Down at Town Hall

Twice a Year, Vice Mayor Vince Lago Organizes Town Hall Meetings for City Officials to Update Residents, and to Listen to their Concerns

By Mike Clary

March 2020

More than 50 Coral Gables residents turned out for a late-January town hall meeting where city officials heard strong, even angry, opinions on a variety of subjects, including the need for a duck crossing on Granada Boulevard, dislike of the controversial $1 million Passion Flower sculpture on Segovia Street, and angst over congestion at the Biltmore Way traffic circle (“We call it suicide circle,” said one resident).

Those in the audience at the Adult Activity Center also heard from Vice Mayor Vince Lago on the value of solar panels; from City Manager Peter Iglesias on the planned restoration of city hall; and from Assistant City Manager Ed Santamaria on the seven-acre mixed-use Agave Ponce project at Ponce Circle Park.

One of the livelier discussions was triggered by resident Gabriel de la Campa when he expressed concern that the city’s police department was plagued by officer attrition. In the last year, de la Campa said, “Nineteen cops have left the city for Miami-Dade County, for benefits.” The city is using high-tech cameras and license plate readers to make up for having fewer officers on the street, he said. In response, Lago said crime rates were low, that the officer-to-citizen ratio was good, and that “we will always have attrition.” He added that the city was burdened with a $219 million pension deficit, an obligation he called “a giant albatross.”

In an interview with Coral Gables Magazine after the meeting, Police Chief Ed Hudak said that with 193 sworn officers, the size of the police force has not changed in more than five years, despite ongoing attrition. “We’ve had several officers leave on their own volition; other officers I have removed for other reasons,” he said. “The information I get from young officers is that they are not necessarily leaving for money, per se, but because of the perception of [lack of ] upward mobility. It’s just an impatient work force.”

Hudak added, “The use of technology has nothing to do with staffing levels and will never supplant staffing levels.” As some officers leave, recruiting and hiring remain strong, he says. Five recruits are now in the police academy, with seven slated for the next class.