Category Archives: Coral Gables

Vince Lago’s Homestead Exemption Becomes a Campaign Issue

According to the Eye on Miami blog, there may be an issue as to the legitimacy of the homestead exemption for Vince Lago’s new house on San Amaro Drive because he has yet to actually live on the premises. This turns out to be potentially a pretty complicated and unclear issue. Please don’t jump to conclusions until you’ve read all of what follows.

I don’t know much about the homestead rules. The Homestead instructions say

Every person who owns and resides on real property in Florida on January 1 and makes the property his or her permanent residence is eligible to receive a homestead exemption up to $50,000.

The heart of the accusation related at Eye on Miami is that Mr. Lago didn’t actually live in the house on San Amaro on January 1, 2012, the relevant date for getting the 2012 exemption. (The exemption was also renewed for 2013.) There are also suggestions that maybe at some relevant times he may not have lived in Coral Gables, which has a one-year residency requirement for candidates, ending on the day of the election.

Since the house in question is just down the street from me, and since I was pretty sure no one had been living in it for some time, I called Mr. Lago to get his side of the story. We met at the house in question and he dictated the following statement to me:

When I moved out of my apartment at 100 Edgewater, in Coral Gables, my wife had just given birth and we were going to be moving into 5200 San Amaro. We bought the house in August 2011, and planned to move prior to the year ending.

What occurred was that as we started fixing up the house — painting, and so on, minor repairs — we were shocked to find mold throughout the entire residence. So we had to remove the drywall from the interior of the home. But we had a bigger issue. The issue was that we had rented our apartment in Edgewater to a new tenant for one year and could not afford to pay a mortgage on this property and to rent another home or apartment.

Due to the mold report and our newborn baby we could not live in a house that had water intrusion and had mold throughout the residence. So our wonderful in-laws invited us to stay with them a few months on Alhambra Circle in Coral Gables. We expected the mold remediation to take two months. But as we began to open walls we realized that the damage was extensive. And we had to replace all the electrical, which required us to see an electrical engineer, draft plans and submit them to city, which is an extensive time-consuming process. Our intent was to move into the house immediately, but the process lagged, due to construction costs and the scope of the project growing in nature. Our intent has and will be to live in this house so we can raise our child. And we plan on moving in the next two or three weeks after the election.

Mr. Lago then showed me a report he’d had done as part of the renovations once they found the first signs of mold on the premises. It said there was a lot of mold. He asked, who would expose a new baby to this?

I asked Mr. Lago how that was responsive to the allegation that he filed for a Homestead exemption when he didn’t live in the home, and thus wasn’t entitled to it. This was his response:

The issue is intent. When Andrew came and ravaged our city, thousands of residents were displaced who continued to hold on to their Homestead while they were displaced for years from their primary residence.

After speaking to both friends and advisors in regards to this issue, I was notified today that my intent to make this my primary residence but being displaced due to the mold infestation was permissible.

When I lived in the Edgewater Dr. apartment I had my homestead exemption. And when I moved out and rented the apartment I transferred my homestead to my new residence on San Amaro Drive.

So there you have it. On the one hand, there is no debate that the property was not being lived in. (Indeed, as one of the people living on the street, I could see it had been empty for a long time. And it’s hardly surprising to discover that a Florida home with no A/C for a few years might develop a bad mold problem.) On the other hand, there’s a claim that an intent to live there blocked by unhealthy conditions satisfies Florida law on what amounts to “residing” at a property.

But does it? Was this a valid homestead exemption?

I am not admitted to the Florida bar, and I don’t claim that I know the definitive answer to the question as to whether mere intent without ever actually living in a home qualifies. We’ll need to find a Florida property or a tax lawyer to tell us that. What I can report is what the Florida Supreme Court has recently said about the subject. Hang on, it’s complicated.

In the recent (Oct. 2012) decision of Garcia v. Andonie, 101 So.3d 339 (Fla 2012), the Florida Supreme Court held that part of the Florida Code relating to homestead tax exemption violated the Florida Constitution:

… we hold that the express language of the Florida Constitution, as amended in 1968, creates the right for every person who owns Florida real property to receive a prescribed reduction in the taxable value of that property[3] where the owner maintains on the property either (1) the permanent residence of the owner or (2) the permanent residence of another legally or naturally dependent on the owner — provided the individual for whom the permanent residence is maintained has no legal impediment to residing on the property on a permanent basis.

In Garcia v. Andonie the taxpayers weren’t living in the house, but their dependents were. The Florida Supreme Court said that sufficed.

When the Florida Constitution was amended in 1968, the homestead tax exemption provision was renumbered and the requirement that the property owner reside on the property was removed. See art. VII, § 6(a), Fla. Const. Article VII, Section 6(a), of the Florida Constitution, as amended in 1968, states in relevant part:

Every person who has the legal or equitable title to real estate and maintains thereon the permanent residence of the owner, or another legally or naturally dependent upon the owner, shall be exempt from taxation thereon … upon establishment of right thereto in the manner prescribed by law.

Art. VII, § 6(a), Fla. Const. (emphasis added). Thus, the plain language of the Florida Constitution, as amended in 1968, requires that the property owner maintain on the property either (1) the permanent residence of the owner; or (2) the permanent residence of another legally or naturally dependent upon the owner. Accordingly, under the Florida Constitution there are two separate and independent means by which a property owner’s entitlement to the homestead tax exemption may be accomplished

So how do you tell if a home is “the true permanent residence” of the owner?

Section 196.012(18), Florida Statutes (2006), defines “permanent residence” for ad valorem taxation purposes and states that the inquiry to be made in determining whether one’s property qualifies as a “permanent residence” is whether the property in question is being used as the “true” permanent home of the individual:

“Permanent residence” means that place where a person has his or her true, fixed, and permanent home and principal establishment to which, whenever absent, he or she has the intention of returning….

§ 196.012(18), Fla. Stat. (2006). Accordingly, because the legislative definition of “permanent residence,” consistent with the constitutional context from which it emerges, requires a determination as to whether the property is being used as the true permanent home or residence of the owner or his dependents, most determinations regarding whether a permanent residence is being maintained on Florida property will involve some level of factual inquiry regarding the actual use of the residential property in question.[12] Indeed, section 196.015 states that “[i]ntention to establish a permanent residence in this state is a factual determination,” see § 196.015, Fla. Stat. (2006), not an issue of law. Although section 196.015 contains a number of relevant discretionary factors that “may” be considered to make the factual determination as to whether the applicant for the tax exemption has the requisite intent to establish a permanent residence on his or her Florida property, this provision also cautions that no one factor is “conclusive” on this issue of fact. Id.

Thus, in most instances, an individual’s intent to establish a permanent residence on a piece of Florida real property will present an issue of fact.

In other words, it depends.

The Court also tells us, in footnote 12, that the “true” permanent residence is a separate matter from domicile, so forget anything you know about that concept.

I’m willing to bet that had the Lagos actually moved in, then been forced to move out pending the works, they’d have a very strong case that the San Amaro house was their “true” residence. But never having moved in at all – even accepting that they intended to – makes it a tougher case. So I don’t know. But I think on the facts as he describes them, Mr. Lago has at least an arguable case, maybe more.

Other Issues

In response to the suggestion that Mr. Lago had a City of Miami address at some point, which suggests he might have moved out of the Gables, Mr. Lago vigorously denied the claim. He said,

I have been in Coral Gables for seven years. And before that, for eight years. …. My in-laws are great people, but you think I would rather live with them or in my own residence with my wife and my daughter?”

Mr. Lago added that he suspects the confusion may be due to his Edgewater Dr. address having a 33133 zip code. His street was part of Coral Gables but, he said, many other addresses with that zip code were not.

My short interview with Mr. Lago concluded with this commercial which he asked me to include for him:

What I’m concerned about is the residents of Coral Gables, and making sure that we deliver on pension reform, keeping our streets safe, delivering the senior center, and constructing a Streetscape project which benefits both the city and its end-users.

He’s certainly on message.

Bottom Line

Should your vote in this election turn on the homestead exemption issue? Based on what I think I know right this minute, I don’t think this is anything like the Brad Rosenblatt check affair from two years ago. Like I said above, the exemption might well be legal. I am prepared to believe that the Lagos thought they were entitled to it – they gave up one homestead exemption and picked up the next as they planned to transfer their residence. The Garcia v. Andonie case was decided by the 3rd DCA (the lower court with jurisdiction over Miami-Dade) on Dec 15, 2010, so the Lagos’ homestead exemption was arguably legal on the day it was claimed, although I don’t know if they (or their lawyers) knew of this.

At the end of the day, I think there are better ways to decide who to vote for in Group 2 -– like who is concerned about our getting insurance in the event that the water table rises, or who is funding which candidate.

Or, just maybe, you might wonder whether a person who is surprised to find a serious mold problem in a South Florida home that has been sitting abandoned for years is sufficiently skeptical of what seems like too-good a deal to be an effective Commissioner.

Posted in Coral Gables | 2 Comments

Election Coverage Elsewhere

Recent Coral Gables election stuff appearing elsewhere, in case you missed it.

Please let me know of anything I should add to this list.

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Don’t Be Fooled

I don’t know who is behind examiner.com, but they have a Coral Gables correspondent with pretty strange views about Coral Gables. Today’s article, Few candidates want to promote freedom in Coral Gables has a fundamentally wrong basic premise. It also gets several specific facts wrong — even falling for my April Fools jest (as improved by Ross Hancock) about Bill Clinton endorsing in the race. Désolé M. Crevaux, c’est un poisson d’Avril. Une blague.

Among the other errors in this article:

  • “In reality, no major group or individual has dared to endorse a candidate in the City Beautiful based on what matters the most: the issues.” That’s nonsense, even if it also true that some endorsements, especially the individual ones, are based on personal ties.
  • Candidates, “such as Ralph Cabrera and Ross Hancock, don’t even hold official positions on any issue.” That’s also nonsense. It isn’t true of Cabrera — he has some positions, just not as many as I want, and it certainly isn’t true of Hancock, which is a key part of Hancock‘s appeal.

I think the suggestion that Marlin Holland Ebbert is almost libertarian is sort of odd too, as she seems like an old-fashioned cozy government Coral Gables type to me.

I also found strange the suggestion that the answer to the crime problem — if there is a problem? — is not more cops on the street but encouraging private hiring of rent-a-cops. Not only does that make for uneven coverage, but we have ample evidence that rental police are not renowned for their devotion to civil liberties.

Indeed, I think they only thing this article got right is that Tony Newell has some strong libertarian tendencies. But that’s the heart of what is wrong with him as a candidate for Coral Gables.

The fundamental problem with the entire the ‘less we have a government in Coral-Gables the better’, or the suggestion that voters should always go for the most anti-tax candidates because they are the ‘only choices to be made if one cares about freedom and free markets’ (starve the beast!) is that we are not talking about a national (or world) government here. We’re talking about a locality that people chose to live in. We all voted with our feet. Houses on my side of Red Road cost more than similar houses in unincorporated Miami-Dade on the other side of Red Road because we get valuable services. We not only get Coral Gables Police and Fire/Rescue, but the benefit of a code enforcement group that, as far as I know, is one of the few in the county that can’t be bribed. We get the confidence that builders really did use all the nails they were supposed to when they built our homes. We chose this for a reason. Libertarians want to take that option away from us and force us into their cookie-cutter and impoverished vision of what localities should be like, even though they are already spoiled for choice of low-government zones throughout this County.

The people trying to import Tea Party or libertarian ideology into Coral Gables — one of the original and model planned communities in the USA — are doing us, and themselves, no favors, as they seek to enlist us in their race to the bottom. Yes, Coral Gables has a lot of government compared to some places, although actually our taxes are not that high compered to some; what the blinkered ideology of people like examiner.com fails to grasp is that as winners in a struggle to the top, that very government is enhancing quality of life — as well as the very property values they claim to care about so much.

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Guest Blogger Bill Clinton to Give Endorsements in Coral Gables Election

I am very pleased to announce that due to my winning a lottery sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative former President Bill Clinton will post one item on Discourse.net later today, in which he will reveal his endorsements in the upcoming Coral Gables election.

Gables-watchers may recall that Mr. Clinton provided a robo-call endorsement in the 2011 Mayor’s race for Tom Korge. I do not know what prompted his interest in the 2013 race, but the former President is known as an avid follower of political races around the country, and Florida would be an important swing state were Hillary Clinton to run for President in 2016.

Check back often — I will approve President Clinton’s comments as soon as he sends them to me.

Creative Commons photo by veni markovski. Some rights reserved.

Posted in Completely Different, Coral Gables, Discourse.net | 8 Comments

Thoughts on the Race for Mayor of Coral Gables

Absentee ballots are out and being returned, so I should try to figure out what I think of the Mayor’s race between incumbent Jim Cason and challenger Ralph Cabrera.

As a lawyer, my training is to make the case for and against both sides and then weigh them. It’s not easy, since the key issues seem to require a closer observation of the workings of the Coral Gables Commission than I have been able to make. The fact is that, like many voters, I don’t follow Coral Gables politics much — except in the run-up to elections. But here’s how it looks to one voter who is trying to make sense of things. I welcome comments and corrections.

Both candidates are endorsed by people with good track records and who are more attuned to Coral Gables politics than I am, so that doesn’t help me much. Similarly, both candidates have run mildly ugly campaigns, so I’m prepared to treat this as a wash. Cason repeatedly quoted Cabrera ludicrously out of context to try make him look bad on the pensions issue when the original remark clearly meant the opposite of what Cason was trying to suggest. Cabrera has been pushing dated statistics on crime – a real, if arguably misguided, concern of many residents. In an effort to make Cason look bad, an independent expenditure committee linked to Cabrera’s people also sent out an anti-Cason mailer with a cropped photo of Cason with a ceremonial cognac bottle.

The Case For/Against Jim Cason

The case for Jim Cason is based on the substance of his plans for Coral Gables and his demonstrated muscularity at getting what he wants. Cason also has articulated a big-picture vision of his plans for Coral Gables that has many attractive qualities – making the City a place where young professionals want to spend an evening, and worrying about competition from South Miami seem like the right sort of things a Mayor should be thinking about. (Its main deficiency is a missing concern for the regional planning and environmental issues that Group II Candidate Ross Hancock has been championing.) Cason has worked hard, and can boast a two-year track record of delivering on promises, both good and bad.

The heart of the case against Jim Cason is what appears — from a distance — to be a disdain for process values. It is no secret that the Commission has been factionalized these past two years, and that Cason has been part of a 3-2 majority. Both Cabrera and the other Commissioner in the minority are term-limited this year. To me, the most significant of Cabrera’s criticisms of the Mayor is that major decisions are made in private, with the City Manger, and not subject to much discussion or review at full commission meetings. Commissioner Anderson, who I think of as a pretty reasonable voice, has made public comments that suggest information-sharing is at a low ebb. That isn’t good.

On substance, the biggest negative is the City’s treatment of its lower-paid workers, or rather Cason’s seeming disinterest in the issue. Chopping 20% of their take-home pay is not a joke; that some have allegedly been driven to food stamps as a result should be ringing alarm bells for all.

Another knock on Cason is his support, along with other Commissioners, for big spending on things like palm islands on LeJeune – a project whose effect on property values seems likely to be small, whose cost will be ongoing, and whose effect on traffic is unwelcome.

The Case For/Against Ralph Cabrera

Commissioner Cabrera wins big on process values. Both because of temperament and experience it seems likely he would run a more open ship. This is no small thing, especially if, as seems more likely than not, the Kerdyk-Quesada-Cason faction will likely pick up at least one more vote from the Group II or Group III elections. I think we would benefit from some debate on the Commission and I worry about ideological monoculture.

Substance is a more mixed bag. Cabrera is convincing when he says the small declines in the millage rate that the incumbent Mayor brags about are mostly counter-balanced by the increases in fees (although there is a distribution effect that is beyond my abilities to figure out). And Cabrera can point to his opposition to plans (like those expensive palm islands) that seem like mis-steps, but he has, at least in this campaign, done a better job of explaining what he is against than what he would be for. And some of what he is for – like more traffic calming – I don’t especially like because, in my neighborhood at least, it produces far more inconvenience than calming.

Cabrera will undoubtedly foster an atmosphere that will be better for workers, especially those further down the totem pole. And he likely will exercise greater oversight over salaries – and especially the number of positions – for more highly paid employees.

The case against Ralph Cabrera starts with an absence of the vision thing. Maybe having a 12-year track record means there’s less call for a vision – what you’ve seen is what you’ll get. But it also means Cabrera hardly qualifies as new blood. In this campaign, Cabrera has seemed more reactive than proactive. Perhaps that is a consequence of being cut out of the information loop. Or it may be that Cason is right, and being a full-time Mayor with a federal pension is an advantage over having to earn a living.

It’s clear Cabrera and the City Manager do not get on well; it’s clear also the City Manager and Cason are so tight that the City Manger feels empowered to diss other Commissioners from the dais. Voting for Cason will keep things cozy, and keep the rest of us more in the dark, but more may get done. Voting for Cabrera suggests we’ll get more sunshine, but raises the possibility of strife.

Well, Who Then?

The Kantian choice – based on the maxim that we should treat people as ends rather than means – leans strongly for Cabrera. The Habermasian choice – based on the principle that no political decision is legitimate unless it is the outcome of a fair process — also weighs a bit for Cabrera. But the realpolitik choice is less clear. If you are the sort that likes omelets but doesn’t care about how eggs get broken along the way, there is a case for Cason’s damn-the-torpedoes approach to governance so long as you agree with his overall goals.

The good news is that Coral Gables sounds like it is in decent shape, and neither of these candidates is going to run it into the ground. They actually seem to agree on many issues. I think at the end of the day, I’d feel better about a City that prized treating its lowest-paid workers well, and that was a model of openness. The price of that decision is losing an energetic ambassador for the City who does have some good ideas.

I guess I am leaning Cabrera. But just a bit.

[See my previous Coral Gables posts.]

Posted in Coral Gables | 2 Comments

Summary of Group 3 Portion of Chamber of Commerce Candidate Event

I attended Coral Gables candidate event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce held at UM’s Fieldhouse on Tuesday, March 26. There were well over 100 people there, including a lot of familiar faces from previous debates and from Coral Gables politics. The speaker from the Chamber said the event was for “discourse and exchange” but the ground rules said otherwise.

The event was moderated by Perry Adair, the chair-elect of the CG Chamber of Commerce, who explained how the clickers would work, and admonished the audience to maintain “decorum” i.e. not to boo, heckle or the like.

The total event included three panels, one for each of the contested seats. I’ve posted my first impressions of the entire event earlier. What follows are my notes from the Group 3 portion of the meeting, which to me was the most interesting part. (I may post the others if I get motivated.) Nothing below is verbatim unless I put it in “quote marks”. I have also added some personal comments in [brackets].

The Chamber offered the audience ‘clickers’ which can be used to poll an audience. As the moderator noted, since the audience isn’t a representative sample (indeed, although he didn’t say this, the Chamber had invited the candidates to pack the meeting with supporters), the results are not scientific. Mostly it seemed a pointless distraction. Totals for the polls don’t add up to 100% because some people pushed buttons other than the approved choices. Below I report the winners, not the total breakdowns, because they didn’t leave them up very long and I don’t type that quickly.

Group III

Group 3 went first. There are five candidates: Jackson Rip Holmes, Patricia A. Keon, P.J. Mitchell, Norman Anthony Newell, and Mary Martin Young. [The kindest word to use for Jackson Holmes’s candidacy is daft. He has a place in history, but not one on the Commission.] The Herald recently published profiles of the candidates.

In the fist clicker POLL the audience was asked if they have decided who they will vote for. 44% said yes, 54% no.

Introductory Statements

Holmes: Many of you in the audience would make a better commissioner than me. [Comment: I agree!]

Keon: Almost 40 years in the Gables, last 9 in south part of city. History of civic activities, PTA, City boards including 8 years on planning & zoning.

Mitchell: Live and practice law in Coral Gables. I have some concerns: $230m of unfunded liabilities. My generation didn’t run up the debts, but my generation will have to pay for those, and that’s why I’m running.

Newell: We all want lower taxes, for pension reform, improvement ot neighborhoods, for Streetscape, we are all pro-good and anti-bad…that’s what you’ve heard. I encourage you to seek some depth.

Young: I have a history as a business leader, neighbor, disability board member, award winner, served on Coral Gables parking board, I have “been by your side these many years and am ready to be your Commissioner”.

Q: What prompted you to get into this race?

Keon: History of public service, starting as a nurse, raised a family, worked in government. I have experience, time to be full-time commissioner>

Mitchell: Unfunded liabilities. Twelve years of experience as a lawyer convinces me I am the person for the job.

Newell: I wasn’t going to run, didn’t start until February, when others suggested I should. I am the youngest candidate here, thus I have the most at stake in the race. I plan to retire in the Gables –”hopefully there will be a Senior Center by then”. We lost a lot of momentum — the old guard did us a wrong — a little new blood might be what this city needs.

Young: I think I am the most qualified. I understand what your concerns are. I was the first to run.

Q: Pick one major Commission decision that you would have handled differently in the last 5-10 years.

Keon: Unless you are sitting in that person’s shoes, it is very hard to second guess them. I think they had good intentions. I am not here to pass judgement. [Comment: This felt to me like ducking the issue.]

Mitchell: Back to the pension issue. I would have handled it differently; we wouldn’t have “given everything away” to the unions.

Newell: The way we handled pensions – to go from $8 million to $230 million in a decade, that shouldn’t sneak up on us. It was a prosperous decade, “that covered up a big hole.” We have our own social security problem here in the city. [Comment: oh boy that is BAD ANALOGY - social security isn't the deficit problem, health care is.] The sky isn’t falling, we are not about to be bankrupt.

Young: There is still no formal plan in place to fund pensions. We need a strategic and executable plan for fiscal responsibility.

Q: What is your position on historic preservation — preservation of property rights and the tension between that and the pressure for development?

Mitchell: Have to preserve Gables, have to respect owners’ property rights. Have to balance it out. There is not one standard fits all, have to look at totality of the circumstances. Have to have a balanced approach. [Comment: believe it or not, that sounded even more vague in person. And yet it is probably not a bad answer.]

Newell: ‘Balance,’ yes but what is that? It’s like being for ‘better’ again. We have community standards. The problem is that there is ambiguity in the code. There is too much discretion in enforcement. A more carefully written code that would allow for less arbitrary enforcement is the key. [Comment: that sounded good in person, but may reflect an engineer's unreasonable optimism about the extent to which codes can be drafted to provide certainty in the face of life's complexities. As a lawyer I think it is wildly unreasonable optimism.]

Young: Historic preservation is a key value, Need to ensure that modifications are in keeping with neighborhoods

Holmes: I’d like to live next door to an exciting building like the Freedom Tower.

Keon: We have a preservation officer and board; and an obligation to protect rights. These tensions are dealt with on an incident-by-incident basis.

Q: The trolley — what are your thoughts on the system?

Newell: I’m fine with it if money comes from outside the city; there’s a “kerfuffle” with Coconut grove residents, one possibility is to go across US1 , which would let residents use it and also correct a problem for UM students crossing US 1 if we can’t get County to move on a bridge.

Young: I started my career by working for Gables gallery night, which used trolleys. It’s a way to think green [Comment: ducked Grove garage issue.]

Holmes: I agree with others.

Keon: Trolley has been very successful; it is supported by gas tax money. Route should be expanded onto Grand avenue. Also look into possibly extending hours to early evening..

Mitchell: Does the trolley have a purpose? Is there a need for the expansion? If so, we can address that need, but first need to assess the need, otherwise increase costs for no reason. [Comment: ducked Grove garage issue]

Q: Views on Miracle Mile Streetscape?

Keon: Sidewalks and drainage is first priority. Streetscape has a preliminary plan, not yet approved; need to understand affordablility. “Most of you know” that there is a set-aside for it.

Holmes: I am critical of two aspects of Streetscape. My grandfather knew George Merrick. Timing is wrong – cost factor for stores may be too high: can be $60,000 for a store, could cause bankruptcy for them. Changing from angle to parallel parking would reduce parking when we need more, not less.

Keon: I like the conceptual plan. I think it is a great plan. Miracle Mile is unattractive and needs to be redone. Garages should be rebuilt first, make parking available for changes to Miracle Mile. Women are not comfortable in parking garages, need to design them for safety, comfort, so people are not fearful of parking. [Comment: this was Keon's best answer.]

Mitchell: I endorse plan conceptually; have some concerns such as angle parking. Need more parking.

Newell: I am all for this. Needs to be done yesterday. Will be funded by bonds and interest rates are very cheap right now, don’t want to wait until bonds cost more. 25% of money is put aside. 50% is special assessment on businesses and 25% is based on tax receipts based on higher property values, but if they do not materialize then businesses pay . Need to change parking from current system to get wide sidewalks for dining.

Moderator polled audience on whether Commissioners and City Managers maintain proper decorum in meetings. [Comment: this was a really weird question. How many people WATCH the meetings? And what if you think some do fine and others misbehave?] 52% polled (34 people) said they didn’t maintain proper decorum.

Q: Do you think Commissioners and City Manager maintain proper decorum in meetings?

Holmes: Recession meant I couldn’t go to commission meetings for last 2 years. I have a plan on my web page on how to fix the recession

Keon: Both Commission and Manager are there for a good purpose and good reason and they are passionate as to how they feel about a variety of issues [Comment: this felt like another ducking.] Upcoming election will tell us if community is happy with that

Mitchell: As an attorney I wonder how you define ‘proper decorum’. Procedurally it is run appropriately. But voters think it is an issue. Personalities can “overshadow”.

Newell: Everyone knows that there is conflict between manager and some elements on Commission. It is harmful in my opinion. Reasons may run deep, may be personal. We’re better than that.

Young: “As a public servant you look to us as a role model. More importantly, our youth looks to us a role model:” [Comment: she went on to say more, but I was so disgusted at the 'think of the children' line being injected into this ridiculous context – how may kids other than a young Ralph Cabrera avidly follow Commission proceedings? – that I froze up in horror.]

Poll of audience: Who responded to that question best?

Newell had the best score, with 45%
Holmes got 5%, which was was sort of amazing.

Q: Pensions: one side says a deal is a deal, other side says it is unsustainable. What are your ideas on how to address pensions that is both fair, but also averts the problem?

Keon: We relied on inaccurate actuarial numbers that underestimated costs, and inflated investment numbers. Pensions are negotiated. [Comment: this answer too seemed very tentative.]

Mitchell: Must keep our promises. Look at all new employees, Defined benefit? Restructured pension plan? Won’t resolve over night. Must work with unions.

Newell: Police & Teamsters now brought in line with market rate, and multiplier reduced. If you switch to 401k employees now paying 20% so city would lose. [Comment: As the change would only affect obligations going forward, this doesn't appear to be correct.] Market rate ensures fairness. Investment return assumption should be lowered and pegged to Treasuries. and restructure pension board so it’s not dominated by unions.

Young: Need to have a plan [Comment: that is not very specific!] We have to look at efficiencies and have voters hold us accountable. City has $21m in reserves up from $12m last year. If it is unaffordable, have to change plans for new employees, but have to be respectful to people who have already planned their lives.

Closing Statements (90 seconds)

Young: I was the first to file to run. 352 days of knocking on neighborhood doors. I will be here as your neighbor and your advocate.

Holmes: You are world-class people. I am thrilled to be here. I came up with my own solution to ending the Great Recession, you can see it on my web site. Miami-Dade County is a gateway to Latin trade, need to remove restrictions on hemispheric trade. I’m a big picture guy for a big picture City.

Newell: I’m not going to ask for your vote – I’m supposed to earn your vote. We need substance, I’m not sure we did that [in this hour]. We have to demonstrate some depth and offer vision, not platitudes, namedropping, or “I love you more”. The old guard did the retail politics, and what did they do, create 30 times debt. We focus on the wrong things. I hope in the closing weeks I can offer you more substance.

Mitchell: I believe that pension issue is “where we’re at, what we need to resolve”. I promise I will do everything I can to resolve the unfunded liabilities issue.

Keon: We can make Coral Gables even better. See postcards I am sending to homes on important issues. Greater accountability on city finance, performance measures, working with school board, quality of life, traffic, public safety. Experience matters.

Poll, based on tonight have you changed your mind
A Yes 68% (61 people)
B No 27%

[Final comment: having reviewed my notes, I still think Mr. Newall was the most impressive performer...but having had more time to think, I'm troubled by the substance of quite a bit of what he said, especially the naive optimism about re-writing the code. So I'm guess I'm leaning lightly Keon at present, mostly on the strength of what other people say about her and her relevant experience.]

Posted in Coral Gables | 1 Comment

Endorsements in Coral Gables Commission Races?

I thought I would create a place for people to post information about endorsements in the Coral Gables Commission and Mayor races. I’m primarily interested here in organizational endorsements, not individual endorsements by local elected officials and worthies.

Thus, for example, I emailed the Christian Family Coalition, which usually endorses in County races, and was told they have not endorsed anyone.

I emailed SAVE-DADE, but haven’t heard back yet, and will post an update when I do. (I couldn’t find anything on their web page.) [Update 4/1: Still nothing on the web page, but multiple sources tell me that SAVE-DADE endorses Ralph Cabrera, Ross Hancock, and Mary Young.]

Ross Hancock said at the most recent forum that he was the only candidate in his group endorsed by the Sierra Club. Have they endorsed in any of the other groups?

Please let me know in comments of any endorsements, or of other groups that you think I should contact.

Update 3/29/13:
From President John Baublitz, Fraternal Order Of Police, Coral Gables Lodge #7

The Coral Gables Fraternal Order of Police Walter F. Stathers Memorial Lodge No. 7 has endorsed the following candidates for their hard stance on crime in the “City Beautiful”. These candidates have acknowledged that crime is on the increase and are committed to providing our members with the tools needed to fight these increases in crime.

Mayor: Ralph Cabrera
Commission Group II: Ross Hancock
Commission Group III: Pat Keon

Update 3/30:

Democracy for America has a web page endorsing Ross Hancock

I’ve got more emails out to local groups, and welcome your comments and suggestions for who to contact.

Update 4/6:

Forgot to link to Miami Herald Editorial Board Weighs Into the Coral Gables Commission Election, discussing the Miami Herald’s endorsement of Jim Cason, Vince Lago, and Pat Keon.

Posted in Coral Gables | 4 Comments