News: Notes on South Beach

Breakfast Meeting David’s Cafe January 31, 2012 8:30 am

By David Arthur Walters

David Kelsey moderated the Tuesday morning breakfast meeting, attended by 60 people from the community including city employees, neighborhood leaders, and other concerned citizens.

City of Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson was the guest of honor. The main topic of his presentation was his recent motion on the commission, together with Commissioner Deede Weithorn, to depose longstanding City Manager Jorge Gonzalez, whom Mr. Wolfson described as an “intelligent” and “nice” man, but one who had not limited his actions to administration of the city as its “CEO” as per the city charter, but had effectually usurped political powers that the charter vested solely in the commission.

He was careful to describe his issue with the manager as impersonal and professional; i.e. based on the manager’s “performance by results” rather than personal disaffection.

He said he found Mr. Gonzalez’ management of the CIP, building, and police departments lacking, and referred to mistakes he felt the manager had made. He did not, however, mention persistent complaints specifically related to the code enforcement/compliance division of the building department, nor did he mention recent complaints about the manager’s lack of oversight over the parks department.

He did point out that Mr. Gonzalez had virtually appointed Raymond Martinez as the city’s de facto police chief after the retirement of the former chief, whose retirement was mandatory because of the kind of retirement benefits plan he had selected. Acting Chief Martinez, Mr. Gonzalez’ personal pick for the job, has for some considerable time assumed the duties of police chief without the advise and consent of the Commission.

The eventual selection of Mr. Martinez by the city manager, by a process of “whittling down” the slate of qualified candidates to Mr. Martinez, and his confirmation by the commission, is considered as inevitable by many members of the community who are experienced with the ruling political faction presently figure-headed by Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, a close friend of the city manager. He did not mention the proposal to amend the city charter to provide for an elected police commissioner to make the police department more directly responsible to the electorate than its part-time representatives.

He made notice of the fact that Mr. Gonzalez has been outspoken on strictly political matters, such as whether or not Miami Beach should have casinos and a new convention center, and other matters for which he should have kept his political opinions to himself and followed the political will of the commission.

In fine, the commissioner said, the city manager had been in office for so long that he had inevitably become a “bureaucrat” who believed he was “bigger than the electorate.” The administration rather than the elected representatives ruled the city as a consequence. Indeed, many residents of Miami Beach do refer to their city manager as “Boss Gonzalez,” and he himself has mocked residents who think they are his bosses when he answers to the commission alone.

There should be term limits for professional administrators, said the commissioner, to prevent their becoming an entrenched political power. “Residents have been too casual about term limits” he observed, thus the beach has the longest standing manager in its history, having served eleven years to date.

Several issues were broached by members of the audience. For instance, it was asserted that the city manager had circumvented an existing committee or board created to deal with the prospect of a new convention center by appointing his own convention center committee in his eagerness to expend hundreds of millions of dollars on developers and contractors.

Mr. Wolfson responded that he was against any expansion of the existing convention center, noting that convention centers were proven to be not profitable in themselves, and that the only justification for them were for bringing more tourists dollars to town. He also voiced his opposition to placing a casino on the beach, an idea associated with the possibility of expanding the convention center. He said he did not want to see a “return to the less desirable heyday” of Miami Beach, and wanted to retain the “positive” aspects the beach had obtained since then.

He was asked what the commission intended to do about the unruliness of the crowd that descends on South Beach for so-called Black Week, euphemistically referred to as Urban Week. He responded that the commission had already spoken that issue, but that the proof of the pudding is what would be done; to wit, it had been decided that every little law would be enforced, and no permits would be issued for special permits. He admitted, however, that it was a fact that the solution to the Freaknik chaos in Atlanta, now inherited by South Beach, had been the massive towing of cars in cruising zones, the penalty for moving at less than 5 m.p.h. in those zones.

He was informed after the meeting that any publicity about enforcement of quality-of-life ordinances, and the law against refusing to obey police orders, would be considered a challenge to the urban culture all over the nation, and would result in greater numbers of attendees and arrests–part of the bling seen on the streets during the last even including the wearing of handcuffs on one wrist as bracelets.

Residents present applauded the Miami Beach Police Department’s new sector-patrolling program, which has gone a long way to cleaning up the streets.

About David Arthur Walters

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