5 Candidates seek council seat in April 9 special election

Government By Alexandra Herrera, Reporter Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The race for Miami Lakes town council Seat 6 is underway. 

     Five candidates are competing for the office that may be decided in a special election on April 9.  

     Former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, a town resident, will moderate a candidate forum at Town Hall on March 7.

     Seat 6 became vacant in November when former Vice Mayor Carlos O. Alvarez resigned, citing work and personal commitments. 

     The candidates have all been active volunteers on town committees and some have previously sought or held public office.

     To run for the council, they had to resign their committee and board appointments.

     They are: 

--Hector Abad, 53, a social worker in Miami-Dade County Public Schools; 

--Esther Colon, 70, a former town manager in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea; 

--Bryan Morera, 32, an attorney with his own business law practice; 

--Nelson Rodriguez, 54, a former Miami Lakes vice mayor and retired firefighter. He works at American Airlines baggage services and teaches emergency medical services at Barry University, and 

--John Rogger, 37, a public relations and media specialist for the South Florida Autism Charter School and a radio personality. 

    Whoever wins will serve until November 2026.

     The candidates all filled out the same questionnaire, some of which are quoted in this report. 

     The questionnaires can be read in full on www.miamilaker.com. 

Candidates identified these top issues: aging infrastructure (trees, side-walks, roads, drainage); traffic; property damage from limestone mining, taxes and public safety. 

Miami Lakes P.D.?

     They all currently agree that the town cannot fund its own police force and should continue to rely on the Miami-Dade Police Dept., which provides a district in town whose officers protect Miami Lakes. 

     That may change in November after voters county-wide will elect a sheriff who could alter the town’s contract. 

     “The cost would be astronomical and raise taxes,” Rodriguez wrote, citing how 50 percent of the town’s general fund goes to police expenses. 

     Colon drew from her experience working with the Broward Sheriff’s Office and said a study found a new force would be “cost prohibitive. … and Miami Lakes “does not have the infrastructure or technical specialized resources.”

     Rogger, former chair of the Special Needs Advisory Board, wants to retain officers who know residents and understand how to work with those who may have disabilities, though he wants to keep an open dialogue with the new sheriff. 

     Morera and Abad both praised the current force, calling them “phenomenal” and “outstanding,” respectively, but want more information on costs for a municipal department. 

What’s the solution to property damage from limestone mining?

     Colon and Morera are both former members of the town’s Blasting Advisory Board. 

     Morera wants the town to raise the issue higher on its legislative priorities list and for the committee to have a budget for travel and lobbying. 

     Colon said she has been a longtime advocate for lower blasting levels and has traveled to Tallahassee to gain support from state representatives. 

     Abad said “collaboration among affected communities” is essential to convince state deciders to offer relief to those with damaged properties. 

     Rogger proposed “calm” negotiations to find common ground between the state and the affected communities. 

     Rodriguez says replacing his damaged pool would cost $80,000 and hopes that proposed bills by Rep. Tom Fabricio, R-Miami Lakes and Sen. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs will pass. Proposed legislation seemed stalled on Feb. 26. 

Will Optimist Park be renovated, and who will pay for it?

     They said fixing Optimist Park is a financial burden that should not be paid only by Miami Lakers.

     “We need to look at options on how all users of the park help pay for the upgrading costs,” Rodriguez said. 

     The park is open to anyone in the county and he said the county needs to contribute to renovations. 

     Rogger would like the town to seek grants and collaborate with the school district. 

     Morera supports improvements but wants to avoid creating a “Disney’s Wide World of Sports.” 

     “I found it irresponsible to indebt the town at taxpayer’s expense to the tune of $15, $18 or $20+ million for a park,” Morera wrote about the failed bond referendum in 2022. 

     He suggests having naming rights for each field; sponsors and ads listed on dugouts, fences, light posts and scoreboards, as well as renting stadium lights to cellular providers to install antennas as ways to fund improvements.

     Abad’s ideas include collaboration among stakeholders, getting grants and forming public-private partnerships. 

     Colon said she respected voters’ 2022 defeat of a $19.5 million bond to enhance the park. 

Was the council’s choice of a historic rollback rate the right decision?

     Candidates also weighed in on the property tax rollback rate of 2.07 set by the council in September. 

     The levy is $2.07 per every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value and impacted police overtime; the schedules for mowing and flower plantings; and part of the mayor’s travel budget. 

     Rodriguez said he wants to see the mid-year budget review before evaluating any impact of the rollback rate. 

     Rogger agreed with the council’s rollback rate decision. 

     “It’s on us as a council to figure out how to trim the excess and spare taxpayers from shelling out more,” Rogger wrote. “Keeping our rates low is the key to being a successful town.” 

      Morera said the town council made the right choice in rolling back the rate and that the council, “with the right prioritization of expenses and streamlining” could continue to serve residents’ needs with the same ad valorem revenue as last year. 

     Colon favored the rollback rate and said it “provided tax relief to residents… The town has maintained surplus year-end carry forward undesignated fund balances in several funds.” 

     Abad said he recognized the importance of tax relief but was “concerned that the rollback may negatively impact future budgets, potentially compelling upcoming town council members to make undesirable decisions.” 

     If a runoff election if needed, it is scheduled for April 30.  For more information on the special election visit https://bit.ly/49f6J0v