Council tackles civility problem head on, calls for calm among political candidates and followers
The escalation of pre-election political tension, which has reached the boiling point on social media as well as Key Biscayne’s street corners, was priority topic #1 at the village council virtual meeting Tuesday.
Councilmember Luis Luaredo opened the discussion by saying he was “shocked” by the online vitriol among political contenders and their supporters. Much of the discussion is happening on the social media platform WhatsApp, but sniping comments can be found on Facebook as well.
“Never ever, not once, have I felt so bad about the state of our community in our island politics and the evaporation of civility and respect,” said Lauredo, a 40-year resident of the island. “Never did I dream in my worst dreams that it was going to get this low. No one referendum is worth how low we have sank as a community. Hopefully we can take a deep breath and get our acts together.”
Council member Ignacio J. Segurola called for civility and patience during the final stretch before Tuesday’s election. He also called for people to be willing to work together following the election results.
“I think everyone needs to calm down in the village,” he said. “The election is going to be done in (a few) days and we are going to have to live with each other, for better or for worse.
“We have to learn to work with each other even if we don’t agree with each other,” Segurola continued. “I think the vitriol is coming from all sides and I think a lot of people need to acknowledge that. Basically, let’s just go forward, move on and keep going.”
Council member Allison McCormick witnessed campaign tensions on Crandon Boulevard Monday evening in an incident that resulted in a simple battery charge. “It makes me sad for the children on the island that they are witnessing this,” she said.
Village Manager position
In other action Tuesday, the village council agreed that local applicants for the Village Manager position will receive priority consideration. Current manager, Andrea Agha, has resigned and is serving out her final days in the position. The council is preparing to hire a search firm to conduct a national search.
The “local first” idea, spearheaded by council member Ed London, has already resulted in several good candidates. If one is hired, it could save hte village a lengthy search and money.
“I’m not saying don’t hire a search firm. I’m saying we already have (qualified) people who have applied and it may be foolish not to look at them first,’’ said London.
Lauredo said he expects strong local choices to come forward. He stressed that, in his opinion, the new manager must have a blend of both business and public sector experience.
The applications received so far will be reviewed by council and discussed at the Nov. 17 meeting. If none is chosen, the council will move forward to hire a search firm.
Refinancing village debt
The council on Tuesday took a dramatic money-saving step by authorizing the refinancing of existing debt in an amount not to exceed $11.3 million by issuing new bonds under more favorable terms.
The bottom line savings is estimated at between $450,000 and $700,000, depending on exact interest rates at the time of the bond purchases, according to Agha.
In related discussions, the council considered, but took no action on, creating a Financial Oversight Board, to help council analyze and improve the budgeting process, and other financial matters. Vice Mayor Brett Moss raised the idea for council.
Some council members were concerned about the idea of an oversight board dealing with village department heads, who already have to present annual budget requests and defend expenditures line-by-line before the council. Katie Petros, in her final meeting on council, said the board could face challenges in getting department heads to make cuts.
“I think a lot of people feel like they are doing ‘zero-based budgeting’ right now,’’ she said. Moss withdrew the request for consideration. He said he will bring the matter up for discussion at a November council meeting.
Fernwood Road project
The council authorized a $370,000 contract with Florida Engineering & Development Corp. for the Fernwood Road Drainage and Parking Improvements Project. The project will provide 40 additional parking spaces and 10 golf cart spaces, and will feature reverse-angle parking that is considered safer for drivers, and safer for loading and unloading.
In addition, the project includes drainage improvements using a permeable paving system filled with synthetic turf, which reduces peak flow from rain or storm events.
The next Village Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 17 at 6 p.m. Council is moving to a hybrid virtual and in chamber format, with at least 4 Councilmember at the Village Council Chambers, two Council members virtual and public comments remaining virtual.
Being scheduled after the November 3 elections, the council will include at least one new council member.