City Manager: City Has “A Number Of Issues, Financial Issues, To Deal With”

Ariel Fernandez

Founder & Editor
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On the heels of Gables Insider exposing high raises and Executive Benefits Packages given to City administrative staff, City Manager Peter Iglesias stated at the Wednesday, October 19th Historic Preservation Board Meeting, that the City has “a number of issues, financial issues, to really deal with.”

The comments came as the volunteer resident board discussed the City’s proposal to sell transfer development rights (TDRs) in the equivalent of 48,235 square feet from Miracle Theatre, in order to create revenue for preservation of historic buildings.

According to staff’s memo to the board, “the funds obtained from the sale of the TDRs will be placed in the new Historic Building Fund. This fund will be used to undertake repairs to City-owned historic sites including, but not limited to, the Miracle Theater.” No financial figure was provided for the expected sale amount.

City Manager’s Comments

The Manager, who normally does not attend or speak at these meetings, interjected during the board’s discussion and questions of Public Works Director Hermes Diaz and Historic Preservation Director Warren Adams, when the board asked about maintenance of Miracle Theatre and the purpose of the sale of the TDRs.

The Manager explained that, “we’ve created the historical building fund to try to get some of the TDR funding to help us during a critical time in the City, because we’re trying to get a few projects done, including major projects, as you know, which is the new fire station, which is a real life safety issue. It’s a public safety issue, but at the same time, we certainly want to maintain our historical buildings.”

Although Iglesias stated that the TDR sales funds would be placed in the historical building fund, he then contradicted himself by stating that the money was needed for the construction of a new fire station.

Iglesias Blames Pension

Iglesias then proceeded to blame the administration of former City Manager Pat Salerno for the issues he was facing. “Our pension plan costs about $30 million dollars a year, where if we were fully funded $4.3 million dollars a year. We should be taking care of that within the next 7 to 12 years.”

Iglesias was referring to the City’s unfunded liability which started during the David Brown and Pat Salerno tenures as Manager.

He continued, “I look at this as getting us through this period as a bridge for the City during these times, where we really have a number of issues, financial issues, to really deal with.” Iglesias later added that the sale of TDRs would “help us bridge these few years of difficult times.”

This is the first time Iglesias confirms what Gables Insider has been explaining for years, that the City is dealing with financial troubles. Iglesias and his team have been telling residents and the Commission that there were no issues.

In fact, at the May 10th City Commission meeting, Commissioner Kirk R. Menendez defended Iglesias and stated with no uncertain terms that the City had no financial problems, following a Gables Insider article about the sale of the City owned lot in front of Doctor’s Hospital. Yet, five months later, Iglesias is stating that there are a number of financial issues, disproving Menendez.

Gables Insider has reported on the City’s questionable financial standing on several occasions. Over the last two years, the City has been “forced to sell” two parking lots (Greco and Doctor’s) and now resident owned TDRs to make up the difference, while the Manager presents the Commission with a top heavy raise package in the City’s 2022-2023 budget.

While other municipalities freeze Manager-led initiatives and bring in private auditors to investigate their municipal finances to ensure no malfeasance; the Mayor and Commission have turned a blind eye and gone as far as staging a vote of confidence on the Manager, with the Vice Mayor ensuring him that his job would remain safe while he was on the dais.

Sources at City Hall have informed Gables Insider that the Sunshine Meeting to be held with the purpose of discussing the Manager’s raises and Executive Benefits Packages issued to 54 administrative staff members will not be taking place anytime soon.

Shade Meeting Over Transparency

Instead, Mayor Vince Lago, who campaigned on transparency, has requested a shade meeting to ensure the matter is discussed away from the public eye. He did so during the October 11th City Commission meeting. The shade meeting is tentatively scheduled for November 9th, the date of the next City Commission meeting. A Sunshine Meeting was supposed to follow on a different date, but sources explain that none has been planned. City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos had stated at the Commission meeting that the matter could not be discussed in a shade meeting, but Gables Insider has learned that she has since agreed a shade meeting would be appropriate, under the guise of secrecy for union negotiations.

Gables Insider has learned that the meeting has been scheduled for November, instead of sooner as had been requested by Commissioner Jorge L. Fors, Jr., due to the Budget Director’s 10-day trip in Europe.

Missing Funds

Iglesias mentioned the creation of a new fund for maintenance and renovations of historic buildings. This is where the TDR sale funds are projected to go.

The movement of funds from one designated fund to another has been a cause for concern for some residents in the past. At the October 3rd Budget hearing, resident Maria Cruz brought up her concerns with the funds that should have been in the City Hall renovation fund.

The Budget Director confirmed, at that meeting, that there had been over $7 million in that fund. However, that fund only has a little over $50,000 today.

In response to Cruz’s comment, Finance Director Diana Gomez explained that the funds were not for City Hall renovations and rather for the renovations of the “City Hall Complex.” She explained the complex included the 427 Biltmore Way building, which is currently being renovated.

A simple search of the City of Coral Gables Commission meetings yielded only one instance when the term “City Hall Complex” was used, it was in 2017, but was not referencing these funds.

City Hall has only seen roof repairs, and they were in the ballpark of $600,000, high even in this construction market.

Renovations Too Late

The City has been negligent in its maintenance of many of its historic structures. City Hall has long been infested with mold and the Manager has taken no action to address it. The Alhambra Water Tower is in serious disrepair. The Gondola building collapsed earlier this year, even though Commissioner Rhonda Anderson had instructed the Manager to take emergency measures to prevent a collapse a few months before.

The Manager has provided the Commission with a Capital Improvement Plan, which has the Water Tower five years down the road and City Hall at least three. At this rate, the historic structures may not be usable, have collapsed or condemned by the City’s Centennial in 2025.


19 thoughts on “City Manager: City Has “A Number Of Issues, Financial Issues, To Deal With”

  1. This article is very inaccurate as to how and when the pension deficit got out of control. In 2001 the plan was fully finded. When Mayor Sleznick was mayor from 2001 to 2011, the unfunded deficit grew to more than $165 million due to the changes in the pension terms he made. Those changes led to gaming teh sytsem to the point where most employees got more pension than they made in salary, including the general employees. Mr. Sleznick is a union lawyer and gave away the store in exchange for union support. When Pat Salerno entered as city manager in 2009 in response to the backlash created by David Brown’s unacceptable behavior, he instituted reforms to the pension rules, such as not allowing the practice of heaping huge amounts of overtime to salaries in eth final year of employment to run up the tab for the employees pension. FOr his efforst he was run out of town on charges of “lying about the trafiic accident count”. His actions saved the taxpayers of Coral Gables from enormous increases in the liability. The city’s taxpayers contriubute an additional over 50% of the salaries of the employees, and the deficit still gets bigger. Should anyone want to see all the facts and figures I have been working on this for 15 years and trying to get some sanity into the equation. The fact is our general emplpyees, who stonewall us ( ever tried to get a permit?) and treat us with arrogance and disrespect, get a lush pension benefit mainly paid for by the taxpayers. No one in private industry can even hope to get that level of pension. Our first responders are the best, and with the current political atmosphere. taking away their pensions would not make sense. But our general employees have the best deal on the planet. There needs to be reform, and NOW. The other wealthy communities around us have only 401K plans for their general employees- for example, Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay. And their services are way better.

  2. Here’s the City / City Manager input on the pilfered funds: The city will sell unused development rights from the city owned historic Fink Studio, the Coral Gables Museum, the Miracle Theatre and the buildings located next to the theatre. The proceeds are going into a newly established Historic Preservation Fund which will be used exclusively for the upkeep and restoration of city owned historic properties.
    “In Coral Gables as we look to the future, we are committed to preserving our past,” said City Manager Peter J. Iglesias. “This is an innovative way to maintain our historic properties.” — Coral
    Gables e-News letter, 10/26. So it seems the City has skipped both the shade and the sunshine meetings???

  3. Red Light Cameras on Granada. West Miami uses cameras for NO POINTS, ticketing on 67 AV & elsewhere. Why don’t we do the same to GENERATE REVENUE? We could make SO MUCH MONEY! The Gables is smack in the middle of Metro Miami; there’s so much pass through traffic. We’re spending so much on traffic calming devices, speed bumps, roundabouts, neighborhood meetings, when we could get the BAD GUYS/ GALS where it hurts, their checking account. Are we stupid? Or evil, pandering to reckless drivers, who don’t live in the Gables, but prefer our shadier streets? Many people in power are ATHEISTS, with no morality, sense of responsibility for preventable traffic homicides. They only care about keeping their thrones.

  4. Coral Gables Fire Department is mostly an ambulance service. Like an ambulance, with paramedics on it, Fire Rescue goes to auto accidents where people are injured and to homes where someone may be having serious chest pains. Then, the paramedics on the ambulance, transport the patients to a hospital.

    An ambulance service has garage for its ambulance and space for its paramedics and office staff.
    They don’t have a new fire station.

    Coral Gables Fire Department, mainly an ambulance service, doesn’t need a new fire station.

    If Fire Rescue really cares about this community, save the money for an unnecessary fire station, give the paramedics a salary equal to or even more than other paramedics, and use the rest of the money to reduce our taxes.

  5. Hey Mayor and the Commissioners. How long are we going to have to put up with your ineffective leadership? How long do we have to deal with the autocratic Robin Hood City Manager who takes from everyone and feeds himself. Menendez you are a disappointment and I have buyers remorse towards you and Lago. The majority of the residents want our Manager gone. To promise him a job as long as you are in a leadership role should be illegal. PEOPLE, VOTE EVERY ONE OF THESE USELESS LEADERS OUT IN EVERY UPCOMING ELECTION. It is time to push back and retake our City. Pensions do not exist in the real world and should be phased out. Where is your fiscal responsibility or should I say and responsibility? Hiding behind closed meetings only weakens your position.

  6. @lower taxes. You do know the fire department does not only respond to fires correct? They respond to medical calls and a huge amount of other responsibilities. Much like an insurance policy you are really gonna wish it’s there when you need it. Not if but when. I assume you don’t know that from your ignorant comment. You must be a little Vincey cronie. Anyhow, fire stations are needed every so many miles to improve response times. With the city of coral gables extending upward not so much outward; the response times are likely to increase. That means it will take longer to reach your emergency. Would you like a family member not breathing and have the closest fire station 10 minutes away? Brain death occurs within 4-6 minutes therefor, I can bet my bottom dollar you would like them as close as possible. Before you put another comment out there (because I have seen you make this comment before) use your little noggin to think. The fire and police as well as general employees are not only needed but are also the “fall back plan” to blame when the city is clearly misusing the money. Shade meeting after shade meeting; where is all this Lago talk about transparency? By the way for anybody who does not know, unfunded liability is in place in case EVERY single member leaves at the same time. (Might as well get alien liability in case we get invaded by aliens). Then the city will not be able to pay those retirement amounts. Make no mistake every employee pays into their retirement. It is not a true pension plan where members do not contribute. Most employees contribute 10-15% per pay check. As per usual the city blames employees instead of the actual problem; misuse of money. The services we are provided as citizens is second to none from neighboring cities. I have lived in other parts of the county. Trust me when I say you would much rather use the services provided with our competent employees than theirs. We need a sunshine meeting not a shade meeting. We also need an external audit to see exactly where the money is going. This city loves to invest in multi million dollar art projects and hefty raises to administration than giving our general employees better salaries. Getting a 46% raise while telling the general employees no to 3% is absolutely a slap in the face. Just like in the private sector. If you want competent employees pay them. If not you will be a revolving door. The ones who suffer is we the citizens when we have to deal with sub par services.

  7. Raise City Rents the wise solution. The City owns a huge shopping center, Merrick Park. The new owners of Lifetime Apts on Dixie raised rents close to renewal time way past 5% without proper Miami Dade 60 day notice. The Palace at Coral Gables, a City Owned Property, has also disrespected Levine Cava’s renter increase legislation. The City needs to do the same with its commercial properties, raise the rents or fees charged to match inflation. I doubt Simon at Dadeland or the Soffers at Aventura give away their spaces.

  8. Agree with “john” 100%.
    Also remarkable is how easy this is in Coral Gables. Wealthy individuals would not allow such mismanagement of their beautiful & valuable homes. How the populace allows such mismanagement of the city itself is incomprehensible to me.

  9. You can’t increase salaries, pet projects and debt service without having to move money around. Watch any meeting and see how L’Ego tells the staff what to do and where to focus their energy. He doesn’t even bother to go through the manager anymore. Iglesias biggest fault is being scared to say no to L’Ego.

  10. Thank you for the reporting. This has been going on for YEARS. The City having financial problems is solely due to mismanagement or worse. Ignoring ownership and property use changes, the City benefits from a guaranteed 3% increase in gross if the Save Our Homes cap applied to EVERY property. We all know that not every property is capped. Further, we all know that properties have sold over the years (value is adjusted to the price paid), properties have been developed (just look around), etc. So the City has reaped tax collection windfalls as real estate has steadily increased in value and changed hands. What about the budgeting function? Where has the $$ gone? What internal controls are in place to assure that mismanagement or worse is not taking place? It’s beyond past time for an external audit to be conducted (not a financial statement audit that merely assures us that the accounting is according to GAAS) and the internal audit function be properly established — the first step is INDEPENDENCE in the internal audit function and reporting. It is well beyond time that there be a compensation review at all levels, especially executive. Seems like the executives are padding their salaries to essentially create a golden parachute for when they are fired as the pressure from 2 new commissioners coming on board and from the residents will continue. And sadly, it looks like these salary increases are being done at the expense of and include failure to pay livable wages of those with boots on the ground. Shameful.

  11. Anyone. What exactly is a TDR, what do we sell and how does it affect the city in future.

  12. The ineptitude exhibited by the Commission and the City Manager relating to financial matters is unfathomable. It is only exceeded by their willingness to tolerate what is nothing less than public corruption. Let’s start with getting a competent city manager. Peter Iglesias is an embarrassment and needs to go immediately. Without a golden parachute! His chronic incompetency is ample good cause for his termination for cause. And Mayor Lago? The shade will provide you no cover for the back door politics you have been playing. Put an immediately hold on any raise for employees earning more than $100K a year until the increases can be justified both in the short and long term.

  13. The City’s Pension issues have been a known fact since about 2002. The City has for years now added in average an additional 3 million expressly to reduce our unfunded liability, so this is not really an excuse I can buy.

    The City in fact brought in an additional 15 million in tax revenue this fiscal year alone, so he wants to sell the TDR’s for development reasons, not because of any pension problem, real as they may be.

    That is not to say that the administration has prioritized the financial health of its own bureaucracy over the maintenance of our infrastructure. About 85 million in unfunded projects for city structures are part of our capital improvement plan. Just like the pension, we will be saddled with that bill too.

  14. The Don Slesnic era continues to haunt the city’s finances. He was mayor under David Brown and he led the negotiation with Pat Salerno whom he wanted to live the CEO life. The current commission needs to not repeat past mistakes and verify the manager’s work!!!

  15. New fire station???
    Can you recall the last time a big fire was in Coral Gables? I can’t.
    We don’t need a new fire station. Don’t spend the money. Instead, lower taxes. Get us some
    breathing room.

  16. The City needs to start phasing out pensions (with the exception of Police & Fire personnel), as private businesses have done for years! This is an antiquated practice that needs to end now! A review of salary structures is also necessary.

  17. This is excellent reporting. No doubt that this city manager would continue hiding the city’s financial troubles while giving themselves raises absent of this reporting. This level of hubris is remarkable. Thank you Coral Gables Insider for bringing this to light, now a correction needs to be made to how this city is being managed.

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