Coral Gables City Commissioners own up to faults, discuss future
By Jacquelyn Weiner
Coral Gables city commissioners are owning up to their faults.
"We are at a high level of dysfunction as a commission," said Commissioner Maria Anderson. "I'm saddened right now at the state of affairs."
Admitting what they've done wrong and looking to the future seemed to be the theme Monday at a special commission workshop called by Mayor Don Slesnick.
The workshop was informal. No voting or other official action was allowed.
What began as a seemingly straightforward, state-of-the-city session took a quick turn as Commissioner Rafael "Ralph" Cabrera Jr. took his seat a few minutes after the meeting began.
Mr. Cabrera quickly piped up, commenting that an 11-page packet on "Accomplishments & Future Challenges" handed out at the workshop was glorifying a city government that is frankly having some problems.
"Let's just face it, we have the city manager being investigated for possible falsifying documents," Vice Mayor William H. Kerdyk Jr. said.
Other issues Mr. Kerdyk cited included an investigation of the city's Building and Zoning Department, several lost labor cases, the closing of the city-owned Country Club of Coral Gables and the city's issues with whittling down pension payments.
"Not one thing seems to be accomplished," Mr. Kerdyk said. It's time, he said, that the city acknowledges its problems, deals with them and moves forward.
Looking toward the future, the commission discussed revamping the management team, including what to do in the event a new city manager must be found.
City Manager David L. Brown is under investigation by the state attorney's office for possible mismanagement, which includes backdating of receipts. He has not been charged with a crime.
As the investigation is "no secret," whether Mr. Brown will keep his post will depend on the consensus of the commissioners and the results of the investigation, Mayor Slesnick said.
"We'll see how that goes," Mr. Slesnick said.
Regardless, the commission discussed what could be the best way for the city to potentially seek out a new manager as Mr. Brown listened in silence.
"We do need to have a candid discussion when the time comes whether we want an interim and whether that interim will be internal or external," Mr. Slesnick said.
Commissioner Cabrera said that if there is an interim manager, the permanent position should be filled by someone else.
"It makes it difficult for outsiders to feel like they have a credible opportunity for being hired," Mr. Cabrera said. "It's not a level playing field."
Mr. Brown did assure commissioners that if he does leave before his designated retirement date, he will give them ample notice to allow the city to find a replacement and spare the commissioners "any heartaches."
The city manager issue was part of a larger discussion on reshaping management.
"Some senior staff are approaching the end of their service with the city," Mr. Slesnick said. "It's wise for us to start planning."
Upcoming drop dates, which mark the end of the employees' elected deferred retirement option, include that of Automotive Director Clive Cork on Jan. 30, 2009; Assistant Police Chief Ana Baixauli on June 30, 2009; and City Manager Brown on April 30, 2011.
Nine city employees have set retirement dates between 2009 and 2013, although employees can retire before that date.
Also discussed was the continuation of Coral Gables events after a Gables Fourth celebration of Independence Day was cancelled this year, potential changes in city annexation and reform of the city's $23 million pension costs.
"The future of the city in part relies on us resolving the pension issue," Mr. Slesnick said. "The fact of the matter is that we're going to have to work a lot with all the unions if we're going to get this done."
The possibility of the city switching to an executive mayor form of government remains a topic to be discussed. Mr. Slesnick said in advance of Monday's meeting that he might bring the issue up, but the meeting ran late so discussion was delayed until a future time.
Also on future agendas: possible elimination of trial boards for decisions involving city employees and adding a chief financial officer to government staff.
"There's quite a diversity of opinion on the commission, but at least it was out there; it was said," Mr. Slesnick said.
"We never get a chance to talk like we did yesterday," Mr. Slesnick said Tuesday, reflecting on the meeting. "That's what it was for."