Leave foreign policy to Washington, protect Miami’s assets
Miami doesn’t need a foreign policy. Our federal government alone is allowed to set policy for dealings abroad. Yet city commissioners are talking of establishing their own.
The multi-layer question before commissioners today (5/23) is whether any law firm that has a lawyer who has a client that has some business interest with any person or company in Cuba or with Cuba’s government can also do business with the City of Miami.
That’s at the heart of what’s being debated, though it’s totally unrelated to the formal issue on the table, which is to hire a powerful law firm to help the city in a big deal.
The city is trying to hire the best consultant to help taxpayers in a deal to lease out the city’s Melreese Golf Course for a massive development that will include a soccer stadium. The other side will, of course, have great talent on its negotiating team in a multi-billion-dollar project, and the city administration recognizes correctly that it also should have top guns.
The better advice the city gets, the better taxpayers will be protected. Without top advice, the city will get steamrolled, as usually happens when city attorneys who aren’t skilled in development face off with experts who make their living at it.
Yet a single commissioner, Manolo Reyes, is seeking to be gatekeeper, ruling out any advisory firm, however qualified, that has any remote connection to anything related to Cuba.
“I’m sending a message…. If I get criticized, I don’t care,” Mr. Reyes told fellow commissioners in stalling debate on the issue this month. Now it’s back for Round Two.
We’re sympathetic to the concerns of Mr. Reyes. For all the right reasons, few people in Miami have fondness for the regime in Cuba.
But in a free country we also don’t like autocratic requirements that people be politically correct in order to deal with their own city hall. Mr. Reyes would have us all toe his personal political line in order to deal with the City of Miami. That’s wrong.
Further, in trying to make the rest of us toe his line, Mr. Reyes is shooting himself in the foot. He doesn’t like the golf course deal (he’s right – it would lead to a big-time loss of green space, and there was no bidding) and he wants commissioners to vote well before the November election, in which he will stand as a candidate. Yet he is making it hard for the city to get consulting help to speed talks to get to a lease vote.
The city called for firms that have a record of dealing with huge projects, especially firms that have dealt with stadiums. It got 16 candidates. The administration chose a national firm with offices here, but Mr. Reyes said he thinks the firm deals with Cuba – which the firm denies. He said any firm dealing in any way with Cuba is out, period.
In Miami, that’s likely to rule out any large or mid-size law firm. All probably have at least one attorney dealing with some company or individual who has some interest in Cuba, be it looking for compensation for property seizure or looking at doing business there after the regime changes. Thousands of Miamians fit those two categories, neither of which seems to be in the pocket of the present Cuban government but both of which would be outlawed under Mr. Reyes’ criteria.
This isn’t the first time that government here has set up a Cuba policy. Five years ago the courts slapped down a Florida policy that prohibited companies from bidding on any state or local government contract if they also did business in Cuba or Syria. If it came to it, the courts probably would strike down Mr. Reyes’ dictum too, if the city actually were foolish enough to adopt it.
Earlier local Cuba policy kept out of the county an international track & field meet, a chance to host the Pan American games, a business deal with Spain (because that nation does business with Cuba) and the first-ever Latin Grammys, among examples of what Miami does not need to do.
More recently, we lost out on the vast Airport City development because a subsidiary of the Brazilian developer did work in Cuba.
This community holds itself out to businesses, investors and residents from around the globe. The Beacon Council courts them. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau tries to lure tourists from everywhere. We call ourselves a global city.
How does that stack up with a city with its own foreign policy of exclusion, not inclusion? Not well.
How would the City of Miami decide who really does business with someone who has some interest in Cuba? Is there a special anti-Cuba audit, or does Mr. Reyes, as he did in this case, simply feel that he knows who is out, no matter what they say?
If we follow the Reyes principle, we simply exclude any law firm with any work abroad and find lawyers who do only home closings or traffic cases or personal injury work. They won’t help much against the firepower of the Mas family in the Melreese deal, but they’ll pass the Cuba litmus test.
Much as we detest Cuban communism, we don’t see what it has to do with getting the best consultants for the city to minimize the Melreese swindle. Nor do we see what business it is of the City of Miami how its hired consultants feel about Cuba.
Leave the foreign policy to Washington and protect Miami’s assets at home.