June Talk of the Town: Referendums, Scholarships, Grants & More

The Referendums Advance

Accountable Coral Gables, a citizen’s advocacy group spearheading three referendums for Coral Gables voters, submitted its first batch of 2,000 signatures last month. The initial batch of an estimated 15,000 signatures the group expects to submit supports the first of its three charter reform initiatives — the reform to Section 7 of the City Charter to mandate that any future salary increases for the mayor, vice mayor, and commissioners of Coral Gables require approval by city voters. 

June Talk of the Town

“We are humbled by the level of support we have received from our neighbors as we have crisscrossed the city explaining the need for this charter reform,” said Alex Bucelo, chairman of Accountable Coral Gables. “The salary increases of over 100 percent approved by the City Commission last year have galvanized public opinion and energized our residents to actively participate in this crucial matter.” 

The other two charter reforms will mandate that no monies may be taken from the city’s emergency fund without four out of five votes by city commissioners, and that city elections be moved from April to November to coincide with national elections and increase voter turnout.

Record Scholarships by the Community Foundation

Each year, the Coral Gables Community Foundation awards scholarships to needy students who show scholastic promise, money raised from donations and annual events such as the Tour of Kitchens. Last year, about $425,000 in scholarships was awarded. This year, a stunning 73 scholarships totaling $1,421,000 were awarded to 65 high school seniors, most of them from Coral Gables High School.

June Talk of the Town

When we started the scholarship program, we awarded $15,000 that first year [2005],” says Matthew Meehan, the Foundation’s scholarship committee chair. 

This year’s total amounts to nearly three-fifths of the total $2.5 million in scholarships granted since the program started. “That is some amazing momentum we have. And these are meaningful awards. Many of these kids would not be able to attend college without these awards.”

Some 26 of the students received scholarships of $50,000 each. For Meehan, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, the role of scholarship chair has a particular poignancy. “This is definitely a huge passion of mine,” he says. “Without a scholarship, I would not have been able to attend college.”

Federal Funding to the Rescue

June Talk of the Town

Located just west of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden off Old Cutler Road, Camp Mahachee has served the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida for 76 years – ever since the enterprising troop bought the 11.5-acre site with $3,337 in cookie sales revenue. Last year, a grassroots effort led by the Coral Gables Garden Club restored 1.5 acres of the site that had been overrun with invasive vines.

Now, the federal government is tripling the $150,000 raised locally, with a $450,000 grant to continue removing non-native species, plant new native trees, and install benches, trails, and educational guides. 

“This robust, multi-phase rehabilitation project will breathe new life into an endangered native hardwood hammock habitat, providing for both climate resilience and serving as a living laboratory for Girl Scouts and our entire community to experience habitat restoration in real-time,” said Chelsea Wilkerson, the CEO of the Tropical troop. 

The grant, part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2024, was secured in March with the help of María Elvira Salazar, the U.S. representative for Florida’s 27th congressional district, which includes the Gables. Last year, volunteers planted 1,400 native hardwood trees at the camp.

Gables Hospital Up for Sale

Just three years after purchasing Coral Gables Hospital along with four other South Florida hospitals, Dallas-based Steward Health Care has declared bankruptcy. The largest physician-owned healthcare network in the U.S., Steward paid $1.1 billion for the five hospitals, coincidently about the same amount they now find themselves in debt.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy, filed May 6, allows Steward to reorganize their debt while continuing to operate; hospital officials say there will be no interruption in services. “Filing for Chapter 11 restructuring is in the best interests of our patients, physicians, employees, and communities at this time,” said Steward CEO Ralph de la Torre in a prepared statement. 

Steward is looking for a buyer for its Florida hospitals, which they say are their most profitable. An auction is expected by the end of July, with a bid deadline for July 26. In the meantime, Steward is negotiating for a loan that would provide $75 million of initial funding and up to an additional $225 million from Medical Trust Properties, the landlord that owns all of Steward’s property.

Don’t Lose Sight of Bascom Palmer

The Ophthalmologist magazine may not be on your coffee table, but it’s considered a bible among eye doctors. Each year, they publish a list of the world’s 100 most influential people shaping the future of eye care. This year, an astounding 15 physicians from Bascom Palmer Eye Institute — the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Miami — were named to their 2024 Power List.

“From cutting-edge treatments to groundbreaking research, these doctors are pushing boundaries and setting new standards in ophthalmology,” said Henri R. Ford, M.D., dean of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Bascom Palmer recipients include:

Eduardo C. Alfonso, an expert on ocular infectious diseases
Hilda Capó, who specializes in pediatric ophthalmology and adult strabismus
Janet L. Davis, anexpert in uveitis
Kendall E. Donaldson, holder of the Kolokotrones Chair in Ophthalmology
Harry W. Flynn Jr., a specialist in the treatment of diseases of the retina and vitreous
Anat Galor, an expert on ocular surface pain
Steven J. Gedde, Bascom Palmer’s vice chair of education
Rayna Habash, a refractive cataract surgeon
Carol L. Karp, holder of the Richard K. Forster Chair in Ophthalmology
Jaclyn Kovach, a professor of clinical ophthalmology
Byron Lam, holder of the Dr. Mark J. Daily Chair in Ophthalmology
Felipe A. Medeiros, the Rodgers Research Chair in Ophthalmology
Richard K. Parrish II, a glaucoma specialist
Phillip J. Rosenfeld, who played a crucial role in developing anti-VEGF therapies for neovasuclar and exudative eye diseases
Sonia Yoo, an expert in vision correction surgery