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A Revolting Situation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Frank Rollason -- BT Contributor   
June 2013

This Fourth of July, the City of Miami, beset by its own incompetence, should wave the white flag

IPix_FrankRollason_7-13n honor of Independence Day, here are a few topics concerning local government deserving of a few comments:

Redistricting: Some of you may not be aware that Belle Meade is no longer in Miami Commission District 2. That’s right. As a result of the 2010 U.S. Census, and the city’s need to comply with the federal requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Belle Meade -- along with Shorecrest, Bayside, and all of Palm Grove -- has been moved into District 5. The dividing line in the Upper Eastside is NE 61st Street.

District 5 has been the predominantly “black” district in the city, containing the neighborhood of Overtown and portions of Liberty City. The city commission, with the avid support of District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, split the Upper Eastside, with Morningside, Bay Point, and Magnolia Park remaining in District 2, and the rest of us “moving” to District 5 in order to balance the population.

Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who holds the District 5 seat, resisted taking all of the Upper Eastside for fear it would have an adverse impact on the ability of “her people” to elect an African-American candidate, if they chose to do so. (Commissioner Spence-Jones is African American.)

Shorecrest Homeowners Association president Ken Jett developed, on his own, several alternative plans that met the constitutional tests of keeping District 5 predominantly black, while keeping all of the Upper Eastside together in District 2. City commissioners rejected these plans, even though Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado threatened to veto any plan that did not keep the Upper Eastside united.

In the end, however, the mayor backed off his original position and decided not to invoke the veto based on the belief that a veto could place the city in conflict with federal law, and potentially make it the target of a lawsuit.

Maybe this will be good for those neighborhoods moving to District 5, and maybe, just maybe, Commissioner Spence-Jones will take an interest in the problems our communities have been facing for quite some time, with little or no relief.

Loss of HUD Funding: Here again the city finds itself in a financial mess. This time the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has claimed, through auditing, that the city has not spent federal funds appropriately or in a timely fashion. The consequences are a mandatory reimbursement to the federal government of close to $700,000, and the reduction of our funding allocation in future years.

The city’s first response was to blame President Barack Obama, but when that gained no traction, the finger-pointing began between our elected officials and the Obama administration, with the administration accusing Miami city commissioners of hoarding dollars, and the commissioners blaming the administration for inept management.

However, in classic Miami fashion, no one has stepped forward to take responsibility. The sad part is that our city is still one of the poorest in the nation, and the ultimate losers are the very people who are in most desperate need of the services and projects funded by these dollars.

Perhaps we should reduce the salaries of the politicians and administrators responsible for this mess by the same amount HUD reduces our annual funding. Seems fair to me.

Homeless in Downtown Miami: This latest brouhaha is over the proposal by Commissioner Sarnoff and the Downtown Development Authority, chaired by Sarnoff, to petition a federal judge to loosen the provisions of the Pottinger Agreement. (Pottinger was a settlement agreement resulting from a lawsuit filed years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union over how the homeless were treated by Miami city officials.)

On the opposing side, we have that well-known lobbyist Ron Book, chairman of the Homeless Trust, who was quoted in the Miami Herald as saying, “That won’t happen while I’m chairman -- they’ll have to cart me out.”

Nonetheless, the failings of the Homeless Trust, charged with eliminating homelessness in Miami-Dade County, have once again come to the fore. The basic issue is what to do with the chronically homeless, a topic on which I have written several columns.

The bottom line, in my nonprofessional opinion, is that the chronically homeless require a treatment modality different from those who are homeless owing to economic reasons, such as losing a job or losing a home. The chronically homeless, who are most often mentally ill, substance abusers, or both, require special programs designed to address their issues. It’s like this: You wouldn’t go to a proctologist for a liver condition.

What would be heartening would be to see the city and the Homeless Trust work together to come up with meaningful solutions instead of squaring off like two kids in a sandlot. The businesses downtown deserve a solution to the problem, and so do the homeless.

Perhaps one solution would be for the city commission to hire Ron Book as a lobbyist to represent the city before the Homeless Trust. Might be worth a shot. After all, the city already has him on its approved-lobbyist list.

Belle Meade Stormwater Pump Station: This is yet another example of a relatively straightforward capital project that has run amok. It was supposed to have been an 18-month, $14 million construction project starting back in late 2005. We are now in the eighth year and it’s still not finished.

On June 7, we in Belle Meade, along with many others in the northeast corner of the county, experienced a torrential downpour resulting in about 18 inches of water in some areas. We had severe flooding along NE 77th Street and NE 77th Terrace, much like we had before the stormwater project was begun.

Bottom line here is that the second high-volume pump is inoperative, and has been for at least the past two years. The city has been aware of this issue, along with others that need to be corrected, yet is incapable of resolving them.

I dare say if this pump station were located in Coconut Grove, the problems would have been fixed a long time ago.

Solid Waste Service: Through it all, though, our garbage and trash is picked up efficiently every week. Thanks to Department of Solid Waste director Keith Carswell and supervisor Marvin Antill, our streets are also swept every other week (and more often than that when the sweeper is available).

This service cuts down on the debris entering the stormwater system and allows the pumps to operate more effectively.

Perhaps a solution to other ongoing issues in the city would be to place Mr. Carswell in charge, since he is apparently quite adept at cleaning up messes on a regular basis.

 

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