South Dade Matters

Looking at the World South of Miami: Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Pinecrest, South Miami and Miami-Dade County.

PB: End of an Era

This blog regularly criticized Village Manager Ron Williams though we tried to do so in a spirit of advocacy and not of malice. Our opposition was never personal; Mr. Williams is widely regarded – rightly – as a gentleman of integrity.

Our opposition was rooted in a policy disagreement. Namely, Mr. Williams grew Palmetto Bay’s bureaucracy perpetually, whether the revenue winds blew hard or weak and, for most of his tenure, with little opposition from the village council.

So, when the council took his growth of government mantra to heart and added unnecessary employees to the village police department, Mr. Williams shrugged it off. What could he say, after all, when his own policy was to bring seemingly every activity in-house and to add staff nearly every year? Not much as it turned out.

Nevertheless, we wish Mr. Williams well in his retirement and not because we are glad to see him go, but because he served the village faithfully and without rancor for its entire existence. He leaves behind not a whiff of unseemly behavior and with his sterling reputation intact.

On Wednesday night, the village council will name Building Department Director Ed Silva as a caretaker while they belatedly search for a new manager. One might ask why we ended up needing a caretaker when Mr. Williams’ intentions were pretty clear all the way back in October of last year, but why scratch at an old wound?

(Maybe everyone thinks Mr. Williams is a glutton for punishment and would have stuck around if Mrs. Stanczyk was re-elected? :) )

SDM has only one objection to the council’s plan of naming Mr. Silva: why shouldn’t he be able to apply for the job himself? Mr. Silva exerted more Director-level leadership in this village than any other person we can think of. Why leave him out of the mix now that he has a chance to show his wares?

SDM Says: We believe there are several good candidates out there for this village to interview but the council should be looking to poach the best talent available. Avoid hiring a search firm that will merely bring us the retreads. Don’t waste too much time looking at candidates outside Florida, either. Oh, and let Mr. Silva apply. He’s earned the chance.

Should Palmetto Bay blindly support the school district’s legislative agenda?

Okay, sure, SDM has been on a hiatus. Writing all the time is not easy and we aren’t as regularly offended as some other bloggers.

What does get our blood boiling, though, are requests by vested interests to support issues nobody has read.

SDM is a supporter of Karyn Cunningham – not “was,” yet – whose job is to lobby the legislature on behalf of teachers. Hers is an honorable profession, but we disagree that Palmetto Bay’s representatives should be jumping on the district’s lengthy bandwagon. A couple of examples…

  • Did you know that Ms. Cunningham is asking her colleagues to change the number of appeals you may request if you decide to challenge your valuation before the value adjustment board? If the district gets its way, you will be granted only one rescheduling of your appeal and only upon showing of good cause, which is probably not that your child got sick or you got sent out of town for your job.
  • Ms. Cunningham is advocating that “accountability consequences” be suspended for an additional year. Hmmm… Why would we as parents want to get rid of accountability consequences AGAIN? Wouldn’t that just mean that there are no accountability consequences?
  • Here’s one that always bugs SDM: “Oppose any diversion of Local Discretionary Capital Outlay levy revenue from traditional public schools to charter schools.” Would you be surprised to know that our local district does not spend its Local Discretionary Capital Outlay levy on capital costs? In fact, it spends most of this revenue on paying janitors and property insurance premiums while the schools crumble.
  • Ms. Cunningham is also advocating that charter schools be limited in their ability to compete with the district’s schools. Check out this one: “Allow districts with charter school enrollment exceeding 15 percent to limit approvals of charter school applications through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process to locate in areas of highest need or through the formulation of district/charter collaborations.” Let SDM translate: Charter schools are eating our lunch and we need to either ban them or control them. Do you support this idea Mr. or Mrs. Councilmember, and why? (P.S. The entire charter school section is junk and is solely designed to eliminate competition.)
  • In the funding section, Ms. Cunningham appears to support increasing the sales tax by eliminating exemptions. Does the council support raising taxes?
  • And why would the village council want to interfere with an injured person’s ability to receive compensation if he or she is hurt by a public employee, facility or vehicle? If the council does in fact want to oppose changes to the state’s sovereign immunity caps, then perhaps that should be fully vetted at a public hearing first.

SDM Says: We just did a cursory review of the topics we understand (much of the district’s legislative proposal is written in bureaucratic jargon) and we identified several proposals that jump out as facially controversial and inappropriate for a village to endorse. We hope our village officials will either pass on the opportunity to support this agenda or at the very least discuss each and every one to make sure they understand it.

Eugene’s Stamp

To Calm or Not To Calm

Two interesting items caught our attention and seem to give a tiny hint about how recently elected Mayor Eugene Flinn may operate in his return to public life.

Mr. Flinn sponsored a seemingly innocuous resolution that repeals Resolution 2011-24. View the agenda here. What did Resolution 2011-24 do? It required that any time the village considered installing traffic calming devices (road improvements, etc.) the village council had to discuss the concept at a COW meeting after the village sent out mailers to nearby homeowners.

The previous administration adopted these onerous requirements in response to neighborhood opposition to one or more traffic circles. SDM cannot understand the opposition to traffic circles, but everyone has his or her pet peeve.

SDM Says: Good riddance to the extra, expensive and wasteful notices for traffic calming, which the campaign proved is a major issue in the village.

Old Dog, Same Spots

The second item shows some of the old Eugene Flinn as he asks for the village to lend support to the establishment of the Ludlam Trail as a linear park. We understand why Flinn is jumping on this bandwagon. The project has zero impact on Palmetto Bay one way or the other, so adopting the resolution is a zero cost opportunity to pander to Eye On Miami and the rest of the liberal blogosphere.

SDM Says: Whatever. A linear park on the “Ludlam Trail” would be great if anyone could pay for it. The problem is that some people want to extort the owners into turning over the land for a nominal fee, which ain’t going to happen and Mr. Flinn knows this as well as anyone. Thus, the resolution constitutes not entirely unexpected cynical politics.


The Cuba Problem

Well, as you can tell, SDM has been winding down the year and celebrating a wished-for change in Palmetto Bay politics. We will take a look at things as they develop in our little burgh as they arise in 2015.

Today, we want to talk about the President’s decision to change the U.S. relationship with Cuba. We grew up in Miami so we have lots of friends of Cuban descent and have sympathized with their plight in diaspora even though we are not Cubans ourselves.

Many commentators have discussed the effect of the President’s decision in the near term so we will discuss here how the change may affect the legion of old issues between the two nations.

Political Murders. While no one knows for sure the extent of the Castro regime’s political executions, estimates range from hundreds to as many as 33,000 since 1959.

Any nation that systematically executes its citizens for purely political activities must be held to account before the United States can fully normalize relations. The Cuban government at the very least must pay reparations to the families of these dead patriots. Better still would be trials before international tribunals for all those who participated in these executions.

Torture, Labor Camps and Ongoing Imprisonment for Political Activities. The Castro regime is known to have systematically tortured, imprisoned and sentenced Cubans to endure harsh forced labor for the crime of opposing the revolution and/or the Castro government.  Amnesty International and other groups maintain current rosters of Cubans who are serving sentences still today for these alleged crimes.

Before we start sending tourists to the Malecon, the United States government must demand an accounting for those families whose loved ones are held in Cuban prisons.For those who have been falsely accused or who received phony trials or absurd sentences, the Cuban government must pay reparations, simple as that. We cannot condone such behavior, especially since it continues to this very day.

Stolen Property. Virtually every person of Cuban descent carries around a story of property taken by the Castro regime. One can’t listen to these tales without feeling the pain behind the loss of historic family businesses, homes and farms.

SDM wants to understand how President Obama will insure that these American families will be restored to their land and possessions. As Americans, we cannot countenance open relations with a country that seized property at gunpoint without some formal process either to restore the property or compensate the families.

Extradition of Criminals. SDM has commented over the years in this space about the weird situation where Cuban nationals come to the U.S., ripoff federal welfare programs, and then split to Cuba. These are just recent examples, however, of a decades long trend where Cuba grants what amounts to asylum to infamous criminals.

For relations to normalize between our governments, Cuba must bind itself to international norms regarding extradition of criminals. Joining the world’s civilized states means leaving behind the “thumb-your-nose-at-Uncle-Sam” behavior of the past.

SDM Says: We’d like to visit Cuba some day but before we go, we need to see Cuba meet the minimum standards required by the civilized world. If Cuba refuses to play ball then we should continue to treat them as an international pariah. The dead family members and those suffering in Cuban jails deserve no less from the world’s champion of liberty and human rights.


PB: Hear Those Crickets?

SDM always takes a break around the holidays but this year may be even slower than normal. Other than some continuing nonsense on the climate change front, things are slow in the blog world…or at least in our little corner of it.

One issue remains a focus of our attention, however: traffic. We believe there are solutions that will allow traffic to flow better in Palmetto Bay and we’d like to see the village council begin to consider them.

First up from our perspective is the odd intersection of SW 67th Avenue, Old Culter and SW 136th Street. As we’ve written here before, we think this intersection is perfect for a major reconstruction.

We would like to see something that replaces the lights, slows but doesn’t stop traffic flow, and rationalizes the process for pedestrians and bicyclists to access the recreational paths in the area. Since this intersection marks the northeastern-most entrance to the village, a traffic circle in this location would allow for a landmark. We would suggest an Afghanistan/Iraq war memorial.

To make this fun, we would suggest that the council hold a design competition between the University of Miami, FIU and other institutions for a redesign plan that would incorporate all of the state and county regulations. Pay the winning institution $25,000, which would be less than a consultant’s fee anyway.

Over time, we think all the major intersections on Old Cutler could benefit from conversion to traffic circles to keep things moving. A side benefit to circles is that they don’t require power to function after a hurricane.

SDM Says: Old Cutler Road offers those passing trough our community a glimpse into how this village is managed. We doubt most who traverse our eastern side even know they are in Palmetto Bay. More likely they are thinking: why does it take so long to go such a short distance?

PB: Pot, Meet Kettle

If SDM had a dollar for every time Gary Pastorella complained about being sued by Vice Mayor Dubois or about Palmer Trinity suing Palmetto Bay, well, let’s say that SDM wouldn’t have time to blog. We’d be too busy indulging in fruity cocktails on various sandy beaches.

Now, we don’t begrudge anyone from hiring lawyers and chasing the government. Many times, government oversteps its bounds and every citizen has a duty to challenge public officials when they allow state power to be abused.

But ask yourself whether Mr. Pastorella’s stated reason for filing this suit meets this test:

“Clearly it doesn’t belong in a residential neighborhood. That’s our argument,” said Gary Pastorella, who lives immediately east of the vacant 1.17-acre parcel the Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue Department hopes to buy at the southeastern corner of Southwest 142nd Terrace and Old Cutler Road.

Fire stations don’t belong in residential neighborhoods. Think about that contention, especially given the context of the particular challenge facing Palmetto Bay and Pinecrest.

The problem for those whose lives are at risk is that THERE IS NO COMMERCIAL LAND IN THIS AREA. Why is this fact so so difficult to understand?

Granted, the Pastorellas and their nearby neighbors aren’t the first families to fight locating a life-saving service  in this area. Coral Gables residents successfully torpedoed an earlier attempt to locate the fire station on the enormous USDA property at Old Cutler and SW 136th Street.

SDM understands that a fire station could create some noise on occasion and might not be constructed and maintained properly (hell, it’s the county, for crying out loud). On the other hand, is there any alternative to locating a county fire station somewhere in this residential area that will serve the residential customers that need the service?

The short answer is: no. The county couldn’t figure out how to use its own property near the transfer station at the entrance to Deering Bay. (Frankly, SDM thinks this is a great spot, but for some bureaucratic reason it is not available.)

The county fire department worked for several years to identify locations and only recently found property that it could afford and that were located in the right geographic boundaries. The bottom line is that a station would be located in a residential area and the issue now is down to which one.

The Pastorellas and others have every right to fight the fire department and the village if they wish. But please spare us the holier-than-thou attitude when you stand before the Council next time.

SDM Says: Palmetto Bay recently changed village attorneys, hiring a litigation pro in Dexter Lehtinen. Mr. Lehtinen is a former U.S. Attorney and most recently represented a litigious native American tribe. This case looks like a good initial test of whether the Lehtinen choice was a good one.


PB: Can it be? Comity?

SDM watched the video of the swearing-in and first meeting of the updated village council (yes, we updated by going retro) and came away with just one word to describe it: comity.

No, not funny…though Gene Flinn is certainly much more of a card than Shelley Stanczyk, except when she didn’t mean to be funny, of course.

Comity is where a public body behaves with respect toward one another, where members speak and listen while a colleague answers. We’d almost forgotten what it looked like…and we weren’t alone. At one point, Councilman Schaffer seemed stunned to be asked to make his comments without his having to first interrupt the presiding officer.

But you don’t come to SDM to hear mush, or do you? We didn’t think so.

The truth is that the first meeting after an election is usually lots of sunshine and light as the parties accustom themselves to their roles and colleagues. Nonetheless, we can make some observations:

Mayor Flinn – SDM couldn’t help but notice how pleased Flinn appeared as he took his seat. Even as long-time council watchers, it’s was a little surreal seeing him on film. There were not cameras in the chamber when he was mayor.

The other thing we noticed is that Mayor Flinn v. 2.0 is not merely physically different (we estimate he’s 40 pounds lighter), he’s also more patient. Sure, the quick wit and sharp tongue aren’t gone completely (he’ll get himself in trouble soon enough), but he seems more…what is the right way to describe it? More subdued? More careful in his choice of words?

One aspect of the old Flinn is still there: He is a man on a mission. He has an agenda and he’s going to move it, but v. 2.0 wants to bring his council along with him rather stand behind them and push.

Which causes another word to come to mind: refreshing. We pray version 2.0 lasts.

Councilwoman Cunningham – Describing Cunningham is one word is easier: she is prepared.

Cunningham took to the microphone in her swearing-in speech and methodically thanked everyone and laid out her agenda. If we were being picky, we might say the speech was too long, but then again how many times do you get to thank the people who helped you in two consecutive campaign seasons?

Then on the dais, we could see her working through her list and asking relevant questions. We suspect sitting through hundreds of committee meetings in Tallahassee give one a leg-up on how to behave in a public body and Cunningham clearly benefited from her experience.

And it may not be that Cunningham alone benefits from her lobbying experience. She pushed her colleagues to demand and schedule a discussion immediately to adopt a state legislative agenda because, as Cunningham knows, the legislature waits for no man…er…woman.

Councilwoman Siegel Lara – SDM could almost feel her nerves through the video stream. Campaigning and governing are as similar as riding a bicycle and swimming. You may be using the same parts of your body, but the application is completely different.

Our one word for Siegel Lara: rookie. (Don’t be too upset, Ms. Siegel Lara, everyone is a rookie at being a pol. It’s how you grow into the gig that matters to us.)

Ron Williams – SDM doesn’t buy into David Singer’s view that Williams future is certain. Then again, Singer goes to the meetings and speaks to the politicians so he may have more actual knowledge.

At SDM, we read tea leaves. Williams looks to us to be posturing. We’ve never been sold on his competence, so our vote is to change horses and Williams seems to be open to moving along, too.

In the end, our one word to describe Williams is endangered.


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