Prominent Activist Wants City To Re-examine Policy.
For at least nearly two decades, citywide parking decals for resident members of city boards and commissions has reared its head as a political issue for many activists in the City of Miami Beach. The decals, which are one of the benefits received by local residents who are willing to serve on citizen committees, permit parking throughout the city, regardless of whether the individual is acting in an official capacity or not.
Prominent Miami Beach activist Frank Del Vecchio wants the Miami Beach City Commission to examine the policy and consider altering it. He took the opportunity late last month, as the city’s Neighborhoods Committee made recommendations on boards and committees being consolidated, to again ask that the policy be put under the microscope.
“The ordinance consolidating city boards and committees, R5S, January 15, 2014 city commission item, being discussed at today’s Neighborhood Committee should be enacted,” Del Vecchio wrote in a Jan. 30 memo to the Miami Beach City Commission. “Moreover, the city commission should at the same time limit parking decal use to city parking lots and garages in the vicinity of city hall. These recommendations made by the city’s TRAC committee five years ago should at long last be acted on.
“It is common knowledge that many residents seek appointment to city boards and committees in order to get a citywide parking decal,” Del Vecchio continued. “This makes a mockery of what should be unselfish public service and subjects the system to public ridicule. Limiting parking to the vicinity of city hall makes sense and eliminates those who apply solely for a parking decal.”
The belief that some hold public board positions strictly or largely for parking access has been held by many for years, given the city’s notoriously difficult and often complex parking regulations and expense.
“It’s hard enough in a lot of parts of South Beach, in particular, to find parking anywhere near [your destination],” said Jonathan Romero, whose work takes him “all over Miami Beach for short intervals here and there.”
The idea of losing potential parking to a Beach resident because the latter had been appointed to a city board – which many consider ultimate political appointments – hasn’t gone over well with other residents and activists for decades. Del Vecchio seems to question whether consolidating city board and committees is the opportunity for change – positive change, that is.
“The Marine Authority is being expanded in size and scope: from seven to fourteen members, the mayor and each commissioner appointing two. Under a new title: the ‘Marine and Waterfront Protection Authority,’ it will discharge its previous duties plus those assigned the Waterfront Protection Committee, which is to be discontinued as a separate entity. The importance of its functions is well understood,” Del Vecchio wrote to Capt. Dan Kipnis of the Marine Authority on February 2. My question to you is whether the members of the Authority require parking decals other than for use in the vicinity of city hall? The TRAC committee on which I served (an ad hoc body with no parking privileges, like the Charter Review Board) was focused on efficiency in government, including duplication of staff services on related boards, and the desirability of combining boards and talent for like functions,” Del Vecchio continued. “At Thursday’s Land Use Committee meeting, where the board consolidation ordinance was discussed, Mayor [Philip] Levine expressed your sentiments: that volunteer members of city boards deserve to be recognized in some way, and free parking is a way to do that. As long as city commissioners appoint board members based on merit, not as a political favor, the practice of awarding free parking decals will be accepted. I think the new mayor and commissioners appreciate that and share a vision that the boards should be professional in composition and in carrying out their tasks. Board consolidation is a step in that direction. What must be overcome is the negative public perception about past practice due to some decal holders who obviously sought appointment principally to be awarded a parking decal.”
Kipnis replied, according to the email exchange acquired by SunPost: “I have served on County, State and Federal boards for many years. I have never been paid for any of the countless hours and days I have contributed to these groups. Miami Beach is the first and only entity that has acknowledged my contribution. The few hours that I may park in a city lot per week is small compensation for the expertise, commitment and integrity that My board members and I bring to the City. Every meeting that I go to in downtown (Sea Level Rise Committee, Climate Change Task Force, Environmental, Social and Health Committee MDCCAT to name a few) cost $12 – 20 dollars in parking. I have been paying hundreds of dollars a year for many years for the priveledge of serving this community. It is nice that the City of Miami Beach acknowledges that service.”
One city commissioner, speaking off the record, said the issue was a minor matter, not necessarily warranting the effort that activists have put into pursuing reform.
Del Vecchio doesn’t expect much to change when the current board and committee and consolidation matter, is heard by the city commission.
“I think what will happen at the city commission is that the ordinance text that was approved on first reading in January will be approved without amendment,” Del Vecchio told SunPost. “It will sail through. The only person who objected at Neighborhoods was a member of the Capital Improvements Oversight Committee, which is to be abolished. As far as decals are concerned, if it comes up, it will do so as part of a different, separate resolution. If it does come up at the Feb. 12 city commission meeting on the second reading of this ordinance, I think two things might be said: First, as to the members of current boards that are being abolished, they will retain parking decal privileges through the end of this fiscal year, i.e., Sept. 30, 2014; Second, as to whether beginning the next fiscal year, the parking decals will be citywide, or honored only at city parking lots in the vicinity of city hall, (or a similar way of providing free parking near city hall such as a swipe card). Mayor Levine, at the Neighborhoods meeting, said that he believed members of boards should have citywide free parking privileges as a way of the city showing its gratitude. Consequently, I don’t think the citywide free parking decal is going to even be raised Feb. 12. My hunch is if it is raised the discussion will go in the direction of seeing how the new committee structure operates, and evaluate it as of the end of the fiscal or calendar year.”
Still, for some, consideration at any point is better than the issue being ignored, as it often has been since at least the mid-1990s.
“At least someone makes an issue of it, which is good if you’re a normal person and not friends with a commissioner or whatever it takes to earn citywide parking privileges,” Romero said. “At least they just aren’t sitting on their hands in Miami Beach.”