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Town and Gown, Revisited PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
August 2019

A midsummer look at local news and omens

TPix_MarkSell_8-19his month we offer a grab bag from the peanut gallery, leading with Town vs. Gown and assorted updates, bouquets, and brickbats. Here goes:

Update: FIU vs. 135th Street: Imagine turning east from Biscayne Boulevard on 135th Street, a big FIU sign beckoning you straight on to its Biscayne Bay campus, bedecked with flags marking the way to Panther Territory -- and driving your car straight through the Arch Creek East Nature Preserve.

That would be welcome for many FIU students and staff who must traverse clogged 151st Street, and certainly for president Mark Rosenberg, eager to expand the 200-acre campus.

Last year, you may recall, FIU pinned the City of North Miami with a half nelson, getting the legislature and then-Gov. Rick Scott to enact a law giving universities priority over cities in getting a second access road in and out of campus when safety is at stake (see “Face-Off,” July 2018).

On July 20, about 20 residents of the Arch Creek East Neighborhood Association cut the ribbon on a big passive park shaded by West African Mahogany trees on a median about 22 paces wide and 350 paces long, with four benches, a winding sidewalk, and four butterfly gardens with milkweed and monarch butterflies. Sam Van Leer of the Urban Paradise Guild wants to plant a necklace of such gardens for nearly two miles along 135th Street. The city declared the medians “passive parks” in 2017, and neighbors are sprucing them up.

It’s an act of resistance to FIU. At a town hall in February, Rosenberg said his commitment to opening that road in the interest of safety has only hardened. Trustees recently extended his contract through 2021, citing “superior” performance.

Freshman State Sen. Jason Pizzo has jumped in to referee, calling for third-party engineering studies for possible different routes to the campus -- through 163rd Street and skirting Oleta River State Park (a design favored by city Commissioner Scott Galvin and county Commissioner Sally Heyman); Solé Mia via 143rd or 146th Streets; or 135th Street, where only one lane is open crossing from the west.

“It’s time for the Florida Department of Transportation or a disinterested third party to determine where a new road should go without input from any side to find the best place for a road,” Pizzo says. “There is no traffic study or engineering report. This is putting the cart before the horse, literally.”

Bouquet: To the City of North Miami’s Clean Cities initiative, a pet project of city attorney Jeff Cazeau and a multiagency effort to respond to reports of unsafe and abandoned buildings, shopping carts, phone booths, illegal dumping, graffiti, abandoned alleyways, and stray animals.

Bouquet: To Councilwoman Carol Keys and Senator Pizzo for quick response to complaints around Memorial Day of a foul stench from the brown and black southern Keystone canals. Pizzo paid for a study. The main cause: a giant raft of brown sargassum seaweed polluted with agricultural runoff flowing into the Atlantic from the Mississippi River -- in other words, algae like the red tide and blue-green algae again befouling Florida’s beaches and killing sea life.

Bouquet: To Wild Orchid farmers market open Saturdays from 11:00 a.m to 11:00 p.m., at 1111 NE 125th St., with tacos on the grill, seasonal produce, baked goods (rum cakes!), friendly company, beer, wine, and occasional live music. Seek out the shade, get a cool drink, and chat up a friend or stranger. Dig the music at dusk. Kudos to co-founders Laura Hill and John Porter. Also, cool off down at the Museum of Contemporary Art with “Potoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince.” It closes August 11. It will delight and trample your soul.

Brickbat: To the July 10 North Miami city budget workshop -- a shambles, with no provision for public comment, and ill-schooled, incoherent remarks from council. If the city is at least $8 million in the hole and the accountants estimate it will take three to five years to dig out of it, the city deserves some heat. Next public hearings on the budget: September 3 and September 17. Suggestion for elected officials: Run the budget by independent accountants, read Robert’s Rules of Order, and keep comments and questions from the dais pithy and coherent. The city intends to keep millage at or below the current $7.50 per $1000 taxable value.

Brickbat: Never underestimate the city council’s power to mystify. Case in point, Sapoznik Insurance -- which has been insuring the city’s employees for 17 years and cutting rates because its wellness programs have shown results -- narrowly topped a points-based competition for 2019-20. Usually the city council approves this sort of thing without fuss. This time, however, the lobbyists struck. No. 2 Foundation Risk Partners Corporation, accompanied by perennial lobbyist Evan Ross, and No. 3 Gelen Benefit Group, represented by lobbyist Jeffy Mondesir, spoke up for reopening the bidding and starting over. Without giving a logical reason other than the possibility to “save money,” Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime, Councilman Alix Desulme, and Councilwoman Mary Estime Irvin voted to reopen the bidding.

Yes, the council has the power to change its mind, but this move opens the door to time-wasting, slimy maneuvering by lobbyists that demoralizes the best efforts of staff and review boards, and discourages prospective vendors. Smells like sargassum fish kill.

Police Update: On July 11, the City of North Miami settled with Charles Kinsey, the behavioral therapist shot in the leg July 18, 2016, by Officer Jonathan Aledda while trying to protect Arnaldo Rios Soto, who was playing in the street with a silver toy truck that Aledda and some other police mistook for a gun. The city had settled with the family of Rios Soto earlier. Both settlements were confidential. On June 18, a jury acquitted Aledda of felony charges but found him guilty of culpable negligence, a misdemeanor. After the conviction, Aledda went from paid to unpaid leave, and the city issued an intent to terminate.

Conclusion: We’re likely facing two long years. Squabbling and fingerpointing obscure real underlying challenges with affordable housing, climate change, decaying infrastructure, and city services (see “The Morning After,” July 2019). It might be correct to say that the east side pays 70 percent of the city’s taxes or to cite corporate experience and superior knowledge, but that can turn off the majority and cost votes and goodwill.

Proving superiority does not win converts. Yes, call it out, file requests and ethics complaints as needed -- that’s a duty -- but it’s also time to get out of our districts and silos and ethnic caves, and keep that back channel open, preferably at a low, respectful volume.

 

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