Dieguez, Fernandez, launch campaigns for town mayor

Government By Linda Trischitta, Editor Thursday, September 14, 2023

    Two Miami Lakes councilmen want to become mayor and lead the town after the November 2024 election.

     Councilman Tony Fernandez, who is in the middle of his first term, declared his candidacy on Sept. 5. Councilman Josh Dieguez filed his paperwork for the office later that same day.

     Both candidates have followed a somewhat traditional path for those who seek elected office: Service on one or more of the dozen committees and boards that help town government respond to community needs.

    Fernandez, 38, previously chaired the Youth Activities Task Force and was secretary of the Neighborhood Improvement Committee.

    Dieguez served on the Elderly Affairs Committee and chaired the Neighborhood Improvement Committee, when he initiated the popular Miami Lakes Culinary Bike Tour.

     Fernandez owns internet technology firm Layer 8 Solutions whose clients are K-12 schools and colleges. 

    The company supports town events that focus on  education and children, such as the Miami Lakes Food & Wine Festival whose proceeds fund Town Foundation grants, and the Giving Gators charity’s backpack giveaway, Fernandez said.

     He previously filed as a candidate to retain his council seat but changed his goal.

     “I am running because I think I can bring my leadership skills to the town,” Fernandez said. “We’re at a point where the next mayor is going to have to make some difficult decisions. For example, we have a recommendation coming up with our police department, and whether or not to start our own police department or continue with the county services under the new sheriff.”

Fernandez said he wants to “bring my experience from the private sector to find ways for government to operate more efficiently.”

     He said his accomplishments while on the council include tax relief. 

     “One of the things I’m particularly proud of is I spear-headed the senior property tax relief program,” Fernandez said. “For most of those low-income citizens, 391 households, it wiped away their municipal tax bill, most of what they would pay to the Town of Miami Lakes.”

     The funding to make up for those lost tax revenues came from excess money the town carried forward during the past two years, Fernandez said.

     But the program is one of the many items that could be cut after the council, including Fernandez and Dieguez, rolled back the property tax rate, which will generate less ad valorem revenues.

     Fernandez said he brought forth an item for the council to reconsider the rollback vote during its last meeting, “but that was not heard because it required a waiver of the rules with a super majority,” he said.

     Despite those budget constraints, among Fernandez’s goals as mayor is adding two police officers.

     Dieguez, 34, a managing partner in his family’s law firm, also hoped the council would reconsider the rollback rate.

     “My initial vote on millage was the flat tax rate, and the majority said no, outside of [Councilman] Ray [Garcia] and [Vice Mayor] Carlos [Alvarez],” Dieguez said. “Then I supported them on the rollback rate.

     “I continue to advocate that we should always start with the flat rate,” he said. “This was not the path, the rollback rate, that I wanted to go down. 

     “I’m a reluctant passenger and here we are,” Dieguez said. “Even if we were to squeeze some savings, how do you preserve that at an ongoing basis?”

     He said his relationships with decision-makers at all levels of state and local government have helped the town obtain its goals.

     “I have the best record of anyone on the council with state and county leaders,” Dieguez said. “Everywhere I go they call me ‘Mr. Miami Lakes,’ like when I go to League of Cities and meet other elected officials from other cities. … You need to build that network to push for policy outcomes or push for money.”

     He said knowing a federal lobbyist helped bring $3 million in funding for the Northwest 59th Avenue extension and bridge project. 

     “That will enhance public safety by giving first responders direct access to [Miami Lakes Educational Center] and to businesses,” he said. 

     Dieguez said his other accomplishments included: Supporting an increase in town budget reserves; expanding Freebee service hours for nights and weekends and voting to allocate federal funds from the American Rescue Plan for drainage improvement projects that were supplemented with municipal bond proceeds.

     Dieguez said his goals are to “bring back focus on the basics: Beautification, public safety, events that can bring the community together and pursue educational programming for kids.

     He said that could include a coding camp or financial literacy classes.  

     He is also anxious to see The Graham Companies’ proposed Senior Village built along Oak Lane; the company plans to build and donate the shell of a senior citizen community center on the campus.

     “We have to get the money for the buildout and the programming,” he said.

     In his current term, Dieguez wants the town to restart its mini parks capital improvement program.

     “Our pocket parks, things are starting to rust, they are not being well maintained and a lot of that is funding issues,” Dieguez said.

     Both candidates expressed a goal of many past and current public office seekers and office holders:  “Keeping the charm of the tree-lined streets and making sure that the parks in general and the pocket parks are adequately maintained,” Fernandez said. “Making sure our infrastructure, sidewalks, streets, signage are all in good order.

   “I think it’s the aesthetics, the schools and the community feel, the small town feel within a very urban area, is the charm,” Fernandez said.

     If he wins the mayor’s job, Dieguez said, “This would be a dream for me. I grew up here. This really is not just an issue of trying to climb a ladder. 

     “This is personal for me,” Dieguez said. “I’m going to dedicate a lot of my time to this job. I love this town. I live and I breathe it and have since 1989.”