By Agrippina Fadel
While there is certainly no love lost between commissioner Marlon Bolton and Mayor Michelle Gomez, who often clash and have heated discussions at the commission meetings, their professional relationship took another turn when Bolton called Gomez “a monster” at the March 23 meeting.
The reason involved a $500K donation that developer Michel Bittan promised to the city over the first five years of business operations.
Vida Garden Plaza LLC’s high-end restaurant and retail plaza was one of the five projects presented to the commission in April 2021 for the vacant parcel of land on University Drive, owned by the City of Tamarac.
Although Vida Garden Plaza’s bid was lower than others, the commission favored the retail plaza, saying the area has enough gas stations and Dollar Stores but lacked good restaurants and entertainment.
While questioning Bittan in 2021, Bolton asked if he would be open to offering a higher amount, knowing that the city’s highest bid was $1.7M for a 24-hour Wawa.
Bittan replied that if the city was looking for money only, he was sure Tamarac could find other projects. “I hope you pick a business, not for the extra money they can offer upfront, but because they are someone who will be involved in the community,” he said.
Bolton pressed him further, asking, “How much money can you proffer?”
Bittan did not want to be in a “bidding situation” and preferred to put extra into the community, promising to give $100K a year to the city’s charities, –with half focused on homeless projects.
When the commission finalized the land sale to Vida Garden Plaza on March 23, Mayor Gomez said she wanted it on the record that the extra money the developer offered and the way it was approached bothered her.
“I have one concern which I can keep my mouth shut about because it would be politically easy, but I have a problem with that too,” said Gomez, addressing Bittan. “I think it’s fabulous that you offered $500K more than the sealed bid price. However, it creates a chilling effect on other developers looking to come into Tamarac.”
Gomez added that she voted for the developer and thought his project would be excellent for the city.
“But for us as the commission to say to the developer, “I want you to give the city extra half a million dollars” – that’s a lot of money. And I think other developers may say, “I am not sure I want to do business here,” said Gomez.
Vice Mayor Mike Gelin seemingly supported Bolton’s approach, saying, “there should be no discomfort when a corporation donates to charities that will benefit the community and keep it safe.”
He added that cities look for “good corporate partners and neighbors, people who are willing to invest in the community,” and commissioners can make requests that benefit the residents.
Bolton then recounted a story of helping a homeless woman and her three children back in 2020 after getting a tip from a concerned resident.
With his voice breaking and tears in his eyes, he shared that he had his own brush with homelessness, “sleeping under a bridge for three nights,” which was traumatic for him.
“So, to have somebody so generous make a contribution that is not political is beyond words. It doesn’t matter where and to what organization it goes. Just make sure homelessness is taken care of,” said Bolton, who was exposed collecting funds for one charity and then having the gift cards from it end up at a different event two cities over.
Gomez said she had no problem with charity, only to be interrupted by Bolton, who leaned over, repeatedly saying, “You are a monster.”
“I am a monster, thank you,” said Gomez, adding that her point is not about the charities and contributions but that it is atypical to address a company on the commission floor and, under duress, influence them to pay a large sum in order to get a city’s bid.
“So, please don’t say I am a monster implying I wish for people and charities not to receive money. It is not about you or me. It is about the city policies and the way we try to bring smart development to keep our city active, vibrant, and alive,” said Gomez.
The proffer agreement between Tamarac and Vida Garden Plaza LLC comes back for discussion at a future commission meeting. There are still months ahead before construction starts.
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- Agrippina Fadel grew up in Siberia and received her master's in journalism from Tyumen State University. Agrippina is also a writer and editor at Draftsy.net. She has been a US resident for over ten years and speaks English and Russian.
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