Written by Miami Today on December 28, 2006
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THE CHAIR MAN: Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno A. Barreiro, who moves into The Office of the Chair on Monday, may be discovering his new digs are aptly named. Last week, Mr. Barreiro spent a chunk of time sweating over seating arrangements on the commission chamber’s dais and polling his colleagues to see if they want new chairs. Commissioner Audrey Edmondson has the worst seat in the house – at the extreme end of the U-shaped dais near the official stenographer – and wants out. The problem: No one else wants to sit there. The spot is so noisy and so far from the action, it’s traditionally given to the least-senior commissioner. That means every current official, including Mr. Barreiro, has sat there and is loathe to return. In fact, outgoing chairman Joe A. Martinez jokingly begged Mr. Barreiro not to put him back in the hot seat. So far, Mr. Barreiro is sitting on both matters. He hasn’t announced if the commission will buy replacements for its 21-year-old seats – or play musical chairs.
TRADING PLACES: The Miami-Dade County Commission last week lifted residency requirements for The Jay Malina International Trade Consortium’s board of directors as part of a reorganization that gave the US Department of Commerce’s seat to Florida Free Trade Area of the Americas Inc. Consortium executive director Tony Ojeda said residency rules were changed to let people who own local businesses serve on the board even if they don’t live in the county. He said the seat swap was designed to streamline operations since the federal agency’s representative rarely attended board meetings.
BURYING THE AXE: Political powerhouses Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas kissed and made up, literally, at a special meeting of the Miami-Dade County Commission last week. The two have been bickering over a variety of issues. But the bad blood came to a full boil three weeks ago when Mr. Alvarez put his muscle behind an effort to recall the District 13 representative after she introduced a law that would’ve slashed his pay 50% or more. Ms. Seijas withdrew her proposed pay cut – and went on to win a Dec. 19 election to retain her seat. Flush with success, she extended the mayor a public olive branch at the special meeting. He accepted by walking onto the commission dais, where they embraced and bussed each other on the cheek.
NO WIN: Miami-Dade Aviation director José Abreu has learned, yet again, that you can’t please ’em all. During a recent committee meeting, County Commissioner Sally Heyman twisted Mr. Abreu’s tail over his plan to ease financial pressures at Miami International Airport by cutting 20% of the workforce during the next five years. Although Ms. Heyman wants to control costs, she said layoffs aren’t the way to do it. She fears job cuts would hurt employees, the county’s economy and airport efficiency. Ms. Heyman told Mr. Abreu to slash overtime, not jobs. But a heartbeat later, Commissioner Katy Sorenson told Mr. Abreu layoffs were a good move. She said many airport jobs were created as "make-work programs and to serve as a political dumping ground." She told him to "decide who’s needed," then wield his axe. Mr. Abreu said most staff reductions will be caused by attrition, not firing. That made Ms. Heyman happier – for the moment at least.
RIP OFF: Miami-Dade businessmen and residents who fear they were victimized by scam artists who bought bogus contractors’ licenses from crooked county employees can check their builders’ credentials at a special Web site and 3-1-1 Call Answer Center created by County Manager George Burgess. The Web site contains a streamlined form for filing an online complaint against a contractor, the manager said. Details: www.miamidade.gov/contractors/contractors-list.asp or by dialing 311 from anywhere in Miami-Dade County.
STRAIGHT TALK: A law renaming Miami-Dade’s occupational license certificates as Local Business Tax Receipts was adopted by the county commission last week and sent to the mayor for his signature. County Manager George Burgess says the change was mandated by new state statutes designed to prevent con artists who paid what was in essence a business tax from using the old certificates to support claims they were licensed by the government. Mr. Burgess said the local law also streamlines the application process, cuts the number of eligible business categories from 339 to 150 and tweaks certificate fees. The new law raises fees for some businesses and cuts them for others, he said. Mr. Burgess said the change won’t generate new revenue for the county, which collects about $17 million a year from the tax. That money is used to help fund economic development efforts, including the Beacon Council development organization, and pay for administrative costs, he said.
STALLED: A law to create a special zoning loophole so businesses could slap gigantic murals and billboards on buildings in downtown Miami was yanked off the county commission’s agenda last week and sent back to committee for more study. The measure, proposed by Commissioner Bruno A. Barreiro and supported by Miami city officials, would allow massive murals and billboards in an area bounded by Interstate 95, Biscayne Boulevard, Northeast 15th Street and the Miami River. A plan by Indiana-based Maefield Development to put a 90-foot-tall electronic billboard on a proposed retail center across from the new Carnival Center for the Performing Arts sparked the pending zoning change, which is now scheduled for a Feb. 13 hearing before the infrastructure and land-use committee. Current law prohibits this type of sign.
DONE DEAL: Doral wireless giant Brightstar Corp. won a $104,000 tax break from the Miami-Dade County Commission last week. Brightstar will use the tax rebate, which is spread over five years, to help offset the cost of building a $4.5 million addition to its corporate headquarters. Expanding the facility allows the company to add 104 permanent jobs, county officials say. In September, Brightstar announced it exceeded $3 billion in revenue during the past 12 months.
BUILDING BUSINESS: Miami-Dade’s Business Development Department is holding a special seminar to teach small builders how to qualify for surety bonds – special insurance that guarantees a project will be completed even if the contractor goes belly-up – at 4 p.m. Jan. 11 in its offices at 111 NW First St., Miami. A county spokesman said surety bonds are required for many government projects but small construction companies frequently lack management techniques and credit ratings needed to qualify. The program will help firms address those issues, the spokesman said. Business owners must register for the class by Jan. 5. Details: (305) 375-3135.
DATA CENTER OPENING: The Metropolitan Center at Florida Intentional University is opening a data center to provide the latest statistical information about its projects. The center issues reports using information from such sources as the US Census Bureau, RealQuest and the US Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The goal is to make valuable information available to key decision makers who deal in economic development, land use, housing and other issues.
IN TOP 500: Three area hotels made Travel + Leisure magazine’s list of the world’s 500 best – Mandarin Oriental Miami (www.mandarianoriengal.com), Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne (www.ritzcarlton.com) and Tides South Beach (www.tidesouthbeach.com). The list, compiled by the magazine’s editors and reporters, is in the Jan. 7 issue.
COLLEGE FUNDRAISER: Glenn Kaufhold takes over Tuesday as executive director of the Miami Dade College Foundation, where he will oversee fundraising, alumni relations and donor cultivation. He previously served in management positions at the Medical Foundation of Boston, Fenway Community Health and Boston University. He replaced Sam Gentry, now executive director of the American Welding Society.
CITY DEVELOPMENT HUDDLE: Developers or contractors interested in redeveloping Miami-owned land in Liberty City to create affordable housing can attend a Department of Community Development workshop at 10 a.m. Jan. 4 at the Miami Riverside Center, 444 SW Second Ave. The workshop is a pre-proposal event for those responding to the city’s request for proposal to build mixed-use affordable housing or any other affordable housing consistent with the site’s zoning. Deadline for proposals is 2 p.m. Jan. 19. Details: www.miamigov.com/communitydevelopment/pages/rfq.
PIECE OF THE RITZ: The Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences, South Beach is now selling its 45 fractional ownership units. Scheduled for occupancy in 2009, the fractional residences will be in the former oceanfront Seville Beach Hotel building, which will undergo a historic restoration, at 2901 Collins Ave. Each one-, two- or three-bedroom club residence entitles members to a one-twelfth deeded interest at costs ranging from the $100,000s to $500,000. Details: www.ritzcarltonrealestate.com.
CITY ADDS ATTORNEYS: Miami has hired two assistant city attorneys this month to work in the office of City Attorney Jorge Fernandez. Kevin Jones, a former assistant state attorney for the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office, will focus on tort litigation and handle the Civil Service Board. Manuel Garcia, a former White House clerk, will work on code enforcement appeals and serve as counsel to the city’s Virginia Key and Bayfront Park management trusts.