The Biscayne Times

May 21st
They Just Said No PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
June 2018

Angry voters trounce bond issue, must now look ahead

TPix_MarkSell_6-18he City on the Move hit the wall May 1, with the obliteration of the $120 million North Miami general obligation bond, themed “Together We Grow.”

The four-part smorgasbord of civic improvement projects lost nearly 3-1, with voter turnout just under ten percent -- and a mere seven percent outside Sans Souci Estates and Keystone Point.

It was a clobbering for Mayor Smith Joseph, the city’s first Haitian-American mayor, who’d won in each of the 19 precincts in his last campaign. His signature effort lost in every precinct this time -- rich, poor, east, west, Hispanic, Anglo, and Haitian voters all getting sick of getting played.

Still, thumbs were on the scale. Mail-in/absentee ballots actually went for the bond in ten precincts. (Canvassers “helping” with grocery money? Race baiting and false assurances of lower electric bills on Creole radio?) Take those out, and the defeat was more like 5-1 all over town.

Many residents judge the city leadership arrogant, self-serving, and terrible at handling money. North Miami’s cash reserves are now about $5 million, what’s left from the $20 million given by SoLeMia’s developers. North Miami Beach reserves: $25 million, grown from organic revenues.

North Miami’s nine homeowners associations, which talk to one another, didn’t back the bond issue. Attendees at city-sponsored bond issue forums heckled presenting officials. Sprouting neighborhood associations are forming alliances, energized by recent events like FIU’s legislative right-of-way mugging of the city’s Arch Creek East Nature Preserve, and big-scale condo or mixed-use complexes amid single-family neighborhoods on 130th Street (see “Ten Years Too Late?” May 2018), and 124th Street and NE 10th Avenue.

Underground pipes are in disrepair, stormwater is a mess, king tides and storms flood through porous limestone, pavements are cracked and potholed, and city hall is tired and overcrowded.

But this 30-year bond mingled needs and wants, with four take-it-or-leave-it packages mixing poison pills with worthy projects.

Voters could choose from $31 million for infrastructure and public improvements, $77 million for public facilities, $2 million for communications equipment (imagine making that final payment on your 1978 computer!), and $10 million for affordable housing (badly needed, most agree).

The bond offered nothing for sea level rise or the city’s crumbling underground pipes and stormwater system. It tacked on modest provisions for buying back repetitive flood properties and buttressing sea walls, as well as cracked pavements and crumbling sidewalks.

Yet it included a new city hall, major community center replacements or improvements, and new guard gates for Keystone. raised $4250, mostly small contributions, ginned by $1000 in seed money from waterfront apartment building owner Bill Prevatel, who combines his passions for growing the tax base through up-zoning with a distaste for Donald Trump and wasteful city spending, and a $925 loan from Karen DeLeon of the Keystone Homeowners Association. Some leaders from east to west: Jim Garrett, Laura Hill, John Porter, Judy Brown, and Jessica Alston.

The losing side, Our City Our Future, reported $15,600 in contributions, including $5000 from Dr. Rudolph Moise, who owns Moise Comprehensive Health Center at 671 NW 119th St. Moise’s fellow osteopath, Mayor Joseph, has pushed a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) application for $1.2 million (since reduced to $600,000) to expand Moise’s clinic. Next CRA advisory meeting: 6:30 p.m. June 4. The CRA board (the city council) meets at 5:30 p.m. on June 12.

Other pro-bond contributors: former city attorney John Dellagloria and the Greenspoon Marder law firm, home of state Sen. Joe Geller. Both represent developers on hot-button projects just mentioned -- Dellagloria on 124th Street, Geller on 130th Street.

Also listed: various entities related to Taubco, developer of the Causeway Square (LA Fitness) and the pending Causeway Village at 1850 NE 123rd St., which will require a 4-1 supermajority for development.

The city paid $117,000 of its $152,000-plus educational campaign to the Mosaic Group of West Palm Beach for advertising, messaging, and canvassing (three teams) -- most of Mosaic’s invoices are not itemized. Add it paid $105,000-plus for rushing the vote to a standalone election rather than folding it into the August 28 primary, and you’re talking close go $300,000, mostly taxpayer-funded.

Time to throw the bums out through recall? Careful. Elections are coming soon enough.

Upcoming budget hearings in August and September will demand cool, analytical heads with constructive ideas. Leadership vacuums spawned by rage cure nothing. Four of the five elected seats are in play, and the city faces structural problems. City manager Larry Spring’s council support looks wobbly, but he at least possesses the financial skills to maneuver the city through a complex budget season. Deputy city manager Arthur “Duke” Sorey III hasn’t proved up to this task.

The May 2019 mayor’s contest has started. Filing: Councilman Philippe Bien-Aime, who set a civil tone as acting mayor in 2014, after ex-Mayor Lucie Tondreau went to prison, and former mayoral candidate Hector Medina. Let’s hope each candidate and council member befriends a forensic accountant, studies the state’s recent audit of the city, gets a crash course in reading a municipal balance sheet, asks exacting questions, and offers constructive ideas. Failure here deserves defeat.

Bloated payrolls and pay raises from friends-and-family hiring practices since 2013 are about to sock the city’s general fund with $1.5 million in unexpected pension liabilities, in addition to the regular $9 million pension payment due October 1. Police payroll is up more than 17 percent with smaller staff, averaging $91,000 per employee (skewed toward command staff) and with a $1 million shortfall, with the general employee pension deficiency making up the rest.

Spring is already curbing discretionary spending by council members. That should mean less money for festivals, parties, foreign travel, sister cities, and pomp and circumstance.

It’s a start, but how about some ideas for discussion? How about tougher lobbyist disclosures for the usual suspects we keep seeing? Shouldn’t everyone know who is paying whom? Why not revisit those Neighborhood Redevelopment Overlays, that boon for developers that residents clearly hate? Is rage just an “opinion” when you hit people where they live?

Anti-nepotism policies, anyone? A professional point system in hiring? Why elect rather than appoint the city clerk?

Why not require three or even two years’ established residency for candidates, rather than one? Joseph, Tondreau, and Bien-Aime had businesses in North Miami, but didn’t they really live elsewhere and use local addresses so they could run? What’s to stop a hostile county commissioner from moving a favored candidate here?

Dr. Joseph’s and the council’s service may seem a model of probity compared with the gaudy corruptions of a half-decade ago. That’s beside the point now.

This is a sea change. It is time for a different conversation.


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