, before hitting out at the treatment he and his colleagues received from the commission last year.

During his appearance, and through the public comment period, Range and other former trust members asked the commission to restore the previous trust leadership and reappoint the trustees who were removed.

King said the old trust would not be restored, and moved to appoint two new trustees, attorneys Vincent Brown and Bonita Jones-Peabody. King said the commission and new trust would work to finally create the long-stalled Black history museum on Virginia Key Beach, which residents were promised decades ago.

"The reason why my colleagues took this position was because they would like to move forward, as do I, with progress to see the museum built," King said from the dais.

Speaking again during the public comment period, Range said that the commission had not seen the last of him and the previous trustees, and that they would still be around to help get the museum built, whether the commission wanted their assistance or not.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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