City of Coral Gables–Achievements during the Salerno Era

The city manager circulated this rather impressive list of achievements.

Click to access 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.

 

Reactions to Salerno Resignation Engineered By Keon, Lago, and Quesada | GEORGE VOLSKY

This is an email from Mr. George Volsky:

 

REACTIONS TO SALERNO RESIGNATION ENGINEERED BY KEON, LAGO, AND QUESADA

Comments about the resignation of City Manger Patrick Salerno, widely seen as being manipulated by three commissioners Pat Keon, Vincent Lago and Frank Quesada, came fast and furious. Most email and telephone calls were serious and respectful, but even more comments about the three commissioners, indicating the depth of the respondents’ feelings, were are too strong to be literally quoted here.

Several credible sources, who asked not to be identified, said that executives of the Dade Medical College, a controversial nursing school, were also behind the move to oust Salerno.

“Damn,” emailed Mike Eidson, whose Coral Gables law firm is one of the most prominent, nationally, in the litigation sector. “Unbelievable,” emailed author David Doheny, an attorney and former prosecutor.

Tim Persons, a friend in Washington, who also read my Salerno report yesterday, wrote:

I am sad at this development. After Salerno was put through the malignant and ad hominem mistreatment by (Ralph) Cabrera and (Don) Slesnick, this was most undeserved. I am especially shocked that (Frank) Quesada was part of this. Sure, although Salerno does not suffer fools gladly, he more than proved the competence over and over again. What a loss to Coral Gables after what he and my friend Jim Cason have done for the City Beautiful. I can only conclude that your prediction that his was a pyrrhic victory is true.

Gonzalo Sanabria, a prominent Coral Gables resident, whose brief comment on the issue was included my yesterday report, emailed me a letter he sent last night to Mayor James Cason, with copies to the Salerno opponents:

Dear Mayor Cason: We respectfully request that the public be allowed to have a special meeting and openly seek a solution to reverse the resignation of City Manager Pat Salerno. As it took an entire city by shock and surprise, it would be appropriate and transparent for the citizens, taxpayers, and voters to find justification as to why this happened and how to re-institute Pat Salerno as our City Manager. We would also like to know what this would fiscally mean to the City in an unnecessary run up in expenses to seek out another City Manager when we have the best one we have ever had run this City still working for us until April 18.

Anna Louise Fulks, another prominent resident, sent a copy of an email to Rick Hirsch, Managing Editor of the Miami Herald:

Dear Rick: emailing you George Volsky’s column regarding the resignation of CG Mgr. Pat Salerno. I couldn’t have said it better. Pat Salerno, who I consider a friend, was an honor graduate from UM and when the position of City Manager was open after CG had suffered one scandal after another, Mr. Salerno was hired for the job… he was basically coming back to his roots, purchasing a home in the Gables, and devoting himself in bringing back a work ethic and loyalty to the City. Unfortunately, except for Mayor Jim Cason and Vice-Mayor Bill Kerdyk, it was not reciprocated by the newly elected commissioners, Pat Keon and Vincent Lago (both of whom the Miami Herald endorsed) and Frank Quesada. What were they thinking? I as well as many others are terribly disappointed in the betrayal of Mr. Salerno, however, I don’t think this will be the end of it.

In a request to me, Ms. Fulks wrote: “Please see what you can do to get Pat Salerno back.”

To give the Miami Herald’s reported his due, in the news story today about Salerno’s resignation, he pointedly indicated the niggardliness of the complains against Salerno by Lago, one of his three adversaries. Lago, the Herald said, was miffed because in a police report he received from Salerno’s office a few pages were missing.

via Reactions to Salerno Resignation Engineered By Keon, Lago, and Quesada | GEORGE VOLSKY.

More On The Biltmore Disaster

There are plenty of reasons to think that the Biltmore lease change is a bad deal for Coral Gables. Here are a few of them. In short, the Biltmore management cannot be trusted. It would be a good time during the recession to look for a new management team that will serve the needs of all Coral Gables citizens and not just a few politically connected people.

Seaway’s management subsidiaries haven’t paid hotel and golf course rent for two and a half years. It has withheld financial reports, and failed to properly maintain the property. Leading up to their non-payment of rents, the Biltmore management borrowed millions of dollars from Great American Life based on its ability to repay. The city has not seen those financial disclosures and has been negotiating using financial information limited by Biltmore’s management. If Biltmore management’s claims had any merit, it should have made rent payments and sued the city in court for maintenance expenses. Instead the management stopped paying rent and told the city to renegotiate its lease. That broke the lease and was dishonorable.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/11/16/2505143/letter-biltmore-deal-will-be-bad.html#ixzz1e4uqi23K

Volsky on CRACK IN CORAL GABLES MUSEUM

CRACK IN  CORAL GABLES MUSEUM

By George Volsky

When the Coral Gables Museum was inaugurated  last week, a structural crack was detected in the recently reconstructed and expanded building. City engineers, apprised of the discovery are investigating the cause and extent of the problem. According to several architects and engineers with long experience in the building sector, the flaw could be serious and is so elementary that it defies comprehension why and how it had originated.

The embarrassing discovery has reportedly shaken the museum’s administration. Other reports indicate that there might be other structural problems in the museum, the property of  Coral Gables and administered by a private not-for-profit entity under a contract with the city.

The crack, clearly visible on the wall, marks a place where the museum’s original old  building, the fire and police station constructed  in the 1930s, joins an addition on its northern side. The addition reminds artists of an inflated, lifeless  Roman-temple, with more than a touch of Botero, which, because of its disproportionally large size,  overwhelms and  detracts from the charm of the slender and graceful original edifice.

“We shall investigate the problem to discover what had happened and see what to do next.” said Glenn Kephart, director of the Public Works department. Kephart refusing to speculate on what might have caused the crack. His reticence was probably justified by the fact that while Public Works routinely normally supervises work on all city properties, and has trained experts for it, its personnel was purposely kept away from the museum project.  The supervision of the museum $5.9 million job, which started about four years ago, was placed by the then city manager David Brown entirely in the hands of Kara Kautz, a friend of the family of former mayor Don Slesnick,  whom Brown had recently hired even though she didn’t have city-required qualification to be the city’s Historic Preservation Officer.  It was Kautz who had certified the completion of each of the project’s construction stages and under her signature, the developer and the architect, Jorge Hernandez, were paid by the city.

For  construction experts the origin of the crack isn’t  a mystery. “Whenever an old building joins a new one professional builders place  special flexible expansion devises between the two,” one architect said. “Even a novice constructor, let alone a first year architecture student, knows that foundations of an old building are set, while those of a new taka a long time to firm up. What has happened here is that recent heavy rains made ground under the new building softer, resulting in its hair-like movement, not affecting the 75-year-old police station. The city should open the whole crack area and install an expansion joint to prevent a more serious problems and a permanent water leak.”

According to a Public Works official, who asked that his name be unmentioned because he was not authorized to speak for the department, during the museum construction, the builder poured tons of cement over a main gas line, making it very difficult to access. The gas company, which found out the error protested, stating it was a serious code violation. But according to the official,  Kautz, her supervisor Dona  Spain, architect Hernandez and the construction company decided not to do anything because removing a huge slab of cement over the gas line would be very costly and would cause considerable delays in the project’s construction.

Interestingly, for the museum inauguration its management printed a  catalog, called “Creating The Dream.” Several pages of the publication include pictures of the cleanly scrubbed building as it was a year ago, when the  reconstruction terminated. But today the whole building already  looks shabby and worn-out and, according to one prestigious resident, with a  grimy if not outright dirty northern side of its tower. “Every time I look at it,” the resident said, “ I am more convinced that it  shames the City Beautiful and maybe enen is a bad augury for the museum’s future.”

Volsky on “Coral Gables Expects to Sue Biltmore”

GEORGE VOLSKY

CORAL GABLES EXPECTS TO SUE BILTMORE

After almost three years of secret and apparently unsuccessful discussions with the Biltmore’s  managing company over its failure to pay Coral Gables the hotel’s rent, the city attorney’s office says, for the first time, that the city is “in anticipation” of litigating the thorny multimillion debt.

According to incomplete city records, the Seaway Corporation, which has been operating the Biltmore for decades, owes Coral Gables more than $6 million, not counting interests customary charged in prolonged non-payment cases. Seaway disputes that total stating that it had spent more than twice on the hotel’s historic preservation, the work it contends was supposed to have been done by the city. Coral Gables, in turn, states that under its management contract with Seaway, that company is obliged to fund hotel preservation.

The tactical option of taking Seaway to court was mentioned in a letter  dated July 12, 2011. Singed by Assistant City Attorney Lourdes Alsonsin, it  was in response to my June 21, 2011 freedom of information request  for documents and emails pertaining to the city-Seaway discussions. These talks, privy to the five members of the City Commission, the city manager and the city attorney, have been kept secret from the residents and taxpayers of Coral Gables.

“On June 21, 2001, you requested a document written by Elizabeth Hernandez (who resigned Dec. 20, 2009 as city attorney but continues to be paid by Coral Gables as its legal consultant) regarding the public not being informed of discussions by the Commissioners regarding the Biltmore or an audit by Price Waterhouse Coopers, LLP. There is correspondence from Ms. Hernandez dated March 10, 2011 which discusses a report. This correspondence is exempt from release at this time pursuant to the Public Record Act. In particular, Florida Statutes, Section 119.07 (1)(d) provides that documents reflecting a mental impression, conclusion, litigation strategy or legal theory prepared by the attorney or the agency and was prepared exclusively… in anticipation of litigation is exempt from disclosure until the conclusion of the litigation. As such, the correspondence dated March 10, 2011 shall be available to the public upon termination of any possible litigation,” Alfonsin wrote.  (The  last sentence of the letter is odd, one legal expert said, explaining that in filing a lawsuit against Seaway, the city would have to disclose its legal arguments for financial redress.)

City Attorney Craig Leen, stating that so far he has not asked the commission’s ascent to initiate a lawsuit against Seaway, said that   Alfonsin’s use of the words “in anticipation of litigation” meant that his office “expected” the Biltmore case be decided by the courts. (According to various dictionaries, “in anticipation” also means “looking forward to.”)

Asked for comments, City Manager Patrick Salerno replied he was not authorized, presumably by the city legal office, to speak about the Coral Gables-Biltmore discussions.  The same was the answer of Mayor James Cases. During his election campaign, Cason had publicly  chided former mayor Don Slesnick for not acknowledging  that the Biltmore managers  were not paying their rent and for doing  nothing about it.

Indeed, many residents baffled why Hernandez invoked a Florida law to throw a mantle on secrecy over the Biltmore case, which is  similar to others being dealt with by the city in full sunshine.  For decades, Coral Gables as a landlord has confronted tenants who, like Seaway, had failed to fulfill their financial and other obligations under mutually agreed contacts. All landlord-tenant problems – except the Biltmore’s – have been and are being dealt with and resolved in open, documented negotiations. Following the accepted real estate sector legal procedure, delinquent tenants are given a written notice to pay or vacate the premises. Those who refuse to do so, regardless of the reason, are taken to court to be evicted, a legal action previously authorized by the city commission in an open session.

Thus on the face of it, the city-Seaway discussions do not concern “litigation strategy or legal theory,” or national security; they are only about money, in the simple Shakespearean phrase: “to pay or not to pay that is the question.” And PriceWaterhouseCoopers was retained, on January 25, 2010, at a very high fee,  to inform the city and its taxpayers about the state of the Biltmore operations, not what to do about the debt, let alone whether to litigate it.

Therefore, some knowledgeable residents are expressing concern about the Biltmore-Coral Gables secrecy that Hernandez in effect has only recommended  – and which Leen does not have to agree to. They believe that the secrecy’s real reason could be keep hidden some still undisclosed aspects of business and personal relations between Seaway on the one hand and Slesnick, former city manager David Brown and their close ally Hernandez on the other.

It appears, for examples, that the Slesnick-Brown administration strangely lacked alacrity in confronting the Biltmore’s non-payment issue. Prior to the last April election, a mayoral candidate, Coral Gables attorney Tom Korge challenged Slesnick to explain why he, Brown and Hernandez for months did not respond to urgent entreaties for a meeting by the Seaway attorney Danny Ponce. While Biltmore was still paying its rent, Ponce asked the trio to consider a revision of the hotel rent contract  because Seaway had difficulty fulfilling it.

Only after Slesnick, Brown and Hernandez  showed no interest to talk to Seaway, the Biltmore managing company stopped paying rent. Korge repeated his charge, which he said was based on a statement by Ponce,  during two pre-lection debates with Slesnick. The former mayor  ignored Korge’s challenge; he neither denied nor explained his inaction.