Category Archives: Miami


The TEDxMIA website doesn’t seem to have been updated since early 2012.

Posted in Miami | 1 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 | 11 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

House Rules

Dear Candidates and Friends-of-Candidates,

Thank you for sending me your opposition research. While it is interesting to read the dirt you’ve dug up on your opponents and the harrowing accounts by anonymous witnesses to various things, I am not going to print anything for which I do not have a source I can link to, or a person who is willing to stand behind it. I am prepared to hold back the name of the witness if I can meet the person myself and reassure myself of their bona fides. (But keep in mind I’m going to be out of town Monday and Tuesday.)

This blog permits anonymous comments, and a portion of my scholarly work has been about the importance of protecting anonymous speech as a constitutional right, a human right, and an essential safeguard against various forms of repression. If you want to say stuff either anonymously or under your own name in the comments, attributing it to someone you know, I’m fine with that. Readers can make their own judgements. It does not follow, however, that I will lend whatever little credibility I have to publish something that you give me, under my own name, when I don’t know where it came from.

Just wanted to make sure we’re all clear on that.

Yours Sincerely,

A. Michael Froomkin

Posted in Coral Gables, | Leave a comment

Pro-Cason Mailer Tries to Suggest UMiami Endorsement

I think this pro-Cason mailer that turned up in today’s mail is sort of sleazy.

It is by some Electioneering Communications Organization based in Venice, FL (!) called Citizens United For Future Leaders, represented by one Eric Robinson.

The mailer is clearly designed to create the impression that the University of Miami has endorsed Jim Cason by making it look as if UM is saying “Thank You” to him.

It uses UM colors and the overall design resembles genuine UM printed things I see all the time.

And one side features quotes from Charles Cobb, a leading UM Trustee, and from UM President Donna Shalala.

I’m sure neither Shalala nor Cobb intend these statements to be used as political endorsements.

I wonder who paid for these mailers? I also wonder if they sent them to everyone or just folks with a UM connection? I mean, back in the day, suggesting you were endorsed by UM would have been bad for your chances…

Posted in Coral Gables | 5 Comments

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