Why Coral Gables’ Refinancing and Capital Spending Decision Is Not Urgent–What Happened To Community Participation and Consultation?

The city manager of Coral Gables had a few cards up his sleeve, so to say, at the last meeting and he sold the commission on three bad ideas.

First, he said that it is urgent to refinance the city’s debt.  I take it that this is because he believes that interest rates will soon rise.  I guess he believes in that there is inflation at our doorsteps.

The economic facts don’t justify that view in the slightest.  Our economy is growing slower than thought, the Chinese are dampending their growth, Japan is stagnant and Europe, except for Germany, Europe is weak.  Inflation is a recent blip in energy and some materials caused pay political uncertainty in the Middle East.  The Fed has announced that it will continue with its low interest rate policy. There is at least one banker on the commission–he should have known better.

Conclusion:  It is not urgent to refinance without first thinking a bit more about the use of the monies and consulting with the citizenry.

Second, he sold the commission on the idea that the $22 million from the refinancing is free–but it will cost about $35 million.  He says we won’t spend more on debt financing than we are paying now.  That is wrong.  By refinancing existing debt we should spend less, not more.

Conclusion:  Refinancing of existing debt would reduce the amount we pay on the current debt and free up money for other purposes.

Third, the city manager has sold the commission on the idea that he has come up with a good list of capital projects.  But the city manager admitted that he had concocted this list pretty much on his own without community participation, and the new mayor and commissioner apparently did a sort of “shoe leather” test of what we need.  Shouldn’t a new, large spending program be consulted with the taxpayers.

Conclusion: What happened to open government, invited and active consultation and participation–on these terms, the new mayor’s and the commissioners’ campaign promises stand out as pure fiction.

Investiture In Coral Gables: By Invitation Only

As a failed observer of the investiture of the new mayor and commissioners, clearly due to the size of the commission room, there was no space for but a few others than the friends of the mayors and commissioners. People crowded into the room and it seemed they clearly exceeded the fire marshall limits (limits that Mr. Slesnick always used to clear the room).

Why not use the museum space for these sorts of public events to get more direct community participation or even an auditorium at UM.

This de facto invitation-only  event is evidence that community participation is the last thing that our commissioners and recent past mayor think about.  Hoping this anti-participation culture will change in the coming weeks and months.

Values of the City of Coral Gables

Today I was reminded by the program handout  the Investiture Ceremony of the essential list our city government’s values.

They are:









Missing, I think, are Community Participation, Transparency and Openness.

Proposal: Create a COMMUNITY CONVERSATION in the City of Coral Gables

This a modest proposal to establis a monthly or bi-monthly meeting of the city of Coral Gables called the COMMUNITY CONVERSATION (or other relevant name).  This would be a regular meeting attended alternatively by the mayor, one or more commissioners, the city manager and senior staff.

The purpose of the meetings would be to hear presentations by the city manager, mayor or senior staff on important city issues and to get community feedback in an atmosphere of civility and organized conversation.  The agenda could be highly focused or there would be sessions of a general nature.  All meetings would be open to individuals and organizations of the community.

This COMMUNITY CONVERSATION would satisfy an urgent need to create an open and ongoing forum where citizens can make informal comments and proposals to the city.  This might evolve into a regular place of civil exchange of opinions about the future of the city.

Welcome Messrs. Cason, Quesada and Kerdyk: A List of Some of Your Considerable Challenges

Congratulations to Messrs. Cason, Quesada and Kerdyk.  Thank you for your willingness to take on the big issues of the city of Coral Gables.

We trust you will forge hard questions about the considerable problems we are facing.

Here are a few big challenges for the near term:

  • Shift the financial and institutional  leadership back to the commission from the city manager.  This means more commission involvement in pension reform, financial planning and organizational restructuring.
  • Create true financial transparency, not hiding audits, honesty about reserves, no more games with the budget–people are expecting no more tax increases.
  • Do some minimal long-term financial planning.
  • Introduce new practices of citizen involvement and participation.
  • You need to think the unthinkable.   Shouldn’t the city  consider the full range of alternatives for the Biltmore, including its semi-privatization or its return to the federal government, with all of its liabilities (I know, that’s unthinkable).  Can the city cannot continue with the Biltmore as a large financial albatross–let’s hear a serious discussion of this in the commission.
  • Take a hard look at the city’s public security costs.  Will the commission and city manager please evaluate publicaly the police and firefighter needs at a technical and administrative level, rather treating these services as “untouchables.”
  • Pension reform requires an active commission with clear goals and plans, not just piecemeal negotiations.
  • The city seems to be stuck with a nonfunctional museum that may need its permanent financial support.  Can someone make an open and honest appraisal of what is going on at the museum.
  • Miracle Mile now denotes a certain declining quality in its retail businesses, rather than it being a leading and dynamic retail center.  Miracle Mile has lost its way–can we get an objective view of that before we spend millions on its so-called “streetscape.”

Is the Coral Gables PAC Dead? Needed–A Community Organization for Good Government

The Coral Gables PAC served an important function some ten years ago by helping to elect Mayor Slesnick and some current members (at that time thought to be “reformers”) of the city commission.

But the PAC  has been so quiet during this campaign, has not come out for reforms or changes of any sort, has not defended a single position for important taxpayers issues, and  has not organized any significant events to benefit voters, that I must conclude that it is dead, or maybe worse, content with the city of Coral Gables as it is today.

We need a strong community-based organization to promote an open, accountable, participatory and more transparent government.

Will anyone take up that challenge?

A New Agenda for Coral Gables

Here is my agenda for the city of Coral Gables.  This is based on the principle that citizens, taxpayers and residents should be consulted regularly about the financial future of the city.  The city manager and commission should regularly should report to the our citizens and get feedback (however, uncomfortable that might be).   The Agenda should involve transparency, not a culture of secrecy, that now prevails in the city.  Yes, while this may sound a little idealistic, it is something that a different mayor and commission might seriously consider.
  • Prepare and discuss with citizens a  NEW AGENDA for the City of Coral Gables to face the major pending problems, such as unfunded benefits, taxation, staffing and organization;
  • The City Manager should routinely report to taxpayers on progress on the budget and organizational changes;
  • The city needs a new Code of Ethics for staff, management and leaders;
  • Change the election dates for Coral Gables to coincide with national and state elections.
  • Prepare and publicly discussion a long-range financial plan for the City of Coral Gables
  • Target a freeze and/or reduce actual amount of taxes paid by citizens (not millage rates) during the next three years;
  • Accelerate a plan of reducing pensions and health benefits, especially for firefighters and police;
  • Prepare a plan and publicly discuss how to reduce unfunded pension liabilities during the next five to ten years;
  • Have a community town hall meeting at least twice a year to discuss the budget and other current issues;
  • Develop a realistic and flexible agreement with the Biltmore that protects the taxpayers not just now, but in the coming years;
  • Undertake a review of financial mechanisms and the defective EDEN system to establish a modern, functional accounting of spending and revenues;