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Xavier L. Suarez

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The Sum of All Their Fears: Why District 7 Suffers While the Money Is in the Bank

Posted: 03/ 5/2012 12:46 pm

I had just been elected to the county commission when we were surprised by a visit from Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. Her appearance was prompted by an invitation from Commissioner Barbara Jordan and a federal study that placed her congressional district as having just about the lowest "misery index" in the nation -- meaning the worst unemployment and poverty statistics in the entire country.

Her testimony coincided with my analysis of capital projects in my own commission district, which happens to be a generally affluent, shoreline region whose residents want mostly two things from their local government: (1) to have lower taxes and (2) to protect the fragile environment in which they live and preserve the historic buildings found there.

My first discovery was that just from the general obligation bonds approved in 2004, my district was the beneficiary of a staggering figure in capital funds: $213 million dollars.

My second discovery was less felicitous: I found that most of the projects in my district had not been started and that in the case of the housing projects (for which we had been allocated $10.6 million), no decision had been made between competing proposals.

I immediately allocated the $10.6 million housing funds and set about monitoring the actual construction of the housing -- mindful of a comment made by my son (Miami City Commission Chairman Francis X. Suarez) that there are as many as 70,000 people currently in need of affordable housing in our county. Then I tackled the effort to expedite the completion of three other projects: (1) the $45 million clean-up of 116.5 acres in what we call the Virginia Key Landfill, (2) the $20 million restoration of the Coconut Grove Playhouse and (3) a transit-oriented affordable housing project in South Miami called "Hometown Station," which had been mired in litigation for 13 years, while its county-owned site stood idle and close to $4 million in funds allocated were nowhere to be found.

For the better part of my nine months in office, I have been meeting, emailing, cajoling, convincing, explaining and seeking to settle disputes on those three important projects, whose built-out value well exceeds $100 million.

By late last year, we were on the cusp of settling all disputes as to all three projects, with settlements involving many, many parties, including in one case, the City of Miami, which is being asked to sign an extension to the solid waste disposal "interlocal agreement" in order to receive the $45 million already approved by the county commission for the clean-up of the Virginia Key Landfill.

The incomprehensible delays in getting that project started have just been the subject of a scathing Inspector General report (dated February 27, 2012), which accuses the administration of neglect of duty in failing to start the clean-up, despite having $28 million in the bank earning paltry amounts of interest while paying higher amounts to the bondholders.

As to the Coconut Grove Playhouse, the abandoned facility is attracting vandals, homeless and environmental deterioration, while the administration fails to approve a plan for settlement of the claims (allowing us to secure the facility) that has been on the mayor's desk since Thanksgiving of 2011, waiting only for approval from the mayor to take it to the commission for implementation.

Last but not least, the Hometown Station project languishes for another one-year cycle of tax credit housing financing due to Mayor Gimenez's unilateral decision to reject $3.5 million in total consideration offered by the proposed assignee of the development rights.

All of which can best be characterized by something that Winston Churchill once said, referring to the effect of bringing a bunch of otherwise smart and well-intentioned bureaucrats and putting them into a room hoping that they can make a decision by committee. "What do you get from such a collective exchange of ideas?" asked Churchill; and quickly answered: "The sum of all their fears."

Nowadays, we simply call it paralysis by analysis.