Miami-Dade County leaders have searched for thirty years for a way to build a transit line between the City of Miami and Miami Beach. Tuesday, a procedural vote clouded whether a current $770 million proposal would be approved.
The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners voted down a report - or draft plan - of a massive transit project connecting the two cities. It was more of a public display of disapproval after an ethics commission investigation and comments by the county’s inspector general cast a shadow on the process behind the plan known as “Baylink.”
The action shows how commissioners could vote down the idea if Mayor Carlos Gimenez doesn’t work with a group of investors behind the proposal to make changes. Gimenez’s administration still has the power to review the “proposed” bid on the table and bring the full plan to the board for an up or down vote.
Mayor Gimenez was looking for direction from the Board and it is still unclear if he got it.
“This is what we’ve been doing for years, just kicking this can down the road as commissioners,” said Board Chair Audrey Edmonson, “And nothing ever happens.”
It is unknown if anything will happen before Mayor Gimenez and the majority of the Board leave office in November.
“We look forward to working with the Miami-Dade County administration to finalize the proposal details so we can deliver a reliable and low-cost monorail that will be a solution for the County’s hard-working families who demand access to public transit, while also generating thousands of jobs at time when our economy needs them the most,” wrote Kelly Penton, a spokeswoman for the Miami Beach Monorail Consortium.
The Consortium is a group led by investment developer Meridiam, an Asian casino developer called the Genting Group, and Aqualand Development. Genting and Aqualand are minority partners.
The trouble came when an ethics investigation released troublesome details of a Gimenez administration trade mission to Asia in 2018 which included county officials using burner phones and an undisclosed meeting with leaders of one of the plan’s partners, the Genting Group.
The Commission on Ethics and Public Trust found no laws were broken, but it was enough for the county commissioners to take a second look at the project. Commissioner Eileen Higgins made the motion to reconsider the Board’s previous approval of the plan.
Commissioners Monestime, Higgins, Martinez, Suarez, Sosa, and Levine Cava voted against the report. Commissioners Bovo and Jordan were absent. Commissioners Heyman, Moss, Souto, and Edmonson approved the report.
“I would like to see something that we can say yes or no to” said Vice Chair Rebeca Sosa, “I hope when something like this comes back it comes with something different.”
While voicing disapproval, many commissioners wanted to know how long it would take the mayor to review the plan and then bring them a recommendation.
“I don’t know,” said Gimenez, “We haven’t even started the process of evaluation. So, I have to get with my folks. This is not something that will be done right away. This is going to take a while.”