Written by Miami Today on March 20, 2008
Miami is a weekly feature of Miami Today, keeping readers ahead
of the news. Here are highlights from the most current edition.
EXTENDED BENEFITS: As Miami-Dade County considers extending employee benefits to unmarried heterosexual and gay and lesbian couples, a second proposal would extend the same benefits to others who are dependent on county employees. Those would include grandparents, grandchildren, first cousins, nieces, companions and others. The second proposal, by Jose "Pepe" Diaz, was approved on initial consideration Tuesday 8-3. "In situations where household members are dependent upon each other for shelter, food and healthcare, they should be treated as immediate family members," Commissioner Diaz said. The Economic Development and Human Services Committee is to consider the proposal April 16, while holding a hearing at the same meeting on the domestic partner benefits. Both proposals require commission approval to take effect.
CRANE LAW ADVANCES: An ordinance to regulate installation and safety of construction cranes in Miami-Dade County passed Tuesday 12-0. It allows for shutting down construction sites if violations are found and for certification and testing of crane operators. The ordinance is "the result of two years of hard work," said Commissioner Audrey M. Edmonson, who led a committee of industry officials and others who helped craft the ordinance. "Last Saturday was a reminder of the importance of this legislation," said Commissioner Dennis C. Moss, alluding to a New York City accident in which a crane fell into a building, killing seven people. The ordinance will become law this year unless vetoed within 10 days by Mayor Carlos Alvarez. But the certification and testing of crane operators wouldn’t begin until 2011, to allow time to translate the test into several languages.
SUE AND BE BANNED: Anyone who has a pending lawsuit against Miami-Dade County can’t serve on any county board. Commissioners voted 9-3 Tuesday to ban any person who has pending litigation against the county from serving on any Miami-Dade advisory board. Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, one of the sponsors, said the ban serves the county’s best interests. Commissioner Carlos Gimenez opposed the ban. "I’m having a problem with this," he said. "This board can remove a person on a case-by-case basis."
ROLLING NORTH: Miami-Dade Transit will host a meeting at 7 p.m. March 27 to discuss the North Corridor Metrorail Expansion project. The meeting will be at the William and Joan Lehman Theater, building 500, at Miami-Dade College North Campus, 11380 NW 27th Ave. The plan calls for 9.5 miles of rail to the Broward County line along Northwest 27th Avenue.
4,873 SEEK PORTABILITY: The Miami-Dade Property Appraisal Department said 4,873 homeowners applied for new portability benefits approved in a January statewide vote that allows homestead homeowners to transfer up to $500,000 untaxed from one home to the next in state. Appraiser Marcus Saiz de la Mora said he expects more applications postmarked before the March 3 deadline to arrive. He said homeowners who missed the deadline could file a late application and pay a $15 fee to the county’s Value Adjustment Board. Details: (305) 375-4789 or www.miamidade.gov/pa.
DONATION SHOWDOWN: A local non-profit agency in need of a boost is to get it from City of Miami commissioners — and their county counterparts are getting an earful because of it. Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess this month denied City Manager Pete Hernandez’s request for $94,000 to help Action Community Center Inc., which provides transportation services to the elderly and handicapped in areas of the county. Mr. Burgess noted all community based organization budgets were reduced this year and advised Mr. Hernandez to seek grants. City Commissioner Angel González lamented that, though the county managed to broker the $3 billion "super deal" with the city, "they don’t have $80,000 to provide transportation for the senior citizens of this county, some of which are even disabled." He called the county "very insensitive… all they care about is big business deals." Residents need to know, he said, "we are supporting them, but the other counterpart of the government is not supporting them." He and commissioners Tomás Regalado, Joe Sanchez and Marc Sarnoff offered to donate $10,000 each from their office accounts. Mr. Regalado said each county commissioner has a $2 million discretionary fund from which they could donate. A county spokesperson confirmed the existence of the accounts but said each is $300,000.
PARK PASSAGE: After lengthy January discussion and protests over paying Museum Park consultants Cooper Robertson more than $80,000 extra for a study of the proposed new art and science museums’ impact on the nearby performing arts center, Miami commissioners last week OK’d the payoff without a word of discussion. They also approved the firm’s master plan for the park, lauding it for fulfilling taxpayers’ suggestions and coming in cheaper than they thought: $40 million-$45 million, down from $60 million. Miami and Miami-Dade County’s Global Agreement calls for $68 million in redevelopment dollars toward a revamp of the park. But first, the community redevelopment agency that would supply the money would need to be extended to cover the park area. A study is pending.
DOWNTOWN DIRECTORS: Miami Downtown Development Authority board members unanimously confirmed the appointments of Alyce Robertson and Meredith Nation as interim director and deputy director of the authority, respectively. Ms. Robertson, currently community image manager for Miami-Dade County, receives about $191,975 in salary and benefits annually. The authority is to reimburse the county for the time she serves, probably six to eight months. Ms. Nation, contracts manager in the Department of Capital Improvement Projects for the City of Miami, is to be a loaned executive. Start dates for both are to be determined. Former executive director Dana Nottingham resigned in January.
PRETTY CITY: The City of Miami and the Downtown Development Authority have begun street improvements downtown to better their condition, beautify the area and enhance its economic vitality. Cracked and broken sidewalks are to be replaced, as are pedestrian ramps; selected streets are to be resurfaced; landscaping is to be improved; and lighting is to be installed. Construction, which runs from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday-Friday, is to last until June 1.
THE OTHER SIDE: After last month hearing from Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who touted his downtown mega-plan, members of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s New World Center Committee are to listen to the opposition: auto magnate and outspoken plan rival Norman Braman. He is to address the committee March 26 in a program titled "Observations on Downtown and Beyond." Registration begins 11:30 a.m., lunch and the program at noon. 1601 Biscayne Blvd., Ballroom Level.
CONVENTION TAX INCOME UP: Miami-Dade Convention Development tax revenues rose 8.1% in January over January 2007, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. Collections rose to more than $5.1 million this year, compared to $4.7 million last year, the bureau said. The money supports and maintains public facilities such as the convention center, arenas and auditoriums.
LAW FIRM CHINA BOUND: Miami law firm Diaz & Reus LLP says it will open an office in Shanghai, the People’s Republic of China, on Sept. 1. Attorney Adam Ehrlich, whose experience includes working with two Shanghai-based firms, was named to head the office. Diaz & Reus also has offices in Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
NEW PRESIDENTS: Two local banks have named new presidents to preside over their Miami-Dade operations. CNLBank has tapped Raul G. Valdes-Fauli to be president and CEO of its Miami-Dade County region. Mr. Valdes-Fauli was most recently president and CEO of Colonial Bank’s commercial banking in the Miami-Dade County region. His position at CNLBank is newly created and involves building the bank’s brand and growing market share in South Florida. CNLBank is a $1.4 billion, state-chartered commercial bank with offices in Orlando, Jacksonville, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Naples. Mr. Valdes-Fauli’s office is to be at One Alhambra Plaza in Coral Gables, the bank’s recently announced new location.
BANKATLANTIC: Chuck Mohr is to be president of BankAtlantic’s Miami-Dade and Broward branches, a total of 51 stores. He will be responsible for overseeing the customer service, sales, strategies, personnel and overall operations. Mr. Mohr joined BankAtlantic in 2000 and was most recently director of in-field operations. BankAtlantic has more than $6 billion in assets and more than 100 branches.
SPENDING REFERENDUM SPENT: An ordinance that would have required voter approval for spending $25 million or more on construction of public improvements was rejected Tuesday by the Miami-Dade County Commission. The proposal by Javier D. Souto failed when no other commissioner acted to move the matter for a vote. The proposal on a countywide referendum would not have applied to projects designed to protect residents from immediate danger or preserve public health or safety.
PRESIDENTIAL RECOGNITION: Vicki Simmons-Hinz, a partner with the accounting firm of Berenfeld Spritzer Shechter & Sheer LLP, has received a President’s Volunteer Service Award in recognition of her leadership in causes that advance the role of women in the workforce and the community. The award was formally presented at the Trustees Luncheon of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce this month. The award was created by President Bush in 2003. Its recipients are designated by the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation. Ms. Simmons-Hinz is past president of the PACE Center for Girls, an educational facility for at-risk young women who entered the juvenile justice system in Miami-Dade County. She also has served as treasurer of the Women’s Alliance, a national organization of independent community-based members who provide professional attire, career skills training and related services to low-income women seeking employment.
AIRPORT POLICE/FIRE STATION: Opening a mini-police and fire station at Miami International Airport would cost Miami-Dade County $713,994 a year. The county already provides the services at the airport. The station would provide personnel a workstation in Concourse F. "If a victim needs to be interviewed, law enforcement assistance is sought, or a subject is temporarily detained, the workstation can be effectively used without having to travel to the full-service police station," said a report submitted to the county commission Airport and Tourism Committee on March 13. The report said refurbishing an area on the concourse for the workstation would cost $14,200. Whether the county proceeds depends on the county commission.
RUSTY OLD TUB HONORED: The USS Mohawk, which former City Manager Joe Arriola called "a piece of crap" and a "rusty old tub" after turning down the opportunity to host it as a maritime museum, has received the Award of Excellence in Restoration by the Historic Florida Keys Foundation. The World War II-era Coast Guard frigate is based now in Key West. The award commended it for its "awareness of the unique character of the Florida Keys treasury of architecture and its significance to America’s built environment." It recognized also the historic preservation efforts that went into restoring the ship.