Miami Shores, Fla. – A lawsuit challenging a new state law which bans elected ofﬁcials from lobbying government agencies outside political ofﬁce was recently dismissed, dealing a blow to the political careers of several Blacks public servants.
Miami Shores Councilmembers Crystal Wagar and Katia Saint Fleur, who are Black, were forced to resign due to the new law which they suggested is unconstitutional.
Wagar, along with Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard, who is a Haitian-American, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rene Garcia and Miami-Dade County School Board member Lubby Navarro, were part of a group of plaintiffs who ﬁled the lawsuit in federal court.
Navarro also resigned.
The new law immediately impacts Wagar, who recently accepted a job with the Miami ofﬁce of national lobbying ﬁrm the Southern Group. Shortly after the court’s ruling, she emailed her resignation to Village attorney Sarah Johnston.
Wagar, who previously was the ﬁrst Black mayor of Miami Shores, acknowledged she represents clients in front of government bodies, requiring her to register as a lobbyist.
She did not mention she recently landed a job with The Southern Group, a lobbying ﬁrm that represents Miami Shores in Tallahassee. “While I do believe (the new law) will be deemed unconstitutional,” Wagar wrote, “I cannot serve the remainder of my term, which is deeply regrettable."
Wagar said when she ran to serve her community, she did so by highlighting her more than two decades of public service and government experience in both the private and public sectors.
"As part of my law practice, I do represent clients in front of government bodies which require registering as a lobbyist," she said. "It has been my honor to serve my community, serve with my esteemed colleagues and work with the incredible Miami Shores staff."
Fleur, a professional consultant in government and community relations, ofﬁcially resigned from the village council Dec. 15 after legal counsel advised her to step down.
The resignations of Wager and Fluer leave Miami Shores Mayor Sandra Harris as the only Black on the ﬁve-member council.
The council decided to appoint two members and requested interested parties, who must have lived in Miami Shores for at least six months, to submit paperwork no later than Jan. 11.
"The Council hereby notiﬁes all those interested persons who wish to be considered and are qualiﬁed to ﬁll the vacancy to submit the following information no later than 12:00 p.m., Wednesday, January 11 to the Ofﬁce of the Village Clerk via email, the city’s website said. "No late submissions will be considered."
In 2018, voters approved a new amendment to the state Constitution that bans lobbying for money by certain public ofﬁcials during their term in political ofﬁce and for six years after their terms end.
The state Legislature approved the law to amend the onstitution and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it in May. It went into effect Dec. 31.
However, a group of election ofﬁcials who are lobbyists ﬁled a lawsuit hoping Federal Court Judge Beth Bloom would overturn the new law, calling it unconditional, but to no avail.
The plaintiffs unsuccessfully sued Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, Florida Chief Financial Ofﬁcer Jimmy Patronis, Florida Commission on Ethics Executive Director Kerrie Stillman and the ethics commission’s nine board members, all of whom are responsible for enforcing the new law, according to the lawsuit.
Garcia, who recently co-founded New Century Partnership, a business consulting ﬁrm which provided lobbying and government affairs services, said he is not resigning as county commissioner because he is not doing any government work through the ﬁrm.
However, the ﬁrm does provide lobbying services.
“When you start limiting a person and their First Amendment rights that goes against the U.S. Constitution,” said Garcia, who was elected to the county commission in 2020 after a 20-year career in the state Legislature.
Bernard, a real estate and tax attorney, has served on the Palm Beach County Commission since 2016 and previously in the Florida House of Representatives. He did not respond to an interview request.
Newly elected South Miami Mayor Javier Fernandez, also a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, told the Miami Herald he is not resigning his elected post. He is a partner with the law ﬁrm Sanchez-Medina, Gonzalez, Quesada, Lage, Gomez & Machado, which represents clients before county and municipal boards and agencies.
“I had to stop representing them,” Fernandez said. “My intention is to continue to serve in public ofﬁce. The big issue is if the Florida Ethics Commission were to rule that no one at my ﬁrm could do lobbying work. Then I would have to reconsider.”