A Surfside commissioner who flashed her middle finger at the mayor during a virtual meeting last Tuesday says she acted out of frustration after the mayor muted her microphone and attacked her record.
Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer flipped off Mayor Charles Burkett during a heated discussion about moving the town’s utility poles underground. It was not her first time giving Burkett the bird. During a virtual meeting last June, Salzhauer gave him both middle fingers after she was muted during a debate about an anti-discrimination resolution.
“The man deserves the finger 100%,” Salzhauer told the Miami Herald. “He deserves more than that.”
The long-simmering tension between Salzhauer and Burkett, who controls the “mute” button during town Zoom meetings, boiled over again May 4 during a debate over the proposed utility project, which voters overwhelmingly supported in a referendum last November.
Salzhauer, who has called the referendum a “bait and switch,” said the town was not up front with residents about how much it would cost to plan the project and arrive at a final cost estimate to bury utilities underground. The language of the referendum stated that it could cost up to $18 million to complete the project, but a town consultant said he thinks it will cost more.
The commission eventually voted 4-1 to pay the consultant up to $289,580 to prepare utility coordination plans and provide an official cost estimate, but not before Salzhauer and Burkett had a tense back-and-forth that resulted in Salzhauer getting muted and giving Burkett the finger.
“I guess she has a difference of opinion and she certainly has an interesting way of expressing herself,” Burkett told the Herald on Monday.
Burkett, who has advocated for the utilities project, said his intention is to bring the cost estimate back to a voter referendum before proceeding with the project.
“Once we get the precise number, we will go back to the voters and let them know what that number is and let them decide if they are comfortable going forward,” he said.
On Tuesday, the commission will return to in-person meetings, and Burkett will lose his mute powers. Anticipating that, Burkett sent an email to all town staff and commissioners last Friday advising them that he will suspend future meetings if he cannot “gavel the meeting back under control” due to Salzhauer’s “typical outbursts or tirades.”
“I deeply regret that this issue even has to be discussed, but the dignity of our Commission, the morale of our staff and the respect I have for our residents, who should never be subjected to this type of irrational and irresponsible behavior by one of their leaders, is just not negotiable,” Burkett wrote in the email.
Salzhauer responded with her own town-wide email, arguing that her gesture was “well-deserved” and that Burkett is “terrified” of returning to in-person meetings because he will not be able to mute commissioners during discussions.
“The meetings are meant to be genuine discussions in REAL TIME between residents and commissioners of relevant AGENDA topics — NOT carte blanche for him to weaponize the mute button to misrepresent facts and bully his way into a pre-determined outcome,” she wrote. “He fancies himself as a school headmaster with a Time-Out Sceptor, but in reality, he is a petulant toddler who needs to learn to listen, share, and play nice with his PEERS.”