Prior to being elected to the City Commission last April, Kirk Menendez had a long track record of volunteer service in the city. A self-proclaimed “soccer dad,” he coached at the War Memorial Youth Center for almost 30 years. He is currently president of the non-profit Youth Center Association and chaired the city’s Parks and Recreational Advisory Board from 2013 until his election. Since joining the commission he has advocated for neighborhood issues such as preserving Burger Bob’s, creating Coral Gables Senior High student internships, more private sponsorships of community events, and more orderly discourse at commission meetings.
Why Did You Want to Be a City Commissioner?
A: Folks in the community have been asking me to run for elected office since I was in my twenties… A lot of people know me from the years I spent in the Coral Gables Youth Center, which I describe as the heart and soul of our community, since so many kids went there, and so many parents raised their kids there.
Has the Experience Differed From What You Expected?
A: It’s exactly what I thought it would be because it starts with the people. That’s what makes Coral Gables what it is, the people we have, their kindness, their generosity, always helping and volunteering. And that’s what I found here [as a Commissioner]
What Do You See as Your Mission?
A: My focus is to leave a legacy for the city that puts family, children, and seniors first, and not on the backburner…. I think because of my experience and background I am a good person to shine light on those folks in the community that need the most help.
What Are the Most Important Issues for the City Today?
A: There is a big concern about over development, there is a big concern about traffic, and there is a big concern that I think isn’t dis- cussed – to make sure that our residents are not priced out of Coral Gables. There are folks that have lived their entire lives here, folks now in their 80s and 90s that helped build the city, and they are at the point where they have to move out of the city because they can no longer afford to live here.
How Can You Protect the Elderly From Being Priced Out?
A: We should look at the fees we charge and maybe create programming that is geared towards our seniors and find ways to provide discounts… just to bring down their monthly expenses to the point that they are manageable. Because they are on fixed incomes. And when prices rise sometimes your head is no longer above water…
What Other Issues Concern You?
A: The biggest issue that we are dealing with… is that little by little we are becoming a divided community. Everything is becoming a battle, neighbors against neighbors, residents against the city. We spend so much energy and time putting out fires… that it robs us of the opportunity to do programs that bring joy to the lives of others… Unfortunately, we live in a world where small minorities – political arsonists – enjoy starting fires to keep people from doing what they should be doing.
How Do We Solve This Divisiveness?
A: My personal experience is that whenever a difficult decision comes up there is a way to accommodate each other… If we have a situation, an issue, where one side has a complete victory and the other a complete defeat, that’s a loss for the community. If we can walk away with a partial victory here and a partial victory there, that’s a win for the community.
What Do You Think About the New Modern Mobility Hub? Many Residents Are Upset by Being Given Just One Design Option.
A: This parking garage [idea] goes back way before my election [but] going forward, any project, any development that is city owned and city run, should ask that two options, a minimum of two different versions of the same project, be presented instead of just one.
You Have Suggested Creating Limits for Citizen Input at Commission Meetings. Why?
A: What I do not want to see is the city’s hands tied so tightly that it cannot function. I would like to see government work responsibly [but] efficiently and effectively. It’s a balancing act, which is why I tend to end up in the middle of discussions. I find myself there because I want a government that responds, but not so bogged down that it cannot act.
What Is the Most Important Referendum Before the Commission?
A: We are working on preparing, and it’s going to go to the community with public meetings, a referendum on a plan to fund the parks. It’s a master plan that would basically rethink and upgrade our entire park system to perhaps the finest park system in Florida – something that will impact lives for generations – where you can have activities for older and younger residents. I would like that to be my legacy, so that when kids are playing soccer or playing baseball or just hanging out with their grandparents, a little piece of me will be there.