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Coral Gables Commissioners are elected to represent resident interests on the dais. A lot has been said about some members of the Commission by Gables Insider subscribers over the years.
However, at the August 23rd City Commission meeting, one member of the Commission made it a point to choose the side of an outside Fire Union, over that of the residents he was elected to represent.
The discussion item was the potential annexation of Little Gables. A topic that was not very controversial until Jorge L. Fors, Jr.’s campaign made it an issue with the purpose of dividing the previously united neighbors of North Gables. In his campaign, the issue of annexation was vilified and large amounts of false information was propagated in order to scare voters into supporting Fors’ candidacy for the Coral Gables Commission.
Just over three years later, Fors has resigned his seat on the Coral Gables Commission effective November 22, 2022, in order to run for another office.
Now, candidate Fors has once embraced annexation in order to divide voters in the district he seeks to represent.
The discussion began very cordially and was conversational. Many residents of Coral Gables and of Little Gables spoke in favor of annexation. A couple rose to speak against.
Threats By The Miami-Dade Fire Fighter’s Union
The president of the Miami-Dade Firefighter’s Union (Local 1403), William McAllister, IV, addressed the Commission. He opted for a less civil approach and began attacking the City of Coral Gables and the Commission for seeking to annex Little Gables.
McAllister began with a direct attack at Coral Gables Mayor, Vince Lago, “Mr. Mayor, I ask this question rhetorically, is public safety a priority for you? I am not sure if it is.” “If public safety were your priority, we wouldn’t be here right now.” He inferred that the timing of this discussion was a symbol of Lago’s disinterest in public safety due to the funeral for a Miami-Dade fallen officer taking place at the same time.
The fact was, the Commission meeting had been pushed back a day to accommodate Fors’ campaign and election the day before.
McAllister continued to say public safety was not a priority for the City, clearly demonstrated by a dumpster fire the prior weekend, which he described as a high-rise fire Coral Gables had been unable to handle.
Public comments had been kept to two minutes for all prior speakers, at two minutes and thirty seconds the Mayor asked McAllister to wrap up his comments, yet Commissioner Fors interjected in order to allow McAllister, who represents a union with a public interest and endorsed him in his Miami-Dade County election, to continue his comments.
Lago pointed out the renovations of Coral Gables fire stations, the construction of the public safety building and the upcoming construction of a new fire station on Sunset. He asked McAllister to stay on topic and not make attacks personal to ensure a positive dialogue.
McAllister continued by addressing comments that had been made by Little Gables residents. They mentioned how there were at least two residents who had died recently waiting for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue response and another had to be driven to the hospital by a neighbor due to lack of response by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. McAllister said the reason for their deaths was “technical issues for the response-time issues,” while stating that Coral Gables Fire assuming response in the area would be a degradation of service to Little Gables and would dilute response in the Gables.
Coral Gables has, for long, had among the best response times in the County for both Police (2 minutes) and Fire (under 5 minutes).
McAllister then asked Lago to “reconsider” his priorities and “focus less on building new stations and buying pretty trucks.”
Vice Mayor Michael Mena addressed McAllister’s comments. “The comments you just made are the most disgraceful comments that I have had here since I was elected in 2017. For you to come here for the first time and openly question what the Mayor of the City prioritizes public safety, I don’t even know where to start with that.” Mena continued, “if you are going to come here and question people’s motives, you should at least be honest about what your motives are. For you to come here and pretend you are here altruistically on behalf of these residents of this neighborhood, because you have this concern for public safety, with all due respect, everybody knows why you are here. And it ain’t about their safety, its about money. Put up our public safety numbers against whoever you want, whenever we hear from residents we hear that whenever they call police and fire, they get the support they need. And I know this mutual aid game you like to play, and by the way, the last thing we should be honest about. Whatever my vote was last time, the City of Coral Gables approved annexation. It then went to the County. The County is the one that tanked annexation, and at the forefront of that was the fire union.”
Fire And Police Chief Contradict Fire Union
Although Coral Gables Fire Chief, Marcos de la Rosa, skipped this important meeting to attend a conference and was not present to answer the Commission’s questions. Deputy Chief Gilberto “Gil” Hernandez was present to answer on his behalf.
Mena asked the Chief, “Can you point to an example, recently, of a Coral Gables high-rise fire where the response time from the City of Coral Gables or a mutual aid agreement?”
In contradiction to McAllister’s allegations, Chief Hernandez stated that the mutual aid agreement with Miami-Dade County is usually called upon by Miami-Dade County more often than by Coral Gables. “Its possible that we may provide more mutual aid to Miami-Dade than they do to us,” he added.
As you will recall, Coral Gables Fire and Police were both present at the Surfside building collapse the night of the collapse, as they have been at numerous other county incidents and events to provide assistance to the County departments.
Lago stated, “I had a meeting with this gentleman…he said ‘we will let you annex Little Gables, High Pines and Ponce Davis. We will get out of the way, but let us absorb your entire fire department.’ I laughed. I laughed.” McAlister interrupted Lago and said, “you are lying.”
Lago continued, “I am going to take it a step further, I am going to give you the names of people who you called to send an intimidating message to me.” He explained that McAllister had said to “send a message to the Mayor, he can either have an easy re-election or he can have a tough re-election. And its very simple if he backs away from annexation. You told that to the Mayor of Miami, you told that to the Mayor of West Miami, and you told that to another individual who is in this room here.”
Gables Insider has independently confirmed these conversations. A week before the meeting, we reached out to McAllister to speak with him about his threats towards Lago. He did not return phone calls, rather sent a lengthy email with scripted messaging on why annexation was bad in his opinion, but not once denying his threats.
The Commission called upon Police Chief Edward J. Hudak, Jr. who stated that “from the City of Coral Gables Police Department perspective, as I have said before on several other attempts through the 34 years I have been here, we need to square off the boundaries of the City as far as our paroling standpoints. As far as mutual aid; which is affected differently on the Police side than it is on the Fire side, the mutual aid in this case has become weaponized and that’s a problem for me.”
Fors Comes To Bat For The Union That Endorsed Him
Fors then interjected. “Time out, time out, time out.” Lago recognized Anderson who had asked to speak first. Fors did not allow for her to speak.
He entered to assist McAllister on his point, “is it an indication, if we have to call mutual aid, because there is a fire or dumpster fire in a building and all our units are there. Is that an indication that we do not have enough personnel if all our personnel are there?”
Chief Hernandez answered, “this is a unique incident. High-rise fires do not happen often. If it does happen, we need resources from mutual aid to back-fill or support our department. That is the only instance that we would need mutual aid.” As a thirty year veteran of Coral Gables Fire, Chief Hernandez was asked “would you say that we provide more mutual aid to Miami-Dade County than they do to us?” “Yes, my belief is that we provide more mutual aid to them for EMS type calls.”
Fors, who has consistently approved high-rise developments in Coral Gables with disregard for the need of additional police or fire personnel, pressed on the potential for a high-rise fire limiting the department’s ability to respond to calls in Little Gables. The fact is, most projects approved by Fors as Commissioner would have a larger impact than numerous EMS call in Little Gables combined.
Fors then doubled down, “I want to stay away from this anecdotal questioning. Like ‘who provides more mutual aid?’ We need to be more clear that the public safety factor must be considered very carefully, along with the other ones.”
This contradicts the Coral Gables Fire Union itself, which has complained to Gables Insider about Fors’ “disinterest in public safety” when it has come to new developments within City limits.
Mena explained that this had been a main discussion item when annexation was previously discussed in 2017. As staff’s presentation shows, the number of officers, fire fighters, revenue changes for staff hiring and the like were discussed in detail.
The facts are that the City always intended to add Police and Fire personnel, which would be paid for from revenues from the new properties that would become part of the City of Coral Gables.
Annexation was discussed by Miami-Dade County in 2017, when the City of Coral Gables was considering the potential annexation of High Pines, Ponce Davis and Little Gables. The process was moving along until Fors, who had been elected weeks before, attended the Miami-Dade Subcommittee discussing annexation and said that he represented the City and was there to say that Coral Gables was against annexation. The City had spent numerous time and resources and most Gables residents were in favor of the annexation. With his performance, Fors, who did not have the authority to speak on the Commission or City’s behalf ensured the process ended. At the time, members of the Commission were rumored to be considering a vote to censure Fors for his actions in defiance of the Commission’s authority. However, the support for the motion was not there as Fors had one colleague who was represented by the same campaign consultant, and another member of the Commission did not want to take action.
The Commission eventually decided to move forward with the discussion and give a green light to staff to proceed with the process. They also requested that a sunshine meeting be scheduled in the near future to discuss the details.