Candidates vie for council seat at Town Hall forum

Government By Linda Trischitta and Alexandra Herrera Wednesday, March 13, 2024

     Five candidates vying for council Seat 6 in the Miami Lakes April 9 special election presented their platforms to residents at Town Hall.

     The candidates are Hector Abad, 53, a social worker in Miami-Dade County Public Schools who was on the town’s Education Advisory Board; Esther Colon, 70, a former town manager in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea and past volunteer with the Cultural Affairs Committee; Bryan Morera, 32, an attorney with his own practice who volunteered on the Blasting Advisory Board; Nelson Rodriguez, 54, former Miami Lakes vice mayor and retired firefighter who works in baggage services at American Airlines 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, radio personality and former chair, Special Needs Advisory Board. 

     Mayor Manny Cid introduced former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, a town resident and an attorney, who moderated the forum on March 7. 

     Town Clerk and Supervisor of Elections Gina Inguanzo presented the debate; Vice Mayor Tony Fernandez, Councilmen Josh Dieguez and Ray Garcia, members of town staff and committees also attended.

     Vice Mayor Carlos O. Alvarez’s resignation in November left Seat 6 open. The winner will serve until November 2026.

     Two candidates have municipal elected or management experience and all have volunteered on town committees.  Penelas asked questions submitted by residents as well as his own, posed different queries to different candidates and challenged them on their social media posts, too.


     Penelas asked if they agreed with the incumbent council’s resolution sponsored by Dieguez that opposed the county’s proposed Future Ready 305 $2.5 billion bond issue that voters will decide in November. 

     Dieguez said there weren’t enough details about use of proceeds, during a time of high consumer prices and the county’s management record. County bonds would fund housing, septic-to-sewer connections, parks and protect infrastructure against climate change. 

    All five candidates said maintaining town infrastructure is a priority. They don’t support the county bond.

     Rollback millage rate vs. spending goals

     Asked what they would change in the current budget, Abad and Rogger said focusing on aging sidewalks and infrastructure, Colon wants to put surplus monies into the Infrastructure Sinking Fund which she said is unfunded and Morera wants a permanent budget for the Blasting Advisory Board for lobbying costs. 

     Rodriguez said he would put surplus funds into trimming and removal of “bad” trees, sidewalk repairs and code enforcement.

     Penelas asked if the council was correct in approving the rollback rate, which he said resulted in about $820,000 in lost revenue that halted the town’s ability to hire police officers, limited employee COLA raises to 2.5% and paused the town’s senior citizen tax relief program. 

     Penelas asked if choosing the rollback rate was a political ploy because Cid is running for county mayor and Dieguez and Fernandez are campaigning for town mayor. 

     Rodriguez said, “I think the council made a mistake.”

     The rest of the candidates said it was the right decision, though Abad and Rogger reconsidered when reminded of the staff pay limits and tax breaks for elderly and disabled residents.

     Morera said safety was a priority. 

     “Having nice events, that’s a great thing, I love that, I support that,” he said. “But if a hard decision needs to be made, I’d rather have a safe town where cars are not being taken out of driveways than one where they have a nice bike ride.”

     (The town funds committees that stage events. Morera was referring to the Neighborhood Improvement Committee’s group bicycle rides.)

     Morera supports sponsorship rights, naming rights and land leases, with signs in Optimist Park.

     Rodriguez said, “Saving an average $80 a year per home [with the rollback rate], that was the mistake of $800,000 eliminated … Public safety was sacrificed as a political game to do the rollback.”

     He said choosing the flat tax “would have been the right thing to do.”

     “This town is working on counting pens and paper clips because there is no more money to cut out of the budget here,” Rodriguez said.

     As for sponsorships, Rodriguez said, “We can, but the town has never wanted to name Optimist Park under Coca-Cola. It would diminish the brand of the town. Yes, we could do naming rights, we could put billboards. We could make this like I-95. Along the Palmetto [Expressway] you can see where Hialeah stops and Miami Lakes begins.”

     Colon said a $1.3 million carry forward is projected at the end of the fiscal year and that a flat tax is still an increase in taxes.

     “The cost of a police officer is $170,000,” she said. “Stop the games. Let’s be responsible and let’s put police in place instead of paying OT.”


     Penelas said the candidates’ solutions for lessening blasting damage were similar: Lobby state legislators, collaborate with affected communities and fund a Blasting Advisory Board budget.

     Penelas said after decades of elections without change, “What can you tell the people of the Town of Miami Lakes that would give them confidence that something is actually going to happen rather than more meetings and more promises and more studies?”

     Rogger suggested an alliance of all the counties and a state-wide media campaign, “ … so that the folks that are in Tallahassee are gonna say, ‘They’re making a buzz. We’ve got to either shut them up or do something about it.’”

     Rodriguez said the state is the biggest buyer of rock for construction and legislators won’t regulate the industry that contributes to their campaigns. 

     “These [candidates] said cutting millage was the right thing to do,” Rodriguez said. “Now we want to fund more things, more money to fund lobbyists, go to Tallahassee. Where does that money come from? It has to come from taxpayers.”

     Penelas asked if voters are electing ineffective legislators who propose bills that are ignored.

     “A lot of voters think we’re being bluffed,” Penelas said. “They’re giving legislators the OK to present bills but behind the scenes are told they won’t go anywhere, ‘But we’ll let you save face with the voters in your district.’”

     Abad disagreed.   

     “I think there is actual interest in solving the issue,” Abad said.

Optimist Park

     Morera and Rodriguez agreed the park needs repairs but were glad voters killed a $20 million bond issue in 2022. Rodriguez said 85% of park users are from out of town.

     “We need to look for other [funding] options,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe not just Miami-Dade County, maybe a user fee. The Optimist Club needs to come up to the table, which is the biggest user of the park, and figure out how we get this money to fix this park.”

County Mayor Race

     Asked who they will choose for county mayor, Colon said she’ll vote for incumbent Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. Morera was undecided, saying, “We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.” The rest chose Cid.

     Town Manager Edward Pidermann’s performance

     Penelas asked if, like Cid, the candidates are critical of the manager whose contract expires in 2027. 

     “I am very happy with the way Mr. Pidermann is running the town now,” Rodriguez said. 

     Rogger said Pidermann is “overworked,” and that town staff should be increased.

     Colon said she has criticized him because, “I do believe in zero-based budgets. Look at what you need and look at the basic needs of the community.”


     Penelas shared a question from a gay man who was disappointed when the council last year canceled a LGBTQ+ reception planned by the Cultural Affairs Committee. He wanted to know if Rogger’s efforts to build an inclusive community will include residents with different sexual or gender identities, ethnicities, religious beliefs or national origins. 

     Rogger and the others said yes. Rogger and Colon support flying a rainbow flag during Pride celebrations, the others said only the American flag should fly at Town Hall.

     Among 40 spectators was Ricardo Gonzalez, who said in Spanish, “I think the best part was the questions they were asked. … I think it was great.” 

     Penelas said of the candidates, “I felt they were all very prepared and any one of them would make an excellent town commissioner. I would encourage those who are not successful on April 9th to run again in November.”

     There is no early voting in the April 9 race, but mail-in ballots will be accepted. The last day to request one from the Miami Dade County Elections Department is March 28. 

     If no candidate wins 51% of the vote, a run-off election will be held April 30.  

     To watch the forum in full on YouTube go to: