Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mayor's town hall tour takes off

Hours after announcing his new $1.2 million (and counting) senior staff, days after he proposed the elimination of 1,300 positions and cuts for the rest, and exactly one month after he was elected in a close and caustic race, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez pretty much coasted through the first town hall meeting on his hurried 2011-2012 budget with the $400 million discount.

Sure, the standing-room only crowd was mostly his friendly, hold-the-line Kendall and suburban supporters, so one would expect he would hit a homerun, even with many difficult and heart-wrenching questions that came from worried county workers (read: practically begging for their jobs). But he was much more than just visibly comfortable in his own skin. Gimenez was on his A game. He has an A game. He was funnier, much funnier, friendlier, happier, spontaneous, more confident, natural and -- dare I say it again? -- sexier. Sorry, sir. But it's that new swagger. It's how you naturally basked in the warmth of the mass well-wishing and respectfully rose to the challenges to the changes you champion. It's how you patiently and, like a public servant should, answered every single question -- there had to have been more than two dozen -- with specific details, consistency, context, authority, honesty and a frankness and openness that I've never seen in municipal government. For a new mayor, you seem to have an old hand for this, I told him after the dialogue with the community.

"Probably because I'm back at what I do best, or what I think I do best, and that's being a manager," Gimenez said. "I'm more comfortable in this role as mayor than I was as a commissioner."

And I think he's going to be much better at it if certain commissioners with aspirations of their own(read: Chairman Joe Martinez) do not put up too many roadblocks.

Ladra applauds his true and transparent public outreach -- and, yes, that was una indirecta al alcaldito Carlos Hernandez of Hialeah -- which should be the way all governments behave and bodes well for an open Gimenez administration. The mayor, photographed here talking with former mayoral candidate Gabrielle Redfern and her campaign coordinator/friend Kathi Waldhof, respectfully and politely scoffed at the suggestion that his town hall tour to at least seven and up to 11 communities -- which takes him next week to Little Haiti and (can't wait) Hialeah -- was a great start to his re-election campaign (the primary for county mayor is in 13 months). And even though that's what it felt like, especially with the three smart, pretty-boy "former" campaign staffers Ladra likes to call the G-Men (Alex Ferro, Tom Martinelli and Jeve Clayton) buzzing around, finger-punching messages into their expensive smart phones. And if they deny that they never even dreamed that this might be a chance to evaluate voter reaction and measure the mayor's likability, well then they are not as good as they think they are.

Still, the dream team went separately. Mayor Gimenez arrived alone -- he drives himself these days -- and stayed longer than he planned to, answering every single question. I repeat that because it is, in and of itself, beautiful and (unfortunately) remarkable. It is also worth mentioning that the Q&A ended took two hours, twice as long as intended. Then he stayed to talk to anyone and everyone who wanted to shake his hand and/or take a picture with him and/or, privately instead of publicly, ask the mayor if there was another place for this 11-year employee or that longtime public works man. He looked everyone in the eye, listened without rushing them, took cards (which Ladra later saw him give to one of the pretty boys) and told everybody that, while no guarantees, he or someone would follow up. He spent quite sometime with a young student from his alma mater, Christopher Columbus High (photographed here). When he left, a 15-year county employee walked with him halfway to where his car was parked. No security. No entourage. No staff. No sergeant at arms. Just this likely disgruntled employee and the mayor, who held his sports coat over his shoulder and casually chatted with no regard to his own safety. Ladra followed from an appropriate distance. It's the watchdog thing. Even though I love the honest everyman appeal of it, Ladra would feel better if he had one bodyguard (ojo, Candela). But one of the G-Men told me Gimenez hates it when they tag along. Whatever he said to the guy must have been good. "He's going to do whatever is in the best interest of everybody," said the employee, who would not tell me his name or the department he works for. "He's going to fix it." As they were walking, they stopped halfway when someone else driving a white SUV pulled up with his wife and three kids in the back seat -- coming to or from Chuck E Cheese's, probably -- and Gimenez stuck his head in the window to say hello. He even went to the back window to greet the kids and rub one's head. He was stately, elegant, kind, generous with his time and his words, almost noble, as ridiculously over-the-top as that sounds. He was the epitome of a leader, which is what everybody is really longing for.

"The antithesis of Alvarez," one Kendall resident noted.

And, while his senior staff of deputy mayors each making a quarter million has raised eyebrows and seems to mirror the mistakes that cost former county mayor Carlos Alvarez his job via recall (and is something we have to more on that later), Gimenez updated voters on the progress of his campaign promises. He cut his salary in half and commissioners' budgets as well (any leftovers of which he wants back into the general fund). He aims to bring real charter reform during one of the scheduled three elections next year -- if not through an agreeable commission then via a petition drive, he told me later. But, probably most importantly, he rolled the "Alvarez tax increase" back to the magic number of 9.7405, which equals $175 less a year for the owner of a $200,000 house, explained Budget Director Jennifer Glazer-Moon. And it was sooooo refreshing to hear her speak in straight-forward English and do the math for us. (Ladra hopes this government for the people thing is a trend. Where is the like button?).

"The people on March 15 spoke very loudly," Gimenez said. "More than anything else, the tax increase bothered the people in Miami-Dade County. Both me and my opponent said we'd go back to the 2010 rate, which is 9.7405." See? He said it again. He dreams that number.

But that $200 or so per home will mean some sacrifices, he said. The presentation seemed to highlight some details Ladra heard for the first time, including the layoff of 21 code enforcement officers and 62 fire department civilians, decreased funding for agricultural initiatives, the closing of the boot camp at the women's jail, new fees for the pick up of large dead animals ("I'm talking big, like cows and horses, which we get calls on," Moon said) and, last but certainly not least, "medical transportation fees," which sounds like another name for fire rescue or ambulance transportation fees, which have been controversial every time, deemed a danger to elderly and low-income residents who may think twice about calling 911 as well as double taxation for basic services, like a rush to the nearest hospital in the care of trained, taxpayer paid paramedics whose initial first steps basically save your life. Okay, if you can't tell, Ladra is not a big fan of unAmerican ambulance fees. More on that later, though, because people seemed to be kind of oblivious to all of those details -- well except the code enforcement layoffs; they heard that one -- and came with their questions already in mind. First, they were written submissions from the audience read by Suzie Trutie, from the county's communications department. But then Gimenez took queries from the floor.

More than 20 people lined up in the standing-room only community center (at least 150 people were there) in West Kendall and took turns asking questions -- and making suggestions. A constant stream of people seemed to feed the perpetual cue. Almost an uncomfortable number of them -- and I say that only because it was painful to hear their very authentic concern -- were county employees wanting to know, basically, if he could save their job one way or another. Some don't even know that they are on the chopping block. "There are rumors," one woman told me later. The layoffs of the nearly two dozen code enforcement officers was met with some concern. Gimenez said that would be one of the priorities to bring back when funding returned. He defended the elimination of 62 civilian positions from the fire department, saying the ratio of civilians (close to 500) to sworn personnel is 25 percent when the norm is 10. He also defended the retirement of both county fireboats, saying the service could be handled out of a waterfront station. Maybe the answers were not always what people wanted to hear, but he was honest and direct, and kind about it, and he didn't hem and haw and change his position or use a bunch of buzz words that mean nothing. He said top management was asked to provide the positions recommended for removal and that each would be evaluated individually. He also said he hoped that the bulk of the 1,300 positions could be cut from the 1,700 that are vacant, or that people who lose their jobs could transfer over to one that needs filling. But he said he did not think that everybody would stay at the end of the day. The one time he did not know the answer, he admitted the details were new to him and turned to Moon who he said did know. His natural, candid, intimate and unguarded dialogue with the audience gave him an air of honesty rare in county politics.

Yeah, okay, so Ladra is still admittedly a fan who got her Gimenez fix -- been having withdrawals since his swearing-in -- and feels vindicated about her vote. But I'm not the only groupie. Rosa Ortega got up from her seat to tell the mayor that he was "mucho mas simpatico en persona". See? I'm not the only one who noticed the swagger. One man waited in the question cue and publicly thanked God that Gimenez was elected. (Ladra already thanked the employees of Hialeah and the rebellious Republican women of the local GOP).

And, as always, I'm not forever listening to the same old hits. While still supportive in general, I'm concerned about the inner circle and am going to take up the new and improved Carlos Gimenez on this, I'll call it an invitation, to keep him honest. Okay, so maybe I will just invite myself. I don't think he has necessarily missed me, but I have certainly missed his sleepy face and the G-Men's constant attention (los interesados que son). So, Ladra thinks she's going to take a few walks downtown and sniff around in the coming weeks before September's budget hearings. Let's find out how the mayor's "top dollar" super staff will help reduce costs overall (and, really, can't you just do with the four deputies and not get that extra one, sherriff? So former State Rep. Marcelo Llorente, who came in third in the mayor's primary, can run for something else instead). Let's get details on his strategy for rolling out real reform (and, really, please don't align yourself with gypsy con artists who manipulate the process for private gain). Let's see how the details for the layoffs play out in real life. Let's see who on the dais will roll with the punches and who is going to try to punch the air out of the mayor's roll. Let's see him put our money where his mouth is and if he's really as open as he can be.

Let's see if he can really show us once and for all, like I think he will, that we elected the right guy.


  1. There is no doubt that we elected the right guy. His transparency and honesty is what we asked for and now it is here. Look at the flip side. His mayoral opponenet preached about his financial success but low and behold he actually left Hialeah Bankrupt. As for the Mayor assembling what I call the dream team, WOW again. Chip, Marquez,ETC.. That is the right call, as those people not only have experience but plans and past history of ability to fix financial blunders.

  2. You are right about the flip side, bombero (and I missed you. Welcome back!) There really was no choice. But I think that he's also proving to the nonbelievers that he was the best choice all along with or without federal investigations and absentee ballot machines and bundled contributions from shady characters and special interests. (Yes, apparently, Ladra misses Julito, too). The mayor's transparency is the same open, shoulder-shrugging, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, take-it-or-leave-it stance he mastered as a commissioner. And it is evident in everything he does (so far). Hialeah's electeds should definitely take note and take notes.
    This is how to lead and gain the public's trust.

    And the dream team's credentials and collective track record is quite impressive. There is nothing that Ladra would like more than to find economic AND emotional justification for those very qualified people's "top dollar" salaries. But that is difficult to do in a downsized economy where public servants (not public CEOs) on the street level who take home less than $35,000 a year are being asked to take still less or take their things home.

  3. An excellent positive piece on a great town hall, however, there is an elephant in the room feel here. The Mayor is getting absolutely lambasted in the Herald, forums, and a voter poll that shows 500 votes in disagreement to 50 votes agreeing or neutral. (Alvarez numbers....gulp!)

  4. Complete disregard for anything he stood for with these hirings. There is no reason to bring in any of those people, at that salary. The rumor is that Llorente will be brought in at similar wages, which would be a travesty since he has no record of work in local government and spent eight years in Tallahassee doing nothing but drinking scotch and chasing college girls.

  5. Five deputy mayors at a salary to match their talent and experience is just fine with this tax payer. There are 50 departments that are going to be turned into 25. That's 25 less Directors at 80 or 90 grand a year, do the math. He has given up 1/2 his salary and cut commisioners funds and will not allow rollovers. If he illiminates the 1700 unfilled positions to save 1300, what is wrong with that? OH and he rolled back the tax to pre-Alvarez. I think he is doing a great JOB, far better than what Robaina could have done. Look at the mess in Hialeah and the cities council they don't even know when an agenda is written incorrectly. What's up with that? I guess Julito didn't hang with very bright people.

  6. I don't understand how you can tell your workforce that you will furlough them without pay for one day out of twelve (that's what 30 days means -- a month's salary) and expect them to make the car and house payments or child support. It has to add to graft and low morale.

    We elected the less bad guy, but let's not get carried away thinking that just because he's personally honest and decent that makes what he is doing OK, or that he's the next JFK.

    When we start balancing the books on the backs of some of the big firms that get the big contracts by buying influence -- will they take an 8% haircut across the board? Not Likely. -- instead of on the back of workers, many of whom are not paid anywhere near the guys who part of the inner circle.

    Get a grip Ladra.

  7. Focusing on the positive is not a bad thing.Gimenez has been in office for one month and has already made positive impacts, moving forward he will have to make the tough decisions that never go hand in hand with popularity. I agree it is pathetic that some Cities (Miami) is attempting to balance the budget on the public servant's back, it's time for others to come in and change the leadership as we have done in Dade County. I feel he deserves the oportunity to show this community that his plan to streamline government and reduce the governments budget is a posibility. Throwing out negative opinions this early in the administration shows only how impatient we seem to be towards politicians. Remember his area of expertise is being a manager, and no one ever likes it when their manager changes the job description of employees.

  8. Wayne Rosen will make millions will Gimenez . Follow his moves

  9. Michael, thank you for being my conscience. I do believe I was a bit over the top with the mayorly love. But I was so excited and happy to see him relaxed and confident and getting into his groove, like the mayor we all knew he could be (and, remember, I called it first).

    But, if I wasn't clear, I am concerned about the Alvarez-like inner circle salaries and aim to be a pest to Gimenez for the first time in a long time this coming week as I hound him and his G-Men for a guided tour of the flowchart that shows how this $1.2 million super-staff is going to produce savings worth their weight in paystubs. Don't tell me, Mayor. Show me.

    I am giving him the benefit of the doubt because he deserves it because he has been forthcoming and transparent about everthing and knows more about this type of thing than I do. But show me. I am giving him time to let the changes shift because -- like I knew the libraries were not going to close... this is classic media crisis management, people: tell them the worst case secnario and then any news is good news -- I do not think what has been described so far in proposal stages will be part of the end result. Because if I cannot be shown why this makes sense, I am willing to bet that Gimenez can be talked into scaling his plans back. He is not an unreasonable man.

    Want someone else to blame for the current clash between taxpayers and public servants and the politicians gaining from it? Look at Norman Braman (more on that later).

    And Wayne Rosen is on the radar. Check. Thank you.

  10. He won the elections and we need to give time to the new Miami-Dade County Mayor to manover. I liked 95% of his move so far and the other 5% we will see. He have 13 months to prove his administration and the cost and benefits for the residents.I'm wishing him well because he is a decent,honest and family man.Hoping that be able to bring the County to higher standing.Candela dice.

  11. @ Michael - you are confusing the City of Miami (30 days furlough) with the county.

  12. Ladies and gentlemen.... He is the INTERIM MAYOR, he is just holding this seat til 2012. The voters voted for the lesser of 2 evils.

    The more time that goes by, the more and more the INTERIM MAYOR looks like Alvarez. If you thought alvarez wa bad, BEWARE, the INTERIM MAYOR is even worse.

    Telling employees to cut their salaries, while hiring not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4 but 5 deputy mayors making well over $200k. This is Alvarez x's 5

  13. Doesn't Michael Froomkin claim to be a knowledgeable law professor? Than why doesnt he know that Gimenez is not proposing furloughs for county employees? Froomkin is confusing the Miami-Dade County government with the City of Miami government - a very big difference.

    God help the law students who take his classes!

  14. With everything going on in the Global and National economies, inflation hikes could cause many municipalities and counties to hit the rails. This is a time for extreme caution and conservative measures. I am hopeful that many county workers can be deployed to other positions when jobs are eliminated. My heart goes out to them. This is going to be a tough season, for sure.

  15. I must say, I am very shocked that our New Mayor is hiring (5) FIVE Deputy Mayors, all making well over $220,000.00 plus benefits - While forgetting that "Rank and File" employees took a 12% cut, only to get back a 3% and now the Mayor is asking them to take an additional 5% towards medical that makes 10% plus give back the 3% raise plus freeze another 12% in benefits - do the math!
    These employees make anywhere between $22,000.00 to $90,000.00 - what happened to scaling? As a Commissioner, Our New Mayor was the FIRST to Champion for that??
    What happened to getting ride of all the Top heaviness? He has not! But as a Commissioner he championed for that.

    While I do try to give him all the benefit and I did vote for him, I am not impressed, as he is doing the same as Alvarez and frankly he is
    balancing the budget off the lower paid employees which is not fair - "then again, life is not fair, he just proved that again!

    I am quite disappointed that he is playing off the political seen, behind the "Rollback" taxes but continues to do the same in County Hall.


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