South Dade Matters

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

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.

PB: David Singer Opened A Gift Early

An Early Holiday Present

In what everyone in attendance assumed was going to be a twenty-minute introductory Council Meeting actually turned out to be a three-hour sugar-coated, diabetic inducing, love fest. Although it ran longer than expected, it was professionally administered and to portray it as jovial would be akin to describing Santa Claus as slightly overweight.

There were limited interruptions as council members spoke and all were treated with utmost respect. I can promise this meeting was more than slightly overwhelming since the atmosphere was such a stark difference from just 30 days ago.

Various observations from the Council meeting include:

• Even though Mayor Gene Flinn attended Shelley Stanczyk swearing-in ceremony four years ago, she did not have the respect and professionalism to attend his. In fact, neither Shelley Stanczyk, Joan Lindsay nor anyone from the CCOCI crowd joined the residents of Palmetto Bay to welcome the new Council by attending the swearing-in ceremony.

Patrick Fiore who lost his bid for Mayor was honored for his last four years of service to the Village. Mayoral candidate Peter England also attended out of respect for the new Council. In fact, the only candidates who recently ran for office and did not attend were David Zisman and Shelley Stanczyk, all others were there.

• There appears to be a sign posted outside Village Hall, “Palmetto Bay is now accepting Applications for a New Village Manager.” Maybe there is no sign, but it was evident from the Council meeting that Village Manager Ron Williams should probably be dusting off his resume.

Ron is not the only Village department head that should focus on looking for other employment. I would be shocked if within the next six months two or three other department heads were not also shown the door.

Mayor Gene Flinn along with remaining Council members have the opportunity to do something amazing by reinventing the way Palmetto Bay has been operating for the last four years. This would certainly be a huge win for all Village residents. I’m confident they will call a “mulligan” by examining all aspects of Village operations, but the first step is to find a qualified Village Manager.

• Can someone call COW? Nothing appears to be off the table when it comes to Committee of the Whole meetings. The agenda for the next COW meeting appears to be as longs as my son’s Christmas wish list. Anyone who is planning on attending should bring a sleeping bag!

It’s a novel concept, instead of springing a new resolution or ordinance on Village residents during a council meeting, why not at a COW where the Council can receive input from the individuals they serve?

• It’s all about providing public information. Expect a new and improved Village Website, which should have access to Village information an average resident would want to see. I’ve personally spent thousands of dollars on information requests over the past three years and besides the money, there was a great deal of time spent on waiting for the documents. It is going to be great to have instant access. Maybe in the near future they will even make available the 10+ bank statements that are not available on-line. The new Council seems to be prepared to reinvent the Palmetto Bay’s definition of the words “Government Transparency”.

Overall, the Mayor and Council appear to be taking positive steps in ending the four-year nightmare that has occurred in Palmetto Bay. There are still many more issues that need immediate attention, (i.e. fire stations, Palmer Trinity Litigation and Charter review), but as I tell my son during the Holiday Season, you can’t get all your presents at once, what will you have to look forward to on your birthday?

David Singer

Miami Dade: Whole Lotta Unregistered Lobbying Goin’ On

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of the “Ludlam Trail”?

If you raised your hand, you should probably thank the Friends of the “Ludlam Trail” for educating you of the trail’s theoretical existence.  We say theoretical because there is no such thing as the Ludlam Trail today.

In fact, the property that supporters want to convert into a 6.2 mile linear park is privately owned land that used to be a railroad corridor. The Ludlam Trail moniker is the product of a collectivist fantasy.

On December 4th, the county commission will consider the property’s actual, real, invested owner’s application to convert part of this vacant land into real, for-sale homes and other amenities. In planning parlance, this is called in-fill housing because the new homes will be located near existing infrastructure (roads, hospitals, water & sewer, etc.).

Instead of welcoming this housing into an area much better suited to development than, say, the western reaches of the county, a coalition of rabid activists have decided to target the application for defeat. By doing so, they hope to devalue the land so that it can be taken by the government and converted to this linear park concept.

As with most of these communal concepts, the activists conveniently dismiss the fact that the property is in private hands and is not for sale. Furthermore, the activists ignore that even if the county had the money to buy or forcibly take it, the government has no plan or funding to manage such a vast property. The Miami-Dade Parks system can barely fund its current budget.

But never mind all that rational thinking. For these activists, consistent application of public policy flies out the door as soon as the hyperbole reaches a fever pitch.

Now SDM doesn’t decry activism – we embrace it so long as everyone follows the same rules. Here again, the activist community sheds the requirements it demands of the “evil developers,” such as registering to lobby.

What? You say. Why would these folks have to register. All they are doing is commenting on public policy, right? Well, no…not in Miami-Dade they aren’t. Here is how the county defines a lobbyist (beware, it’s convoluted):

 As used in this section, “Lobbyist” means all persons, firms, or corporations
employed or retained by a principal who seeks to encourage the passage, defeat, or modifications of (1) ordinance, resolution, action or decision of the County Commission; (2) any action, decision, recommendation of the County Manager or any County board or committee; or (3) any action, decision or recommendation of County personnel during the time period of the entire decision-making process on such action, decision or recommendation which foresee ably will be heard or reviewed by the County Commission, or a County board or committee. “Lobbyist” specifically includes the principal as well as any employee whose normal scope of employment includes lobbying activities. The term “Lobbyist” specifically excludes the following persons: attorneys or other representatives retained or employed solely for the purpose of  representing individuals, corporations or other entities during publicly noticed quasi-judicial proceedings where the law prohibits ex-parte communications; expert witnesses who provide only scientific, technical or other specialized information or testimony in public meetings; any person who only appears as a representative of a neighborhood association without compensation or reimbursement for the appearance, whether direct, indirect or contingent, to express support of or opposition to any item; any person who only appears as a representative of a not-for-profit community based organization for the purpose of requesting a grant without special compensation or reimbursement for the appearance; and employees of a principal whose normal scope of employment does not include lobbying activities.

Careful readers of the above might say, well, organizations like Friends of Ludlam Trail and the Green Mobility Network (a 501c3 charity that is securing signatures against the property owner’s application) aren’t “employed or retained by a principal,” so they don’t need to register.

Not exactly. Someone from the Green Mobility Network and the Friends of Ludlam Trail, will speak on behalf of these entities.If the speakers are employees of these entities, then certainly they must register.

The dicier issue is whether someone is lobbying on behalf of these organizations and the county’s Ethics Commission has taken a very broad view of what the term means.

In January of this year, the Ethics Commission considered the case of an entity that provided video testimony in conjunction with a county procurement. The Ethics Commission applied the following factors to determine if the entity’s video testimony constituted lobbying:

The following factors, when present, are indicative that the individuals being video recorded are not lobbying:

(1) The presenter is not employed by or retained by the applicant for any purpose.
(2) The presenter does not have any financial or other special interest whatsoever in the project in question.
(3) The presenter had former business dealings with the applicant and is commenting solely on the past experience.
(4) The presenter makes no reference whatsoever to the current application or project.

(Emphasis added by SDM.)

As applied to the lobbying by the Ludlam Trail activists, the Ethics Commission might find – we emphasize might because it rarely enforce the lobbying provisions when it’s not politically correct to do so – that some of the project’s supporters have some other special interest in the project based on the all-encompassing nature of the word “whatsoever.”

What might trigger a lobbying requirement? SDM speculates that a planning company might want to solicit a future owner of the Ludlam Trail to develop and deliver a bicycle master plan, for example.

Given that this is Miami, you should not be surprised that the Chairman of the Green Mobility Network is also an employee of an organization that sells professional planning services. Example: the City of Miami’s Bicycle Master Plan. We doubt they did the project for free.

See how this works? You work on a “charity” that advocates buying a property for the purpose of creating a park, then you bid on the procurement to plan the new park.

The point is – yes, there is a point – that many of these activist organizations behave as if their actions are founded solely for philanthropic and charitable practices, when in fact they have related business interests. It’s a cynical double-standard that most people aren’t aware exists.

SDM Says: We as a community deserve to know exactly who these folks are serving and why, so make them register and disclose their lobbying interests.

PB: The Agenda Going Forward

SDM filled every nook and cranny in a binge food bender that is definitely going to leave a mark. We hope you did too.

While loafing on the couch, we got to thinking about Palmetto Bay’s agenda and what we think the council needs to tackle in the next few months. In no particular order:

Palmer Trinity Litigation

Sometime very soon after being sworn into their new roles, the village council needs to get the straight skinny on how to wrap up the Palmer Trinity pending litigation.

We’ve read the primer by Mr. Lehtinen and have no doubt about his legal chops. And, we don’t want to see Palmetto Bay pay legal fees and costs to Palmer if none are likely to be awarded by the courts.

But in fairness to all, this chapter must be closed so the village and Palmer can reconcile their interests and move on in a normal relationship.

We feel comfortable that Mayor Flinn – a competent lawyer in his own right – understands that the time for hardball tactics passed during the last mayor’s tenure. Find a reasonable solution or tell us why we need to fight it out, but for heaven’s sake tell us the unvarnished truth immediately.

Palmetto Bay Village Center – Southeast Fire Station

SDM is dubious about the forest so some serious disinterested third party needs to tell the village council and the Village People if there are endangered pine rocklands on the site and to what extent they ought or must be preserved.

We don’t trust the enviro-whackos to give us their opinion because they never seem to find ANY land to be developable anymore.

Again, this council bears the responsibility of determining whether a deal with the Palmetto Bay Village Center where the village permits limited development in exchange for a fire station location is a good deal for everyone.

Regardless of whether it is or it’s not, tell us why and make your decision. SDM may be speaking for others in town when we say we’re tired of the spinning.

Village Manager Ron Williams

The prior council punted on the decision to extend Mr. Williams tenure, which wisely leaves the decision in the hands of the new council.

We think Mr. Williams deserves to be fairly evaluated should he wish to remain in his post. On the other hand, we also think Mr. Williams – if he is retained – must be given clearer instructions on how to run this village.

SDM and, we think, others want this village to be lean. If this council agrees, then Mr. Williams’ tendency to empire-build must be curtailed from a policy perspective and not just from a budget perspective.

We hope the new council will keep us in the loop on this important decision and not pick a path one way or the other without a public discussion. This is not a topic for behind-the-scenes wrangling.

Palmetto Bay Budget

A corollary to the Williams issue is whether this council intends to exercise budget discipline. We have written extensively about the perpetual growth in the village’s headcount and total budget under the past two councils.

We believe the budget must be restrained so that we are not forced into a tax increase. Tough decisions require real leadership that has been in short supply over the past 8 years.

SDM Says: The budget is a policy document that will tell us how this village council intends to behave for the next few years. Big spending cannot be hidden.

Downtown Redevelopment – Charter School

The former mayor and her administration admitted that failing to develop the Franjo Triangle area amounts to a budgetary death sentence for Palmetto Bay.

At the same time, they continued to fund unnecessary positions in the police department. But the inconsistent message wasn’t limited to the budget. When a major downtown landowner asked for village support for a county grant program, the council deadlocked and failed to send a letter of support.

We fully understand that there are those in this village that want to see the decrepit downtown stay just as it is, to which we say fine, let’s build our budget to live within our current and future means.

On the other hand, if we as a village are serious about allowing healthy growth downtown, then we need to get out of the way and let the landowners build whatever the market will bear.

If the landowner believes a charter school works downtown, then the village should open its arms and welcome the development and the people it will bring. More people downtown will lead to more stores and eventually to healthy development.

SDM Says: The village council can’t have it both ways. You either accept development or you clamp down on it and accept the consequences either way, but making no decision is unacceptable.

Village Election Dates

Why do we have this dumb runoff three weeks after the general election and right before a major holiday?

If a September primary and a November general election work well enough to elect Governors, Presidents, Senators and Legislators, they’re good enough for little old Palmetto Bay.

SDM Says: It’s time to save some money and make the Village People’s lives a little easier.

Coral Reef Park Improvements

One wag suggested that SDM join a gym, which is a good suggestion given the constriction in our clothing today, but we want the option of jogging or walking after work in Coral Reef Park.

For us to do so we need two things: (a) later hours in the park; and (b) lighting in the parking areas and on the walking tracks. If we had our druthers, some of the ball fields and grassy areas would also be lit so that others could use the park, too.

Sure, there are neighbors around Coral Reef Park who believe they were granted a birthright of no-lights-ever, but shouldn’t we all get a voice in this important decision? We don’t remember being asked our opinion.

So, let’s put it to the voters. Here is the question:

Should lights be permitted at Coral Reef Park?

Simple and it misleads nobody.

SDM Says: If the majority of this village wants the park to be dark half the year then SDM can live with their decision.

PB: One Chapter Ends, Another Begins

For a blogger, the loss of a pol like Shelley Stanczyk is mixed blessing, but in the spirit of the holiday, we will just be thankful. And because we know that service is a sacrifice in and of itself, we say thank you to Mrs. Stanczyk and her family for their service to the Village of Palmetto Bay.

Running for office is like having multiple examinations by an unfamiliar doctor, and Henry Clifford willingly and, we understand, cheerfully submitted to having himself inspected. Here at the SDM Proctology Department, we say thank you Mr. Clifford for fighting the good fight.

To SDM’s new victims…er…to the newly elected members of the village council  :)   SDM says welcome aboard and Laissez les bons temps rouler!

As you enter upon the duties assigned to you, SDM has some advice:

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

-Rufus E. Miles, Jr. (1910-1996), an assistant secretary under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson

New elected officials are often surprised at the ferocity of opposing sides, especially on seemingly innocuous issues. Miles’s law explains why. As you understand better the various issues currently on the table and the ones that will arise during your tenure, keep in mind that good politicians understand and accept that people factionalize based on their points of view. Your job is to understand these ephemeral and constantly changing perspectives and harmonize them when possible; when impossible, your job is to accept them and move on.

You can’t fool all the people all the time.

-Bob Marley

Politics can sometimes seem to be the art of obfuscation and misdirection. National politicians obsess over managing the news cycle and spinning their positions, usually to no avail because the truth eventually comes out. Experience tells us that trying this tactic on a local level leads to political disaster.

The truth is that politics at its best is gentle honesty. SDM likens the art to telling a child that it’s time to move out of the house and start her life or telling a parent that he can no longer have a driver’s license.

Your job is to tell your constituents the facts and to act in our best interests as you see them at the time. If you spin the story and make an expedient choice, eventually we will learn the worst truth of all: that you failed to protect us. Your constituents will forgive – or at least mitigate – an honest mistake.

If you want a friend in politics, get a dog!

SDM paraphrased a quote often mis-attributed to Harry Truman. (The line comes from a play about his life. There is no evidence he ever said it.) He did say this, however: “When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one gun salutes, all those things. You have to remember it isn’t for you. It’s for the Presidency.”

It’s going to hurt a little the first time it happens, but eventually you will have to choose between a friendship and the right thing to do. Real friends will understand and might even accept your explanation, but there will be more who claim the mantle of friendship, but who merely need your office.

You must remember the immortal words of Michael Corleone: “It’s not personal… It’s strictly business.” The sooner you understand this aspect of the business you have chosen, the better you will represent the Village People.


Note to Readers: SDM will be taking a break for the Thanksgiving Holiday. From our families to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!


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