To All Miami Springs Residents, Council, and City Attorney; For the Record
City Officials Have Now Said That We Should Not Have Believed What Those City Officials Had Previously Said
The June 13th Council meeting discussion of parking fees for the downtown development was very interesting. But first, let’s look at the timelines. At the April 25th council meeting City Manager/Finance Director William Alonso, City Planner Chris Heid, City Attorney Haydee Sera, Mayor Mitchell and the council all discussed for the better part of an hour the fact that the downtown developer parking fee should have been charged but wasn’t, how much should the fee be, and whether or not it was too late to charge the fee. One councilman described the situation as “shocking” and a “big oversight”. There was little or no debate, or doubt expressed about whether the fee should have been charged or not. It was about how much and whether or not it was too late to apply it for the ongoing development at 1 Curtiss Parkway. At the end of the discussion, the City Attorney told the visibly relieved council that she thought there was still a chance to impose the fee that Alonso and Heid had failed to. Fees that could have amounted to a million dollars or more by their own calculations.
Every official at the April 25th meeting agreed and was on the same page So MiamiSprings.com publisher Nestor Suarez and I wrote a detailed and critical report on what had transpired. Much of what we wrote was verbatim with quotes by officials about the fact that the city had failed to initially charge the fees, just as they had so clearly agreed on.
After Mr. Suarez and I wrote those letters based on what was said at the April 25th meeting about the fact that no fee had been established but should have been, City Manager Alonso on or about May 26th went on the City Instagram account to rebut our criticisms about the lack of a fee being applied. What he didn’t explain was the fact that his new story on Instagram completely contradicted the long discussion at the April 25th meeting. But he went to great lengths to label what we had written as misinformation, even though what we reported was based on what he and the other officials had collectively agreed on.
So Mr. Suarez and I did our usual counter report with him breaking down City Manager Alonso’s suspect statements. I was admittedly shocked at the complete reversal from the April meeting and wrote among other things that I thought it was a cover-up, ongoing scandal, etc. After all, I still believed the first version of the story told by all of the officials at the April 25th meeting and now City manager Alonso had completely changed the narrative without acknowledging that glaring conflict. First a million-dollar fee, now no fee. Who and what to believe at that point?
Now to the June 13th meeting. First, let’s get something out of the way. There was a lot of criticism by various city officials as to what they called attacks and hate directed at the City Manager and City Planner in some of the posts and letters put out by us although no names were mentioned. Everyone is entitled to their opinions of course but all of that is subjective and in the eyes of the beholder. And in this case, while I believe their concerns to be sincere, I think it also serves as a smoke screen of the real issues. So after acknowledging that I am moving on to the real meat of the matter.
One of the main themes of the June 13th discussion was about us posting misinformation on social media. I had also written a letter in the Gazette. City officials spoke at length about us spreading so much misinformation on social media and how the staff doesn’t have time to follow social media and so on. No names were mentioned but clearly, they were referring to Mr. Suarez and me and perhaps others. Of course, at least in terms of us, that so-called misinformation “spread” on social media was almost entirely based on city documents and statements by city officials. And the fact that what City Manager Alonso posted on City Instagram completely contradicted what was said by all of the officials at the April 25th meeting. Now, this is very important to note. From what I can determine and unless I missed something, there were no public corrections done at the two May meetings or other public settings about the fact that city officials were essentially disavowing everything they had said at the April 25th meeting. I reviewed the agendas, minutes, and video of the two May meetings. The only reference to the parking fees that I found was that of a resident speaking at the open forum. Among other issues, he expressed his thanks that city officials were following up on parking fees. There was no related follow-up discussion by City officials. The first thing I can find disputing their own words from April 25th is when City Manager Alonso posted on guess what? Social Media! He presented documents that he said showed why no fee was required. But he presented nothing to explain away the directly conflicting narrative between what he posted on Instagram and the April 25th meeting. So, is it really justified to criticize residents who post information on social media based on the very words and actions of city officials? Words and actions that those same officials never saw fit to correct for many weeks. So, it appears that the first time we actually got an official public explanation for why they had all been on board for a fee until they weren’t was at the June 13th meeting, over 7 weeks later. Yet during that long lapse of time with no official public correction that I can find, they blame us for posting misinformation based almost entirely on what they had stated previously. So what was their explanation and excuse for everything said at the April 25th meeting that they were now saying wasn’t true? Essentially that they were not prepared and had forgotten why the fee was not indicated. Seriously. City Manager Alonso is also the Finance Director. He, along with City Planner Chris Heid were integral parts of the formation and processing of the Gateway District and the new development at 1 Curtiss Parkway. Most likely the biggest and most controversial project in Miami Springs history. Yet during the course of close to an hour-long discussion, they forgot why a potential million-dollar fee was not imposed. And then finally changed their story at a public meeting 7 weeks later. Putting aside the aforementioned problem that officials had with the tone of our letters, the fact is that we and our posts are essentially being criticized by city officials for actually taking those same city officials at their word.
I have been a blunt and outspoken community activist for over two decades. I’m proud of my involvement in movements such as protecting the golf course from development and sponsoring an amendment to cap building height to protect our low-density communities. I work very hard to be accurate in my reporting and I am usually right. If I do make a mistake I apologize and correct it publicly as I did a while back when I made a mistake regarding a council member’s response to my question. Being outspoken often invites backlash and it’s common to be labeled a naysayer, trouble maker, or worse. That’s to be expected as one pushes back against those that have special interests that could harm or otherwise have a negative effect on our quality of life. At the June 13th meeting, one of those labels given by some city officials was that I was hateful. I don’t hate anyone at city hall. What I hate and am angry about is the damage they are doing to our precious town.
One of my passions is rooting out and reporting government inefficiency, wrongdoing, corruption, and abuses of authority. I have done that in different aspects of my adult working life, often at professional and even personal risk. Such as when I exposed and documented public corruption as a Fireman/Inspector and Medicare fraud as a psychiatric RN. I say all this because I want to be clear that my motives are always to protect our community, not to hate or attack anyone or otherwise create unnecessary conflict. I’m not alleging outright corruption in Miami Springs but there are certainly major problems and still to be answered questions with many aspects of the Gateway District development.
I’m not always about criticism and negativity as some like to say. I believe in giving support and credit where it is due. For example, after this council was elected I went to a council meeting and publicly thanked them for serving the community. I have publicly stated multiple times that I think Mayor Mitchell can be a fine mayor and I firmly believed that the new council members are intelligent and well-meaning. It’s a very tough job and I admire and greatly appreciate those that are willing to serve and sit through endless hours of tedious meetings, hashing out the more routine aspects of city business because I sure don’t want to do it. And even with disagreements such as the latest ones I still believe that this council is a good one and well-intended. I thank them for their service and wish them all the best. But with responsibility, comes accountability.
One of the biggest points of contention is the Gateway District documents under Parking Requirements where it states;
For any on-street parking space(s) counted towards the satisfaction of a property’s requirement, or any spaces otherwise waived as a result of one of the factors listed below, a fee shall be paid to the City for each such parking space, in an amount set from time to time by approved resolution of the City Council.
To City Attorney Sera; With all due respect, after the complete reversal of the conclusion at the April 25th meeting that a parking fee was justified and not carried out, I think the residents need and deserve your legal opinion on this. For the sake of clarification and transparency please publicly and formally provide us a statement on the exact details and rationale that now support the City’s present contention that the 1 Curtiss Parkway developers did not have to pay a fee for their use of on-street parking. In other words, how exactly were they able to circumvent the clear wording as seen above. Thank you.
City officials have done the residents a terrible disservice with their mishandling of this major monetary issue. They have created confusion, chaos, and divisiveness by totally flipping the narrative without any type of explanation for seven weeks. Making matters worse they have now defensively circled the wagons and tried to deflect from their lack of transparency and extremely conflicting conclusions by casting aspersions on us for reporting accurately, however critical, on what they have said and done. Their credibility has been damaged and with it our confidence.
While I still think we need City Attorney Sera’s basis for the conclusion that no fee is required there is another problem. Intending absolutely no disrespect to Ms. Sera there is a conflict of interest here. Ms. Sera works for the same law firm that the previous city attorney did. This means she would essentially be investigating and opining on her own law firm in the handling of this matter. It’s time to bring in outside independent counsel to review the matter and help restore trust in the Miami Springs administration’s decision-
making process on the matter of the 1 Curtiss Parkway development debacle.
The Gateway District has been an extremely divisive disaster, just as many of us had predicted and why we fought against it. The residents were betrayed when the city allowed the developers to increase density and further worsen our dire parking situation. It’s an irreversible assault on our quality of life. The three newer council people were not involved in that but the City Manager and City Planner were. We residents must stay diligent because there will always be threats of overdevelopment that will have a negative impact on our community. And this council must provide much closer oversight of the city administration. I’ll close with a statement Mayor Mitchell made near the end of the fee discussion at the June 13th Council meeting about the early downtown development negotiations; “…as the negotiations continued with that project I had concerns with it and didn’t think we were negotiating in the best interest of our city and what we could have gotten.” Exactly. Stay diligent my friends.