Democracy in Coral Gables, and More from George Volsky on the City Commissioners

I am mainly impressed by the weakness of democracy in Coral Gables.  Yes, we vote, but very few people do.  There is not culture of participation except to attend commission and other official meetings in which very little time is given to limited public comment.  We have commissioners who are quiet except called upon to vote and comment on prearranged agenda items.  We had just gotten over the culture of micromanagement and micro-intervention of commissioners in the daily work of the city.  In short, democracy in Coral Gables in just a shadow of what it should be.

 

 

 

TRIUMVIRATE – KEON, LAGO, QUEVEDO – FLEXES ITS MUSCLES

By George Volsky

Coral Gables, April 20. The April 16th special meeting of the City Commission should be recorded in its annals as one of the very important – but for wrong reasons – in Coral Gables’ history.

Nothing of significance took place that afternoon in the commission’s chamber. After a brief spat, the five commissioners unanimously named the highly-regarded and general liked Assistant City Manager Carmen Olazabal to be Interim City Manager, replacing her boss, City Manager Patrick Salerno, who resigned eight days earlier.

Olazabal, a mild-mannered executive who can be steely when needed, will serve until the new “chief executive officer of the city” (City Charter, Sect. 20) is selected; that process could take up to six months. And how to do it, with input from the public, was deferred by the commission to another special meeting at 5. p.m. Monday.

(Commissioner Pat Keon, frivolously, floated an idea of a citizen nominating committee, like the one named in 2009 by the former mayor Don Slesnick, of which she was member. That partisan and amateurish panel, as most people remember, almost immediately politicized what, by definition, should be a strictly professional effort.)

The significance of the April 16, 2014 meeting lies in the fact that, as far as anyone recalls, three commissioners, using their City Charter- given powers, for the first time ever overruled the mayor. It was because on April 8 Mayor Jim Cason’s reasonable ruled that a “city manager search” meeting be held April 25, following the IRS tax reporting day and religious holidays.

The meeting override produced nothing useful. It only reaffirmed the unfortunate reality that a triumvirate composed of commissioners Keon, Vince Lago and Frank Quesada – three least experiences members of the five-member commission – is now in the saddle.

The triumvirs, for no apparent reason except perhaps personal prejudice, had crudely and stealthily engineered the resignation of Salerno whose managerial experience is many times higher than that of the trios combined.

Ironically also, the city manager quit on the day when the Finance Director Diana Gomez announced that Coral Gables, having emerged from the brink of bankruptcy (when Salerno took over five years ago), was now financially better than ever. Salerno’s unprecedented economic accomplishments -, that includes a surplus of $28,7 million – were recognized grudgingly by Keon, Lago and Quesada.

There was another irony on the triumvirate-mandated meeting. And it was that the meeting took place on Ash Wednesday which the three presumably- Christian triumvirs  presumably know begins a period of reflection, repentance and penance. Unfortunately during the meeting there was a nary sign of reflection and repentance, let alone of penance.

But there was something else: the reappearance in city politics , hopefully temporary, of two individuals who like bad pennies turned up in the commission chambers and whose presence could be connected to triumvirate’s “rule.” Jorge (George) Alvarez and Enrique Lopez addressed the commission (Lopez twice), having the gall – as one resident called it – to offer advice as to how Coral Gables should conduct its affairs.

That brought to mind the trite buttrue dictum that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Of the commission’s five members, possibly only Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk recalls the history of Alvarez and Lopez. The others had better learn it because both individuals have reportedly been talking to them about the Coral Gables parking case of their current employer, the so-called Dade Medical College.

(Alvarez and his aide were seen meeting one commissioner. If their talk was about the DMC’s application for parking in our Downtown – it is difficult to imagine they would discuss David Beckham or Obamacare – Alvarez and his aide were violating the city’s lobbyist rule. They are not registered as lobbyists in the City Clerk’s office. The commissioner in question could also be skirting the law by talking city business to Alvarez.)

Late in 2000, Alvarez, a minor Miami businessman who doubled in that city’s turbulent politics, was placed on Coral Gables’ ballot as candidate for mayor by another candidate, Don Slesnick, who wanted him to syphon Latin votes from the incumbent Raul Valdes-Fauli. In virtually no time, Alvarez surprisingly amassed a campaign chest of over $100,000 – about $200,000 in today’s dollars. Some of that money came from a Miami politician who later was jailed for fleecing Miami-Dade County.

Following his predicted humiliating defeat, Alvarez served without distinction on several city boards. For a while, he became a founding member of the City Hall influence group called the Don/Dave Gang, a small cadre of close friends of Slesnick and disgraceful former city manager David Brown. The leader of that “Gang” was reportedly no other than Enrique Lopez, whose toadying to Slesnick and Brown was for years a demeaning feature of every Slesnick-presided city commission meeting.

After Slesnick’s defeat, both Alvarez and Lopez disappeared from our city’s political scene. They re-emerged as executives of the Dade Medical College, Alvarez as a Vice-President, Lopez as Academic Dean of its School of Online and Continuing Education, and Slesnick as Dean for Public Administration.

While the epitaphic history of the three politicians mentioned above – the Miami Herald called them and several others “politicians for hire” – is yet to be written, the fate of the best know triumvirate – that of ancient Rome – is known: they killed one another leaving Octavian to seize dictatorial power alone.

Our City Hall triumvirate members, if they want to survive politically, should begin reading history of Rome, beginning with Gibbons.

City of Coral Gables: Salerno’s Achievements

The recently resigned city manager of the city of Coral Gables, Pat Salerno, published a list of achievements of his period of administration.

I think that these are his main achievements:

  • Strong and decisive management.
  • Minimization of the involvement of city commissioners in the day-to-day life of the municipal government.
  • Weakening of the culture of fiefdoms in the city offices.
  • Implementing sound financial management, including reducing taxes and growing reserves.
  • Ameliorating exaggerated salaries, benefits, and pensions of police and fire services.
  • Planned, organized and financed improvements in the city’s infrastructure and beautification.

Hopefully, the city commissioners will direct the new city manager to sustain the above culture, and not fall pry to the Slesnick/Brown culture of city commission intromission and micro-management.

City of Coral Gables–Achievements during the Salerno Era

The city manager circulated this rather impressive list of achievements.

http://e-newscoralgables.com/media/pics/04.18.14/Significant%20Actions%20April%202014.pdf

Coral Gables–DUMBFOUNDING

That the city manager would suddenly resign his position and that there is not a single word from the mayor and commissioners to the community is dumbfounding (sorry, we got an email from Mrs. Slesnick!).

This is hardly a good demonstration of public information, transparency and participation.

The process seems to be more like that of a secret society than a public commission–this not necessarily a good sign for the selection process of a new city manager.

Is Coral Gables the New Doral?

The city of Doral became the laughing stock of Florida, manifested by bruising public battles, insults and threats among commissioners, city manager, mayor, and public security staff.  Coral Gables has started to look a little like Doral as three commission surreptitiously forced out its city manager.  Obviously, the concepts of transparency, openness and participation, so well displayed during their election campaigns, are singularly foreign to the three commission who have created this crisis.

The city of Coral Gables is being tested to its core by the decision of three commissioners (called the “Gang of Three” by some) who have pushed out its highly respected and successful city manager, Pat Salerno.  The three commissioners don’t comprehend their role in a strong city manager form of government, in which a prudent distance is kept between the administration of the city led by  the city manager and the city commission, whose job is set and guide overall policy, approve financial resources and broadly represent the interests of all citizens.

The city of Coral Gables urgently needed a strong administrator during recent years and it still needs a strong city manager in the years ahead–not a Slesnick/Brown-like compliant city manager responding to the interests of a small cabal of local developers and self-aggrandizing politicians.

The fiscal soundness of the city is now uncertain, with months ahead of searching for a new city manager (perhaps no self-respecting, experienced city manager would take the job under these circumstances.)  During this time the Gang of Three will have a free hand to mismanage the city, its budget and staff.

 

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