Village Council candidate forum provides insights on the causeway, what’s next on village manager, small business support and the need for more civility
The second virtual forum of the 10 candidates for three Key Biscayne Village Council seats saw a variety of topics discussed, including four specific issues: transportation concerns and the Rickenbacker Causeway, the hiring of a new village manager, the need to help small business, and a call for civility on council.
Last Thursday’s (Oct. 8) forum, moderated by Walter J Stanton III, president of Carney Stanton P.L., was hosted by the Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce and Islander News.
After introductions, each candidate -- Reynaldo Figueredo, Jennifer Allegra, Michael Joseph Kelly, Allison McCormick, Brett Moss, Franklin Caplan, Armando Chapelli, Luisa Conway, Matt Bramson and Oscar Sardinas —responded to the same four questions, then gave a closing statement.
Below is a summary of the candidates’ comments, in order of appearance:
Candidate Reynaldo Figueredo began with the fact that so much has changed since the first candidate forum with the resignation of Village Manager Andrea Agha. The three elected council members will start their terms with a key decision for the future. If elected, he said he would seek a seasoned manager able to maintain the high standards that are owed the community.
Question 1, the causeway and working with other government entities on transportation issues: “We have to stand united as one island. Issues that are outside of the village are controlled by our bigger brothers – the Florida state parks, the city of Miami, we have Miami-Dade County. They are the ones that can open or close the bridge. I think that’s the only way we can build. We can bridge when we have that communication. I want to continue to (have) a civil, cordial, intelligent approach to help (us).”
Question 2, village manager resignation: “It was news that was shocking for all of us, especially now. I was not on the council to see how the council managed or how she was able to manage council. I think we need a CEO, a professional and seasoned manager that is capable of efficiently running a complicated village with very high standards expected. That has to happen both on the execution, the accountability and also on the management, even at the council level. The manager has to be able stand firm and do his or her job.”
Question 3, civility on council and the island: “We need to stand united. We need to work together. We need to show at the council level that we can work together. We want to promote civility. That is the only way to move forward.”
As for social media chats, he said the pandemic has made reaching out to our fellow Key Biscayners more difficult. “Any tool that we can use to better that communication and understanding are all key ingredients to having this better civility.”
Question 4, assisting small businesses and CARES Act funds: “We need to sit down together and figure out something (event) that will promote the KB brand again; that we will be on the map and attract people to come and spend their dollars with us. That is the only way we will be able to survive.”
As for the CARES Act funding, he said the village needs to make its voice heard. “With positive communication we can achieve help for our local community,” he said.
Closing statement: “I want to promote a simple, educated, united Key Biscayne. I want to take this moment to thank those who really want to make this a better place.” He ended with a shout out to the island’s first responders and the village council for giving many of them a bonus for risking their lives during the pandemic.
Opening statement: Luisa Conway said she and her husband invested in Key Biscayne because they valued the fact that KB was incorporated and self-governed. “We were attracted to Key Biscayne’s low tax bill, lifestyle in the sense of a close knit community -- ‘safe and secure.’ ”
“It’s at its turning point in it’s 30-year history. We have a $36 million budget. We need a professional government. We need a new government and we need a strategic and bold vision plan to help us improve our property values that have been declining for three years.”
Question 1, the causeway and working with other government entities on transportation issues: “Control of the Rickenbacker Causeway is a complicated issue but Key Biscayne needs to have a voice on the causeway’s traffic management and bridge infrastructure. These are life safety issues for our residents.” She wants to create an advisory board with Key Biscayne along with Miami, the county and state officials.
Question 2, village manager resignation: Conway said she is in favor of hiring a recruiting firm to find the most qualified applicant. “If we find someone who is local and they have amazing skill sets. But the bottom line is the person has to come with a very strong municipal background and have to be able to engage in best practices...And council needs to stop trying to micromanage the manager.”
Question 3, civility on council and the island: “Engaging in hateful rhetoric and politics really has no place in any campaign whether national or local. Some of us have been the target of the hateful rhetoric and it’s disappointing to see. This is why there are 10 of us running. Because I believe we want to change that. We want to portray our island in a good light.”
She has no issues with council members being on chats. “It’s the one thing people have to communicate amongst themselves… Let’s take the high road. Let’s remember who we are: A civil, friendly community and together let’s rise above this.”
Question 4, assisting small businesses and CARES Act funds: “Our small businesses have taken a hit. They are struggling.” One way to help, she said, would be suspending the occupational business license tax. “We should think about giving them a little bit of break and showing them in good faith that we appreciate their partnership. This might help them stay in business, and that’s what I think the CARES Act might help augment some of the cost.” She said she wants the chamber to encourage locals to shop locally.
Closing statement: “I worry about the state of our local government, our diminished skills at management and environmental threats in need… You (voters) are being asked to continue the status quo, or change the trajectory of the village toward a brighter future by electing new council members.” She ended with a statement urging civility: “Let’s not forget. Divisive rhetoric has no place in our society and certainly not in Key Biscayne.”
Opening statement: “I believe that I bring a new perspective that is much needed in Key Biscayne. This is a $35 million operation. It is not a little town in the middle of nowhere.” He said he believes in working on fundamentals of government. He also said he would like to establish financial resilience rather than approve the GO bonds referendum until further planning.
Question 1, the causeway and working with other government entities on transportation issues: “Clearly this is a challenge of intergovernmental creating positive intergovernmental relationships between our city and the entities that rule the causeway. It’s hard enough to manage one entity. Bringing them together requires a skillful thoughtful consensus building approach. I think bringing a business perspective into this process will create the conditions necessary to move the ball downfield rather than just talking about it all the time.”
Question 2, village manager resignation: “Recruitment has been my business for the last 40 years so I am very familiar with the needs of seeking out, identifying and vetting potential candidates for this very critical job. We need to find a very seasoned professional with strong management and consensus building skills. Allowing this manager to perform their tasks properly is essential. Micromanaging the individual of the caliber we hope to bring in here would be a very bad mistake.”
Question 3, civility on council and the island: After reading a chat with his image x-ed out, he said, “It seems to be a trend these days.” He said he likes and participates in the chats, but added: “I don’t think the council should engage in the type of rhetoric and conflict that increase tension.” Individual relations “would be my way of building bridges.” Civility is defined by truth, and he said there has been misinformation about the GO bonds, which he still believes is “a blank check” involving “a disenfranchisement of their vote for 30 years.’’
Question 4, assisting small businesses and CARES Act funds: “I experienced directly the impact of the pandemic” through his businesses. He wants to identify talent in Key Biscayne to serve as volunteer consultants to work with businesses to help in their recovery. ‘As for the CARES Act, any way we can find pools of money to lend a helping hand to the businesses of Key Biscayne is a good thing to do.”
Closing statement: “I think the village is at a transitional point in its history, where it’s grown to the size of budgetary concerns and challenges that requires that fundamentals be addressed, installed, adopted and abided by.” If elected, he said he wants to select a recruitment firm for a new village manager.
Opening statement: Council member McCormick said her “most fundamental belief is that each council member has the responsibility of serving all of Key Biscayne.”
A resident since 2012, she remarked on the negative comments and campaigning. “I do not think these tactics are ok for a community like ours. I am running because I am as concerned with the physical threats to our community – again, infrastructure -- as I am about the threats to our village culture. I think that the lies and negative attacks are not neighborly and not what I want in our community.”
Question 1, the causeway and working with other government entities on transportation issues: “It’s our only way in and our only way out, and it’s not our property so the relationships that we can establish are crucial. Work on this has been ongoing and continues to work.” She noted the establishment of a coalition for major incidents involving improved access for Key Biscayne police, “so we can keep traffic moving.”
Question 2, village manager resignation: “This is perhaps one of the most important elections because of the hiring of the new manager.” Many current employees have on staff for years. Agha was hired for having “significant” municipal management experience, so the council would not need to step in and manage, she said. “She could not have worked harder. I think she was ready to move on and I think she served with all of heart. We should have let her move on and put an interim in place.” As for her replacement, McCormick said the village needs “a person with a deep understanding of our history and also our goals to have an efficient government that’s close to our residents,” but with substantial management experience.
Question 3, civility on council and the island: “This is a really important topic. The community that I’ve chosen as a home has no place for this type of disrespect. You should look very carefully who you vote for because this is what this election is about. It’s who we want to be as a community.” She said she was shocked at some things she has seen on chats. “We are a village and that word was chosen for a reason. We need to treat each other with respect and we need to try to be going in the same direction whether we agree with each other or not.”
Question 4, assisting small businesses and CARES Act funds: McCormick highlighted successes for helping small businesses during the pandemic, such as using the Freebee service for deliveries and establishing outdoor dining, but noted that this type of effort needs to continue. “Our village has to stay on top of this and use every single thing at our disposal to be able to help our local business avail themselves of any help that’s out there.”
Closing statement: “2020 has been a real challenge for all of us. I am aware of how hard this has been. As I go around campaigning I encounter a lot of people worrying about our future. I want to tell you our village is strong, I believe in Key Biscayne, and I believe in the Key Biscayne residents. We live in an amazing place. We can work together to make it even better.”
Opening statement: A lawyer, Frank Caplan said he has been with the same law firm for 25 years, and he has consistently engaged in community service using “problem solving of all sorts and helping people in the process. It’s a very satisfying combination in my life.” Working as a volunteer for the Key Biscayne community since before its incorporation, he said, “I feel now my highest and best use is to be where the decisions are made.”
Question 1, the causeway and working with other government entities on transportation issues: “I think the strategies with the county include the point that we have common interests that can become common goals. This involves a little bit of persuasion.” He called the causeway a “linear park” as well as a road for possible new recreation opportunities. “We can build on that.”
Question 2, village manager resignation: “Looking at it from the bleachers, I would have not have voted as the council voted. Seems to me forestalling a transition is to complicate the transition… That would be avoidable if you just get on with it and bring in an interim manager.” Throughout island history, all the prospective managers involved qualified candidates. “Finding a diamond in the rough is a very difficult process. It takes a lot of knowledge in what you are looking for,’’ he said.
Question 3, civility on council and the island: Caplan sponsored civility resolutions over the years, but recently he has had unprecedented instances of hostility while campaigning with his wife. “Working together (on council) is our job. I have worked on six councils. You have to find a way to work with everybody. ‘Key Biscayne Nice’ is merely ironic in the community. You better know that and do something.”
Question 4, assisting small businesses and CARES Act funds: “I am motivated to do whatever can be done” to help small businesses recover from the pandemic, he said. But, as a small community, he said Key Biscayne is limited in its options except for the suspension of business licensing fees, etc. “The problem with those is it’s just not a lot of money,’’ he said. The obvious solution is for residents to shop locally, he said.
Closing statement: “There’s an interesting chasm among some of the candidates. Stark differences. Some of what I hear just bears no resemblance to any reality I recognize. We have to engage with each other. Who serves on this next council could make a big difference to our future.”
Opening statement: Oscar Sardinas first came to Key Biscayne on a vacation in the early 80s and never left. He said he is proud that more than 100 residents have contacted him during the campaign. “This has been for me the greatest ride of a lifetime. They really care. I love the idea that we can see things differently but with respect.”
Question 1, the causeway and working with other government entities on transportation issues: “This is complex. There are several jurisdictions, several people, several ideas. The idea for a collaboration is just starting to show up. We need to go out and reach out to these other communities and find out what it is they want or envision,’’ he said.
Key Biscayne has a great opportunity: “I think the work that has been done so far is fantastic, but there’s a long way to go. We need to show up. We need to show our interest -- to show our passion and to show our presence.”
Question 2, village manager resignation: Over the years, Sardinas said he has hired hundreds of people. “I find what is most important is not what you find on paper, but the person you are dealing with -- and whether or not they fit the culture of the organization. The idea is not to micromanage, but give them some guidance. It’s incredibly important to set clear expectations.” He said he also would have voted to let Agha leave and hire an interim manager.
Question 3, civility on council and the island: “This is an incredibly important topic. I am a bit distraught. There are people on this panel that say one thing in public and something different in private,’’ he said. He detailed verbal attacks and scare tactics. “I’m sorry, but this is not the island I grew up in. Please, let’s just be honest in public. Let’s tell people what you really stand for. I love this island. I will not allow people to be dishonest to its constituents.”
Question 4, assisting small businesses and CARES Act funds: “We all sit here and constantly talk about what a wonderful place we live in, but we’re in an echo chamber. We’re not sharing that with the world. We need to stand out a bit more. Our branding needs to be better.” On CARES Act funding, “We have to be proactive. We have to reach out for our community.”
Closing statement: “I want to go back to accountability. We should continue to be honest. I think disagreement is perfectly fine as long as there is civility attached to it. We all have an opinion and a perspective. There is absolutely zero reason to disagree and then judge that person based on a simple disagreement.”
Opening statement: “I was born and raised here in Key Biscayne. For 27 years it’s been paradise to me. I am running to give my generation a voice on council. We need to preserve this island. I am really concerned about it. It’s time to do resiliency projects and it’s important to do them now.”
Question 1, the causeway and working with other government entities on transportation issues: “The situation is extremely complex: five jurisdictions, multiple bridges, long causeways that need some work. It’s the only way in and out of Key Biscayne. We’re going to need to have a good relationship with both the county and the city of Miami. It’s the only way we can do this. We have to stand our ground as well. It’s a give and take as any good relationship is.”
Question 2, village manager resignation: “I think she did an amazing job. I am sure that the council made the decision they thought was best, so I am in agreement with what they passed. I need to rely on the experts. The next village manager needs to have a proven and qualified resume and great experience.” His only concern about hiring locally would be the hint of bias and lack of experience in a bigger municipality.
Question 3, civility on council and the island: “Civility unifies the community” and spurs a positive reaction from volunteers, he said. “With my generation in particular, with everyone screaming at each other, why even join? We’re scared. I know it (the friendly atmosphere) is not gone. Key Biscayne is too good a place for it to really be gone. It’s just on hold. 2020 has been a tough year.”
Question 4, assisting small businesses and CARES Act funds: “I understand the hardship that you have to go through” to run a restaurant on Key Biscayne, he said, remembering the experience he had with his brother. “We need to support local businesses a lot better and a lot more often. We need to halt or defer financial burden’’ from village fees when possible. He also said there is a need for additional surveys as to why residents leave the Key to eat or shop.
Closing statement: Kelly said he is now in the stage of life of having a family and all that entails, and he thinks about the future more as he runs for council. “I will try to bring a modern philosophy, and new perspective (to the council). But when you vote for me, you are voting for all the experts.”
Opening statement: Allegra started by reminding people she is opposed to the $100 million General Obligation bond referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot. A future council needs to come up with “a more transparent plan that includes a formal schedule of approved projects, accurate and hard cost estimates and time lines for those projects,” she said. “This type of transparency builds trust.”
Question 1, the causeway and working with other government entities on transportation issues: “Our relationship with Miami Dade County is a critical issue that should be on everybody’s minds. Of course this is a safety issue. We need to get on and off this island in case of an emergency or a hurricane. Seconds can mean the difference between life and death.” Relationships with the county and state need to be strengthened. “We have to make sure the bridges will be there and that they are safe. I will try to do my best to build strong lasting relationships with Miami Dade, but if that doesn’t work I will fight tooth and nail to get our residents the results,’’ she said.
Question 2, village manager resignation: “She (Agha) came to this community to professionalize the office of village manager and I think she did just that.” She said Agha leaves the village a good foundation. “I hope she will stay on staff until we find a permanent replacement.” The manager has the most important job in the village, even more so than the council members: “The manager is the CEO. We need to search far and wide for the most qualified replacement. We need someone strong. We need someone willing to say no to the council if they are asking for something that is not right for the village.”
Question 3, civility on council and the island: “We’re all adults here. We’re not children.” Community engagement is an important aspect to civics, she said: “If we cannot speak freely, generally and respectfully about our concerns and our firmly held differences, then we can’t accomplish much. Civility is about disagreeing without disrespect. Citizens have the right to disagree with the government.”
Question 4, assisting small businesses and CARES Act funds: “Small businesses are part of the fabric of this island. Our businesses add value to our property and really give us that small town feel,” she said, listing her favorite restaurants and businesses. “I can’t imagine what they are going through. Please spend your money here.”
CARES Act funding could be used for assistance to landlords who could then in turn help the businesses, she said.
Closing statement: Starting with thanks for current council members and supporters, Allegra urged others who don’t know her to reach out and talk. “I believe in ‘We the People.’ If elected I want to be the vehicle to get the peoples’ voices heard. Although we may not agree all the time, let us agree that we share a commonality: we love our island.”
Opening statement: “I moved to Key Biscayne 12 years ago and got very involved. This is an important election, not a single-issue election, which favors the least prepared candidates. As a council person I am prepared to take the village forward, whether the GO Bonds pass or not.” Restoring confidence in government will be a key to the future, he said. “I sense that there are a percentage of voters that seem to have lost confidence in our leadership and processes and I think that type of cynicism is corrosive. I would stoke it. I would try to repair it,” he said.
Question 1, the causeway and working with other government entities on transportation issues: “You have to have a realistic perspective in a relationship. Suggestions that we fight (the county) are maybe good sound bytes, but they are a very expensive way to get things done. You have to be proactive. You can't be reactive and wait until there’s a plan on the table and they protest it. That’s too late. What we need to focus on is what we can negotiate,’’ he said.
Question 2, village manager resignation: “I don’t shy away from tough truths. This situation with the village manager is a failure. Every time an employee leaves an organization it’s a failure or a combination of failures. We have to understand that failure before we can make prudent plans to replace the manager. It’s a tough job. Hiring for qualifications can’t be effective. It has to be deeper than that.”
As for what he would have done about the interim, he said “You have to do it immediately. You can’t let it fester. Bringing on someone and moving on quickly is the decision I would have made.”
Question 3, civility on council and the island: “Words like warrior and fight and lies and distrust and corruption set the wrong tone. The objective is to be tough on the problem and easy on the people. I have a good relationship with everybody on the council. I have no concerns about being able to fit in that group.” As for chats, he said they are flawed for constructive conversations are better done face to face.”
Question 4, assisting small businesses and CARES Act funds: “Sustainability (for small business) has been a problem for a long time and the Coronavirus has not made it any better. The rents are high, the traffic is low and it’s a difficult problem. The CARES Act is a good idea, but it’s not a structural solution. I would increase the support of the Chamber of Commerce (by establishing loyalty programs) and we need to be adapting our community, including our commercial areas so they are sustainable.”
Closing statement: “This won’t be the last time you hear from me. I will be involved in community leadership until you drag me out feet first.” If elected, “I will be the type of councilman that faces tough truths. I will build consensus through listening. I get results.”
Opening statement: “I have been very involved in the community. I’m running because I am passionate about the community. I know that the most important decision in front of this council is selecting a new village manager. Luckily, I have been able to work under two managers now and they were vastly different management styles. I believe with this experience and knowledge I would be an asset in making this important selection for Key Biscayne.”
Question 1, the causeway and working with other government entities on transportation issues: “It’s about being proactive, not reactive. There are lots of things that are coming up on the causeway,” including a variety of improvements. he said. Even before he joined the council, Moss said he was involved with issues such as the boat show and Ultrafest. “We are making progress, but to be proactive we need to sit with our neighbors and we need to help come up with solutions that benefit both us and them. That is the proper way to ensure that our lifeline to the mainland remains unthreatened.”
Question 2, village manager resignation: Moss was one of the council members who was initially in favor of letting Agha leave, which would have saved the village an estimated $50,000. “We’re going to need an interim at one point or another,’’ he said.
Qualifications he will look for include a strong understanding of finances, village departments and their functions -- “somebody who is not going to be afraid of the council.” Someone who knows South Florida would be a benefit in the job, but more important is their abilities as the main communicator for the village, he said.
Question 3, civility on council and the island: “Civility for me is about respect for each and listening to each other.” This is Moss’s third campaign and he believes the situation has changed for the worse. “We need especially to listen to those with whom we disagree, but be compassionate, put yourself in their shoes and see where they are coming from.” Moss said he doesn’t participate in chats. “Being a bully is not effective.” Causing chaos in the community is counterproductive, he said. “We need to get back to moving on policy making so we can prosper as a community.”
Question 4, assisting small businesses and CARES Act funds: “Our business is a crucial part of our quality of life. We all know it.” Moss said he fought to allow outdoor dining during the pandemic. As for CARES funding, he suggests the money goes to landlords who could consider using them to pay property taxes to in turn help the tenants.
Closing statement: “I am not really into politics, the political world or looking for a political position. This has always been a community service position and I’m doing my part in the community,” he said.
To watch a replay of the September 21, 2020 Key Biscayne Chamber and Islander News Village Council Candidate Forum, click here.