Category Archives: Coral Gables

Herald Buries the Lede

Deep in a Herald puff piece about how Coral Gables homeboy Jeb! Bush likes to play fast golf, we find this gem:

One reason Bush can play golf so quickly on Sundays is that there is nobody ahead of him slowing things down. Citing privacy concerns, Biltmore executives declined to say how the former governor ended up with the premiere tee time, followed by Miami-Dade’s top elected official. Owned by Coral Gables, the Biltmore course is public but also includes a membership option that the website says gives early access to tee-time reservations.

Such a mystery….

[Originally posted 1/12/15, reposted after my hosting service crashed and then restored (most of) the site from backup.]

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Weird Water Comes to Coral Gables

This strange sign popped up on an official signpost less than two blocks from where I live:


In case it’s too small to read you can click for a bigger one, or take my word for it that at the top it says, “Working in partnership to deter crime.”  Then it has a Coral Gables Police badge next to the seal of the City of Coral Gables, along with the logo for “SmartwaterCSI”.  And the sign says, “Theives Beware.  You are entering an area where Property is forensically protetcted by SmartWater®.”

If you follow the URL on the sign and click around about, eventually you get to the “about” Smartwatercsi page which informs me that,

SmartWater is an asset protection system in the form of a clear liquid which contains a unique forensic code that is extremely robust and guaranteed to last a minimum of 5 years within all weather conditions. It is applied to items of value – personal, commercial, and industrial – which are frequently the target of theft.

The non-hazardous patented liquid leaves a long-lasting identifying mark that is invisible except under ultraviolet black light. Law enforcement officials take the smallest micro-fragment of SmartWater from stolen property and send it to SmartWater’s forensic laboratories, where it is scientifically analyzed to identify the owner.

As a result, thieves who make the mistake of targeting SmartWater marked-assets face a far greater risk of successful prosecution. Ultimately, as the statistics over the past 15 years exhibit, crime is reduced and the public enjoys a safer environment.

More clicking brings me to the price list: $100 (well, $99 before tax) for a bottle of the stuff and a one-year license — apparently you have to keep paying the $100 every year to maintain your entry in their database, even though the coating is supposed to last for five years. Or you could pay $200 (per year!) for a what I suppose is a larger bottle that does your car, or at least key parts of it that don’t have a VIN. Oh yes, you also get stickers to show off you think you have lots of valuable stuff worth stealing deter really up-to-date thieves.

Nowhere on the Smartwatercsi site (that I got sent to by the sign on public land) does it reveal a secret disclosed in this video that I found by doing some Googling: apparently by calling 305-441-5760 Coral Gables residents can get a “smartwater kit” for $30 (no mention of the annual fee after that, though). I called that number and got a recording telling me I’d reached the Coral Gables Citizens Crimewatch, they were unable to answer the phone but they are there to serve and assist me in any way, so I should my name and number and they’d get back to me.

More Googling revealed a Coral Gables police press release dated Feb. 12, 2014 that says you should call 305-476-7957 for the $30 offer. (It may have come out in February but this is the first I ever heard of it.) That number took me to what proclaims itself as the Coral Gables Police Department Smwartwater hotline. I’m going to rate the hotline water temperature at only lukewarm, given that this too was a recording that wanted my name and number and would get back to me.

So what I want to know — since both Wikipedia and Bruce Schneier tells me it’s for real1 — is

  1. Are these guys paying the City for the right to put up these signs? Or is the idea that we get the 70% discount in exchange for a lot of publicity on official buildings and spaces
  2. How many people in Coral Gables have actually signed up for this?
  3. Is the $30 Coral Gables price a one-time fee, or will there be annual charges too? Is there enough to cover your car? Or at least those headlamps that get stolen so often? Do you get all the stuff in the $100 pack or just a bottle and applicator?
  4. If there are ongoing annual charges, does the City have any guarantees about future price increases? Is there a danger Smartwatercsi will raise the price of the required annual user fee (if there is one) once they have a big installed base?
  5. Does the fact that a sign appeared nearby mean someone around here actually bought the stuff?
  6. If so, did they pay the $30 or the $100?
  7. Has anyone ever paid $100/year for this?
  8. Why don’t the signs–on public land, presumably set up with the City’s permission–direct you to a web page which discloses the Coral Gables discount?
  9. If someone from Coral Gables goes to the Smartwatercsi site not knowing about the discount and tries to make a purchase, will Smartwatercsi tell them about it?
  10. Does the Smartwater beverage company know about this?

Actually, I’m kidding about the last one – a drink and a crime deterrent are sufficiently dissimilar to make a likelihood of confusion as to the mark highly unlikely, and of course the website (but not the product) has “CSI” at the end of it. Wait, does the TV show know about this?

  1. Although Bruce also came up with a great hack to misuse it:
    The idea is for me to paint this stuff on my valuables as proof of ownership. I think a better idea would be for me to paint it on your valuables, and then call the police.


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Annals of Town/Gown Relations

Smart university Presidents know how to butter up local government officials.

The online Herald only has the boring version of the story, UM, Coral Gables tout partnership at annual meeting, in which town and gown recited their talking points about their accomplishments in the past year. That story ends, however, with this:

The manager listed his sole complaint, and addressed it to Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs and a guiding force behind the new SAC and its rebuilt Rathskeller. “Those delicious onion rings that sustained me through my college days are no longer on the menu,” he said. Salerno was a UM student in the 1970s when the old Rat was a hub of activity and for gastronomical pursuits.

Shalala laughed, suggesting she’d look into the omission.

The followup by Howard Cohen is in today’s print edition, Page 3B, and it’s more interesting than spoken equivalent of joint press releases:

City Manager Inspires Onion Rings

For the most part, University of Miami and CoralGables officials had nothing but praise for each other at the annual meeting last week.

The exception: Gables City Manger Pat Salerno found something missing from the Rathskeller at UM’s new $46.5 million Student Activities Center.

“Those delicious onion rings that sustained me through my college days are no longer on the menu,” Salerno lamented. UM President Donna Shalala chucked, suggesting she’d look into it.

The next day, the school announced that onions rings would return as a a special menu item when students hit classes in January. Salerno has a standing invitation to come taste test.

“I will add this item to the city’s list of accomplishments for this year,” he said. “I can’t wait to eat them.”

UM says the new snack will get a new name, too: SalernOrings.


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Presidential Commission on Election Administration Meeting a UMiami Tomorrow (6/28)

There’s going to be a big meeting on Election rules at U.Miami tomorrow. Here’s the announcement from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

PCEA Announces Public Meeting on Friday, June 28, 2013

WASHINGTON, June 12, 2013 — The Presidential Commission on Election Administration will convene a public meeting on June 28, 2013, in the Hurricane Room at the BankUnited Center, University of Miami, 1245 Dauer Drive, Coral Gables, FL 33146, beginning at 9:00 a.m. eastern time, ending no later than 5:00 p.m.

The Meeting notice has been published in the Federal Register and is available to view here: *The Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA); Upcoming Public Advisory Meeting. *Note the location has changed from what is posted in the Federal Register. The meeting will be held in the Hurricane Room at the BankUnited Center on the campus of the University of Miami.

For more information, contact:
Mr. Mark Nejbauer
Designated Federal Officer
Presidential Commission on Election Administration

I wonder why they moved it?

Unfortunately, I can’t make it, but if anyone reading this is going, would you consider live Tweeting it? (Let us know your Twitter handle or hashtag in the comments.) Or if you prefer, send in periodic reports as comments below.

Posted in Coral Gables, Law: Elections, Miami, U.Miami | Leave a comment

Coral Gables Election Results

From Miami-Dade Elections — The Herald slate won: Cason (70.8%), Lago (52.7%) and Keon (49%):

Election Results – Coral Gables General Biennial Election

Precincts Counted 35 (100%)
Absentee Precincts Counted 1
Registered Voters – Total 30,672
Ballots Cast – Total 7,101
Voter Turnout – Total 23.15%

Mayor – Group I

Ralph Cabrera 2,057 29.20
Jim Cason 4,988 70.80

Commissioner – Group II

Marlin Ebbert 2,116 31.29
Ross Hancock 1,081 15.98
Vince Lago 3,566 52.73

Commissioner – Group III

Jackson Rip Holmes 89 1.32
Patricia “Pat” Keon 3,290 48.98
P.J. Mitchell 496 7.38
Tony Newell 403 6.00
Mary Martin Young 2,439 36.31
All results are unofficial until certified by the municipality
Posted in Coral Gables | 12 Comments

Vote Today in Coral Gables

It’s election day, although like many of you I voted absentee (in my case because I’m at a conference in California today). Here are my recommendations on how to vote, if for some reason you are still in doubt. You can review all my posts of the election from my Coral Gables page.

At least you should not have a long wait at the polls — turnout in these off-year elections tends to be low. But that just means your vote will count all the more. Polls close at 7pm.

Posted in Coral Gables | 3 Comments

Voting in the April 9, 2013 Coral Gables Election

Getting information about local elections is hard, and that’s why I’ve blogged the Coral Gables election so much.

People, especially colleagues at UM, ask me who I think they should vote for. Here is my advice, barring last-second surprises, for whatever it is worth:

Coral Gables Commission Group II: Ross Hancock
Coral Gables Commission Group III: Pat Keon

The Mayor’s race is a tougher call. I think Ralph Cabrera gets the edge, despite some reason to doubt how effective he will be as Mayor.

Commission Group II

At the first debate I attended, Ross Hancock said he that this upcoming election is about picking a team. Voters should think like a coach and pick people “with different skills” … “who do not hog the ball.”

I think that’s one of the best pieces of advice I heard in the events I went to. And it was a smart thing for Hancock to say, because it’s the heart of the case for his candidacy.

I’m not sure that we would necessarily want five Ross Hancocks on the Commission. His strongest suits are regional planning, environmental issues, and long-term thinking. He has pretty conventional views on things like pensions (got to fund them). He’s strongly for trying to get the Gables more input into the management and quality of our local schools, but that isn’t unique either. What resonated with me is that Hancock, more than any of the other candidates — even Jim Cason who arguably runs second in this department — was taking the long view. What will the Gables look like in 20 years if sea levels rise? How will we get insurance? Will we be able to sell our homes? Will any business want to locate here? Even if these are only contingent risks, they are real enough — and, if they manifest, huge enough — that it makes sense to spend some energy planning for them now.

The other candidates seem fine, but they don’t bring Hancock’s unique set of skills and concerns to the table. Marlin Ebbert has deep local roots, a lot of local friends (and family!) and a history of civic works, but she feels like the a cozier and nicer version of the Gables Old Guard. It’s not so much that I think she’d do wrong, as I haven’t seen any evidence that she’s the sort who will come armed with the uncomfortable questions.

Vince Lago has been seen as the front-runner for much of this campaign due to all the money he raised (although rumors are that polls now say otherwise?). Leaving aside the likely red herring of his homestead exemption, I think the real issue about Lago is that compared to Hancock he’s not going to bring anything really new to the Commission. The viewpoints he espouses are already well represented, and indeed are in charge and likely to stay that way.

The Commission’s biggest danger coming out of this election may be groupthink and unanimity. My bet is that Mayor Cason will be re-elected. If so, the Cason-Kerdyk-Quesada majority will remain in control of the Commission’s business. I think Lago would join that group on most issues, and nothing in his generally cautious campaign suggests he has any special issues of his own that he wants to push for. That’s not harmful, but it’s not very useful either.

I think Ross Hancock would be a unique voice on the Coral Gables Commission, and that’s why my vote for him is the vote I’m most confident about.

Commission Group III

This is a crowded race, and it hasn’t seen the big money that the other races have seen. The conventional wisdom is that Pat Keon and Mary Martin Young are the leading candidates, with perhaps Norman Anthony Newell in the conversation because of a sparkling debate performance and a nice write-up in the Herald. When I wrote my summary of the Summary of Group 3 Portion of Chamber of Commerce Candidate Event I concluded it with this 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

Since then, I’ve heard in person or by email from people who know both Ms. Keon and Ms. Young personally and the contrast between the two sets of contacts has been really striking. Ms. Keon’s supporters tell me stories about her thoughtfulness, and her start in local politics as a mom fighting for a safer park for local kids. Ms. Keon’s c.v. also reveals serious political chops since that start, working on local issues for many years.

Ms. Young works at UM, and as someone with a vested interest in town/gown relations, I ought to be favorable to that, as should some of the fellow workers I’ve spoken with. But strangely not. I’ve heard more negative (or, to be fair, kinda lukewarm) stories than positive ones. This is far from a random sample — it may be, for example, that in polite Coral Gables people are more likely to tell me when they agree with something I wrote than when they disagree — but it is remarkable.

So I feel pretty confident in suggesting a vote for Pat Keon. With luck she’ll be a great ‘glue’ player on the Commission team — think Shane Battier?

PS. Crowded races like this are why it’s awful to have a one-round electoral system. We should have a runoff if no candidate gets a majority or, better yet, instant runoff voting.

Mayor’s Race

I don’t have much to say about the contest between James Cason and Ralph Cabrera that I didn’t say in my earlier Thoughts on the Race for Mayor of Coral Gables.

The great George Volsky is a big Jim Cason supporter, and a big critic of Ralph Cabrera’s, a pair of facts which might mean something to some people.

There are unhappy people working for the City. Some are junior folk who saw their take-home pay cut by 20% for pension contributions. I think they have a legitimate complaint: imagine if your take-home pay got cut 20% all of a sudden. Cason didn’t do that alone, but it also doesn’t seem to bother him much.

[Update 4/8: It’s been suggested to me that the actual number is 10%. I wrote down 20 at one of the debates, but have not researched it so it could be a transcription error on my part. I’m not sure that it makes a difference: the basic point is that there are employees, including some apparently near the food stamp line, who got their take-home cut unexpectedly. Meanwhile the top-paid employees suffered no reduction. If you’re on a budget with rent and car payments, 10% is still a lot. I’m at a conference today and tomorrow so I can’t research the number.]

Some other unhappy people are more senior who complain either of being terrorized by the City Manager (a claim I’m not that sympathetic to, if they have more specific gripes about substance can’t they leak them to the Commission?), or who make more substantive-sounding allegations about various choices by the City Manager, stuff relating to police and fire that could have boots-on-the-ground consequences. Cason is an unswerving supporter of the City Manager, who is undoubtedly doing a good job of improving the City’s finances. The issue is the human cost, and that is an issue that isn’t easy to get one’s arms around.

Cabrera talks a good game about dealing with those human issues, although his track record is erratic enough to make one worry about whether he can or will deliver. With Cason, what you see is what you will continue to get.

I think who you vote for depends on which issues you think are most important. Is Cason’s efficiency and full-time ebullience what matters most? Or does how we treat our worst-paid workers reflect us most clearly? The latter is an argument I joined other faculty in making to Donna Shalala during the last strike, and which I renewed recently in connection with the pay and conditions of contract workers doing UM’s food service. Myself I think we can ask no less of the City of Coral Gables.

For other, undoubtedly more important, endorsements, see the post, updates, and comments at Endorsements in Coral Gables Commission Races?.

Posted in Coral Gables | 10 Comments