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;

My Summary: Candidates for Mayor, Candidate Forum of the Chamber of Commerce (3)

This is a pretty highly summarize view of what was said.  See Coral Gables TV for this event.

Korge:  favors Miracle Mile project, better sidewalks and drainage, better streets; for pension reforms, favors defined benefit 401(k), will negotiate hard with unions and go to impasse;  will defend a strong Biltmore negotiation; says has a plan to hold down taxes, promote business focusing on finances and pensions.  Emphasis key is his experience of 10 years on CGs boards and living 21 years here.  He will be active and aggressive vis-a-vis city management and policies.

Cason:  Highly critical of the mayor; concern with improving efficiency of government; will hold the line on taxes, favor promoting international business in CGs;, do business want it, revitalize; favors fixing pensions; claims that for Biltmore problem we don’t have the information;  will favor regular meetings with citizens on problems of the city;  will push management to urgent solutions.  Emphasizes his international diplomatic and management experience.

Slesnick:  Favors Miracle Mile project, voted to move forward on project and is waiting for the final concept; on pensions won’t apologize for working with labor; biltmore negotiations are underway and can be resolved;  he works on a day to day basis to solve city problems;  our reserves have grown to $6 million;  emphasizes basically his job over the last ten years and he will continue for the next two years–if you are satisfied with the last ten years, he asks for your support.

My Summary: Candidates for Commissioner at the Candidate Forum (2)

CANDIDATES FOR COMMISSIONER (My Quick Overview of their Comments; I Apologize for Any Deficiencies in These Comments; Please See Coral Gables TV)

Alvarez:

  • Unclear about Miracle Mile project, says city needs more night life, let taxpayers pay for the project;  on pensions, favors 401(k) for employees; he would promote Coral Gables with new business; CG should balance schools and and the number of residents.  Favors Building and  Zoning reforms;  don’t increase property taxes, and don’t use property taxes as a business incentive.

Holmes;

  • Has serious reservations about Miracle Mile project, against cutting parking, favors renovation of sidewalks, says needs more trees; favors bringing in a department store to Miracle mile; favors 401k and cut number of employees; concerned about CGs preferences in contracting local firms since CG firms might be cut out by other cities; favors education for CG, and says really CGs can’t do much education; Building and Zoning needs ombudsman; favor lower taxes for business.

Martin:

  • No to Miracle Mile project, city can’t afford it and will take too long; unfunded pension contribution biggest problem;  401(k) plans should be for new employees;  would work to bring in business by annexing new areas into the city.  Against Somerset School rezoning; says Building and Zoning Department is not that bad; favors more money on maintaining the city, maintenance of city owned  assets;

Quesada:

  • Favors bringing Miracle Mile updating, more dining outside, favors dealing first with the pension issue and not spend money on Miracle Mile right now, put it off; pensions need to look at different alternatives, doesn’t have a specific proposal, defined contribution is probably better; preferences for contracting local business is ok; supports the schools; would be more aggressive in consolidation Bluilding and Zoning; favors reducing budget and cutting taxes.

Rosenblatt:

  • Favors the full Miracle Mile project and says it won’t cost the citizens; he says that the downtown pays 50% of the revenues;  pensions are a serious problem, put new employees on 401(k) plans?; he would promote more businesses that are needed here; Somerset School expansion, might support this it seems; Building and Zoning Department  needs consolidation, need to revamp IT Department and possible outsourcing; don’t need financial incentives for businesses; keep employees to sustain city services.

Sanabria:

  • Against Miracle Mile because we have neglected historical reservations, fix the sidewalk; we will be liable for the $14m;  pension is a big problem and need a big change using 401(k), employee contributions increased; local venders could get an advantages with Coral Gables; Somerset School has to be a harmony with the community; Building and Zoning should have 30 day building permit process; the city attracts companies to the city, don’t need special incentives.

Kerdyk;

  • Favors Miracle Mile project, favors the use CGs money, interest rates are low and project should not increase taxes to taxpayers in CG; Has a solid plan for pensions and city has made big progress with impasse with labor unions; city has created a pension rate stabilization fund, $3.3 million each year; favors more city contracts for local businesses and this is in ordinance form;  CG tries to work with board of education on education issues; Building and Zoning Department going in the right direction; Favors economic incentives for businesses and they depend on quality of services of the city.

Namon;

  • Questions Miracle Mile project and trolley money could help pay for Miracle Mile; pension problem is because of low earning in the stock market; property taxes are too high on low rise building; use abandoned properties and use rezoning for private schools; pass Building and Zoning to the county.  Favors incentives for business, lower property taxes for low rise bulding;

Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum: Selling the Miracle Mile & Giralda “Streetscape” Project (1)

The event was a slow starter as people filled the auditorium to about half full or so.   The candidates were initially seated by Commission group No. 4 and 5.  The mayoral candidates were treated in a separate session.  The auditorium was partially filled for this event and the candidates circulated freely beforehand.  I would call this a disappointing turn out, although the event will be shown on Coral Gables TV.

This was not a politically neutral forum in one sense of the word:   the Chamber of Commerce used the event to sell the financing of the Miracle Mile & Grialda Streetscape Project.  I believe the promises of the Chamber of Commerce are still to be shown whether the rehabilitation of Miracle Mile and Giralda (new narrower street, wider sidewalks, less on-street parking) will be paid for by businesses mainly, additional tax revenues and “$250,000” already in the budget, and some money from Miami-Dade County.

I think that the implication that this project is nearly free for taxpayers is an error.   There seems to be plenty of people that have doubts about this project.  Some wonder about the final cost of the projects, the time it will take to construct, the cost to businesses and whether there are other smaller scale alternatives.

For those interested in the so-called Miracle Mile & Giralda Streetscape Project see

http://shopcoralgables.com/blog/category/streetscape/