Coral Gables Magazine March 2024 Issue (Real Estate Issue)

Editor’s Note: The Gang of Three

Commissioner Kirk Menendez Joins With Commissioners Fernandez and Castro as They Apply a Wrecking Ball to the City

Anyone who watches City Commission meetings these days can only be dismayed by the bitter rancor that now prevails at this formerly orderly assembly. Ever since the arrival of Commissioners Ariel Fernandez and Melissa Castro, elected by a small but dedicated group of anti-development voters, City Hall has gone into a tailspin. Fernandez, who frequently attacked the city government as the former author of the blog Gables Insider, came into office with the intent of applying a wrecking ball to “the establishment.” So far, he is keeping that promise, driving out competent employees and instituting a reign of terror on city staff.

From the start, Fernandez had his sights set on City Manager Peter Iglesias. Iglesias, an engineer by training, had overseen many successful and complex projects for the city (the Public Safety Building, the Miracle Mile/Giralda Plaza street project, the transformation of all city departments to online software) and, along the way, ran a city budget with a triple AAA rating. But he also wanted to build a futuristic Mobility Hub, hated by Fernandez, who saw Iglesias as a member of the status quo he felt mandated to overthrow.

So, on his first day as commissioner, Fernandez called for a vote to fire Iglesias. He voted in favor, as did Commissioner Castro, who routinely follows his lead. Mayor Vince Lago and Vice Mayor Rhonda Anderson voted to retain Iglesias, as did Commissioner Kirk Menendez, who was against the election of Fernandez at the time.

But politics make strange bedfellows, and before long Menendez was voting in tandem with Fernandez and Castro — especially when it came to doubling their salaries, a move that both the mayor and vice mayor thought irresponsible. But that’s all it takes these days — just a three-to-two vote to change city laws, city expenditures, city employees.

At the first Commission meeting in February, Fernandez again put forward a motion to fire Iglesias, this time accusing him of insubordination. He was not able to provide any evidence, but that did not matter. For more than two hours, a who’s-who of Gables community leaders and citizens took to the podium and implored Menendez to cast the deciding vote to save Iglesias. But nothing worked, and with no explanation, he voted for termination.

At the second Commission meeting in February, Fernandez — with no prior warning or process of vetting — nominated U.S. Marshal Amos Rojas, Jr. for the job of city manager. This took even Castro by surprise, whose vetting process, in real-time, consisted of her looking up Rojas’ LinkedIn page. Despite Rojas having no experience in city government, no experience in financial management, and no background in construction or engineering, he was quickly voted in by Fernandez, Castro and, yes, Menendez.

“The City of Coral Gables is adrift is in a cesspool of public corruption, and I’m here to help navigate our beloved city out of the muck and to a safe harbor. So, I vote yes,” said Menendez. Really? A cesspool of public corruption? Sounds like the teapot calling the kettle black, as Menendez, now in the final year of his term, has fallen under the sway of his new master of misinformation.

Stay tuned for more chaos from City Hall.