For The Candidates: A Proposal For A NEW AGENDA For The City of Coral Gables

This is the list of issues, problems and ideas for the future of the city Coral Gables Watch for inclusion in a needed New Agenda for the City of Coral Gables. Following is a list of examples of possible NEW AGENDA items.

  • Prepare and discuss with the public a NEW AGENDA for the City to face the major pending problems, such as unfunded benefits, taxation, staffing and organization;
  • The City Manager should routinely report to taxpayers the progress on the budget and organizational changes;
  • The city commission should agree on a new Code of Ethics;
  • Change the election dates for the city of 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 amounts of taxes paid by citizens (not just 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 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 from subsidizing the operators;
  • Undertake a review of financial mechanisms and the defective EDEN system to establish a modern, functional accounting of spending and revenues.

Dysfunctional Democracy: More on the Coral Gables’ Leaf Blowers

During times of economic and financial crisis, a single Coral Gables commissioner has directed a huge amount of his energy and time to trying to regulate gasoline leaf blowers for its citizens (exempting, of course, the city and its subcontracts, as if their leaf blowers will not have an environmental impact).   He states he has done in depth research on the subject, looking at other cities and towns with the leaf blower regulations.

Imagine if the commissioner had used nearly as much energy in evaluating the impact on Coral Gables citizens of increased taxes, unfunded pensions and health plans, overpaid public security employees, defective lease management and a chaotic city organization.  If he had directed the same passion to these everyday problems as he has to leaf blowers this city might make some progress that favors its taxpayers and not the quiet interest groups standing behind the commission.

The environmental impact of traffic in Coral Gables is hugely more impacting on the citizens; the commission has approved a significant expansion in traffic around the University of Miami–these impacts tower over any tiny, miniscule impacts of a few leaf blowers in the hands of low paid lawn workers.

Coral Gables Finance Department Audit–Symptoms of Mismanagement and Indifference

The Finance Department of the city of Coral Gables was treated in an article in the Coral Gables Gazette on September.

Also, in a letter to the CGGazette, a former candidate for commissioner calls for the resignation of the Finance Department head.

The Finance Department problems are clearly revealed in the recently concluded report of the internal auditor of the city of Coral Gables.  The audit process was initiated in 2009, a first round of comments and recommendations was submitted for review and responded to by the Finance Department.  Subsequently, the city’s Internal Auditor prepared rebutal statements for unfulfilled recommendations and submitted the final report to management in September 2010.

The internal functional review of operations by the city of Coral Gables Chief Compliance Auditor (who works for the city manager)  confirms

  • dramatic dysfunctional management oversight ofoperations and control over the city budget, income and expenditures;
  • a persistent failure to review and balance accounts on time and correctly;
  • incomplete standard financial controls to avoid possible misuse or malversion of funds;
  • incomplete department-wide  information coverage and access via the EDEN software;
  • serious deficiencies in communications between management and staff and among departments;
  • defects in the EDEN financial module that the Finance Department hasn’t resolved;
  • consistent failure of management to supervise and give oversight to accounting review and information flows;
  • inadequate oversight over maintain current and consistent information flows among departments;
  • lack of efficient, integrated use of the IT systems of the city, among many others.

One may conclude that there is a top down management culture and weak communications within the Finance Department among staff and supervisors. The EDEN accounting software is incomplete, not fully applied and subject to incomplete supervision by the IT Department and the Finance Department supervisors.  The audit raised claims by both departments that the other is to blame for the break down in accounting.  This shifting of blame has led to an obvious failure to communicate from bottom to top between the two departments.

There are too many issues to discuss in a single posting and I hope to expand on this in coming days.

Good Management and Major Projects in Coral Gables

In further reading of the Mayor’s_State_of_the_City_Address_2010 I am struck by his good defense of good management and better city organization.  Better management is a good step forward for the city and all are to be congratulated for this.  Witness the relative success of the the new city manager and his quiet, ambitious steps to bring in good people and restructure some of the management units.

In his speech,the mayor singles out three major successful projects: the Biltmore lease agreement, the “re-birth” of the Coral Gables Country Club and the University of Miami Development Agreement.  All three of them came about as problems, or were delayed, because of weak city management that let problems run until they became crises.

However, still there is much to do.

  • The Biltmore lease still seems much like a postponement of a problem before the current budget cycle, pending negotiation of a long-term agreement between the city and the lessee.
  • The Coral Gables Country Club arrangement has yet to prove itself after having been restricted by the city commission.
  • The University of Miami Agreement, while certainly important, has the feeling of being rushed through because of the possible approval of a constitutional change in Florida, Amendment 4, that might put land us plan modifications in the hands of voters.

Amendment 4.  Establishes that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the governing body and notice.

Therefore, the major projects are still mostly projects and agreements; they are important achievements, but they have yet to prove their viability and worth to the community. Time will tell.

Deferring Benefits: Would that have happened in Coral Gables?

I wonder what sacrifices the city’s management, commissioners and mayor are willing to make for the good of the city.

So far there is no evidence that the city leaders are willing to take the lead in making sacrifices for the city.  Indeed, more than once we have heard that we have to keep employees, salaries and benefits up to sustain our quality of life.  Who is willing to forgo some of their salaries and benefits to demonstrate to the unions that they will lead the city in a time of sacrifice.  Will the candidates for public office make a pledge to work ad honorem for the well being of the city.

Florida A&M University President James Ammons says he’s deferring an $80,000 performance bonus due to tough economic times.

via Florida college president says he’s deferring $80K bonus – Miami-Dade Breaking News – MiamiHerald.com.