Quesada Makes His Case for the Commission Group 4 Seat

Tuesday I had an hour-long talk with Coral Gables Commission Group 4 candidate Frank Quesada. He is a commercial litigator with Fowler, Rodriguez, Valdes Fauli, a well-respected Coral Gables law firm. Some of it was off-the-record chat, but I also asked him some questions on the record. His answers in the inset quotes below are verbatim as are the parts in quote marks; parts without quote marks on in [brackets] are my paraphrase.

Quesada brought with him an annotated copy of the City budget and walked me through some of the things he thought were problems. He said the #1 issue in the race is the pensions issue. “I can guarantee you that I’ve done more work than any other candidate on this issue. …. I sat down with independent actuary.” A big part of the problem is that the pension plan presumes a 7.5% return on investment, but returns fluctuate. If the return is below 7.5% then the city is on the hook for the deficit. At present there is a $197 million unfunded liability; Coral Gables is part of a national problem.

Switching to a cash balance plan will solve the problem going forward, but will not deal with past shortfalls. A cash balance plan will protect the city from new unfunded liabilities. (Cash balance plans are defined benefit plans that have features of defined contribution plans. In particular they shift the risk and (if they exist) the benefits of fluctuations on the rate of return to the employees, thus removing the need for the employer to put up cash if there are shortfalls.)

Quesada also noted that the City expects a report from a pensions actuary in May, and it must base any plan going forward on that report. The next milestone is that the agreement with the firefighters ends Sept. 30. That said, the City’s freedom in the past was not as great as some candidates are making it sound. For example, he said, state legislation requires that municipalities allow a minimum of 300 hours of overtime be allowed in final pension calculations if it uses the current type of plan. The cash balance option is more attractive due to relatively recent changes in federal pension legislation. [I think this is would be the Pension Protection Act of 2006?]

More generally, “Polls show voters think things are on the right track. I tend to disagree somewhat, in that I think our budget has gone higher than t should be.” In 2005 the city had $52million in property tax revenue; now it gets $69-71million, thus there is $18 million of additional revenue from the property tax. Yet the size and population of Coral Gables hasn’t changed. “Why does it take an additional $20 million to run the same city?” The answer, he said, was primarily pensions. “Fixing pensions will help … that’s half of it.” The other half seems to be to try to get lots of smaller savings, such as by moving the election date to one where the county is having an election.

I asked him one of the tough questions people working for other candidates have been feeding me: Given that he used to work for Bill Kerdyk, and indeed trumpets this as part of his experience, if elected, will he just be a Kerdyk clone? Mr. Quesada answered by first describing how he came to be working for Bill Kerdyk.

I started [getting] involved in high school, I started a music program, petitioning the administration…. When I went to Villanova I was the only student on the Board of Trustees….I was involved in student government…it was a great feeling to make changes on campus … and to see people happy with the results.

I took a year off before law school. … [I have] no desire for state or federal office. … [a person] can make more change on the local level. …

[When I returned to Coral Gables I] volunteered for Kerdyk, [but] had no previous connection [with him] … I was very involved with the trolley … with the public works department … the biggest issue was the funding.

Quesada also suggested that he’s more independent than Kerdyk.

I am very conservative, but it depends on the issue …. I don’t like to be told how to vote … I like to gather facts… I like to hear expert opinion.

(For what it’s worth in this nonpartisan election, Quesada is a registered Independent.)

I also asked about the candidate’s forum in which I thought his answers were not substantive – they tended to be of the form, ‘I will be researching this very very carefully’ rather than, ‘I have researched this and here is my answer.’ Quesada blamed the format and suggested that at the Ponce Business Association Forum about a month ago (audio is here) he’d given meatier answers when allowed more than 30 seconds to do so.

Mr. Quesada seems to be hard-working and very earnest. In particular he seems well up to speed with the fine details of the city budget, and has clearly given both the pensions issue and some other savings issues some serious thought. He makes a strong case for his candidacy.

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5 Responses to Quesada Makes His Case for the Commission Group 4 Seat

  1. Just me says:

    I previously mentioned this, but will repeat myself.

    I have known Frank Quesada since the mid 90s, was a year ahead of him at Belen, was on the high school swim team with him for two years, and went to law school with him. I have never known Frank to be anything other than honest, intelligent, and kind. We would do very well with Frank Quesada representing us.

  2. TheIT says:

    Here is Sanabria’s agenda in total detail and timelines in an email distributed to the entire City
    ————————————————

    To My Fellow Neighbors, Voters and Taxpayers:
    Below are my “Ten Positions” as my initial “Pledge to the City”

    Position #1 – Taxes and Fees
    As I unequivocally stated at the beginning of my campaign; I will not vote for any Tax or Fee increases.

    I will also put forth a motion to rescind the Fire Fee.

    Position #2 – Transparency and Public Input
    I will oppose any attempts to maintain a veil of secrecy over documents of key importance and ask for the immediate release of the Biltmore audit so the public can be aware of its results and a plan of action be adopted within the next 60 days .

    I will also support public input and involvement at all scheduled Commission meetings.

    Position #3 – Pension Reforms
    I will request that the City release a “white paper” and widely distribute it to the public in fully discussing and outlining the financial liabilities of our current “defined- benefit plan” and what immediate steps can be taken to ensure that pension reforms are adopted within the next 12 months.

    Position # 4 – 30-Day Building Permit Process
    In the first meeting of my term, I will ask the City Manager to give us a “fast-track” 30-day building permit scenario so all residential and commercial owners are relieved of the lengthy and complex process of getting a building permit in our City. This can be done without affecting all the safeguards we have and we can expedite our issuances and eliminate burdensome backlogs and irritating processes.

    Position #5 – Historic Preservation and Promotion of the Arts
    Within 90 days after taking office; I will request that the City draft an action plan to dedicate all possible efforts in maintaining, up-keeping and restoring all historic buildings, monuments, gateways and fountains that are currently in need of attention. I further pledge to personally join in any outside fundraising efforts to raise monies towards this important goal.

    Position #6 – Sustainability, the Greening of Coral Gables, Efficiencies
    Within the first six months, or earlier, I will ask that a current, qualified staff member be designated to overview sustainability policies with the goal of having the City do its “best efforts” to be an ecologically responsible municipal entity that can look at ways that we can save monies while at the same time improve our environmental quality of life.

    Position #7 – The “30 for 25” Parking meter rates
    At my first meeting I will ask that the City adopt a rate change for parking meters, especially those fronting Miracle Mile, to allow for “30 minutes for a quarter” and thus relieve the stress of shoppers and diners who constantly worry about the onerous $18 ticket that should not be a dissuading factor when we consider going shopping or the theater or the fine restaurants in our beautiful downtown. That plan also includes a plan and implementation to fix our sidewalks as fast as possible.

    Position #8 – Turkey Point Nuclear Plant Expansion
    With the terrible nuclear incidents that just happened in Japan; I will immediately ask my colleagues in the Commission to adopt a resolution objecting to the proposed nuclear-reactor expansion of Turkey Point under new and relaxed safety guidelines that could greatly endanger hundreds of thousands of people in South Florida.

    Position #9 – “Meet your Government”

    I will schedule periodic meetings throughout the entire City where citizens can meet with me and public officials and let their concerns and issues be heard. I will come to you and hear you.

    Position #10 – “Getting Things Done”
    I am driven as a “results-oriented” person who has been blessed to serve with your support and common philosophies and goals. I intend to pursue all of the above plus any other worthwhile and positive efforts to continue to make this City the best and finest and you have my word on that.

    I am a team player and consensus builder that will seek unity of purpose from all my colleagues in the City Commission for the common good of us all.

    I humbly ask for your support on Tuesday, April 12th.

    Vote #40 for Gonzalo Sanabria.

    Please share this message with your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues in Coral Gables.

    Thank You.

    Sincerely,

    Gonzalo Sanabria

    Candidate, City of Coral Gables Commissioner, Group 4
    Please log onto my website at http://www.gonzalosanabria.com

    If you do not wish to receive any further campaign emails please reply to info@gonzalosanabria.com & your email address will be promptly removed.

    • This can’t have gone to the entire city as I didn’t get one. (And that would be spamming, anyway, wouldn’t it?)

      On the merits, it’s a nicely presented list, although studiedly vague in key areas: #3 is no better than Quesada’s pitch; #5 & #6 are promises to do something, but does not say what, and #8 is utterly horatory (the real issue on which the city might have a say is the powerlines, why no mention of that?).

      And as I’ve said before I think #4 may be unreasonable in that the 30-day approval might be OK for most stuff, but not for complex jobs. Not to mention that in my experience the problem wasn’t speed of decision it was the decision itself: an unwillingness to approve something that my engineers (three of them) said that every other jurisdiction in this state would have approved.

  3. TheIT says:

    Mr. Moderator, this is a fair posting, please allow it to be seen, thanks

    To My Fellow Neighbors, Voters and Taxpayers:
    Below are my “Ten Positions” as my initial “Pledge to the City”

    Position #1 – Taxes and Fees
    As I unequivocally stated at the beginning of my campaign; I will not vote for any Tax or Fee increases.

    I will also put forth a motion to rescind the Fire Fee.

    Position #2 – Transparency and Public Input
    I will oppose any attempts to maintain a veil of secrecy over documents of key importance and ask for the immediate release of the Biltmore audit so the public can be aware of its results and a plan of action be adopted within the next 60 days .

    I will also support public input and involvement at all scheduled Commission meetings.

    Position #3 – Pension Reforms
    I will request that the City release a “white paper” and widely distribute it to the public in fully discussing and outlining the financial liabilities of our current “defined- benefit plan” and what immediate steps can be taken to ensure that pension reforms are adopted within the next 12 months.

    Position # 4 – 30-Day Building Permit Process
    In the first meeting of my term, I will ask the City Manager to give us a “fast-track” 30-day building permit scenario so all residential and commercial owners are relieved of the lengthy and complex process of getting a building permit in our City. This can be done without affecting all the safeguards we have and we can expedite our issuances and eliminate burdensome backlogs and irritating processes.

    Position #5 – Historic Preservation and Promotion of the Arts
    Within 90 days after taking office; I will request that the City draft an action plan to dedicate all possible efforts in maintaining, up-keeping and restoring all historic buildings, monuments, gateways and fountains that are currently in need of attention. I further pledge to personally join in any outside fundraising efforts to raise monies towards this important goal.

    Position #6 – Sustainability, the Greening of Coral Gables, Efficiencies
    Within the first six months, or earlier, I will ask that a current, qualified staff member be designated to overview sustainability policies with the goal of having the City do its “best efforts” to be an ecologically responsible municipal entity that can look at ways that we can save monies while at the same time improve our environmental quality of life.

    Position #7 – The “30 for 25” Parking meter rates
    At my first meeting I will ask that the City adopt a rate change for parking meters, especially those fronting Miracle Mile, to allow for “30 minutes for a quarter” and thus relieve the stress of shoppers and diners who constantly worry about the onerous $18 ticket that should not be a dissuading factor when we consider going shopping or the theater or the fine restaurants in our beautiful downtown. That plan also includes a plan and implementation to fix our sidewalks as fast as possible.

    Position #8 – Turkey Point Nuclear Plant Expansion
    With the terrible nuclear incidents that just happened in Japan; I will immediately ask my colleagues in the Commission to adopt a resolution objecting to the proposed nuclear-reactor expansion of Turkey Point under new and relaxed safety guidelines that could greatly endanger hundreds of thousands of people in South Florida.

    Position #9 – “Meet your Government”

    I will schedule periodic meetings throughout the entire City where citizens can meet with me and public officials and let their concerns and issues be heard. I will come to you and hear you.

    Position #10 – “Getting Things Done”
    I am driven as a “results-oriented” person who has been blessed to serve with your support and common philosophies and goals. I intend to pursue all of the above plus any other worthwhile and positive efforts to continue to make this City the best and finest and you have my word on that.

    I am a team player and consensus builder that will seek unity of purpose from all my colleagues in the City Commission for the common good of us all.

    I humbly ask for your support on Tuesday, April 12th.

    Vote #40 for Gonzalo Sanabria.

    Please share this message with your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues in Coral Gables.

    Thank You.

    Sincerely,

    Gonzalo Sanabria

    Candidate, City of Coral Gables Commissioner, Group 4

  4. TellingItLikeItIs says:

    I had never met Frank Quesada until last month and have been very favorably impressed. He seems to take pride in researching the issues and taking a deliberate approach. Furthermore, he seems highly collegial and fair. Barring any last-minute surprise, I’ll be voting for him.

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