November 25, 2015

Opa-locka ousts City Manager Steve Shiver amid financial turmoil

By Michael Sallah and Katie Lepri

Just weeks after revealing Opa-locka was on the edge of financial failure, City Manager Steve Shiver was fired by elected leaders in yet another tumultuous turn for a city that’s millions in debt and the target of a federal corruption probe.

During a brief but emotional meeting on Tuesday, commissioners ousted the 49-year-old manager three months after hiring him to stem the city’s mounting deficit and out of control expenses.

Moments after the 3-1 vote, Shiver abruptly rose from the dais and walked outside, where residents gathered and began shouting at one another over the move.

“This is sad. It’s absolutely sad,” said Dorothy Johnson, a former Opa-locka mayor who turned out to support Shiver.

The firing, led by Mayor Myra Taylor, comes shortly after the city manager pleaded with the state for help in resolving a deficit — now at $8 million — in a move that the mayor criticized because she said Shiver should have taken the issue to the commission.

“Mr. Shiver wanted to be in charge,” Taylor said. “It seems he wanted to expose everything we did wrong.”

More here.

November 24, 2015

Miami mayor endorses Scott's $250M proposed reform for Enterprise Florida



Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado is among the latest in a string of local and county officials across Florida who have signed a fill-in-the-blank press release from Gov. Rick Scott's office, backing his plan for $250 million in economic incentives to better attract jobs and businesses to Florida.

Scott sent letters to all Florida mayors earlier this month -- and later, also local and county council and commission members -- asking them to support his proposal to reform Enterprise Florida with the new "Florida Enterprise Fund."

Scott's plan is expected to face some resistance among his fellow Republicans in the Senate. The $250 million request triples the $85 million he requested this year for Enterprise Florida -- which lawmakers sliced in half in the current budget.

In announcing his support of Scott's plan, Regalado cited Enterprise Florida's role in "creating jobs in our community, such as HBO Latin America, LAN Airlines and Univision Network."

"These reforms will continue to diversify our local economy, empower our small businesses and create even more great jobs," Regalado said, reciting a canned quote provided by Scott's office.

Regalado, like Scott, is a Republican.

The most high-profile Democratic mayor to endorse Scott's pitch is Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn, who announced his support last week.

Others in South Florida who have backed Scott's $250 million funding request include Miami Commission Chairman Wifredo Gort, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo and Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez (whom Scott's office two weeks ago originally misidentified as Miami's mayor before issuing a correct version of the press release).

Photo credit: Hector Gabino / El Nuevo Herald

New Miami Beach commissioners sworn in, call for unity across the dais



After an election in Miami Beach that grew divisive between supporters and critics of Mayor Philip Levine, the reelected mayor and three new commissioners were sworn in Monday.

Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, Ricky Arriola and John Elizabeth Alemán officially joined the City Commission in a ceremony at a packed City Hall. All spoke of putting the campaign behind them getting to the business of governing.

They will get started at their first meeting Dec. 9. The political newcomers come on board as the city tackles major big-ticket projects, including a half-billion dollar renovation to the Miami Beach Convention Center and a five-year, $400-$500 million flooding mitigation plan to build pumps and raise roads to combat sea level rise.

More here

Francis Suarez sworn into office, makes case for 'New Miami'


Sounding as much a 2017 mayoral candidate as a reelected city commissioner, Francis Suarez laid out his vision Tuesday for a "New Miami" after being sworn in for his second and final four-year term representing the neighborhoods of Flagami, Coral Way and Shenandoah.

Suarez, first elected as Miami's District 4 commissioner in 2009, was re-elected without opposition in 2011 and again this fall. His wife, Gloria, administered the oath of office Tuesday during a noon ceremony at City Hall, and then Suarez spoke about what he sees as a changing city.

"I'm entering my last term as commissioner with a tremendous amount of energy, enthusiasm and some well-earned grey hairs," he said to an audience that included Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Suarez's father, County Commissioner Xavier Suarez. "One of the unique provisions of this office is being able to see into the future. What I see is a new Miami."

Reading a prepared speech from a teleprompter, Suarez spoke about stemming Miami's brain-drain, addressing a widening income gap, creating more affordable housing and reducing crime. He said he wants to do more to spur the tech industry, and continue to push for greater mass transit options. He name-dropped Senator Marco Rubio -- while drinking from a glass of water -- and filmmaker Billy Corben, whom Suarez credits for his recent use of the city nickname Ourami.

Many expect Suarez, 38, will campaign soon for the office of mayor, with Tomás Regalado forced to leave office in 2017 due to term limits. Suarez made no mention of those expectations, but said he will continue to push to make that office a "strong," executive mayor, "so that the mayor's position is accountable to the people of the city of Miami."

Suarez believes that Miami voters are looking to a new vision embodied by younger, new-minded candidates, and plans to meet expectations.

"I will continue to be creative and forward-thinking on policies and projects," he said. "In order to create this new Miami, we must be united and we must be bold."

November 23, 2015

Miami-Dade schools looks to cash in on land

District land@cveiga

When it comes to some of Miami-Dade’s biggest proposed development deals, one surprising major player has emerged.

It’s not condo magnate Jorge Pérez, golf course mogul Donald Trump, the Soffer family of Fontainebleau fame or any of the other familiar names.

It’s the Miami-Dade County School Board and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Riding widespread community support and popularity, the board and Carvalho have increasingly sought to capitalize on South Florida’s lucrative real estate market, efforts they insist will benefit 350,000 mostly poor school kids.

The district has taken a starring role in negotiations with David Beckham to build a Major League Soccer stadium, and to bring the world’s largest shopping mall to land on the edge of the Everglades. But the country’s fourth-largest school district isn’t finished.

Sitting on land in some of Miami’s hottest neighborhoods, Miami-Dade is now considering offering up its downtown headquarters for what could be a 10-acre redevelopment — and to profit off a school site in the exclusive Design District.

“There is a clear opportunity,” Carvalho recently told School Board members.

The only thing standing in the way is South Florida’s infamously cyclical real estate market, which appears to be headed for a cool down. Squeezed by a strong dollar and plenty of inventory, developers have already shelved plans for new towers downtown.

There’s also the question: should a school district insert itself in complicated real estate deals?

“Generally speaking, the school district is all about educating. It’s not about real estate development. And when somebody gets away from their expertise, nothing good ever comes of it,” said Peter Zalewski, founder of the South Florida condo-tracking website CraneSpotters.

More here.

David Beckham may draw a stadium foe from Miami-Dade GOP

Beckham pic 2


David Beckham’s push for a soccer stadium in Miami may be drawing opposition from the local Republican Party.

Nelson Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade GOP, said Saturday he’s hearing criticism from local party members who don’t want the county school board to give Beckham a property-tax break by assuming ownership of his planned 30,000-seat home for Major League Soccer.

“The feeling is: We’ve had enough,” said Diaz, a lobbyist with Southern Strategies and volunteer chairman of the county party’s executive committee. “I have not taken a position myself, but I kind of share a little bit of that feeling. We made a bad deal with the Marlins. Are we going to do it again?”

Diaz said the party may invite Beckham’s group to make its pitch in January and then take a position on the privately financed deal.

In heavily Democratic Miami-Dade, there are more independents than Republicans, who make up about 28 percent of the electorate. But the GOP could have outsized influence on the soccer deal since it is slated to be approved in a Miami referendum that would coincide with the March presidential primary that may be a showdown between Miami candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.

At issue is Beckham’s pursuit of government ownership for a stadium he and his investors would privately fund. He has offered to spend about $200 million to build a stadium for his Major League Soccer franchise, and pay Miami for a portfolio of city land next to Marlins Park. He wants the school system to take ownership of the stadium, which would shield the facility from paying property taxes.

More here

November 20, 2015

NRA attacks Miami Rep. Trujillo for 'betrayal' of gun owners' rights

From The News Service of Florida:

Gun-rights advocates are targeting a Miami lawmaker after a bill to broaden the state's controversial "stand your ground" law was scuttled at the Capitol. The National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida emailed its members Thursday calling the actions by House Criminal Justice Chairman Carlos Trujillo an "orchestrated" betrayal of "law-abiding gun owners," as the measure died on a 6-6 vote two days earlier.

Trujillo and Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, joined four Democrats in opposing the measure, which proposed to shift the burden of proof to the state in cases involving the "stand your ground" law. Under the 2005 law, people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

"It is important to recognize and remember the committee members who were loyal to the Constitution and your right of self-defense --- as well it is the betrayers," said the email from Marion Hammer, an influential lobbyist for both groups.

Hammer told The News Service of Florida she was "shocked" by the vote, but declined further comment, saying her email blast --- with "Betrayal" in its subject line --- spoke for itself. The tie vote came after Democrats were able to attach a pair of amendments to the bill that stripped some enforcement powers from the proposal.

Continue reading "NRA attacks Miami Rep. Trujillo for 'betrayal' of gun owners' rights" »

Private poll shows school ties build support for David Beckham soccer stadium in Miami


Soccer poll excerpt

Miami-Dade voters are generally split on David Beckham building a stadium next to Marlins Park, but overwhelmingly support the idea once told the school system will be a partner in the project, according to a private poll.

When 400 likely county voters were asked their opinion on building a Major League Soccer stadium for Beckham's team next to the baseball park, 40 percent supported the idea and 44 percent opposed. But told favorable attributes about Beckham's arrangement with the county school system, including free use for graduations and sporting events, and respondents embraced the plan: 74 percent supported the stadium and just 19 percent opposed.

"Voters in general, and those in Miami-Dade in particular, are naturally skeptical of deals such as this," said Keith Donner, the political consultant who helped craft the poll for a private-sector client he declined to name. "Once they know more about the proposed deal-- especially the school system's involvement and the benefits to the public schools -- they gravitate towards supporting it in droves. They really move over."

The telephone poll was conducted in English and Spanish between Oct. 30 and Nov. 4  by National Victory Strategies out of West Miami. Donner said the respondents were screened for prior participation in low-turnout elections. (The poll is roughly split between Democrats and Republicans, though the GOP makes up less than a third of the county's electorate. Read the poll results here.)

Donner shared the stadium portion of what he said was a much larger poll, but declined to provide the entire survey. He described the client as a "disinterested party that was polling on other issues tangentially related to the school system."

Continue reading "Private poll shows school ties build support for David Beckham soccer stadium in Miami" »

Miami-Dade mayor wants 'additional assurances' from DC on Syrian refugees


Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez wants "additional assurances from federal authorities" about the screening process of Syrian refugees before they are "permitted to settle in our community," a spokesman said Friday.

The statement by communications chief Michael Hernández stops short of backing the White House in an increasingly heated fight over whether the United States faces a terrorism risk from the 10,000 Syrian refugees the Obama administration agreed to accept from the war-torn country. 

Backers of President Barack Obama note the refugees are subject to a lengthy vetting process that's much more rigorous than what most of the more than 70 million international tourists undergo when visiting the United States each year. Critics of the Democratic president, including Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott, say the country can't afford to risk a less-than-airtight screening process in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. 

Scott recently ordered his social-services agency not to cooperate with federal authorities wanting to put Syrian refugees in the Sunshine State. 

It's not clear what role a Miami-Dade mayor might have in the refugee process. Gimenez, a Republican facing reelection next year in heavily-Democratic Miami-Dade, has visited the Obama White House multiple times. His statement seems to leave open the possibility of Gimenez giving a thumbs up to welcoming Syrians after a briefing. 

"Miami-Dade County is a welcoming community which is home to people from all over the world including many with refugee status," Hernández said. Gimenez "would appreciate additional assurances that the screening process is as good as advertised."

Miami-Dade mayor wants "additional assurances" from DC on Syrian refugees