A Tumultuous Town Hall

By Mike Clary

September 2019

Every quarter or so Vice Mayor Vince Lago calls a Town Hall meeting to update citizens on what’s happening at City Hall, and to listen to their concerns. His latest turned out to be a little more rowdy than usual, when national politics intervened. The Town Hall meeting took place in the Coral Gables Adult Activities Center on Andalusia on the last day of July, with about 125 people listening to updates on several projects, including city efforts to buy land, the falling crime rate, traffic calming efforts, and the city’s electric vehicle fleet (now at 78, the largest for any city in Florida).

The meeting also went to state and national politics. State Rep. Javier Fernandez (D-114) gave a rundown on bills that passed this past session in Tallahassee, including the controversial HB 1159, “Private Property Rights,” which basically prohibits local government from blocking the removal of trees from private property. Fernandez said this was an “example of usurping local control,” and could harm the Gables’ efforts to maintain its canopy.

The fireworks started after U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Miami) ran through a list of bills passed in the House, most going nowhere because of the GOP-controlled Senate. She talked about the immigrant minors being separated from their parents and locked up in Homestead (“more than a travesty, totally un-American”), and about affordable care. Then she brought up “the elephant in the room – impeachment.” She defended her “cautious” approach in not yet taking a stand, and said she would come back to the community after the Judiciary Committee reports in September.

That’s when a woman in the audience vociferously attacked Shalala for her inaction on impeachment. After a few minutes, Lago tried to intervene, saying the discussion should stay on Gables’ issues. The woman continued to rail, then walked out in a huff. Then another audience member, who identified herself as a native of Cuba, accused Shalala of doing too much for “illegal migrants,” and suggested climate change was a hoax. “I can see that everybody here is on the left,” she says. At this point Shalala decided to leave as well.

Lago then brought things back to the Gables, taking questions on the dangers of septic tanks with rising sea levels, saying he would call for a study on how to deal with threats. Lago also responded to queries about putting electric lines under- ground to prevent storm outages. Estimated cost: $250 million. Estimated time to complete: 10 years. Lago suggested people get solar panels, something he did, cutting his electric bill to $9 a month.