Written by Miami Today on December 7, 2006
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FACING OFF: Despite a veto threat by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, the county commission Tuesday approved an ordinance that changes the way petitions can be collected for referenda and other ballot initiatives. The plan makes it a misdemeanor for a voter to knowingly sign a petition more than once and requires all people who collect signatures to be registered county voters. It also mandates all petitions be written in English, Spanish and Creole. Commissioners who support the plan say it will reduce voter fraud. The mayor said he will veto the legislation because it reduces the chances of citizens collecting enough signatures to put issues on the ballot. But the measure passed 10-3, so the commission may be able to override any veto.
CRUISER CONTROL: Miami-Dade police who live in Broward, Monroe and Collier counties now have permission to drive their county cars home every night. Under a policy approved by the county commission this week, police officers residing in those counties can do their daily commute on the taxpayers’ dime — just like their counterparts who live in Miami-Dade. County Manager George Burgess said he’ll have to buy 107 new police cars to implement the rule, which will end up costing about $1 million including gas and equipment. However, he and commissioners said the policy is a key tool to attract — and keep — Miami-Dade lawmen, who are being wooed to other jurisdictions by $7,000 signing bonuses, cars and other perks. Commission chairman Joe A. Martinez says the county’s having problems recruiting police. According to department officials, there are 29 vacancies in the 3,133-officer table of organization.
SUNK: Miami seaport director Bill Johnson’s request for $2.4 million to settle a two-year-old legal spat with construction giant Haskell Corp. was torpedoed by the county commission this week. Mr. Johnson said the company, based in Bellingham, WA, was hired about five years ago to manage several projects at the port. Delays resulted in cost overruns and feuding about who would pay, he said. His request was based on an agreement reached two years ago, he said. But commissioners Barbara Jordan and Jose "Pepe" Diaz weren’t buying the deal. They want the payout substantially reduced and kicked Mr. Johnson’s request back to the committee that approved it two weeks ago. That committee won’t meet again for several weeks.
DOGGONE: A new Animal Services Trust Fund to feed and shelter strays was created by the county commission this week with cash left over from two other accounts that were pilfered by the Miami-Dade police department. According to an Inspector General’s audit, the old Animal Control Trust Fund and the Animal Hurricane Trust Fund had combined assets of $1.5 million when the police took over animal control from the Public Works Department in 2001. By 2004, the police had spent 99.6% of the trust money, including more than $600,000 on things the Inspector General said were "questionable." The department used trust money, which was earmarked solely for animal care, to lease vehicles, hire landscapers and buy picnic tables and Bar-B-Q grills, the Inspector General found. Money was also used to cover the police department’s payroll, the audit said. Strays are now sheltered by the Animals Services Department, which was created after the police scandal.
NAME GAME: New 4-foot-by-8-foot construction site signs with public officials’ names in bigger, bolder type have been approved by the county commission. The new signs, which cost about $600 each, will gradually replace existing notices at government-financed construction projects. Officials say the new big-type version makes it easier for citizens to know who is responsible for authorizing a public works project. Hundreds of the old signs are sprinkled throughout the county.
REWARD: Miami-Dade government employees who blow the whistle on coworkers stealing the taxpayers’ cash or property will be paid up to $100,000 under a new ordinance tentatively approved by the county commission this week after a rash of corruption scandals. However, the county must recover either the money or the goods for the reward to be paid. The Internal Management & Fiscal Responsibility Committee will consider the plan sponsored by Commissioner Katy Sorenson Jan. 18.
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PROJECT PROGRESS: The Coral Gables development department is to present a status report on The Palace Group’s proposed senior living facility on Andalusia Avenue to the city commission Dec. 12 seeking a commission vote Jan. 23, said Cathy Swanson Rivenbark, director of development. Concerns with the developers’ original proposal included unit size and ratio of studio apartments to one and two bedrooms, and parking. To remedy the issues, The Palace Group signed an option to buy the Melody Inn and deed it to the city, allowing for an increase in unit size and more one- and two-bedroom apartments. Complimentary valet parking is proposed to ensure residents wouldn’t have to cross the street to park.
ART ATTRACTIONS: To lure the influx of art enthusiasts to Art Basel Miami Beach this month, Coral Gables will host its own art events, a request by local galleries to the city’s Cultural Development Board. "Cultivating a rich cultural life in Coral Gables is not only good for residents, it’s good for business and it’s good for visitors," said Cathy Swanson Rivenbark, city development director. The Dec. 10 events are designed to avoid conflict with official Art Basel goings on and include a performance art breakfast at the Venetian Pool, an open house at the Lowe Art Museum, an exhibition at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, architecture tours, art lectures and art-themed, price-fixed menus at several upscale restaurants. Details: (305) 460-5311 or www.coralgables.com.
"NOW" OPEN: The latest underground art district, NOW (North of Wynwood), launches from 7-10 tonight (12/7) with SOUL@NOW, a multimedia event marking the opening of the area’s first three art studios and galleries. NOW is designed to be a haven for artists’ warehouse studios due to affordable rents and large spaces. Local art collector Martin Margulies and Miami commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones are to host the event, which will support the Lotus House Women’s Shelter and be held at Soul Gallery, 4901 NW Seventh Ave.; Warehaus NOW, 745 NW 54th St.; and the Carolina Sardi Studio, 260 NE 60th St. Details: (786) 556-4642.
CHANGE OF GUARD: New Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is to sit on the dias for the first time Dec. 14. He was sworn in last weekend at City Hall. The former president of the Cocoanut Grove Village Council defeated incumbent Linda Haskins by about a 2-to-1 margin in a Nov. 21 runoff.
HONORING RANGE: The Virginia Key Beach Park Trust is holding a candlelight tribute to former chairperson Athalie Range at 6 p.m. Dec. 8 at 4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Virginia Key. Ms. Range, who died last month, was the city’s first black commissioner and helped create and oversee the park trust. The event is sponsored by The Range Foundation and Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. Details: www.miamigov.com
60TH B-DAY: Bal Harbour Village is celebrating its 60th anniversary of incorporation with a three-hour bash beginning at 4 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Bal Harbour Club, 10201 Collins Ave. Mayor Seymour Roth and members of the City Council will party with about 1,000 residents. Bal Harbour Shops developer Stanley Whitman will be presented with the Visionary Award during the event.