South Dade Matters

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

Tag: Palmetto Bay

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.

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: 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: Today, We May Heal

When SDM started this blog in July, 2011, the issue that drove us to write was the travesty that was (and is) the way Palmetto Bay treated Palmer Trinity.

What we’ve learned in the past 3+ years is that the Palmer fiasco was a symptom of a more insidious disease: Stanczykitis.

Never heard of it?

According to SDM’s medi-pol dictionary, Stanczykitis (sometimes confused with its close cousin, Pastorella Syndrome, which is more of a psychosis) is defined as follows:

A fatal disease where paranoia and malaprops drive disgruntled retirees and near-retirees into political madness; indicators include weird ordinances seeking to muzzle Sparky, wild about-faces on issues critical to the health and welfare of the Village People, and a general malaise and government drift.

The cure for Stancykitis is a purge, generally performed by voters but occasionally by political serendipity.

When we first ventured on this quest to rid village politics of this debilitating disease, we felt like the only path to sanity was by replacing the elected officials we kindly referred to as the Three Amigos.

In 2012, SDM urged voters to oust former Vice Mayor Brian Pariser by voting in John Dubois…one amigo down, which left Councilwoman Joan Lindsay and Mme. Mayor.

In a bit of a surprise in 2012, we supported re-election of Howard Tendrich and were saddened when he lost.

We were pleasantly surprised – and those suffering from Pastorella Syndrome much dismayed – that Tendrich’s successor, Tim “Marathon Man” Schaffer, turned out to be an independent and reasonable voice. Thus, serendipity gave an unexpected win to the good guys.

Today, we have the chance to clean out the wound in the mayor’s office by voting in Eugene Flinn. We also have a bonus opportunity to give the current majority a strong and diverse membership by electing Larissa Siegel Lara.

We certainly hope those of you who care about and pay attention to Palmetto Bay’s drifting government will help us cure Stanczykitis once and for all. Pastorella Syndrome is not so easily eradicated…so SDM will remain vigilant.

PB: David Singer Guest Post – A Message Of Hope

My blog is not being written in an attempt to convince anyone for whom to vote. At this point in Palmetto Bay’s election cycle, everyone who reads my blogs should understand why I’m seeking a political change for our Village. Trying to persuade anyone’s political opinion three days prior to the Village’s runoff is probably an exercise in futility.

This week, I had the extreme misfortune in losing a family friend and attending his funeral service. His family, although one of the strongest and tight knit families I have ever known, were overcome with grief at his unexpected passing. Their emotional state was not surprising due to the fact he died suddenly in a motorcycle accident. He was a good friend who passed away years too soon.

I tell you his story not to bring sadness but to honor my friend, his family and the church that held his funeral service.

I have to admit that I am not a particularly religious person, even though I strongly believe in my heritage. At the same time, I experienced something during the funeral service that was extremely emotionally overwhelming. It was nothing less than an overpowering outpouring of love and compassion for my friend and his family. It was as if the whole community came together suddenly to grieve, laugh and heal within a two-hour period. It was a bevy of emotions that just had to be experienced to be understood.

This is not the first time I have ever experienced this array of emotions and interestingly enough it has always occurred at a religious institution. It has either been the celebration of a birth, a wedding or unfortunately a celebration of life at a funeral.

During the past couple of years, I’ve heard many Palmetto Bay residents complain and comment repeatedly about the churches in our community. Complaints regarding traffic, comments that they don’t contribute real estate taxes, or comments that Palmetto Bay should be the Village of homes not churches or schools.

Religious institutions make a community. For those who take advantage they can lift you up and are a gathering place to find hope and healing in the darkest of times. They are a place where the masses can gather to both celebrate and grieve. They are the definition of community.

I know for my friend’s family if it weren’t for the love of his friends, their friends and church it would have made a difficult time much more grim. I firmly believe they felt the love that was in the air from those who attended the service and will continue to feel that love during their healing process.

When you vote on November 25th, please remember we are a community. We are a community that should be there when one of our residents is in trouble or in need. That can’t happen when residents believe we are strictly a community of houses. We need a drastic change. We need to be a community of houses, churches, schools, little league events, parks and tolerance. That’s what makes a community and that’s what Palmetto Bay needs to become.

Please don’t forget to vote on November 25th.
David Singer


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