Latest News from City Hall

At its meeting in mid-September, the City Commission: 

Explored its abilities, politically and legally, to oppose Miami-Dade County’s attempt to create a “transport corridor” that would extend a half-mile on each side of MetroRail, giving the county zoning authority over the area. This would allow them to permit high-rises in the city, similar to the monstrous 37-story apartment building the county permitted at the Douglas metro station, a few hundred yards from the city line. “We lived through what happened on Douglas. They just did it and it was done,” said Commissioner Michael Mena. “We have to be in a position to fight this.” Mayor Vince Lago said he would meet with county commissioners, but warned, “This is going to be a battle.” (Sponsored by Commissioner Jorge Fors). 

Discussed how to address the problem of trash in the medians and swales of commercial properties, and the proliferation of weeds in the sidewalks in front of retail establishments. The discussion was prompted by Mayor Lago, who is pushing for a major cleanup effort. Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce CEO & President Mark Trowbridge promised the commission a forthcoming report on how to engage business owners in the effort. The issue is who is responsible, the city or the property owners. “I want a detailed plan of action,” said Lago. “This is a problem we are going to deal with one way or another.” 

Listened to a discussion of the city’s website and the choice of its IT department for a firm to make the website user-friendly. Currently, the search function of the city’s website is dysfunctional. “I get complaints from residents that they can’t find anything,” said Commissioner Mena. The platform chosen, Drupal, has been used for the websites of Nasa, Tesla, the city of Boston, and the state of Georgia. The newly re-built website is expected to come online in February. (Sponsored by Commissioner Jorge Fors). 

Voted 5-0 to allow the Islands of Cocoplum to construct “entry monuments” – stone obelisks 15-feet high – on the ends of the Isla Dorada bridge leading to the Islands and Tahiti Beach. 

Voted 5-0 to create a “Landmarks Advisory Board” that would recommend the creation of new city entrances, fountains, and statues, as well as inventory existing monuments and monitor them for maintenance. (Sponsored by Commissioner Rhonda Anderson and Mayor Lago). 

Discussed a proposal by Commissioner Kirk Menendez to have the City Clerk more strictly enforce the time limit on public commentary. The current code says citizens should limit their input to three minutes in two separate segments. In recent Commission meetings, residents have been allowed to speak for unlimited time periods, resulting in a 13-hour commission meeting in August. Mayor Lago opposed the move, saying, “I want to make sure we don’t bookend how much someone can speak because it doesn’t bode well for our efforts to be as transparent as we can be.” Menendez agreed that flexibility was important, but that letting people talk for 20 minutes – or more – was “a disservice to the community” since it left less time for others to express their views. Commissioner Michael Mena suggested the use of a time clock that speakers could see, which the Mayor – who has the power to grant time extensions – agreed would be a positive step. 

Agreed to proceed with a contract for the police department to use the face recognition technology of Clearview AI as a crime fighting tool. The contract was opposed by UM law professor Michael Froomkin, who said the technology was an “Orwellian violation” of human rights, and that it violated copyrights by taking photos from Twitter and Facebook. 

The commissioners concluded that taking images from social media was using an “open source” to identify suspects and that misuse would not be tolerated. “We need a way to go after people committing crimes,” Major Raul Pedroso, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division, told the commission. “People will provide images [of] somebody that has been captured committing a crime… This allows you to now check against open-source social media images to present possible matches.”