Meet the City’s New Commissioners

A Brief Q&A with Commissioners Melissa Castro and Ariel Fernandez

Commissioner Melissa Castro

Commissioner Melissa Castro being sworn in on April 27.

Why did you decide to run for city commissioner?

I’ve always had a love for humanity and for my community. As I like to say, in my past life, that’s what I did. I worked in group homes, I went into schools, I was all about the children, and I sacrificed a lot of my personal life for my community. I came into permitting [as CEO of M.E.D. Permitting] and that was a completely different field.

Why did you become a permit expediter?

My mom would always tell me to come [work for the family business] and I would be like, ‘Are you kidding? Never.’ And then my mom passed away. And so here I was, doing this. But what’s in my heart didn’t go away. I’m a community person, a people person. What really fills me with joy is to help others.

When did you decide to run for commissioner?

Fairly recently. This was never a dream of mine. In fact, if you would have told me this a year ago, I would have said, ‘No way.’ I’ve never been into politics. [But] the idea came to me of being in a position where I had a little more leeway to help. I was involved with the Community Foundation, the Woman’s Club, the Chamber of Commerce, with a lot of volunteer hours and sponsoring events, all in Coral Gables. Really, I felt like this was the next step.

Why do you think you won the election?

Because I was able to connect with the residents. I do a lot of handshaking and one-on-one stuff, like kissing and hugging. I want you [as citizens] to connect with me, I want you to tell me what’s wrong, I want you to feel like I am part of your family, [and] that you can count on me.

What are your ambitions as a City Commission?

The first thing is to be a voice for the residents. I want to be that person who is in their favor. And when something’s wrong, they can come to me, and I can actually represent them. That’s number one for me. Besides that, I have little pet projects, like [improving] the building department, which I have a lot of experience with.

Commissioner Ariel Fernandez

Commissioner Ariel Fernandez being sworn in on April 27.

Why did you decide to run for city commissioner?

There have been a lot of issues that have been discussed from a community standpoint over the last few years, and we’ve noticed they’ve kind of just fallen on deaf ears when it comes to the commission and when it comes to city staff. I had been feeling the same concerns, and [the] opportunity presented itself when Vice Mayor [Michael] Mena decided not to seek reelection. I thought it was a good opportunity to raise some of [those] concerns.

What are some of your short-term goals?

We need to start by discussing the city manager [Peter Iglesias] and whether he’s the right person to continue to lead our city. I think we need to do a full forensic audit of our city’s finances to ensure that our money’s being spent the right way. I’m concerned with the fact that Coral Gables was one of the few municipalities that did not offer a reduction of the millage rate this year when we did have increased revenue.

What about long-term goals?

Long-term, we need to find a way to enforce our zoning code. Developers have been coming in with projects, and they’re purchasing massive amounts of properties to try to build something bigger. And residents have been clear — they want us to be responsible for what’s going to happen in the city. 

We don’t have the necessary infrastructure to support a lot of the major projects that developers would like to build. And we need to make sure we enforce the zoning code. If a developer is allowed to build 45-feet, that’s what they’re allowed to build. Don’t come to us with a proposal that’s a lot bigger, or even two-feet bigger.   

You’ve been vocal in your criticisms regarding certain city officials. How do you anticipate handling that now?

The commission does not have the power to hire or fire, except for the city manager, city clerk, and city attorney. I have been vocal about my distrust in the ability of the [city] manager… [so] one of my priorities is having a discussion with my colleagues about his role and his future with our city. As far as staff, if we bring in a new manager, that person may want to change some of those people.