Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gables goodbye on public dime?

A lavish goodbye party for outgoing Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick is being planned by his wife, two current and one former commissioner and a slew of supporters -- including a few city employees who are reportedly working on details from City Hall.

According to a couple of those planners, Coral Gables City Manager Patrick Salerno instructed the communications director, Maria Rosa Higgins Fallon, to produce a slide show for the "reception" at the swanky Biltmore Hotel, which still owes millions in back rent to the city. Maybe that's why Finance Director Don Nelson is also reportedly working on the bash. One of the planners says the Biltmore is charging $5,000 for the three-hour affair, 6-9 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8. (Does anyone know if that's a discount?) Bacardi, we understand, is providing the booze. And here we took Slesnick for a gin guy.

But, apparently, this is to be a very extravagant affair. Because former Gables first lady Jeanett Slesnick and PR and political consultlette Irela Bague -- who are printing a program with ads to underwrite costs -- have been practically begging people to either be or find them a $5,000 "grand benefactor" sponsor, or $1,000 "gold" sponsors and $500 "silver" sponsors (whose contributions are said to host city employees and students who can't afford the $100 tickets). In addition to the full page tribute ad in the program, the grand benefactor gets to boast that "I admire Mayor Don Slesnick and all he's done for our City and support his vision for its future," according to registration forms. In addition to the program (gold sponsors also get full page ads and silver sponsors get half pages), their names will also be put up on easels around the ballroom.

How tacky. No wonder only about 40 people have bought the $100 tickets so far.

But, wait. There's more. Everyone gets a "tribute ad" in the program. And, if you act now, names also go on plaques in the lobbies of the Coral Gables Museum, Actor's Playhouse and the Coral Gables Cinemateque, all of which are listed as beneficiaries of this event (and all of which pay rent to the city, so there's the justification for employee time. They are protecting their revenue streams.) It also adds values to the sponsor benefits. So, honor Slesnick not just for his 10 years as mayor to the City Beautiful, but also because it gets you a spot in all three of the city's cultural landmarks.

If they really want to sell tickets, they should add some free parking benefits.

Commissioner Ralph Cabrera, one of the chairpeople for the event, said Wednesday he had not sold one. "I am doing the roast with Chip.l t's not my job to sell tickets. I haven't sent out one invitation," he said.

But it was his idea to begin with. It ocurred to "Commissioner Dad" after he ditched the fete (one of his kids had a thing) for outgoing 20-year Commissioner Wayne "Chip" Withers at the museum in late April.

"I found it strange that Chip had an event and he didn't, Cabrera told Ladra, adding that he calles his former colleague and told him so. "He said Chip and I were the only ones who said anything about that." Later, Jeanett Slesnick called him and suggested the two host something for her husband.

"Then it just took off. It mushroomed," Cabrera said.

Others, including some among the planners and hosts, have said it is "over the top"and jokingly call it a "coronation" rather than a reception.

Bague said the people supporting the event are doing so because of Slesnick's dedication to the city. "We love him. He was a great mayor and it was a very abrupt departure," Bague said. "We just feel that a nice going away party for Don's 10 years of service was due."

The $100 ticket price (Chip's shindig cost $30 a pop) are to raise moneys for the non profits and because of location, location, location. "It costs more to have this at the Biltmore," said Jeanett Slesnick, a realtor who chose the venue. It also happens to be one of her husband's favorite places. "Both our kids' wedding parties were here. I'm here for events at least twice a week. It's the only place in town except the country club that can fit that many people." How many people? "Chip got 100 people at his so we expect at least that many, maybe 150," Jeanett Slesnick said. Is she being competitive?

While Higgins told Ladra that the city was doing nothing and that the chairpersons (also included is Commissioner Billy Kerdyk) were doing all the organizing (yeah, right), Cabrera said he and Withers were working on the roast portion and nothing else. He said he did contact Historic Preservation Director Dona Spain about using the city's equipment for their power point presentation. And that he had made Spain and Nelson, who had worked on the Withers reception, "city liaisons" for the event.

"From what I understand, the general employes, the fire and police unions were all giving toward the event and maybe they can be the liason," Cabrera said. "And to see if there are employees who want to go because they may not be able to afford to go."

Can anyone say "shakedown"?

Many say Salerno did plan Withers' goodbye party at the Museum and that both Nelson and Spain also worked on the details -- like maybe the slide show at that party. (Ladra has asked for public documents to determine how much taxpayer time and dime went into the parties). But while some city staffers confirmed to Ladra that they did spend city time on Withers reception in late April, most said they had no involvement in the Slesnick soiree. One longtime secretary did not even know about it. Another worker mentioned that it was likely that Withers' was an official city event because he retired while Slesnick lost his bid for re-election.

Which begs the question: What does Mayor Jim Cason think about all the work on Slesnick's social? And is he going?

And will he take pictures for us and report from the scene?

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