Third Best Choices for City Commissioner No. 4

Economist talk about the “first best” (the really best, the optimal), the second best (less than optimal, of which there may be many), but here in Coral Gables we seem to be facing “third best” candidates for commissioner No. 4 (ex-Whithers).

(IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)

We have Mr. Quesada who has shown is lack of knowledge and, especially, interest and experience in the government of Coral Gables.  Too often he has mentioned his “study” of other local government experiences while he has taken a some vague-I will see positions about the big financial and organizational issues of the city.

We have Mr. Sanabria.  He also has demonstrated very little actual background in the day-to-day issues of the city, but he seems tough enough to deal with city problems.  He has the support of the police union (a negative for me).

We have Mr. Alvarez.  He is a totally unknown quantity and, perhaps, this is why he got the support of the Miami Herald.

We have Mr. Rosenblatt.  He represents essentially the Miracle Mile business district and rehabilitation interest, has campaigned on things like saving the Biltmore, keeping taxes low (are they really “low”), etc.  I think he will be a big spender.

We have Mr. Martin.  Seems to be community-minded.  Has an unfunded, weak campaign.  He is becoming the perennial candidate.

We have Mr. Holmes.  Mr. Miracle Mile himself.  I don’t see that he has a consistent, coherent campaign program or goals for the city.  I don’t understand his positions.

These are truly third best choices, without any evidence that  we will get a strong voice of support for the taxpayer and voter after the election.

None of the candidates has pushed much for openness, transparency and participation (basic democratic values) in government.

Volsky on ” The ‘NO’ Candidates”

GEORGE VOLSKY

THE “NO” CANDIDATES

Campaigning is almost over; Coral Gables residents will vote next Tuesday, hopefully in large number. Even the ugly snails are gone so voters will not gnash their teeth seeing those  huge plastic blobby artifacts on the way to precincts. And the city’s mood, like in the country at large,  is wary and distrustful of politicians and their promises.

The campaign has been long and, many residents opined extremely, disgustingly costly.  Three mayoral candidates have collected and spent about three times what the job pays, $34,736 a year. One commissioner candidate amassed five times a commissioner’s $28, 225 salary.

Our April 12 election takes place against the background of historic changes in the Miami-Dade County government. On March 15, mayor Carlos Alvarez was unceremoniously thrown out of office by an 88 percent recall vote. He was defeated because county voters – including overwhelmingly in Coral Gables – resented his tax increase and his arrogance.

The question is whether the Miami-Dade political ambience will replicate in Coral Gables. Our residents have been equally burdened with four tax increases in the last 10 years and, as most of them complain, arrogance at the top of our officialdom,  the office of mayor occupied for the last decade by Don Slesnick.

This column does not openly endorse candidates. But it will recommend for whom NOT TO VOTE and why. The NO candidates are Slesnick, Brad Rosenblatt and   Rene Alvarez.

Slesnick: As mentioned above, he has been mayor for 10 years, which most people would think is long enough, if not too long. Politics requires injection of  new blood; our presidents can only serve for two 4-year terms.

Maybe if Slesnick were a good mayor exception could conceivably be made. But he has not been one. By most accounts, as this space has many times reported, dressed up in  official trappings and self-propaganda he pretended to be important, yet divested of them he has shown to be lacking any substance.  And he isn’t one to suffer from qualms of conscience and the necessity to be truthful.  He has more than two faces of Janus, none genuine.

Slesnick’s word is not his bond. His habit of taking credit for accomplishments of others is totally unrestrained. For me the most galling is Slesnick’s repeated claim (Miami Herald, March 24, 2011) having established the city’s free Trolley System.  There is not a single well-informed resident who doesn’t know that the project’s author was Commissioner Bill Kerdyk. More to the point, Slesnick several times publicly urged that the city charge for Trolley rides, which would have killed the system.  Two other Slesnick accomplishment claims  (the Herald, Febr. 3, 2011) “Streamlining government bureaucracy” and “Stabilizing our city’s financial foundation” are equally untrue.  It was City Manager Patrick Salerno who about two years ago began reducing city employment. And only Slesnick can say that a  $196 million pension deficit  – which grew from zero since he came to City Hall – equals “stabilizing” Coral Gables’ finances.

One could go on and on. In sum: For the past 10 years Slesnick wasted resources when parsimony was necessary, spent recklessly when caution was advisable, and ignored truthfulness, the obligation of worthy politicians. Thus, like M-D Mayor Carlos Alvarez, Slesnick should be retired.

Rosenblatt : For over a year, Rosenblatt, president of BID, the much-criticized downtown public relations group, was promoted, basically by Slesnick and his poodles, as a financial and business “wunderkind.” Rosenblatt was praised (including to me) as a young, very creative executive. But Brad’s laying it on with a trowel exploded like the construction bubble. The respected  former Bal Harbour mayor, attorney Richard Olsen, called him publicly (on Channel 10 TV) “a thief.” In years past this would have been immediately followed by a duel to death, and of late by a lawsuit at least. But Rosenblatt didn’t respond at all. It also became known that he was arrested on an  embezzlement charge. (According to the Herald, he later pleaded no contest, was put on probation, the sentence was withheld, and the case was sealed.)

Before the above particulars – and others also less than palatable – were publicized, and even after  they were made public, Rosenblatt collected about $150,000 for his city commission campaign. He kept repeating that because he wasn’t convicted and has no felony record, everything was fine.

Still, money and propaganda cannot wipe all.   Certainly if Rosenblatt were not a candidate for public office nobody would give a hoot for his past. But money doesn’t whitewash all, at least I believe in Coral Gables. Voters should send Brad Rosenblatt back to his couture business, where I wish him well.

Alvarez This man has been totally unknown in City Hall and elsewhere in Coral Gables until he paid his registration fee virtually  10 minutes before the city’s candidate qualifying deadline. Writing about city affairs for the past 15 years, I have neither heard of him or seen his face.  It is irrelevant whether, as some people say, he is a “plant” – that’s put there to draw voted from two other legitimate Hispanic candidates in Group 4, Gonzalo Sanabria and Frank Quesada – or not. Alvarez, not related to former M-D mayor Alvarez and Jorge Alvarez, a real “plant” who in 2001 muddled Slesnick’s race against Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli – has every right to jump into the race even with 1 second to spare. But the very act shows the candidate’s lack of seriousness, which most people believe demeans the solemnity of our democratic system.

Finally,  whoever might be your favored candidate, please vote next Tuesday.

 

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;

Miami Herald Picks Phantom Candidate

The recommendation of the Miami Herald of Mr. Rene Alvarez for commissioner is astonishing.  Nothing is known about him (perhaps the Miami Herald does know him) nor were his views that impressive in the recent debates, as he pretty much followed the line of all the candidates by favoring 401k’s, government efficiency (the city manager is in charge of government efficiency), etc.

That the MH considers Messrs. Rosenblatt and Quesada to be viable candidates is even stranger.

One my only guess that the MH was very strongly against Mr. Sanabria who they don’t even mention.  Similar to the Herald’s Managing Director’s  role in the recent candidate debate at UM, the Miami Herald is taking an unmitigated pro-business, pro-Chamber of Commerce position, leading to a pro-Miracle Mile/Giralda Streetscape view.  There is not much to offer the taxpayers in these recommendations for commissioner.

Volsky on “Chamber’s Election ‘Forum’ A Bust”

GEORGE VOLSKY

CHAMBER’S ELECTION “FORUM”  A BUST

 

In more than 50 years as a journalist, I have attended and watched on TV close to 100 national, state and local political debates. The one Tuesday evening at the University of Miami Cosford Cinema, that “featured” eight candidates for two Coral Gables commission seats and three others vying for the job of mayor,  was among the worst, if not the worst.

Given the depth of financial and ethical problems facing Coral Gables, which is yet to fully recover from the disastrous administration of Mayor Don Slesnick and former city manager David Brown (who retired in disgrace but with a golden parachute), the Tuesday debate was, seemingly on purpose,  bland, uninformative and  boring.

The culprits: the debate’s principal sponsor, the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce (which called the event a “forum”),  and its moderator Rick Hirsch, the Managing Editor of the Miami Herald. Hirsch didn’t put his best foot forward: to the palpable annoyance of a fairly numerous and clearly offended public, he arrived at Cosford about 30 minutes late because, as a Chamber underling explained, of the rain.  That lame excuse produced a moment of hilarity since everyone in Cosford knew the rain was actually a barely-felt intermittent drizzle.

More important, sponsoring a serious political debate is a serious matter because debates are time-honored parts of the democratic process. A debate sponsor  has to be scrupulously impartial and must make every effort to provide voters the opportunities to directly ask candidates relevant  questions; that didn’t happen on Tuesday.

Richard Olsen, former Bal Harbour mayor and attorney, wanted to do that and came to Cosford accompanied by his son, a Coral Gables businessman. Earlier this month, in a Channel0 10 TV interview Olsen called commission candidate Brad Rosenblatt, “a thief.” He  intended to repeat the accusation, produce documents explaining his case, and hear Rosenblatt’s response. Olsen wasn’t allowed to speak. Sidney Kolber, 87,  a retired Coral Gable resident whom Rosenblatt gave a large bad check, couldn’t challenge that candidate either.

Before the debate, June Thomson, a publicist who works in the Rosenblatt campaign, strongly challenged me for having recently written that Rosenblatt was 27 when he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy  – which involved $880,000 in unpaid debts. He was only 22, she affirmed. I double-checked, and June was wrong. According to the Miami-Dade police records, Rosenblatt’s date of birth is 01/13/1975. The  U.S. Bankruptcy Court states that he filed for Chapter 7 on  07/31/2002, which made him 27 year and  6 months old at the time.

Since RosenbIatt states that he is a property owner and a part owner of a “prosperous business” located at 2700 Ponce de Leon Blvd.,  I asked June Thomson for a list of his properties as soon as possible. Thirty hours later, the list hasn’t been mailed, nor several telephone calls to his office.

A self-respecting moderator studies the debate issues that most concern citizens so that his or her questioning elicits as much information as possible. That didn’t happen Tuesday either. Instead, before the event got underway, the public had to endure the Chamber’s self-congratulatory panegyric read (twice) by the organization’s flak. For five minutes that man extolled the virtue of the Chamber, of BID (the Business Improvement District) and of  the Miracle Mile streetscape plan both enthusiastically supports.  Since the plan continues to be highly controversial, especially its questionable $16 million funding, and candidates were expected to be asked about it,  praising it  at the outset of the “forum” was highly inappropriate.

Following that political blunder, the flak gave effusive thanks to the Turner Construction company, the debate’s other sponsor. Turner had  funded refreshments outside the cinema and placed on a table nearby a hundred of its propaganda coffee mugs to be taken home as the debate’s memento.  So much for the Chamber’s understanding of the seriousness of our political process and its relevance in Coral Gables polity.

There was more. Under the Chamber-imposed format, candidates had one minute for their opening statement, one minute for closing remark and one minute to answer questions supposedly submitted by the public. Hirsch began in that fashion, then in the middle of the boring session he suddenly reduced the answering time to 30 seconds. His unilateral change made the  “forum” a laughable exercise and the astonished public gasped in disapproval.

The tenor of Hirsch’s questions appeared tailored to the Chamber’s agenda: the Miracle Mile streetscape, how promote the city and bring more business to its downtown, what to do about better schools, what incentives should the city offer  companies to make them rent offices here,  and one on.

While Hirsch did ask the candidates to opine on the city’s thorny pension issue, he did not seek their views on the equally relevant  Biltmore controversy, on the lack of transparency, or about huge and wasteful legal expenses and the waste in general. Inquired after the  debate why he didn’t pose at least the Biltmore question, Hirsch merely smiled and shrugged.

Neither in the first, commission part of the “forum,” nor in the supposedly more important second, mayoral debate new grounds were broken. Ennui  prevailed.  Hirsch did not ask incisive questions, and there were no follow ups, which well-informed professional moderators routinely request panelists to answer.

In the final account, it was the disappointed Coral Gables public who gave the Chamber  of Commerce and Hirsch a clear mark of disapproval. When the moderator’s “thank you” ended the tepid  forum, a two thirds of the original audience had already left the Cosford cinema.

Excellent Description of Candidate Debate at Discourse.net

See this great detailed description of the events surrounding last night’s forum and apt views on the candidates.

Coral Gables Candidate Debate: Part 1 – Commission Group 4 and Group 5 (Updated)

Posted on March 30, 2011 by Michael Froomkin

I went to the Coral Gables candidates’ debate this evening, sponsored by the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce. I walked in genuinely undecided about all the races, and in some cases pretty uninformed. I walked out knowing there was no choice in Group 5, and I think I may have figured out who to vote for in the Mayor’s race, but I remain undecided in Group 4. Today I’ll write about the Commission debate. I’ll try to post my account of the Mayor’s race debate tomorrow…

via Coral Gables Candidate Debate: Part 1 – Commission Group 4 and Group 5 (Updated) | Discourse.net.