News, Politics

City Commission Moves Forward on Key Issues

The Miami City Commission met yesterday for the second time in 2024, and the picture of how this new commission is likely to behave in the coming months started coming into clearer focus. With the addition of Miguel Gabela (District 1) and Damian Pardo (District 2), the dynamic has shifted noticeably. A tone of civility and respect prevailed yesterday even when the commissioners disagreed strongly on specific points, which is likely to be a persistent theme. At the Jan. 11 meeting, Commissioners Carollo and Gabela argued so vehemently that a city staffer had to physically separate them. There was no such outburst yesterday. Due to a personal emergency, Commissioner Carollo had to leave yesterday’s meeting after the lunch break.

An item that drew many speakers during the public comment period, including long-time Grovite Nathan Kurland, was Commissioner Pardo’s resolution to revisit the City’s policy that allows placement of LED billboards in city parks, notably the large billboards under construction near the Perez Art Museum and the Adrienne Arsht Center. The commission deferred a decision on the matter until the Feb. 8 meeting in order to investigate possible conflicts between the City’s ordinance, which allows construction of the billboards, and relevant State of Florida laws.

Several other items on yesterday’s agenda introduced by Commissioner Pardo could make a significant impact in the coming weeks. Most important, the commission unanimously approved a resolution sponsored by Pardo authorizing City Attorney Victoria Méndez and her staff to resolve the disagreement, dating back to February 2022, about the new City of Miami voting district boundaries. The redistricting has been especially galling to Grovites because it divided Coconut Grove between Districts 2 and 3. Méndez asked for a Feb. 8 meeting of the participants in the ongoing lawsuit about the redistricting led by the ACLU.

The Feb. 8 meeting will be a private “shade meeting” because Florida law allows attorney-client meetings involving public officials to be held privately under specific conditions, in contrast to all other meetings involving more than one elected or appointed official (“sunshine meetings”). How the City’s effort to negotiate a settlement will interact with the ongoing lawsuit is not yet clear. The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial next Monday, Jan. 29. Pardo said he introduced the item in the hope that it might help to resolve the dispute without the expensive legal costs a trial would entail.

Another Pardo resolution would have limited the amount of time commissioners could speak on any item in a commission meeting. After discussion, in which Chair Christine King objected to setting such limits, Pardo withdrew the item. “We’ll respect each other,” he said, “and we’ll trust the Chair to moderate the discussion.”

Several discussion items, which Pardo introduced to present new ideas and possible steps forward without a specific resolution, led to lengthy exchanges. Particularly noteworthy was the topic of outside employment and disclosure for elected officials. Chair King argued that elected officials are required to file documents listing their employment commitments and possible conflicts of interest on an annual basis and that nothing further should be required. Both Pardo and Reyes said there should be additional steps for accountability. Gabela said he would respect the wishes of the body because his business, selling high-end cars, has no potential conflicts with his elected position. King concluded the discussion, saying, “We already have the mechanism to address this. I would be glad to leave this as a discussion item. One of our colleagues [Carollo] isn’t here. If we’re going to take any vote, we should do it when [he’s] back.”

Two other discussion items, also introduced by Pardo, concerned campaign finance reform and the formation of a city charter revision committee. The commissioners agreed to study a campaign finance law adopted by the City of Miami Beach. They also authorized staff to explore best practices for city charter reviews with the League of Florida Cities and other sources.

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