No candidates in Surfside Special Election, but big changes are on the ballot

Surfside Town Hall
One amendment would double term lengths for elected officials.

In a Special Election this Tuesday, Surfside voters will weigh in on three proposed charter amendments that would change how residents can win and remain in public office.

The changes would impact the municipality’s next General Election on March 19, 2024, but not all those who win then will be affected the same way.

Two other potential changes on the ballot would extend to the Town Clerk the same appeals processes afforded to other Surfside employees and remove spending restrictions from small-scale infrastructure projects.

The charter amendments would:

— Require that the winner of the Mayor’s race receive more than 50% of the vote. If no mayoral candidate does so in a given election, the top two vote-earners would compete in a runoff. (Surfside’s current charter provides that the Mayor is elected upon receiving the highest number of votes.) Of note, this change would not affect candidates for the Town Commission, who would continue to run against one another in a separate contest.

— Double the term lengths of all five Commission members, including the Mayor, Vice Mayor and three Commissioners, from two to four years. The change would at first only extend to the candidates for Mayor and the two top vote-earners for the Commission in next year’s election. The third- and fourth-place Commission candidates next year would be up for election again in 2026, after which four-year terms would always be up for grabs.

— Allow for a public hearing to be called either by a majority vote of the Commission or at least 10% of registered Surfside voters to remove Commissioners who are no longer in compliance with the town’s residency requirements.

— Enable the Town Clerk to file an appeal with the Personnel Appeals Board if they claim to have been terminated, demoted or given reduced pay without cause. Surfside’s charter currently allows such action by other employees who have worked for the town at least two years, except for the Clerk, Manager, Prosecutor, Attorneys and Judges.

— Remove limitations on town-issued debt for emergency and/or infrastructure projects costing $10 million or less. This change would only apply to debt that is repayable from infrastructure project revenues, without increases to property taxes.

As reported by the Biscayne Times, Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger objected to the charter changes that could lead to runoff elections in future mayoral races. He argued they would be more costly and result in lower voter turnout.

In March 2022, he unseated then-Mayor Charles Burkett with about 35% of the vote. He won by 25 votes, which still amounted to a 2-percentage-point margin of victory.

Surfside had 3,739 registered voters at the time.

Commissioner Nelly Velasquez, meanwhile, said she believes the residency-focused amendment was aimed at her because she sold her house in Surfside and now lives in an apartment there.

Danzinger and Velasquez, the only incumbent voters re-elected last year, have clashed on the dais since the Mayor took office. During an early August meeting about the proposed amendments, Danzinger drew headlines and accusations of racism for a comment he made referencing Velasquez’s ethnic background.

After being interrupted several times by Velesquez and asking that she refrain from continuing to do so, Danzinger asked, “Does anybody know how to speak Spanish to tell it to her? Because I said it like four times.”

Members of the audience groaned in response, prompting Danzinger to slam his gavel to regain order.

Velasquez, who was born in the United States and speaks perfect English, accused Danzinger of discrimination. She called his comments “disgraceful.”

Danzinger defended his remark at first but apologized at the Commission’s next meeting. The Commission subsequently voted 3-2 to reject a resolution Velasquez sponsored to censure him.

Situated between Miami Beach and Bal Harbour, Surfside is a primarily residential, beachside community with numerous multistory condominiums. On June 24, 2021, it was the site of the third-deadliest non-deliberate structural engineering failure in United States history when the Champlain Towers South building collapsed, killing 98 people.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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