By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
On June 1, North Bay Village Mayor Brent Latham had prime lower bowl seats at London’s Wembley Stadium for the Cup of Champions, a South America versus Europe soccer match between heavyweights Argentina and Italy. From his vantage point, Latham snapped a close-up photo of Argentinian soccer hero Lionel Messi in the pitch and filmed a short video of the futbol aficionados around him, according to posts on the mayor’s Instagram account.
The mayor’s VIP ticket came courtesy of the Argentine Football Association, or AFA, which picked up the tab for Latham to spend a week in the United Kingdom’s capital city. About a month earlier, at the tail end of a regular village commission meeting and without public notice, Latham and two of his colleagues voted to approve his London trip so he could finish hammering out the details of an agreement between North Bay Village and AFA to build a soccer-oriented municipal complex and park on village-owned land and a portion of the land of a public school, Treasure Island Elementary.
But six months after his journey across the pond, Latham has not reported how much AFA spent lavishing him with gifts, including his airfare and hotel accommodations, as required by Florida law, according to a complaint filed last month against the mayor with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. Latham has not filed a gift disclosure statement since 2020, two years after winning his first election for North Bay Village’s top elected post, the complaint states.
The London trip served as Latham’s motivation for pushing the AFA deal through while failing to disclose initial opposition to the project from Miami-Dade Public Schools when the village commission approved the finalized AFA agreement on Sept. 15, the complaint states.
A day before the vote, Raul Perez, the school district’s chief construction officer, sent a letter to North Bay Village Manager Ralph Rosado admonishing the village for negotiating the deal involving Treasure Island Elementary without first seeking permission from Miami-Dade Public Schools. Perez also requested that Rosado read his letter into the public record during the Sept. 15 village commission meeting. Rosado did not do so, and village residents and elected officials, except Latham, did not find out about Perez’s letter until after the vote, the complaint states.
(At its November meeting, the Miami-Dade School Board authorized the school district to begin discussions with North Bay Village about using Treasure Island Elementary for the AFA project.)
OPPONENTS GO AFTER LATHAM, ROSADO
A dozen village residents, including Latham’s former mayoral opponent and ex-village commissioner Laura Cattabriga, signed the complaint against Latham, as well as an ethics complaint against Rosado. The village manager did not respond to a Florida Bulldog request for comment.
The residents accused Latham and Rosado of violating a county ethics law that prohibits local government officials from providing false information and omitting facts on public matters. The Latham complaint also alleges the mayor exploited his official position in accepting gifts from AFA.
On Thursday, December 15, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust dismissed the ethics complaints against North Bay Village Mayor Brent Latham and Village Manager Ralph Rosado based on the recommendation of outgoing General Counsel Martha Perez. She determined that neither the mayor and the manager violated a Miami-Dade ethics law prohibiting government officials from withholding facts on public matters. Perez also opined that Latham did not exploit his position by accepting an all expense paid trip to London.
Robert Meyers, a lawyer and former Miami-Dade ethics commission executive director represented Latham. He declined to comment about the complaints. Meyers is a partner with Miami law firm Weiss Serota Helfman Cole + Bierman, which has a contract as the village’s attorney.
Meyers told Florida Bulldog that he did advise Latham that the mayor could go to London as long as the village commission approved the trip.
In a phone interview before the ruling, Latham said the complaints had no merit, noting Miami-Dade ethics commission General Counsel Martha Perez issued an opinion dated Dec. 14 that recommends both be dismissed for being legally insufficient. Latham – who is in Doja, Qatar, working World Cup games – and the village clerk received an advance copy of Perez’s opinion that was provided to Florida Bulldog via a public records request. (Enhancing Argentina’s elite soccer status, the Messi-led team will play Sunday for this year’s World Cup crown in Qatar. It will be Argentina’s sixth World Cup final. Messi has declared it will be his last World Cup game.)
“The ethics commission’s advocate provided a five-page objective review that dismisses the complaints out of hand,” Latham said. “I sought an opinion and followed it to the letter. There is nothing to see here unless someone is trying to cast aspirations.”
The ethics commission also found no probable cause in two other complaints against Latham and North Bay Village Commissioner Rachel Streitfeld. Former Village Attorney Norman Powell, who filed the complaints, alleged that Latham and Streitfeld publicly lied about the village commission approving the filing of a bar complaint against him when no formal vote took place.
AFA’s PROPOSAL TO BUILD SOCCER COMPLEX
In November of last year, North Bay Village issued a request for proposals a month after AFA submitted an unsolicited bid to build a two- to three-story complex with a soccer component, recreational facilities, municipal offices, a new police station, soccer fields and a dog park, according to village records. The soccer component, which would be operated by AFA, entails locker rooms, a gym, a physical therapy room, a cafeteria open to the public, a soccer memorabilia museum and a retail shop selling the federation’s merchandise.
Last December, Rosado recommended the village of less than 8,000 residents negotiate with AFA after the soccer federation submitted the only bid. Five months later, the village commission voted to authorize Rosado to draft a contract with AFA to develop the complex, and to enter into talks with Miami-Dade Public Schools to rework an existing agreement that allows North Bay Village use of Treasure Island Elementary’s green space so that the association can build the soccer fields and padel courts.
The proposed development would replace the village’s existing public works building, a sewer pump station and a parking lot at 1841 Galleon St. According to AFA’s proposal, the sports federation also wants to use Treasure Island Elementary’s green space to place five soccer fields and up to six courts for padel, a racket sport similar to tennis.
Since AFA made its unsolicited proposal, Latham has been the project’s loudest champion in North Bay Village. Prior to being elected mayor, he worked for about a decade as a strategic communications and media relations executive for ESPN, FIFA and Concacaf, the soccer federation comprising North America, Central America and the Caribbean.
The proposed 30-year deal with AFA requires the association to spend a maximum of $6.5 million on the complex’s construction, and share five percent of the soccer component’s gross revenues with the village, according to village commission meeting minutes. In exchange, AFA gets to run a youth soccer academy and use the complex and soccer fields for training professional futbol players.
“The project makes sense to me because it provides things for the community,”
Latham said at the village commission’s April meeting. “If this opportunity were to go walking, there’s probably not another one around the corner.”
A SURPRISE REQUEST TO MEET IN LONDON
A few weeks later, Latham made a surprise request right before the end of the May 10 village commission meeting. By then, Richard Chervony and Julianna Strout, two commissioners who attended via Zoom, had logged off and were not in attendance, according to the meeting’s archived video. Latham, Commissioner Rachel Streitfeld and then-Vice Mayor Marvin Wilmoth were physically present.
“There was one more thing,” Latham told his two colleagues. “I should have brought it up, but I didn’t. The Argentine Football Association has asked to meet. They have sent me an invitation to meet with [AFA’s] president in London and pay the expenses associated with that.”
Latham told Streitfeld and Wilmoth that he needed their consent to travel, and that “it is probably something that is in the best interest of the project to go meet with them.”
Wilmoth, who left office last month, didn’t hesitate. “Go for it,” he told Latham. Streitfeld said she had no objections. But she criticized AFA for seeking an audience only with the mayor. “You are one of five,” she told Latham. “Instead of flying the mayor [to London], it is in their best interest to recognize each of us and come here to North Bay Village.”
Even though North Bay Village delegates the authority to negotiate deals to the village manager, Latham insisted that AFA’s president and board of directors wanted him at the table. “I would like to be very transparent about this,” Latham said. “I am the face of this. I am the one who started this discussion.”
Latham, Wilmoth and Streitfeld voted to allow the London trip, which took place between the end of May and June 2.
Latham’s Instagram account also has photos of the mayor meeting with AFA President Claudio Tapia and the association’s directors in a conference room where they gifted him a Messi soccer jersey, a soccer scarf and a small snare drum. The caption reads, “Very productive week of meetings with the Argentina Football Association, capped by a great match at Wembley…Thanks to President Tapia for the invitation!”
CHERVONY CALLS TRIP UNETHICAL
At the village commission’s June 6 meeting, Chervony blasted Latham for sneaking in approval of the London trip at the end of the previous meeting. The commissioner also demanded the city clerk amend the May meeting minutes to reflect that he and Strout were not present for the London trip vote.
“I would never authorize the acceptance of an expense, especially an all-expenses-paid trip to London to meet and be paid for by the party with whom we have an open procurement issue that has not been settled,” Chervony said at the June meeting. “I want the record to reflect that I did not vote on this matter and I have an ethical issue with it.”
Latham claimed he had obtained an opinion from the Miami-Dade ethics commission before he brought it up for a vote. But Haydee Sera, the Weiss Serota partner who handles the village’s legal affairs, clarified that Latham actually spoke to Meyers, the former ethics executive director who opined that the trip required village commission approval, according to the June 6 meeting video.
Chervony didn’t buy the explanation, stating he would be filing a complaint against Latham with the Florida commission on ethics. Chervony also accused Latham of intentionally waiting for him to log off the May meeting to bring up the trip. “That I know of, we authorized the village manager to negotiate with them, not you sir,” Chervony said. “You did it purposely. Let’s call a spade a spade.”
In a phone interview, Chervony told Florida Bulldog that he supports the AFA deal, but that he still intends on making a Florida ethics commission complaint against Latham. He’s waiting for the village clerk to amend the May meeting minutes to reflect that only three elected officials voted for the London trip as opposed to the entire commission.
“It still says that it was voted on unanimously when two members were not present,” Chervony said. “I am all for the partnership being done correctly. The mayor should have no privilege to negotiate on our behalf or to travel to London on our behalf.”