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Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
January 2018

North Miami needs wisdom as it copes with lawsuits and other thorny issues

IPix_MarkSell_1-18n this time of outrage, tribal division, and Internet noise, we can find solace in silence and wisdom.

In wishing a wise New Year for all, we’ll try to take a step back in this subjective status update on the City of North Miami, guided by that saying behind the city council dais: “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”

That’s actually from Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), poet laureate of Great Britain and Ireland.

Here’s our partial New Year’s snapshot of how the city appears, which you’re invited to cuss and discuss.

The city: It’s hard not to be bullish about North Miami over the next decade, barring a truly catastrophic weather event. Its very location is one big selling point: right between downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale, and handy to airports and beaches. Global investors are paying attention, with the allure of relatively inexpensive land on high ground along NW Seventh Avenue (read: Chinatown) and even W. Dixie Highway.

The mayor, city manager, and council deserve credit for progress over the past four years. Local government is more transparent and accountable than before, even if the Mayor Andre Pierre days of fake police badges, Porsches from the sky, and cash in bags make for a low bar.

Mayor Smith Joseph: Our opinion: the physician, who is term-limited in 2019, is one of the city’s more effective mayors in recent times. He has worked hard, built trust, and has displayed no evidence of corruption. Perhaps most significant, the mayor won every precinct in the city in April’s election, if more narrowly in parts of mostly white Keystone. More than his predecessors, Joseph has built bridges across this community still riven across lines of race, ethnicity, and class.

Those divisions still rankle, but Smith has worked to reduce them, and the city has gone from five percent black in 1980 to 57 percent black (mostly Haitian), 26 percent Hispanic, and 16 percent Anglo today.

While the mayor can seem prideful, preachy, and paternalistic from the dais, he carries the bearing of a self-made man, and can be quick to take affront. After one particularly rough meeting in October, he called voters in North Miami “the nastiest people I have ever seen” and started reading from George Washington on manners.

At that meeting, Joseph and his fellow council members caught flack voting to award pay raises for themselves -- from $48,000 to $59,900 for the mayor, and from $36,000 to $47,910 for the council, plus generous car, cell phone, and pension allowances. The city’s average household income is around $39,000.

City manager Larry Spring: In many cities, the city manager sits over a dunk tank while council members throw bean bags.

North Miami is one such place. So far, Spring has not been knocked down. In October he got a contract extension for a third year, to February 2019, and a base salary boost to $240,000 (including $20,000 for the Community Redevelopment Agency), with city attorney Jeffrey P. Cazeau on an equivalent track. Spring and Cazeau get on well. The council praised Spring from the dais in giving him the raise, although in this town, that support can jackknife easily.

Spring has worked to create an accountable and transparent culture within the city. He acted quickly and successfully to avoid a “long, hot summer” in North Miami after the July 2016 police shooting of behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey. The consequences of that shooting reverberate within the police department and the courts, but not in the streets.

Spring’s clear understudy is deputy city manager Arthur H. Sorey III, whose purview includes the police department. Sorey lost a promotion to city manager to Spring in a 2-3 vote in early 2016, and would like to succeed Spring. His blood ties to North Miami go back. His father, Arthur Sorey Jr., was the city’s first African-American councilman in 1995.

Sorey is close to interim Police Chief Larry Juriga, whose father and uncle were also senior North Miami police officers. Juriga, head of a group of “favored” law enforcement officers who have called themselves “the Illuminati,” at this writing seems to hold the inside track for police chief.

The bond issue: Nearly everyone agrees (a) that a $135 million bond issue is a tough sell, and (b) that the city’s infrastructure needs help, with cracked sidewalks, poorly paved streets, and ancient pipes for its water and sewer. To its credit, the city has some of the best-tasting water in the state, as a winner of the American Water Works Association’s 2017 “Best of the Best” Tasting Drinking Water Contest; but the council also recently voted December 12 to authorize $4.4 million to improve the old water treatment plant.

One possibility: Offer a total statement of the city’s needs over the next 20 years, with estimated costs, and communicate it to homeowner associations over the coming months; then go with the most urgent considerations first, and view pressures to privatize with skepticism.

The North Miami Police Department: One of Spring’s worthy efforts was to reach out to the late and highly respected police chief John Timoney to conduct a comprehensive review of the police department just after it lost critical state certification in May 2016. Alas, Timoney was already gravely ill with cancer and would soon die at age 68.

Then came the Kinsey shooting and the investigation that followed, unleashing evidence of tribalism, factions, and resentments within the force, and an overwrought internal affairs investigation of Commander Emile Hollant, commander on duty at the time of the shooting, who was twice exonerated by the state attorney.

On December 5, as reported in New Times, Sgt. Patrick McNally, an ally of Juriga, declared war, suing in state court and contending that he and some of his fellow officers were passed over for promotion by former chief Gary Eugene because they were white. (Eugene is suing the city for wrongful termination in federal court.) Juriga made a similar claim of anti-white bias with the EEOC two years ago. White NMPD officers started filing reverse-discrimination claims in 2002, with some success.

On December 8, Juriga summoned Hollant, who had been suspended, to the police department and fired him. Hollant had sued the city in mid-November. Is a purge in the offing?

Whether or not it is Juriga, one can hope that the new chief renounces cronyism, disbands the Illuminati, expels the department’s bad actors, promotes and trains on the basis of merit rather than favoritism, works to build a department that reflects a majority minority community, and declares a fresh start, placing service above all else. That may be a pipe dream -- wisdom is not easy.

 

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