Surfside voters split on charter changes in Special Election

Surfside Town Hall
Just 2 of the ballot measures succeeded.

Surfside voters Tuesday were divided during a Special Election on a handful of charter amendments, three of which aimed to change how residents can win and remain in public office and two that concerned town finances and employee grievances.

Just two of the ballot measures succeeded.

Residents voted:

— In favor of requiring the winner of the Mayor’s race to receive more than half of the vote, instead of the current standard by which the candidate with the most votes wins. If no candidate does so, the two candidates with the largest share of the votes will have to compete in a runoff. This new rule does not extend to candidates for the Town Commission, who compete against one another in a separate race with the greatest vote-earners winning office. The measure passed 66-34%.

— For enabling 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. Prior to Election Day, Surfside’s charter only allowed such action by other employees who have worked for the town for at least two years, except the Clerk, Manager, Prosecutor, Attorneys and Judges. The measure passed 53-47%.

— Against doubling the term lengths of all five Commission members, including the Mayor, Vice Mayor and three Commissioners, from two to four years. The measure failed 31.5-68.5%.

— Against allowing public hearings to be called either by a majority Commission vote or at least 105 of the registered surfside voters to remove Commissioners who are no longer in compliance with the town’s residency requirements. The measure failed 59-41%.

— Against removing limitations on town-issued debt for emergency and/or infrastructure projects costing $10 million or less. The change would have applied only to debt that is repayable from infrastructure project revenues, without increases to property taxes. The measure failed 68-32%.

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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