The City Commission last week approved an interim contract for the city’s new, interim manager, but with less pay and fewer perks than the controversial allotment that former manager Jorge Gonzalez enjoyed.
Last Wednesday’s Commission meeting was the first in twelve years that someone other than Gonzalez sat on the dais as city manager. Kathie Brooks’s contract is devoid of the housing allowance that Gonzalez got. It also comes with reduced insurance and pension payouts.
“The compensation package is more in line with what is appropriate,” Commissioner Michael Gongora said on Friday. The city, by his estimate, will pay Brooks a total compensation of “at least $115,000 less” than Gonzalez’s take.
Flood Insurance Rating Upgrade Means Savings to Property Owners
FEMA has upgraded the city’s national flood insurance rating from Class 7 to 6, the city announced last Friday.
This translates to a 20% discount on flood insurance policies issued or renewed by city property owners on or after May 1 of this year, according to City Manager Kathie Brooks, in a July 13 letter to the Commission. She said annual premium savings to owners is expected to total $5 million.
The federal government’s emergency management agency, which administers the flood insurance program, commended the city for its floodplain management in a June 15 letter to then-Manager Jorge Gonzalez, praising Miami Beach’s “community actions and determination to lead your community to be more disaster resistant.
“This commitment enhances public safety, property protection, and protects the natural functions of floodplains, and reduces flood insurance premiums,” FEMA added.
The new rating remains valid for five years.
Brooks credited the rating adjustment to the city’s building and public works departments’ efforts in the last two years.
The FBI arrested a man and woman last Tuesday and recovered an original Henri Matisse painting stolen a decade ago from a Venezuelan art museum.
Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 46, of Miami, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 50, of Mexico City, were charged by the U.S. Attorney in Miami with the theft of the 1921 painting, “Odalisque in Red Trousers,” stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art in December 2002.
At the time of the heist, thieves replaced the real Matisse with a fake, one so convincing that museum personnel didn’t realize it was not the real thing until 2003.
According to federal prosecutors, Marcuello negotiated the sale of the painting, valued at approximately $3 million, with undercover FBI agents. He allegedly admitted to them during a meeting that he knew it was stolen, then offered to sell it for $740,000.
As part of the negotiations, Marcuello agreed to have the painting brought by courier to the U.S. from Mexico, where it had been stored. Ornelas Lazo was the courier.
Last Monday, July 16, she arrived at Miami International Airport from Mexico City, hand-carrying a red tube containing the painting.
The next day, the couple met with undercover agents at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel and showed them the painting. The two were then arrested.
If convicted, the two each face a possible 10 years in prison.
The FBI had cooperation from authorities in both Mexico and Venezuela.
Miami Heat player Juwan Howard and the team’s mascot, Bernie, paid a surprise visit to kids participating in the city’s summer camp Learn-to-Swim program last week at Normandy Pool.
Gomez to Address Breakfast Club
Miami Beach Assistant City Manager Jorge Gomez will be the guest speaker of the Miami Beach Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club on July 31.
Gomez, a former planning department director for the city, will retire in September following 30 years with the City of Miami Beach.
The Club meets at a new location, David’s Café One, at the corner of Collins Ave. and 11 St., at 8:30 a.m. There is no charge and all are welcome.
New Metrorail Line To Airport Opens Saturday
The grand opening of the new Miami International Airport Metrorail station is slated for Saturday, inaugurating the “Orange Line” service that is the county’s newest nexus for transporting airport travelers to points beyond.
Miami-Dade Transit’s new Metrorail extension has been in the works for years. Final tests of the Orange Line have been conducted for weeks in preparation for its opening.
The new MIA Metrorail station, located just east of the airport, means travelers will have alternative transportation options for getting to the beaches and other parts of the county, via the north-south rail line, now referred to as the Green Line.
The Orange Line extension will bring passengers to and from the airport and connect with the Green Line, which serves 22 stations, stretching from Palmetto Station near Hialeah to Dadeland South Station.
Transit supervisors will be at Earlington Heights Station to assist passengers making the transfers from the Orange Line to the Green Line trains.
Passengers are encouraged to listen carefully to the announcements made by train operators and look closely at the front and side windows of the approaching train to know whether they are boarding a Green or Orange Line train.
The transit agency says that since there will now be two lines running on the same track, passengers will enjoy more frequent service between Dadeland South and Earlington Heights stations.
During weekday morning and afternoon rush hours, passengers will see Metrorail trains arriving at approximately every five minutes and at approximately every 15 minutes during weekends, “making it more convenient for passengers to take a train ride to Brickell, downtown Miami or other areas” Metrorail links to.
Obama Declares Dredge Project “Nationally Significant”
President Obama announced last Thursday that the PortMiami deep dredge project is one of 7 U.S. seaport infrastructure improvements of “national significance” and will be expedited by federal agencies overseeing them.
His executive order prioritizes projects at the seaports as part of the ‘We Can’t Wait Initiative.’
“One way to help American businesses grow and hire is to modernize our infrastructure,” the president said. “That’s why in March I asked my administration to identify important projects across the country where federal review could be expedited. Today’s commitment to move these port projects forward faster will help drive job growth and strengthen the economy.”
The order commits the federal government to completing all reviews for PortMiami by August. In addition, the president’s order creates a task force developing a federal strategy and coordinated decision making regarding seaports and commerce.
“PortMiami’s inclusion underscores the importance of the deep dredge and Miami’s status as an international gateway and a key center for world trade,” Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez remarked after the White House announcement.
“This is a win-win for our community. [The project] will create more than an estimated 30,000 jobs throughout the state and further our efforts to increase international trade and commerce,” Gimenez added.
The dredge project will deepen the port’s channel to -50 feet, allowing the largest cargo ships to dock.
PortMiami Director Bill Johnson said he hopes this signals a commitment by the White House to include PortMiami in the FY 2014 federal budget. “This is now the critical issue,” Johnson said.
Last week, county commissioners approved the project agreement that allows the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to bid the dredge contract next month. The job gets underway in early 2013 and is expected to be completed at the same time as the expanded Panama Canal opens in early 2015.
Rain Barrel Workshop Saturday
Saturday is the next workshop dedicated to teaching residents how to build a rain barrel to capture rainwater and save it for later use to water yards and landscaping.
Florida receives an average of 52 inches of rainfall per year. A rain barrel is an inexpensive means of capturing and storing some of this water for later use. By installing a rain barrel, residents not only help reduce pollution, but also have a supply of free non-chlorinated soft water for irrigating landscapes.
The county’s Cooperative Extension Service sponsors the series of workshops that give residents an opportunity to learn about important water conservation issues and teaches how to construct and install rain barrels.
The cost is $40 for the workshop, rain barrel and associated construction materials. It is free to attend only the workshop.
The next workshop is July 28, 10 a.m. to noon, at Keyes Realty (690 N. Homestead Blvd.) in Homestead. Register and RSVP by today at miami-dade.ifas.ufl.edu/environment/natural_resources.shtml. The first 50 people to register will receive a free plant.
Free Disaster Response Courses Begin Next Week
The county is offering free CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) basic training beginning tomorrow.
The courses will enable citizens to be able to identify hazards that affect the home, workplace, and neighborhood, plus teach basic fire suppression strategies and fire safety measures.
The courses will be held at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel July 27-29. Limited spots are available; those interested can register online at www.i-s-consulting.com/CERT-Training or email CERT@miamidade.gov for future dates.
Bowling for Rhinos 2012, an annual bowling fundraiser that benefits rhino conservation projects, kicks off tomorrow evening at the Bird Bowl (9275 SW 40 St., Miami).
With the goal of helping rhinos worldwide, all funds raised by the bowl-a-thon, sponsored by Zoo Miami and the South Florida chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, benefits rhino conservation projects for four species of rhino, their habitats, and hundreds of other endangered plants and animals.
The world’s rhino population has decreased 90% since 1970 due to poaching. The event helps preserve black, white, Javan and Sumatran rhinos.
A $25 registration fee includes 1½ hours of bowling with shoes, a raffle ticket, and pizza. “Keep the Rhinos Horny” T-shirts will be offered at $15 for non-bowlers and $10 to those registered to bowl.
Registration opens at 6:30 p.m., and the bowl-a-thon is from 7:30-9:30 p.m. To register, visit www.zoomiami.org.
Take a salsa class at the Griffing Community Center (12220 Griffing Blvd.) Fri., July 27, from 11 a.m. to noon. For more information: (305) 895-9840.
Summer Family Fun Night
Bring a blanket and your whole family for a free outdoor movie at sunset. There will be bounce houses, face painting, snow cones and popcorn. At Griffing Park, 12220 Griffing Blvd. (W. Dixie Hwy. at 123rd St.), Sat., July 28, 6 p.m. For details, contact the Parks & Recreation Department at (305) 895-9840.
Puppet Show for Kids
Join the Knight of the Sorrowful Figure on his quest for adventure and justice as he dreams his impossible dream. A puppet show of The Adventures of Don Quixote will be presented for kids by the North Miami Public Library (835 NE 132 St.) at 10:30 a.m., Wed., Aug. 1. For more information, call (305) 891-5535.
Kids are invited to the Victory Pool (1980 NE 171st St.) this afternoon from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. to celebrate the end of the North Miami Beach Library’s Summer Reading Program. Children 9 and under must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, call (305) 948-2970.
Former Mayor Tourgeman is Sole Candidate for Council
Former mayor and commissioner Eli Tourgeman is the only resident to toss his hat into the ring for the Aug. 28 special election for a seat on the Town Council.
Tourgeman filed papers July 6 and within two days had acquired the needed petition signatures to qualify. The qualifying period ended on Tuesday.
A 37-year resident of Surfside, he was first elected to the Town Council in 1986. He served as vice mayor from 1988 to 1990, then served as mayor from 1990 to 1992.
Tourgeman is currently the vice president of HSBC Bank in Surfside, having opened it in 2005. He also serves as president of the Surfside-Bal Harbour-Bay Harbor Business Association and chairman of the Surfside Tourist Board.
Tourgeman ran afoul of the Florida Commission on Ethics which, in 1994, determined he had “corruptly” used his position as a member of the North Shore/Miami Beach Kiwanis Club – although not his position as a public official – to attempt to influence Surfside recreation department employees to award summer camp scholarships to his two nephews.
The ethics commission decided that while “this may not be morally right, it is not a violation” of state law, and so the 1992 complaint brought against him was dismissed following an administrative hearing.
August’s special election will decide who will serve as Surfside’s fourth commissioner. That person will serve until March 2014.
Youth Football Signup Begins
Registration for the 2012 Youth Flag Football season begins Aug. 6, the city has announced.
All players who live in Miami-Dade who are between the ages of 5 and 14 are eligible. Aventura residents can register starting Aug. 6 and non-residents can register starting Aug. 13, if space is available. Registration for Aventura residents is $110 and non-resident registration is $132.
Clinics and skills ratings for all age divisions will be held Aug. 27-30 at Waterways Park. Players will be trained and rated on football skills such as agility, ball handling, passing, and running before they are selected for a team.
Registration can be completed at the Aventura Community Recreation Center, Waterways Park, and Founders Park or online at www.cityofaventura.com. For more information, call (305) 466-8008.