Written by Miami Today on February 12, 2009
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YOUR CHANCE TO PLAY: The public can speak at the meeting Friday at which Miami-Dade commissioners are to vote on a stadium for the Florida Marlins, Chairman Dennis Moss announced Tuesday. The meeting is to begin 1 p.m. in the County Commission chambers, 111 NW First St. downtown. Speakers must register at a designated table in County Hall by 12:45 p.m. Signs are to point the way.
NO MERIT: A pending appeal by civic leader Norman Braman, who is suing over the stadium deal, is unlikely to succeed, county attorneys and bond counsel say. He essentially struck out in court this summer. Bond counsels have issued a draft "no merit opinion" to be distributed to bond raters and potential buyers. The "trial court correctly decided the claims raised and that the litigation filed by the plaintiffs is without merit," it says. The opinion is meant to raise to marketplace players a "red flag that there is some pending litigation," Assistant County Attorney Gerald Heffernan said. It won’t be delivered until stadium bonds are sold, potentially late spring. Bond counsels are to review the law and the appeal again to make sure nothing’s changed by then, he said. But now, Mr. Heffernan said, "we believe that the likelihood of success by the appellate is remote." The draft document from the bond counsel notes that "our opinion is expressly conditioned upon the county rendering a similar independent, written opinion regarding the lack of merit of the litigation."
INCLUDE MINORITIES: The Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce will not support the ballpark deal unless it includes a 15% minority participation requirement, President and CEO Bill Diggs said. "Nowhere within the documents do they list and discuss minority participation goals" using specific numbers, he said. "My concern is to make sure that they do." After a conference call with Marlins President David Samson Tuesday, Mr. Diggs said "we are making some progress." Mr. Samson "didn’t say no, he didn’t say yes" to the 15% request, but "they are taking a look at it," Mr. Diggs said. Hunt Construction Group, the contractor the Marlins selected for the job, has done it before, Mr. Diggs said, following a contract in Indiana requiring 15% minority participation and 5% women-owned business participation — and surpassing those goals. "Best effort language does not help to make sure there’s a real requirement for the inclusion of black-owned business, much less minorities," Mr. Diggs said. A hitch: circuit court here outlawed specifying set-asides for racial minorities and gender.
SAVE THE FEES: Counties statewide and all local municipalities should speak out against a proposed state senate bill that calls for a three-year ban on local governments imposing or collecting impact fees, Miami-Dade commissioners said at a Budget, Planning & Sustainability Committee meeting Tuesday. Builders pay the fees to help governments absorb the impact of their projects. "This is just an enormous hit for local governments to absolutely suspend impact fees and collecting them… that directly will affect our services," Commissioner Sally Heyman said. Chimed in Joe Martinez, "I look at this as another unfunded mandate they’re [the state] going to pull on us." He added that "savings probably will not be passed on to the homebuyers or anything to that effect." If passed, a moratorium on impact fees would cost the county close to $120 million over the three years, budget chief Jennifer Glazer-Moon said.
SALARY FREEZE: Miami City Manager Pete Hernandez is to discuss a salary freeze for executive-level employees at today’s (2/12) city commission meeting. Last month, commissioners discussed whether to freeze future raises of non-union city employees as budget cuts loom for next year. Mr. Hernandez said he was concerned with any unintended consequences a freeze could cause on lower-paid and temporary employees. But after further review, he said, he understood commissioners intended the freeze for top-level city officials and said he would support it.
TOURISM DROP: The global recession is taking its toll on tourism here, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau Chief William Talbert III told Miami-Dade commissioners at a Recreation, Culture & Tourism Committee meeting Monday. "Tourism is down going forward," he said. "There’s a global recession, that’s no secret." Miami’s international draw acted as a buffer when the recession was contained on the US, he said, but "no one in the world is resistant to a global recession." Miami-Dade last month rated second in hotel occupancy behind Hawaii and third in average daily rates behind New York and Washington, DC, he said, "but the raw numbers are down." The bureau has tightened its belt internally, he added, but is not pulling out of any markets in promoting the county. Miami-Dade is still drawing visitors who spend here — just fewer of them. "How are we doing relative to others? We’re doing good," he said. "But overall, business is down, no surprise."
STATE OF THE COUNTY: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez acknowledged economic challenges but voiced confidence in local governments and residents during his State of the County address Tuesday at The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater. "Business as usual doesn’t work in hard times," he said, pointing to county stimulus efforts such as new processes to expedite capital projects through which "nearly $300 million of infrastructure work has been expedited." He lauded the county’s general obligation bond program, the completed Miami River dredging project, success at Miami International Airport, a homeownership surtax program and the new Amazon & Beyond Exhibit at Metrozoo among recent accomplishments. Still to tackle: transit, he said. "I think I can speak for the majority of the commission when I say that one of our top priorities is implementing a workable plan that provides for a first-class transit system that serves the people who need it most as soon as possible."
TOGETHERNESS: Seeking to end long-time frictions between the business community and county hall, new Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Dennis Moss came to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce monthly lunch last week with a quickly-accepted olive branch. He called for quarterly meetings between the commission and not only the chamber but also the Beacon Council and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau to learn what issues are important to business. Both the Beacon Council and the chamber leaped at the idea. "Any time this community has achieved greatness it has done so" through cooperation, said chamber Chairman Carlos Fernandez-Guzman. "We’ll be there to help in any way we can and to share with you what we think is important." And Frank Nero, Beacon Council CEO, plans to bring the commission an employment analysis every month.
DOUBLE PLAY: When it votes Friday on whether to build a baseball stadium now or expand convention facilities here to boost the visitor industry, the county commission won’t be facing a guns-or-butter choice, Mr. Moss told chamber members. "I believe that we can do both and we should do both." But, he stressed, he’s not yet certain that the stadium deal is right. "The devil is in the details."
BUSINESS BANKING BOSS: Colonial Bank has named Iwan Mohamed business- banking manager for South Florida. The division is compromised of seven bankers stretching from St. Lucie to Miami-Dade County who focus on businesses with up to $5 million in annual revenue, offering commercial loans including lines of credit, term loans and commercial mortgages. The bank has 24 offices in Miami-Dade. Mr. Mohamed, who received a bachelor’s degree in finance from Florida International University, served as vice president, relationship manager in real estate and middle market lending for CNL Bank in Boca Raton.
SO LONG, SWISS ACCOUNT: The Florida International Bankers Association will host the ninth annual Anti-Money Laundering Conference Feb. 19-20 at the InterContinental Hotel Miami. "The international banking business has been designates as high risk by the US government," said Ramon Usategui, association president and head of private banking for Coral Gables-based BankUnited. Because of that, he said the association calls this conference yearly to mediate concerns and lawmaking between such enforcement agencies as the FBI and IRS and the international banking community. He said nearly 1,000 participants from four continents are to attend to discuss such hot-button issues as parallel markets, trade finance and US tax evasion. Details: www.antimoneylaundering-fiba.com.
PERMANENT: Charles Scurr, interim executive director of the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust since December, has been named the official executive director of the body, which oversees spending of the half-cent transit surtax voters approved in 2002.