With questions rising about the future of historic Virginia Key after Miami Mayor Francis Suarez refused to veto the city’s takeover of the board of trustees, many Black local leaders are now angered by the decision.
Patrick Range, II. is the now-former chairman of the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, a group of volunteers that oversaw the area’s preservation and restoration.
Suarez’s decision to remove the members of the Trust was supposed to be a discussion item at Thursday’s city commission meeting, however, Range said it ended up being a “personal appearance.”
“Shame on you, city commission — you dropped the ball, you missed the mark,” he said. “You have insulted and disrespected the community. Provide a passive park experience for the citizens that live in this great city — we deserve better.”
Range said the disrespect stems from Miami Commissioners that include Joe Carollo and Alex Diaz De La Portilla for not attending the meeting.
“Half of the commissioners aren’t even present to hear what I had to say– it is a disrespect,” he said.
Virginia Key Beach was once the only beach accessible to Black Miami during times of segregation.
“That was the beach that we could go to recreate, to celebrate,” Range said.
But in a 4-1 vote in October, the Miami City Commission chose to take control of it, ousting every existing member of the majority Black trust and making Commissioner Cristine King its chair along with 2 appointees.
“Since you have disrespected us, we will not let this go with (the) approaching MLK holiday this Monday,” Range said in the commission meeting. “We have been accused wrongly of many things and we have not received any apology — not even a thank you for the time and years the volunteers come forward.”
Lee Roy Jones, lead organizer of The Circle of Brotherhood, told Local 10 News that he is also concerned of the commission’s decision to remove black members off the trust.
“We went from having all blacks on the trust except for one white person to now the commission running the trust and that wasn’t the intent of what that trust was created for,” Jones said.
Among their issues with the trust, the commission cited slow progress on plans for a Miami Black History Museum at Virginia Key Beach Park.
King told Local 10 News that the city is moving forward and choosing 2 appointees will help pick up the focus on creating the museum.
“It’s time to pass the baton and let’s put some more life into trying to realize the dream of having a black museum on Virginia key beach,” she said. “I believe with those two appointments and my colleagues we are now going to be able to move the agenda forward in realizing the museum for that historic space.”
After the vote, a group of local Black community stakeholders penned a letter to Suarez, urging him to use his veto power.
He did not, leading to the commission take over.
Range said he believes Miami’s city commissioners can still do the right thing for the people.
“You have the chance to do right and believe you can do right — the citizens will deserve this,” he said.
”Until the county comes together with the city we will continue to see the community be used as a pawn in this,” said Lyle Muhammad, Executive Director of Circle of Brotherhood.
Local 10 News contacted the offices of Carollo and De La Portilla for comment on Range’s remarks but have not heard back.
In an interview, King said she plans to organize a community forum to hear what the community wants at Virginia Beach, Miami’s historically black beach.
Listen to King talk about the city’s focus on building the new museum in the video below:
In the latest development, King named Bonita Jones-Peabody and Vincent Brown as her new appointees on Thursday.
Jones-Peabody is an assistant public defender in Miami and Brown is a former Opa-locka city attorney.
The 7-member board has one vacancy currently, that is because there is currently no District 2 commissioner following Ken Russel’s departure – a special election on that district happening next month.
Local 10 News reached out to the Office of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava where Deputy Communications Director Natalia Jaramillo gave us the latest information on the Black History Museum, which you can read below.
On where the millions set aside to construct a Black History Museum at Virginia Beach is currently sitting?
Jaramillo: “The funds necessary to establish the City of Miami’s Civil Rights Museum were included in the 2004 General Obligation Bond (GOB) ($15.5 million) and are currently housed within Miami-Dade County. The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners also approved an additional $5 million in Convention Development Tax bond funds to support this critical project.”
If so, what coordination, if any, is happening presently and previously with the City of Miami to start the process of building that museum?.
Jaramillo: “The County Department of Cultural Affairs met many times in recent years with a succession of City staff assigned to this project. We’ve offered them technical support and assistance including guidance on the capital bond fund.”
“We noted that there was no commitment to date from Miami-Dade County for the proposed County annual operating subsidy included in the consultant report’s operating pro forma (which was being relied upon to balance the budget). In addition, we inquired whether the City of Miami had made a commitment for the City operating subsidy included in the consultant’s report. We asked what alternatives were being considered. If the City (and County) subsidy(ies) did not occur and/or if the City subsidy was committed at a lower level.”
From what we understand, it is City land, but the county controls the purse strings – is that accurate?.
Jaramillo: “The full implementation of the project is the responsibility of the City of Miami. Miami-Dade County’s role is to ensure that the County funds are used responsibly and effectively on behalf of the public and consistent with their approved purpose.”
What are the next steps in advancing voter intent to build the Black History Museum?
Jaramillo: “Miami-Dade County is willing and ready to support the City of Miami in the implementation of this much-expected project.”
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Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment “Call Christina.”