October 1st - He's trying to get "back in the saddle again"......
"How to rehabilitate your record/image" by former President Bill Clinton - "Coral Gables style"
Our apologies to Gene Autry..........Query - Does the Miami Herald give special privilege to Don and his friends by printing their letters because his wife buys advertisement space? About a month after his first letter, the Herald published another letter by Don complaining about the "personal attacks" against him by the City Beautiful's current administration. He stated that his concerns "were and are real, not imagined (nor misrepresented or untrue)." He reiterated his statements about the city not offering full transparency about policy/ordinances changes to the public - unlike his administration - RIIIGGHTT, think Biltmore Hotel & City Manager David Brown. He also commented about the City Beautiful's loss of identity because of 8 by 4 foot plywood billboards erected throughout the City Beautiful proclaiming the good works of the current administration. Something his administration "avoided as too political and too unsightly". Guess he forgot about those signs (along Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Alhambra to name just two) that proclaimed "his administration's good works" like purchasing vacant lots in neighborhoods that increased our green space or various landscaping projects that promoted the beautification of the City Beautiful.
His website is still up, running and proclaiming all his accomplishments, although there's no mention of former City Manager David Brown's shenanigans, lawsuits against the City Beautiful, his Commission's failures in collecting rent owed to the city by their tenants or pension deficits in those accolades.
Don, sit back, relax, enjoy your cocktail. We know you miss those perks of being mayor (flying on private jets "and declaring the cost at less than a coach price" , trips to the White House, dining on the city's dime), but come on, isn't it a bit early to start campaigning? Or, to take a play/ploy out of your hero's rule book, are we looking at the next "first husband" of the City Beautiful?
September 30th - Finally - an Elected Official that states the obvious!
On the September 15th show of Michael Putney's "Week in South Florida" Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez stated what every employer and employee in the private sector, as well as county taxpayers, have known for years - "We are going to need to compare what our employees (county) are getting to other employees in the private sector. The average salary, wage earner here in Miami-Dade County (in the private sector) makes about $32,000 per year. The average wage earner in Miami-Dade County (county employee) makes quite a bit more. And when you talk about contribution of healthcare of 5%, even in government, there are a lot of other cities, counties, etc. where their employees are contributing much more than the 5%."
There was a time when to get qualified people to work in the public sector (government) you had to offer them something that they couldn't get in the private sector (because the private sector always paid better). As such, the public sector offered retirement or pension plans that paid better than the private sector. However, that's no longer the case. Government employees today have substantially higher salaries and retirement/pension plans that are not obtainable in the private sector. They work shorter hours, retire earlier and are not held as accountable for their actions as their counterparts in the private sector. Giving into the demands of these "government employee terrorists" - unsustainable lifetime retirement salaries and non-contributing healthcare coverage - is destroying our cities, counties, states, and our country.
Kudos to County Mayor Gimenez for finally stating the obvious! If other elected officials had his guts, maybe we could stop the USA from spiraling down this path of destruction.
September 23rd - Another voice from the past......
First comes Don, than comes Maria, what's next - the baby carriage? (to paraphrase that children's song). As a follow-up to Don Slesnick's letter to the Miami Herald's Neighbor's Section Soapbox column, Maria Anderson decided to add her opinion on how the City Beautiful did such a great job during her and Don's tenure. In the Herald's September 5th Neighbor's edition she was "amazed" how Don's letter regarding possible zoning changes resulted in a
platform by the current administration to revise history on the achievements of their commission from 2001 to 2010. They lowered taxes. They made unions contribute to their pensions. They rewrote the outdated zoning ordinance. Of course Ms. Anderson failed to mention that during their tenure they increased the pension deficit to over $200 million dollars. They failed to make repairs to the City Beautiful's deteriorating infrastructure. They failed in getting the Biltmore Hotel to pay back rent. They failed not recognizing the incompetency of City Actuary Randall Stanley, which will cost the City Beautiful unknown financial liabilities. Talk above revisionist history. Not to mention one of Ms. Anderson's last votes was to give the unions a cost of living increase, a direct violation of state law. This coming from a candidate that first campaigned not to build the Village of Merrick Park, she preferred the old blighted properties.
Is it any wonder why their candidate didn't win?
September 6th - OOPS she did it again……
"I'll report on you, don't you report on me."
Elaine “Ladra” De Valle, the self-described “searcher of truth” in South Florida politics recently commented on her blog about the upcoming Miami Commissioner election between incumbent Frank Carollo and his opponent, Alex Dominguez.
“Ladra – English translation – to bark or yap (we prefer the latter - reminds us of an annoying little dog - all yap no bite) reported that Commissioner Carollo is under investigation for possible violation of the Conflict of Interest and Code of Ethics Ordinance regarding a recent traffic ticket. During her research Elaine “the Yapper” De Valle discovered that Mr. Dominguez’s driving record stated that he “was slapped with a couple of speeding tickets in 2004 and 2006, but he paid the citations.”
GablesTalk decided to be a "searcher of truth" ( the "fourth estate i.e. press" need to be held just as accountable for their actions as the ones they report on) reviewing her own driving record, one that is quite “extensive”. Over the years “The Yapper” has her own habit of being slapped with “DWLS” – driving with license suspended" - three times. First in 2007, which was a criminal offense (i.e. driving when she knew her license was suspended) requiring her to post a $1,000 bail to get out of jail. Her most recent "DWLS" was in 2012. However, this incident was considered an infraction (ie. she “allegedly" didn’t know her license was suspended). This time she just had to pay a fine. While Ms. De Valle commented on Mr. Dominguez’s two speeding tickets, "The Yapper" has been cited over 18 times including, but not limited to, speeding (in school zones), failure to stop at light/sign, careless driving and improper passing; not to mention no proof of insurance (3 times, of course with that many tickets maybe she couldn't get insurance) as well as toll violations and no registration over the years. Unlike Mr. Dominguez, Ms. De Valle has yet to pay the fines on her five traffic offenses from 2012 – not surprising considering her legal problems regarding failures in fulfilling financial obligations.
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While Mr. Dominguez's drivers license may state "safe driver", with "the Yapper's" criminal history of drug possession, battery, resisting arrest and driving record, GablesTalk doubts her license says the same.
September 1st – Former Mayor just refuses to leave political stage in the City Beautiful.
“Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” - General Douglas MacArthur
If only that statement could be applied to old politicians. In his latest venue to remain relevant (i.e.testing the waters for yet another campaign run?), former mayor Don Slesnick wrote a letter to the Soapbox column of the Miami Herald Neighbor’s section on August 25th. He states that City Hall is changing the zoning code to allow nightclubs and late night bars to become a significant part of the city landscape. He feels that the next step will be “flashing neon signs and 5 a.m. closing times” allowing the City Beautiful to become another haven for drunken patrons and their escapades. Apparently, the former mayor feels that the City Beautiful is losing its’ “old world” class and charm, heading down that “decadent highway” of parking pickup trucks on the street (too late) and offering South Beach/Coconut Grove night life on the Mile Fortunately, City Hall was able to counter punch his misrepresentations the following week when the Herald published a letter from Jane Tompkins, Development Services Director for the City Beautiful.
Ms. Tompkins stated that over the past few years (i.e.- since the former mayor was voted out of office) the City Commission has made substantial inroads to change the “unsustainable pension plans and labor agreements, cut property tax rates and is operating more efficiently and effectively, thereby allowing for investment in infrastructure and neighborhood enhancements.” She also gave one of the best retorts regarding the former mayor’s accusations, stating that his comments were “akin to someone setting a fire and, then, pulling the alarm to save the day.” Well kudos to Ms. Tompkins. After a 12 year Slesnick administration reign that resulted in higher taxes, skyrocketing deficits in unfunded pension plans and a deterioration of the city infrastructure, someone has finally held the former mayor accountable.
Just in time too, with Mayor Cason being termed out in the 2015 election, the last thing the City Beautiful needs is another term with Mayor Slesnick at the helm.
Just fade away Don, it’s the honorable thing to do.
August 30th – Update on the Scout House and Troop 7.
In reference to our article about the Scout House we received two emails from Robert Burr, husband of former Troop 7 Scoutmaster Robin Burr and self-claimed Director of the George Merrick Foundation. These emails were sent on July 3rd and July 8th. Due to the content of these emails GablesTalk has been attempting to ascertain his, as well as others, statements and information regarding the Troop's financial problems. However, due to summer and vacations times, we have yet to complete our investigation. Our update should be completed within the next two weeks.
GablesTalk hoped everyone had a great summer.
July 26th - UPDATE ON BOY SCOUTS - ROBERT BURR COMMENTS ON THE STATUS QUO AND WHY CITY COMMISSIONERS WILL NOT TALK TO GABLESTALK.
GablesTalk will follow-up our story on Tuesday, July 30th.
HAPPY 4TH OF JULY
See you at the Biltmore for the fireworks show!
July 2nd – Theft, Fraud & Eviction – What’s going on at the Boy Scout Cabin?
Over 80 years ago the City Beautiful’s founder, George Merrick donated land in the middle of the Granada Golf Course to the Coral Gables Boy Scout Troop 7 for the construction of a Boy Scout Cabin. Throughout the decades this “Scout House” has been the epicenter for teaching young men from the City Beautiful the cornerstones of life, including, but not limited to the Scout Oath – Duty to God and Country, Duty to other people and Duty to self. Unfortunately, some individuals (adults) have forgotten those tenets.
GablesTalk has learned that the City Beautiful has hired the law firm of Weiss Serota Helfman Pastoriza Cole & Boniske to evict Troop 7 from the Scout House. The reason – the Scout Troop defaulted on their lease with the City Beautiful due to their failure to pay certain fees/expenses on the Scout House, particularly insurance to maintain the building, going back more than five years. Furthermore, confidential sources have revealed to GablesTalk that the failure to pay these expenditures were possibly due to theft and fraud by former executives/officials no longer affiliated with the Troop and/or its holding entities or subsidiaries. Additionally, funds may have been illegally taken or transferred to other “non-profit entities” controlled by such former executives/officials and may have been used for other “activities” having nothing to do with the non-profit entities.
Those sources also confirmed that the City Beautiful’s Mayor, Commissioners, Attorney, Manager and Economic Stability Director were well aware of the cause for the delinquencies (possible theft and/or fraud) and were working with the new executives/officials of Troop 7 to cure all deficits, including a recent substantial payment by Troop 7. Most were shocked by the City Beautiful’s actions. Anonymous sources closely involved with Troop 7 have stated that parents and members have questioned payment of bills for years. One parent spoke how scouts would go to the cabin and the lights wouldn’t work because the electric bill had been unpaid - something that happened not once but numerous times – despite the fact that fundraisers and scout fees afforded more than enough money to pay the bill. It appears that financial impropriates have been talked about for years, which may explain the possible failure to pay lease expenses.
Several parents of the scouts, wishing to remain anonymous, told GablesTalk that they had personally communicated with the Mayor and several City Commissioners expressing their concerns about such financial improprieties. Mayor Cason doubted their concerns (more on this at a later date) and the Commissioners either refused to comment or told them they would never consider evicting the Boy Scouts. GablesTalk emailed both Mayor Cason & all Commissioners last week (Commissioner Kerdyk's son is an Eagle Scout from Troop 7) regarding our investigation. None responded to our request.
The Coral Gables Boy Scout Troop 7 has a long-term lease with the City Beautiful for the property. Sources close to the Scouts have indicated that legal actions against the former officials /executives are imminent.
Editor Note - We are still investigating this story and will provide updates over the next few weeks.
June 21st - Congrats to the Heat for the Championship but.......
The party has just begun for the Heat's "two-peat" and owner Micky Arison starts the celebration with a request to the City of Miami - help, we need money to "renovate" our arena. Its bad enough that after three championships, four conference titles and standing room only tickets selling for $400 they still can't make a profit to pay Miami for their arena; now another billionaire needs our tax dollars for their sport team. Guess Mr. Arison feels more entitled than Stephen Ross, afterall the Fins haven't made the playoffs in years. Nice way to share the victory Mick!
June 14th - Screw-up at City Hall
As if the City Beautiful’s Pension Plan didn’t have enough problems a study that was requested by the City Commission last year revealed that Randall Stanley (the city’s actuary) didn’t accurately do his job. A report done by the law firm of Lewis Longman and Walker, along with Jeffrey Groves of Actuarial Concepts, detailed that Mr. Stanley failed to include account caps on pension benefits as imposed by IRS regulations. This regulation, known as Section 415, details how to calculate the amount of retirement benefits and also places limits on the amount of those benefits or allocations. Because the definition of compensation has numerous plan applications, it is important to be able to define and distinguish the requirements for compensation which could have severe consequences for a retiree. As is the case with former assistant city manager, Maria Menendez.
After working for the City Beautiful for over 30 years, Ms. Menendez retired in 2012. Her monthly retirement payment was over $9,000.00 (that’s over $108,000 per year, a staggering retirement benefit which could never be matched in the private sector, BUT that’s a story for another day.) Because of Mr. Stanley’s failure to address the IRS regulation it appears that Ms. Menendez’s monthly check will be a little smaller – by about $7,500 per month. However, don’t feel too sorry for her, she currently works as the assistant city manager for Pinecrest, not to mention being another former city employee with a potential lawsuit against the city. Hopefully, the actuary for Pinecrest won’t make the same mistake as Mr. Stanley.
The report further stated that due to Mr. Stanley’s errors regarding benefit caps, determining a retiree’s benefits could be inaccurate and effect their decisions on when to retire or enter the City Beautiful’s lottery, DROP, more on this boondoggle at a later date.. Of course, guess who’s responsible for the losses to the retirees, the City Beautiful. More lawsuits and legal fees to be incurred by our residents. Maybe that's the reason why the Commission was looking to increase fees at the June 11th meeting. Oh, by the way, the Commission voted unanimously to end the City’s 10 year contract with Mr. Stanley in May.
Everybody say thank you to former city manager David Brown and the Slesnick Administration. Even out of office their presence is still felt……..
June 6th is the 69th anniversary of D-Day. Remember those that served and gave so much for our Country.
Update – GablesTalk is finalizing a story that could have a devastating effect on a long standing organization and tradition associated with the City Beautiful and our founder. Our story will be in our June 28th edition.
May 29th- Baby I can’t Park my Car
To paraphrase that Beatles song, the City Commission during its May28th meeting addressed a long overdue issue for downtown, the parking garages on Andalusia Avenue. Timothy Haahs & Associates presented their study stating that the City Beautiful has sufficient parking today (if you have parked in this area over the past year most would disagree with that conclusion). The study stated an increase of 101 spaces would be needed by 2018 based upon estimated population growth. Commissioner Keon (kudos to her) felt that the study was flawed by not taking into account growth projections for businesses. She felt that limiting the study to residential increases did not adequately address the total requirements of future parking spaces. The Haahs & Associates study recommended that the garage behind Miracle Theater be renovated first with a range of 800 to 1000 spaces since this facility is the predominant parking destination for downtown visitors.
Vice-Mayor Kerdyk stated that plans for the garage include the alleyway due to its usage for deliveries to the supporting businesses on the Mile. The
Commission unanimously voted to have Abramson & Associates work with the City in the renovation/redevelopment of the parking garages.
May 19th – Pensions, Pensions, Pensions
At the May 14th meeting the City Commission unanimously voted to reject the Retirement Board’s request to give a cost of living increase to pension plans of retirees. This proposal was first rejected in December of last year by a vote of 3 to 2 (former Commissioners Anderson and Cabrera voting for the increase). A vote for the increase would have increased the unfunded liability to more than $45 million over 30 years, thus increasing the overall unfunded liability to well over $300 million dollars.
The reasoning behind the Retirement Board’s decision for a cost of living increase was due to the 18% return on assets for the year ending on September 30, 2012. The Board stated that when a return exceeds the threshold mark of 10% the City Beautiful is obligated to pay a cost of living increase (commonly referred to as COLA) of 5.95%.. However, according to state law such increases must be funded at the time of disbursement. Considering the city’s unfunded liability in its pension any increase could be illegal, at least in Mayor Cason’s opinion as he stated back in December. At that time he requested City Attorney Craig Leen contact Florida’s Department of Management Services for a more detailed analysis of any COLA disbursements. The response from the Department of Management Services agreed with the Mayor stating since the overall retirement plan is negative any increase could not be paid.
GablesTalk has stated before that the City needs to address ways to lower this liability - not increase the amount. Companies in the private sector of Miami-Dade County, similar in size to the City Beautiful, pay employees an average salary that is approximately 12% lower than the average City employee salary. However, the real expense difference between the private and public sectors are retirement benefits. The private sector’s retirement costs approximate 24% of an employee’s salary. In the City Beautiful, those costs are more than 62% of employee’s salary. This is unsustainable, a fact that seems to fall on deaf ears with the City’s union membership. Particularly so when after the vote, Ronald Cohen, attorney for the fire, general and police unions stated he planned to sue the city. If the City’s unions maintain their strong position Coral Gables may need to take the path of other cities and counties across the nation and explore selling city assets or the dreaded “bankruptcy option”.
On a Sad Note – The GablesHomePage Shuts Down
After fours years, an informative and well published news website that offered residents and viewers interesting articles and informative updates on the comings and goings in the City Beautiful closed down this month. As with most closing businesses these days the reason cited, the economy. Partly funded with grants from the Coral Gables Community Foundation and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation the site could not sustain itself through advertising and grants. The CGCF stated they would still focus on thier mission to enhance the lives of the people of Coral Gables. It is a big loss to our community.
May 1, 2013
Stadium Update - The clock struck 6:57 pm and Cinderella's carriage turned back to a pumpkin - Florida Legislature ended their session this evening without approving a bill for the "modernization" of the stadium formerly known as "Joe Robbie".
May 1, 2013 - Payback's a Bitch
Jose Lambiet, Miami Herald’s Gossip Columnist , who loves to dish about the trials and tribulations of South Florida’s rich/famous/infamous, has had his own personal problems of late. After more than ten years of marriage and children, the divorce between the cue ball gossipmonger and his former paramour, Alina Hernandez Lambiet, has been finalized. Acting as his own attorney (known as “pro se”) the Vero Beach resident’s divorce has been finalized. Details of the settlement have yet been made public (a notice of confidential was filed – we guess publicity just doesn’t work for those of the “fourth estate” ) but GablesTalk has heard from close sources that acting “pro se” didn’t help his case - nor did looking for love in all the wrong places - "just asking". The real estate downturn also may have hurt settlement talks. Public records revealed that his home at 1430 Treasure Cove Lane in Vero Beach, purchased in February 2003 for $449,500 is worth less these days. Sources say that the settlement may have left his wallet as bare as his head. GablesTalk contacted his wife’s attorney, Kathryn Hill and the Miami Herald, neither were available for comment.
April 23rd – Professionalism and Decorum return to the Dias
The first City Commission meeting after the April election was held today. What made this meeting memorable, the absence of tension to the Mayor’s right. The new Commissioners, Mrs. Keon and Mr. Lago, took their seats with professionalism and dignity. The meeting opened with a prayer from Deacon Jose (St. Augustine Church) and Commissioner Keon leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
Discussions on future meeting dates, budget, insurance and infrastructure repairs were the primary topics. Both new Commissioners made appropriate comments and remarks - Commissioner Keon questioned insurance coverage for catastrophic health issues (not surpising considering her past employment as a nurse) and Commissioner Lago made several statements on changes to the enforcement code regarding homeowner roofs and the city's ongoing infrastructure repairs. Commissioner Quesada suggested that Commissioner Lago replace him on the Miami-Dade County's technical committee PACE (Property Assessment Clean Energy) due to his engineering experience. Commissioner Keon was asked to represent the City Beautiful on the Miami-Dade League of Cities committee. Both Commissioners accepted the appointments. City Manager Salerno said due to improvements in work safety the City Beautiful will save approximately $70,000 in insurance costs this year.
Overall, this meeting was short and sweet. Bottom line - they "took care of business" - a welcomed delight. It was quite obvious that this Commission is more harmonious than those of the past (the audience also noticed the pleasantness). Of course, this was just their first meeting. Board appointments have yet to be made and the city's new budget is on the horizon. Those meetings will be the real test of their harmony. However, GablesTalk believes that the times of animosity and atrocious behavior are part of the past.
The lonely walk home down the path of shattered dreams.................
Friday - April 12th - A New Era - A more friendly and less tension-filled commission
The induction of two new commissioners & the Mayor was held this afternoon. Noticeably absent – former Commissioners Maria Anderson and Rafael “just call me Ralph” Cabrera. Ms. Anderson had already established an alibi at her last commission meeting, - an inability to attend due to her religious studies – apparently she believed the polls that neither former Mayor Don Slesnick or defeated mayoral candidate, Rafael “just call me Ralph” Cabrera would not.
The audience for the induction ceremony was well attended - SRO. Mayor Cason stated that he was looking forward to a more harmonious Commission. He commended the City Manager, Attorney and Clerk on their performance. Both new Commissioners Keon and Lago thanked their families and supporters and said they look forward to making our city a better place. However, GablesTalk looked to Commissioner Kerdyk who stated the obvious; the voters of the City Beautiful wanted a commission that will take the City Beautiful in more vibrant and decisive direction and GablesTalk couldn't agree more.
The Morning After:
R.I.P. - The Slesnick Era
After 12 years and one of the nastiest campaigns in the City Beautiful’s history the last relic of the Slesnick Administration was stunningly kicked to the curb. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Rafael “just call me Ralph” Cabrera bragged (even to the Miami Herald’s editorial Board) how he once won by the largest margin in the city’s history now holds another record – lost by the largest margin in the city’s history. Now, the highlights:
Decorum to the dais – the endless, and at times, insipid twaddle by Anderson & Cabrera are gone.
Professionalism – dirty campaign tactics don’t work in the City Beautiful. Keep it where it belongs – Hialeah.
City Manager Pat Salerno – while maybe not the most diplomatic person to hold the office, the best person to steer the ship during these tough economic times.
The Residents of the City Beautiful – continuing down the path of repairing our infrastructure, pension reform and increasing our reserves only makes the City Beautiful more beautiful.
Miami Herald Editorial Board – “just when we thought they were out, they dragged us back in.” to quote Don Corleone.
Former Mayor Don Slesnick - three strikes - you’re out. Losing his last election, pickup truck law and Cabrera’s bid for Mayor - his goal of being the City’s “eminent power broker” is “dust in the wind”.
The City’s Unions – having that mentality of “the city owes us” or “Coral Gables can afford it” just doesn’t work in these times. Neither do unsustainable pensions.
Keith Donner & Ross Hancock – photo shopping and making false accusations about homestead exemptions & residency doesn’t work here. Again, keep it where it belongs – Hialeah.
Rafael “just call me Ralph” Cabrera – lying (see Keith Donner) and making comments about one’s family life doesn’t work. Remember your bible scripture “Let he without sin cast the first stone”.
Special Mention – The best email received during the campaign – titled “If Ralph Cabrera is elected Mayor” - http://youtu.be/q0POXW4V1_k funny as hell, go to the link.
Best of luck to the new Commissioners and Mayor. Let’s continue to keep our city on the right track.
Query - GablesTalk has wondered why Gables TV always films the Chamber’s forum but not the Ponce Business Association’s forums – out of the two, the Ponce Business Association is the more informative.
Last Tuesday’s “forums” appeared to be nothing more than a poor imitation of Fox News reporter Frank Lutz’s approach to electoral interpretation . Using “clickers” to gauge the audience’s response to candidates was ridiculous – Mr. Lutz does a far superior job. The race for Seat Three went first. This is the race with the most candidates. Pat Keon and Mary Young stressed their years of service on various city committees and because of such history they are best qualified to become a City Commissioner. Ms. Young stated further that she had been on “your side” for many years. Both candidates felt that their resumes speak for themselves. It’s clear, due to their years of experience on city committees, they feel they are the best qualified. PJ Mitchell and Tony Newell questioned the status quo. Both of these candidates haven’t gone the “usual route” running for commissioner. Mitchell commented on how personalities overshadow issues before the commission and Newell agreed. Newell stated that while resentment may run deep the city is better than that. Holmes agreed with all parties. Again, candidates agreed about pension problems but no one offered clear cut solutions. Keon &Young just “kicked the can down the road” with their statements. One thing is true, with a Commissioner Keon or Young the City Beautiful will have the same problems in another four years. Maybe it’s time to look in a new direction – that direction is a Commissioner Mitchell or Newell.
The next “forum” was for Seat Two, with candidates Marlin Ebbert, Ross Hancock and Vince Lago. This forum went pretty much along the same lines as the Ponce event. The predominant issue in this discussion was the trolley garage. Ebbert and Hancock offered an olive branch by extending service to the Grove. GablesTalk still doesn’t know what Lago would do from his statement. Bottom-line – it’s a done deal. The City Beautiful needs to make amends to the Grove, keeping everyone happy. This is a tough one to call. Lago is the “old guard” appointed one - that comes with issues. Ebbert has a lot of family/community support. However, GablesTalk has heard sometimes she doesn’t “follow through” with past commitments. Mr. Hancock could be the wild card and would make an interesting addition to the Commission dais.
Last, but certainty not least, was the Mayor’s forum. This race has been decided long before the Chamber’s event. It's based on two questions – One, do you like Commission Rafael "Ralph" Cabrera? Two, do you think City Manager Pat Salerno is doing a good job? Anyone that hasn’t decided so far - they are in the minority – the die has been cast. The only thing GablesTalk noticed during this forum was how calm both candidates acted, particularly the Commissioner. The animosity between the two from the Ponce Forum was not there - possibly due to that stunning endorsement by former Mayor Don Slesnick - “I think that Ralph just deserves a chance” or the bad press Cabrera received from his rude and offensive comment about the City Manager's homelife. Cabrera seemed more “laissez-faire” making comments about his bald spot & asking the moderator to just call him Ralph. GablesTalk feels that this race will not be close – whoever wins – it will be by a substantial margin.
March 27, 2013
Election 2013 - Continued - Mayor's Forum
In this corner wearing the blue suit and blue tie is the Mayor of Coral Gables, James “the diplomat” Cason. His opponent, in a blue suit and yellow tie, Rafael “just call me Ralph” Cabrera. Gablestalk was waiting for the moderator to yell “let’s get ready to rumble” because that’s what the Ponce Business Association’s Mayor Forum was like on Thursday night - “the thriller in the Gables”.
The audience (almost 200 strong) was filled with cheering supporters from both camps. Plenty of jabs but no knockout blows were delivered– although there was one cheap shot - by Cabrera. When Mayor Cason stated that the City Manager works hard, sometimes seven days a week, Cabrera responded “Who knows? Maybe he doesn’t have a great home life and that’s why he works seven days”. The audience didn’t like that low blow and let Cabrera know it with long and loud boos. GablesTalk found the statement utterly offensive, particularly so considering Cabrera’s own recent infidelities in his home life.
The "fight” centered on the City Manager, pension reform and crime. Cabrera stated that he has oversight responsibilities to the city manager, city clerk and city attorney. He feels it’s his job to hold the Manager accountable and to ask tough questions. Cabrera agreed that the two had “disagreements but it’s nothing personal”. The Commissioner said that the Mayor has never questioned anything the Manager has brought before the commission, that he “only nods and votes” which is wrong. Cason stated that the City Beautiful has a strong manager form of government allowing the Manager to participate in commission meetings. Cason added that he meets with the Manager every day, something that Cabrera has refused to do in over 3 ½ years. Cason added that Cabrera inappropriately belittles and humiliates the Manager and appears to have a genuine dislike of the man. Cabrera countered that he wouldn’t like to see a different City Manager, just hold him accountable. He stated that they can fire him on the spot and tried unsuccessfully this past July, stating “that was a great exercise”. Cason commented that Cabrera had not proposed a single piece of legislation that had prevailed. The Mayor said that the Commissioner is all for checks and balances, but hadn’t accomplished anything in the last two years. He called Cabrera a “great talker but you’re not effective”. GablesTalk gave round 1 to the Mayor.
The battle continued with pension reform. With the unfunded pension liability increasing over $200 million during Cabrera’s tenure the Mayor noted that that Cabrera had recently voted to accept the Retirement Board’s request to provide a 6% cost of living increase for retirees, costing the City Beautiful $1.6 million a year if approved. Cason continued that such a move would have been illegal in Florida since it was unfunded and would add a cost to taxpayers of $48 million over 30 years. Cabrera said that the city could be sued by the three unions due to that vote. He defended his record stating that he was aware of the increasing unfunded liability problem and the need to reform the pension program for years. He claimed that in his efforts to resolve this problem some of his colleagues didn’t speak to him for months (although GablesTalk can’t believe that’s the only reason some of his colleagues didn’t speak to him). “You may have tried but you weren’t successful. Words are cheap. You had 10 years – nothing was done about the situation and that’s why we went from 99% funded to the lowest in Florida. Where was Ralph?” Cason replied. Cabrera appeared to be constantly on the ropes during this exchange, not showing any real defense for his actions. GablesTalk gave this round to the Mayor.
Cason came out swinging on crime, calling Cabrera’s appearance on Spanish radio where he claimed that the crime rate is worse than Opa-locka wrong. (GablesTalk also feels that Cabrera’s comments were racist.) Cason stated the City Beautiful is a safe city and overall crime fell 1.1%. Cabrera stated that according to the FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) crime has risen 13% over the last year. “In the 12 years I’ve represented Coral Gables this was never an issue like it is today” stated the Commissioner. This round was short and sweet. GablesTalk gave the edge to Cabrera.
Overall, Mayor Cason won the “fight” on points. From the onset, Cabrera was playing defense most of the night. While both candidates had negative things to say about each other – one thing is clear - Cabrera is the champion when it comes to dirty campaigning. That was evidenced by the recent flyer showing the Mayor holding a bottle of liquor. Its intention was obvious. Cabrera denied any knowledge of its origin. That is a LIE. The flyer came from the Citizen Action Inc. PAC owned by Keith Donner, a donor and consultant for Cabrera’s campaign (www.gableshomepage.com/elections/candidate/ralph-cabrera/) Additionally; does anyone really believe his statement about not wanting to fire the City Manager - to just hold him responsible? The city has seen a tremendous turnaround in the past two years. From improved finances to long overdue infrastructure repairs, the City Beautiful is improving. When deciding this race the voter has to ask one question – do we want to continue down the path of the past two years or back down the path that started in 2001?Up next - The Chamber of Commerce Candidate's Forum
Of the three forums sponsored by The Ponce Business Association, Group Two was the most polite and respectful. This says a lot about the three candidates – Marlin Ebbert, Ross Hancock and Vince Lago.
Of the numerous topics discussed crime, pension reform and improving the city’s public schools dominated the conversation. Pension reform is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. The $225 million unfunded liability is straining the city’s budget. Everyone agrees about the problem but, as in the other two forums, none of the candidates presented clear cut solutions. Discussions on changing from a defined benefit to a 401K plan make a great sound bite however; it still does not address the unfunded liability. Neither does blaming previous administrations for creating it. Cities/municipalities across the country are experiencing the same issue as the City Beautiful. A full financial and realistic dialogue between City Administration (i.e. Manager, Mayor and Commissioners) and the unions (members and leadership) is needed. GablesTalk knows that this will be difficult, particularly after speaking with several union members when the forum concluded. They were adamant about how the city “owes them”. When we mentioned the tough times residents are experiencing and the need for lower taxes- the response was “hey, Coral Gables can afford it”. Apparently, union members are just as stubborn as the City Manager. To say that such a talk will be difficult is an understatement.
Two subjects that were mentioned during this forum (and not the others from our recollection) was the plan to build a boat storage facility at Matheson Hammock and the proposed pedestrian bridge across U.S. 1. All three candidates were against the boat storage development. While GablesTalk agrees with the candidates about the planned development, something needs to be done. A falling down chain-link fenced-in dirt lot doesn’t belong in the City Beautiful. With regard to the bridge, Ebbert hopes that the mall owners would yield to pressure and accept the current $1.85 million offer for the loss of five parking spaces. If not, she suggested a community protest including students from UM (quite frankly an interesting idea). Hancock would support the strongest possible action by the city to assure the county’s ability to complete the project as planned. Lago felt that the offer was financially unsound. He suggested the county perform a detailed traffic study expanding the University’s trolley system to cross U.S. 1 (sounded like a typical safe political answer to us). GablesTalk thinks that the mall owners are just looking for more money. Having a bridge providing easier access to their property would only increase business. If the owners are so concerned about mall sign visibility, the county should include a signage clause on the bridge in their offer.
Mr. Hancock stated that the public schools in the city need to be on the same level as other city services. Ms. Ebbert would like to have the Miami-Dade Public School Board return to a neighborhood school concept that existed when her children attended. Mr. Lago agreed with both regarding public schools but also mentioned the need for a senior center. In regard to crime, Ms. Ebbert called on the residents to participate more with the CrimeWatch program. Both Hancock and Lago agreed but felt increasing police officers would be an additional benefit.
The only tense exchange came during closing statements with Mr. Hancock questioning the amount of money being raised in the election. He was very critical that with all the monies raised, there is an appearance that races are being “bought” in the City Beautiful. Mr. Lago (having raised the most of all candidates in all races) took umbrage with that statement calling it unprofessional. GablesTalk disagrees. Both Ebbert and Hancock feel money should be taken out of politics. They both have limitations on donations – by amount and entities (i.e. if you do business with the city they do not accept any money). They have also put in their own money. GablesTalk appreciates and supports both Ebbert and Hancock’s actions on campaign donations. Its apparent that with his campaign donations, recent board appointments and at times, bureaucratic answers, Mr. Lago is the "anointed one" by the old guard in this race. The one to watch in this race is Ross Hancock.Query - Is it just GablesTalk, or does an endorsement from the Miami Herald's editorial board appear to be as obsolete as their soon to be demolished headquarters? (or to use a sports analogy, with a batting average like that over the past few election cycles, they'd be back in the minors) Now endorsing Mayor Cason, their explanation on why they didn't support his first candidacy (his lack of time as a resident) reminds us again of the "carpetbagger accusations" of long ago. GablesTalk thinks with comments like that the Herald is heading down the path of the dodo bird. Let's hope their new space permits a sublet.
The April 9th election for City Commissioners and Mayor of the City Beautiful is essentially based on two criteria: continued financial reform and the retention of City Manager, Patrick Salerno. The Ponce Business Association held two forums in the past two weeks for Groups 2 and 3; their forum for the Mayor’s race will be on Thursday, March 21st at the Coral Gables Congregational Church. The Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce forum will be on March 26th at the University of Miami Fieldhouse. This forum will be divided between the two City Commission seats (2 and 3) and a separate forum for the Mayor seat.
GablesTalk attended the first two forums. The forum for Group 3 has the most candidates - Jackson Rip Holmes, Pat Keon, P.J. Mitchell, Tony Newell, and Mary Young. This forum was the more interesting of the two. It also reiterated our previous column of the “old guard versus new guard”, especially when the moderator, Elliot Rodriguez, questioned the candidates about the Mayor’s race. When asked whether the City Beautiful would be better served under Mayor Jim Cason or City Commissioner Ralph Cabrera, only one candidate stepped up to the plate and directly answered the question. That candidate was Tony Newell (new guard). Mr. Newell stated that if you reviewed the past two years since Jim Cason has been Mayor, the City Beautiful had substantially reversed the financial crisis afforded under previous administrations. He also stated that City Manager Patrick Salerno, while not the most diplomatic of administrators, was an important part in averting the crisis. GablesTalk would agree and add City Attorney Craig Leen to that list. If not for his strong stance in holding Gene Prescott and the Seaway Group to the “letter of the law” on the Biltmore Hotel lease, the City Beautiful never would have received the back rent payments. Proof of this was how quickly Seaway paid the back rent after Cason was elected Mayor. Mayor Cason and the City Attorney were ready to evict Seaway for failure to pay rent. Does anyone really believe if Don Slesnick (supported by Mr. Prescott) had been reelected Seaway would have stopped its fight?
The other candidates refused to answer the question. Mary Young (old guard), who has run an unusual campaign (i.e. no pictures or comments about her family or being born/time lived in Coral Gables - which GablesTalk finds refreshing, we are, after all voting for the individual not their family) simply stated that the race would be decided by the voters. The other candidates’ statements ran along the same lines. They all stated that regardless of who is Mayor they could work with them. GablesTalk respects Mr. Newell’s honest answer.
Pat Keon, along with Mary Young & Rip Holmes are of a generation that believe they've put their time in (i.e. members of city committees and clubs) so they deserved to be moved to the next level - City Commission. However, as we've stated before "the times they are a changng". Possibly, not in this cycle, since both Keon & Young do have the "old money donations", but newcomers Mitchell and Newell have made quite the impression with their forum and door-to-door appearances. Not to mention their bypassing of the "old guard" route, paying homage to current or past Commissioners by donating or joining the right city committees, before running for office. These individuals appear to run for office because they truly want to make the City Beautiful a better place to live and work, not because its the next step on their resume. This race appears to be a toss up between Pat Keon and Mary Young. However, P.J. Mitchell and Tony Newell are very interesting. Either one would be an excellent choice. Tony Newell could be the upset.
The big issue is pension costs. The unfunded costs exceed $225 million. Pensions are bleeding taxpayers dry. This is not just a local issue. Across the nation public pensions are running three to four times more generous than those in the private sector. A review of private companies in South Florida that have approximately 800 employees (similar to the City Beautiful) show that the average employee receives a salary of $52,000, compared to the city’s $62,000. Pension costs in the private sector approximate 27% of an employee’s salary. In the City Beautiful, they approximate almost 62% of the employee’s salary. It’s clear these costs are unsustainable. However, explaining this fact to union leaders and membership appears to be an exercise in futility.
Quick note, of the current candidates, GablesTalk has learned that P.J. Mitchell and Marlin Ebbert have stated they would not participate in any pension or retirement plans. We are waiting for responses from the other candidates.
Up next – discussions about the forums with Group 2, Mayor’s race and dirty campaign tactics.
Slesnick took another blow with the pick-up truck law. An ardent opponent, he, as most of the old guard of the City Beautiful, clearly missed this one. A city changes or evolves with time. The City Beautiful, albeit young when compared to others, has numerous antiquated laws. The pick-up truck law was definitely one of them. Most cities grow/change with time and Coral Gables has made adjustments yet, maintaining this law was an exercise in futility (just look at the numbers, it passed with more than 60% of the vote). The former Mayor should of realized this when he backed changes to the law exempting SUVs years ago.
Slesnick's (as well as Cabrera's) comments regarding Mayor Cason's recent residency have fallen on deaf ears. These comments remind us of the Carpetbagger accusations of the old South. Government and local university studies illustrate that the population of the City Beautiful is changing. Those studies have shown that within the last 20 years there is a marked increase of new residents moving into our city without any previous ties to the City Beautiful. These new residents have shown a desire to move away from the old ways of doing business. The City Beautiful's "good old boys" venue just doesn't work anymore. A candidate that touts their being born and raised in Coral Gables as a strong campaign point, doesn't resonate with today's voters. This was evidenced by the fundraiser for Mayor Cason that was held at Tom & Debbie Korge's home. Raising well over $11,000 and attended by a diverse group of residents and business owners (it was standing room only) the mix of people ranged from long time politicos (former Commissioner Chip Withers and community activist Kendell Turner - just two of the eighteen sponsors) to individuals that have never been part of the past political environment. While most of the talk was how well a job the Mayor has been doing, there were numerous discussions among the guests on the need to change the City's political landscape (i.e. preventing the appointment of the same individuals - Dorothy Thomson & Dolly Macintyre - to name just two - serving over and over again on city committees) and getting new residents to be more active in the community. That compared to a fundraiser that the Coral Gables Fraternal Order of Police held (a first by this group in recent memory) for Commissioner Cabrera. Attendance (with room to spare) was predominantly union members, not surprising considering their dislike of City Manager Pat Salerno particularly when it comes to pension reform, and supporters of former Mayor Slesnick. (Rumor has it that numerous establishments within the city's downtown area were approached to host this fundraiser - all claimed scheduling conflicts - George's, a restaurant - while having a Gables address - is considered by most to be in South Miami, apparently had no scheduling conflicts.)
It's becoming apparent that this election is not just a choice between these two candidates but a choice between the "old guard and new guard" at least with the Mayor's race. As the Bob Dylan song goes "the times they are a changin".