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Nov 21st
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Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
November 2018

Newcomer cannonballs into mayor’s race

WPix_MarkSell_11-18e are shocked, shocked to report that North Miami is gripped by a lack of trust.

Why not bring in light? Today is a new day, and the conversation can change on a dime. The lame-duck council and administration have six months until the next election to come clean, mend their ways, break open that year-old state audit, act on it, and start to restore trust.

Plus, as a citizen, you can take your best shot at making a difference through constructive civic engagement and board participation, in addition to honest griping and action when you think you’re getting a raw deal.

But before bringing in light, we must face the darkness.

One new mayoral candidate, a newcomer to North Miami and its politics, wants to change the conversation. He’s Mac-Kinley Lauriston, age 52, the $125,000-a-year chief of staff for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime, whose district covers most of the City of North Miami with offices just two blocks east of city hall. He says the decision to run was his, not Monestime’s.

While affable and friendly, Lauriston is glad to ladle out sour cherries. He’s positioning himself as a technocrat, taxpayer watchdog, and champion of accountability. He filed in September and raised $15,000 for his campaign as of October 10, compared to $85,000 for Councilman Philippe Bien-Aime, who filed in March. Activist Hector Medina is also running for mayor.

Lauriston bought a split-level house on NE 132nd Street east of N. Miami Avenue in late March, just in time to qualify, and lives there with his wife, a nurse, and three sons ages 8, 13, and 14. He has previously lived in Miami Shores and Miramar.

In his campaign to clean up Dodge, Lauriston is a big critic of reckless spending and hiring, suspects the city is veering toward a financial crisis, and can be as subtle as a wrecking ball.

“It is incumbent on the council to make a decision that is for the community and not for themselves,” he says. “I want to run as the great uniter. Where people feel they don’t have a voice, they are greatly frustrated. The more voice you give the people, the less insulted they will be. The time for excuses is over, and people on the dais need to own up to the failure and the responsibility for their record. We want to see a city that is professionally run.”

An MPA, Lauriston spent 16 years as an accountant and senior financial analyst for Ryder Systems Inc. before moving on to public service in Miramar and for the county.

“Politicians cannot escape the blame,” he says. “They try to put it on the city administration, but they bear the brunt of the responsibility because they set policy. If you are presented a budget and don’t understand it, you’re just rubberstamping. I worked for a number of years as a senior accountant at Ryder, so numbers don’t lie. If you constantly say from the dais that you’re ‘not an accountant,’ you need to take some accounting lessons, or you don’t deserve to be in office.”

Lauriston attacks the city’s bloated payroll, with more than 400 full-time employees and about 200 contract employees who don’t have civil service protections and are easier to hire and fire. This can also blow a budget, and Lauriston thinks some common-sense management might even lower the city’s tax rate, which has held steady the last few years at $7.50 per $1000 assessed valuation. He also says other cities of similar size, such as Coconut Creek, provide better services for less money.

Lauriston has felt some of the pain of being a North Miami resident. Early this past summer, he had several instances of clogged sewage backups in toilets, the bathtubs, and floor on the lower level of his house. Not far away, Gwen West, on Griffing Boulevard, has been shut out of her house since a post-Hurricane Irma sewage backup and lives in a trailer in the front yard. She has sued the city and county, which are blaming each other.

So Lauriston understands distrust and hears plenty. The inept promotion and lopsided failure of the city’s May bond issue in every district confirmed the sourness and distrust (see “They Just Said No,” June 2018).

Former budget director Terry Henley’s acrimonious departure and civil service revelations raised more flashing red lights (see “North Miami Has Its Own Meltdown,” October 2018). Battling for his own reputation, city manager Larry Spring responded by sliming Henley, who had previously received great reviews, for rotten performance in a letter to city council.

Henley is far from alone, and the city has a growing list of would-be whistle-blowers fired, blackballed, conspicuously demoted, or slimed for not playing ball. One exhibit: Janice Antoine, a married employee whose contract was terminated in September after filing suit against the city, alleging Councilman Philippe Bien-Aime had sexually harassed her for months. The suit is a potential powder keg for both Bien-Aime and the city.

In this atmosphere, one can understand a council member on the dais during an uneasy meeting dreaming of that mountain home. But they did vote themselves big raises -- up to $47,990 for a council member ($85,000-plus with fringes, and health insurance for longer terms) or $59,990 for mayor ($100,000-plus with fringes). Spring and city attorney Jeff Cazeau each get a base of $240,000. Deputy city manager Arthur Sorey III gets better than $177,000.

Lauriston’s mayoral opponents, Bien-Aime and Hector Medina, have their own challenges. Bien-Aime has a big edge in fundraising and home-field advantage in caring for the people in his district, but is dogged by that lawsuit. Medina, who won his stripes as a community organizer in driving back dry cleaner Spotmaster from the houses next to it, has filed but held back. There’s still time for both to build platforms.

But it’s best to crawl before walking. One place each council member and senior manager can begin is the 69-page state audit of the city completed in November 2017. The audit came up with 30 recommended procedures to get the city on the right track. How are those recommendations coming along?

At the October 8 council meeting, former city Councilman Arthur “Duke” Sorey, the mailman who became the city’s first African-American councilman, gave a stirring defense of his namesake son, the embattled deputy city manager who runs personnel, talking up his family ties, community roots, and lessons learned when the boy did wrong.

Blessed be the ties that bind, but numbers are more absolute than sentiment, tribe, friends, and family. If there’s a government to run, and we’re paying it, maybe it’s time to just get real.

 

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