Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board members face ethics complaint

Political consultant alleges that HPB members' affiliation with Miami Design Preservation League constitutes a Sunshine Law violation

Ocean Drive Art Deco District (Credit: iStock)
Ocean Drive Art Deco District (Credit: iStock)

UPDATED Nov. 27, 12:30 p.m.: A political consultant has filed an ethics complaint against three members of an influential Miami Beach land use board, accusing them of violating the state’s Sunshine Law because they’re also members of a non-profit.

On November 19, Randall Hilliard, who also goes by the nom de plume “Prince of Darkness,” filed a complaint with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics against Jack Finglass, Nancy Liebman, and Kirk Paskal.

Finglass, Liebman, and Paskal are members of the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board, a seven-person committee appointed by the majority of the Miami Beach City Commission. The HPB has the power to authorize or deny the alteration and/or demolition of buildings located within Miami Beach’s 14 historic districts and 15 designated historic sites. Three of the historic districts make up the National Register Art Deco District in South Beach which covers Lincoln Road, Washington Avenue, and Ocean Drive.

Finglass, Liebman and Paskal are also board members of the Miami Design Preservation League, or MDPL, a non-profit that advocates for the preservation of historic buildings in Miami Beach. Although city ordinance states that at least one member of the HPB has to be a member of MDPL, Hilliard alleges that having three MDPL board members on the HPB violates Florida law, which requires that elected and appointed city board members only meet at publicly noticed meetings.

“Because MDPL does not conduct their board meetings according to public meeting notification standards, Finglass’, Liebman’s and Paskal’s participation in MDPL is a violation of Florida Statutes Chapter 286 … by discussing project(s) at MDPL board meetings and conducting discussions with property owners outside publicly noticed meetings that will come before HPB,” Hilliard stated in his complaint.

Hilliard added in an emailed statement: “Liebman, Finglass, and Paskal think the rules don’t apply to them and their private clubs while soliciting and taking donations from developers. It’s just an example of their shameless conflict of interest by using MDPL and probably a violation of their 501(c) (3) status.”

Finglass and Paskal could not be reached for comment. Liebman, a former Miami Beach commissioner, called Hilliard’s charges “ridiculous.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about and I can’t respond to things I cannot understand. He needs to do a little background before he sends things like this,” Liebman said, later adding: “I don’t think he got over the fact that he lost, which was another part of his game, which is to get rid of MDPL.”

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Earlier this year, Hilliard, a consultant who has been employed by campaigns in Miami Beach and elsewhere in South Florida since the 1990s, was involved in a civil war between MDPL board members who were, among other things, divided on their support of its executive director, Daniel Ciraldo.

In June, Hilliard submitted 131 applications of new members, each with its $50 membership fee in cash clipped to them, who voted for a new board that included Hilliard himself, and which wanted Ciraldo suspended. Ciraldo and several other MDPL members insisted that the Hilliard proxies were improper. Soon, two rival groups claimed to be the board of directors of MDPL. A temporary injunction that would have prevented Ciraldo from acting as executive director was rejected by Judge Bronwyn Miller on October 19. On November 9, litigation from both sides was settled and the pro-Ciraldo board, which included Finglass, Liebman, and Paskal, was declared the true MDPL board.

Ciraldo said that Hilliard’s complaint has “no merit” since Liebman, Finglass, and Paskal aren’t members of the “advocacy committee” that actually does make recommendations to the HPB.

“There is no conflict of interest,” Ciraldo stated in an email. “None of them solicit any money from ‘developers’ nor are they involved in the MDPL advocacy committee discussions (where the positions of MDPL are voted on, later to be presented to the HPB). Randy continues to think we are a government organization, which we are not.”

Liebman also stressed that MDPL meetings are open to the public, and that she has only been an MDPL board member for the past two weeks.

Rhonda Victor Sibilia, spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Ethics Commission, said staff issues a report on the probable cause of an issued complaint within 60 days of receipt. If a violation is found to be committed by the ethics commission’s five-member board, the agency could levy fines of between $500 and $1,000 per violation, issue a letter of reprimand, or submit instructions on how to rectify a violation.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of historic districts and historic sites in Miami Beach.