Contentious Meeting Reshapes Dynamics at Coral Gables City Commission Chamber

Javier Baños

Baños is the Editor of Gables Insider

In a striking display of political tension, Wednesday’s City Commission meeting showcased a notable departure from the norm, hinting at a significant shift in the city’s political landscape. The agenda was relatively concise, yet brimming with issues that could shape the future of the city. The four pivotal items up for discussion were the proposed shift of the upcoming election from April 2025 to November 2024, the establishment of a charter review committee, the renewal of the firefighter’s union contract, and the approval of the millage rate for the forthcoming fiscal year, complete with a budget laden with projects of substantial interest to the city’s residents.

The proposal to change the election date to November 2024 was met with a 3-2 vote against, with Commissioners Menendez, Castro, and Fernandez casting dissenting votes. Vice Mayor Anderson had championed the change, supported by Mayor Lago, though it was difficult to ignore the suspicion that this move was driven by a desire to avoid a repeat of the electoral outcome in April 2023. While proponents argued for increased voter participation and cost savings through a November election, critics, including Commissioner Fernandez, pointed out that voters had ample opportunities to participate in the April elections.

Commissioner Castro raised concerns about the political motivations behind the move, highlighting a political action committee with over $600,000 in its coffers, which had previously supported the Mayor and his preferred candidates. She argued that a crowded federal ballot in November would overshadow local issues and provide an advantage to well-funded campaigns, potentially drowning out the voices of the local electorate.

Commissioner Menendez played the role of mediator, using his experience in team sports coaching to maintain decorum in the chamber. Expressing displeasure at the rushed introduction of the proposal without sufficient public input and debate, he ultimately brought the discussion to a close, much to Mayor Lago’s apparent frustration.

The creation of a Charter Review Committee was another contentious point of debate. Commissioner Fernandez introduced the resolution as a measured alternative to the election date change proposal. However, Mayor Lago and Vice Mayor Anderson, working in tandem throughout the evening, sought to exert control over the committee’s composition, including the appointment of the chair. Commissioner Menendez once again played the role of referee, offering a middle-ground solution that allowed the Mayor’s appointee to chair the committee. The resolution passed with the Commission’s approval.

The debate extended to the firefighters’ union contract, a long-standing point of contention for Mayor Lago. Despite the firefighters compromising and receiving management’s approval, the Mayor appeared dissatisfied, seemingly seeking retribution for perceived political positions taken by the union. It was the rest of the Commission, with Commissioner Menendez’s wise words, that came to the rescue, allowing the compromise to proceed.

The climax of the evening came when Mayor Lago abruptly proposed a graded millage rate decrease of up to 7.75 percent, a regressive tax plan that would primarily benefit more affluent property owners. While many residents welcomed the idea of a tax cut, they raised concerns about the lack of fiscal planning behind the Mayor’s proposal. The proposed budget decrease of nearly $6 to $9 million initially lacked specific item reductions, prompting the Mayor to seek suggestions from his colleagues. Eventually, the Mayor’s proposal targeted park projects, particularly those dear to Commissioner Menendez, encountering strong opposition from the three commissioners who opposed his earlier election date change.

Mayor Lago, seemingly exasperated, demanded a unanimous agreement from the Commission to cut $2.4 million from the budget, holding it hostage in exchange for his support and that of Vice Mayor Anderson for the Manager’s proposed millage rate, which required a 4/5 vote. However, even Vice Mayor Anderson, who very much believes that government should govern, declined to join the Mayor’s brinkmanship, ultimately voting with the rest of the Commission to approve the millage rate.

Mayor Lago’s subsequent attempt to remove various park projects from the budget, prioritizing office improvements at City Hall, was also defeated by the remaining three commissioners, leaving the Manager’s budget unchanged for the Second Budget Meeting

While Mayor Lago has had a history of accomplishments and community engagement as Commissioner Lago, his tenure as Mayor has raised concerns about his approach to governance. Commissioner Fernandez and Castro both implored him to move past the past election and focus on the city’s well-being, but Mayor Lago’s apparent determination to leave his mark, even if it means a scorched-earth exit, raises questions about his priorities. Perhaps, as Commissioner Menendez exemplifies, acting as a referee rather than a rugby player would serve the city’s interests better as it prepares for future deliberations.

As the Coral Gables City Commission prepares for future decisions, one thing is clear: the dynamics within the chamber have shifted, and residents will be watching closely.


37 thoughts on “Contentious Meeting Reshapes Dynamics at Coral Gables City Commission Chamber

  1. You used to be a credible publication, now you’re just fake news supporting socialist candidates

  2. Of course, the Gables INCITER, continues to incite, just under a new publisher, who much like the prior one, has political aspirations. To quote The Who, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” This blog continues to be bought and paid for propaganda. It’s on the record for all to see. At the July 12th budget presentation, Ariel admitted that he took money from Mayor Lago to publish propaganda at the Mayor’s request. Before it was Lago paying Ariel. Who is paying who now?

  3. What trash has finally arrived at City Hall!!! Meetings have always been conducted in a “rational” manner with respect for each other. We can agree to disagree, we don’t all have the same views or opinions. I reside in Coral Gables since 1980 and always are involved in my City affairs, reporting, taking & sending photos to Code Enforcement, the Police, Parking Dept. & the Mayor’s Staff, etc. because I care about my City Beautiful, it’s past, present & future. I have always voted & worked all elections in my precinct at the American Legion on Alhambra for more than 15 years. I can see the move to November to save $$$ needed for other projects. Concerned residents that care about our City will go to the poles or Vote by Mail. Just in and a 67% salary increase???? WOW, WOW what is our City Commision turning into a septic tank?? Unfair attacks to the Mayor, Anderson & the Mayor’s Staff, always responsive, professional and caring for the residents needs!!!

  4. The increase in compensation for the commissioners was handled very poorly and I expected the commissioners to handle it differently, in particular Ariel and Melissa as they were the ones recently elected as the true representatives of the CG residents.
    I for one believe the present compensation is too low considering the hours they all put into this. However there are ways to do this properly and this was not one of those ways. I am very disappointed in how all this was handled and once more mistrust all of them.

  5. Coral Gables seems to be turning in the city of Miami’s style of politics. As a long time resident in the City Beautiful of over 30 years, I don’t recall meetings being so contentious and vengeful. All of the elected officials exhibited petty behavior. In my time, Commissioners were always respectful and cordial and treated each other with decorum and respect. It saddens me to see that my home town is now becoming just as good as national politics.

    I was especially disappointed to see Commissioners Fernandez and Castro using city employees as ammunition. It’s unfortunate that hardworking employees are targeted to accomplish political agendas. This was the case when they used the Mayor’s Chief of staff, who has personally assisted me and so many residents that I know as a target when discussing labor union contracts. This was a terrible comparison and simply unfair. She is professional, diligent and an absolute pleasure to deal with and employees like shouldn’t be used as pawns. The greatest hypocrisy lies when these very own commissioners have only been on the job for a few months and immediately voted to increase their own salaries by 67%!!!

    The Mayor and Commissioners need to remember this: residents may vote for you, but employees keep the city running and have more power than you think because of their constant interaction with residents. Don’t burn the bridges that get you where you need to go.

    Also, as a point of constructive criticism, Gables Insider seems to be entirely one sided nowadays as it focuses only on Mayor Lago and criticizes him at every opportunity. As a suggestion, you may want to try to be objective in your reporting or else you will lose all credibility.

  6. Why aren’t you reporting the pay raises
    and car allowance for Commission?

    Gables Insider was critical of staff pay raises and the readers went wild for it.

    Report on the Commission raises!

  7. EXCELLENT article Mr. Banos. Many on here seem to be on the battlefield regarding these pay hikes when all of the facts have yet to be presented. That was the first of two meetings on the budget and I’m sure that details will come out. Salaries for the city commission was WAY below any kind of normal scale and were slated for “part-time” commissioners and Mayor. Running this City now requires ‘full-time’ hours and commensurate salaries.
    Our City Commission has to get past their issues and begin working better together. I think that MOST here in the Gables want the same things: contain over-development, low crime, great police and fire-protection, excellent City services at City Hall, address traffic concerns, etc. Hopefully our Commission and the residents can learn to get along so we can overcome the issues we’re facing. I think EVERYONE on the dais is doing their best and giving their all…let the facts re: the raises come out first before being so judgmental.

  8. Why aren’t you reporting on the 67% increase the commissioners Fernandez, Menendez and Castro gave themselves. Wasn’t your last post about transparency or that only applies when it suits you.

    I also find it odd that Maria Cruz who for years has scrutinized the budget and made comments at every meeting but was completely silent on this matter yesterday. Wonder if ALL of this has to do with how the election vote went yesterday.

    You know what they say, if something smells rotten it probably is.

    I hope you stay true to your resolve about how transparency works and truthfully look into this. At least Ladra makes an effort to say political cortadito will investigate it. Let’s see how “transparent” it is .

  9. First of all Kirk is not to be trusted. He aligns with whoever will help him keep his seat or will help him personally. He was in the pocket of the past commissioners so a zebra does not change his stripes. He never upheld his campaign promises and now thinks the winning team is the new kids on the block. Anderson Is done as she is a Lago puppet and also has forgotten her promises. The commission is divisive because we have new people we voted in to CHANGE the direction of the commission. Lago is the worst Mayor we have had and he has caused a lot of the problems within the City by himself. Fernandez and Castro, keep it up but keep arms distance from Kirk. And sell the paintings the manager paid an enormous amount for and put the money back in the budget.

  10. Thank you Insider for your reporting on the key issues. Keep it up, keep it fair and balanced, and keep our community well-informed.

  11. I think Gables Insider should not have come back. I am sick and tired of all these attacks. A lot of good has been done for the City before this new Commission. Work together to get more good done. I will not read this anymore. I can do my own homework and get the facts. And the Coral Gables Neighborhood Association does not speak for ME or anyone I know. Only 20% of voters voted in this last election and Coral Gables Neighborhood Association only wants 20% or less to vote so that they can get unqualified candidates to run and possibly win. It’s pathetic!

  12. Just a note, Mayor Lago as well as the Vice Mayor wanted to prioritize critical repairs of two Historic assets, the Alhambra Water Tower and City Hall windows. It was suggested that an additional $2 mil funded to Phillips Park, between budget hearings, be allocated to the City Hall window replacement project.
    The motion was defeated.

  13. Mr. Gerry L, I’ll play this out for you in a matter of seconds. And to make this as easy as possible, I encourage you to go to YouTube, look up First Budget Hearing – 9/13/2023 from the City of Coral Gables, and follow along.

    Here we go. Are you ready? Class is in session.

    At minute 28:12, Mayor Lago states he did not request a salary increase.

    Immediately following Mayor Lago, at minute 28:29, Vice-Mayor Anderson puts on the record that she did not request a salary increase either.

    At minute 29:25, staff report that there was a “majority support for the increase of the salaries.” Thus, it was placed into the budget. Sorry, not placed… Hidden.

    At 29:36 Mayor Lago is able to conclude, as do all residents watching closely, that this majority support (which must be comprised of a total of three Commissioners) is Menendez, Fernandez, and Castro. During this whole discussion, not one of these Commissioners made a comment or spoke up. Their silence is incredibly telling. There is conclusive evidence through minute 28 to minute 30 that these Commissioners make up the majority.

    Ladra, our “Watchdog,” fails to disclose the full details of this engagement. She knows very well that by going into real investigative detail, she will have to portray Menendez, Fernandez, and Castro for who they really are. So she ends her post with the words “Political Cortadito will investigate the origin of this pay raise” because it misleads and misguides her readership. I’ve provided you with the evidence. Go take a look.

    And you already said my real name… It’s Spock. Live long and prosper my friend. I hope Coral Gables will, too.

  14. Wow 67% salary increase but NOT disclosed. Im fine with an increase but the non-disclosure here is totally unacceptable. Lago’s brother will benefit $$ if annexation is approved what a swindle-he is lucky he ran last election unchallenged-any other candidate would have beat him easily.

  15. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dirty Uncle Vinny was scheming against the newcomers and Menendez regarding the salary increases. Anderson is a snake and has shown her true colors. Anderson publicly opposing the firefighters just because Vinny can’t control his little man emotions his concerning. Winter is coming and he still can’t set a side his disagreements with the president of the fire union. SHAMEFUL!

    The mayor and vice mayor seemed to be working together against the new comers and NOW Menendez, which raises questions about potential violations of the Sunshine Law. The atmosphere in the room noticeably changed when Menendez voted no, and they seemed to struggle to find other ways to target him. I pity the mayor’s lackluster leadership in Coral Gables. Let’s throw a tantrum when things go south or better off let’s destroy the city.

    Castro, Fernández, and Menendez should remind him that this is a 5-seat government, where no one should have more power than the others. The mayor’s role is primarily to chair commission meetings and participate in ceremonial events like ribbon cuttings; he should avoid acting superior. #limpmayorlago

  16. I really appreciate that this gossip column has risen again. Mr. Baños is just as opinionated as his predecessor and as unashamedly devoid of journalistic integrity – choosing to use adjectives and opinions laced throughout his narrative. That being said, I look forward to each entry just to see what will be said next. Long live Gables Insider blog!

  17. that Lago has turned into a condescending bully since the April election is plain to the naked eye.

    From what I saw on Wednesday, Kirk was just playing referee, cant understand why so many people atre teeing off on him in these comments.

    and hey, Mr Spock (Nimoy)>> can you share the evidence you have that points at Castro & Fernandez originating the salary increases? because if Elaine della Valle (Ladra) has not found it, doubt you have. but hey, you’re a man of science & facts, right? please share. maybe with your real name.

  18. Thank you to all the commissioners who voted FOR the residents. The tide has turned and more residents are being made aware of the local politics and how it exactly affects them. We are NOT going away. Stay tuned for more folks!

  19. I understand that there are certain people who don’t like Mayor Lago, but that cannot be the entire premise of your political extistence. This entire us vs them dynamic is incredibly divise, we see it at the national level and it to my dismay its reached our city. Before Comissioner Fernandez and Castro were elected, the Coral Gables comission meetings were a model of cordiality and political discourse, yesterday’s outing was worse than anything i’ve ever seen.

    80% voter turnour vs 20% voter turnout is by every metric a better outcome, doesn’t matter who proposes it. Comissioner Fernandez critized the mayor for giving a member of his staff a raise, while not opposing a raise to himself. All three comissioners who voted to keep voter turnout lower by a factor of 4x seem to favor giving themselves pay raises.

    When the newly represented comissioners say they represent “residents” as they frequently do, its important to keep in mind that they won an election were less than 25% of elegible voters turnout to vote. By definition thats not an accurate representation of the community as a whole. I have no problem with grassroots candidates that are seen as outsiders, what I do have a problem with is people who deliberatly lie, people who don’t listen to data, people who and are looking to better themselves at the expense of others.

    I understand that publications like this are supported by page views and these negative pieces help them achieve that goal. But gables insider actually used to report news and raise awareness on different issues going on in the community. I implore the editor of this newsletter to be more objective in their reporting.

  20. It’s sad that the commission cannot act as one … all of them (not just one or two) focusing on the needs of the community first … and forgetting about who won what or who lost what or the overall political posturing … we don’t need that here in Coral Gables … leave that to the idiots in Tallahassee

  21. Excellent reporting Mr. Banos. I’m sure that more info will come out later about the salary hikes for the Commissioners. Although, I believe that their salaries were incredibly low to begin with and the work-load is much more than a “part-time job”. Their salaries, even WITH the increases, are still quite low so I have no complaint about that. Kirk Menendez voted FOR residents and was mindful that at the Commission meeting before, there was an agreement that the election situation NOT be placed on the agenda until October, so more residents could weigh in. Kirk did the right thing and voted against the election timing due to LACK of resident input. Thank you Commissioner Menendez for doing the right thing.

  22. Kudos to the new Commissioners and to Menendez for standing up to the Mayor and his other stooge.
    However, the point made by Mr. Nimoy is very concerning. Reporting only what suits your political objectives is not what Gables Insider was all about. You should have not only reported but highlighted the higher salaries issue. That is disappointing and concerning. You have lost our trust and will have to work hard to regain it!!

  23. Too little too late. Kirk can’t be trusted he WILL stab us in the back again. Alot of people on my street agree. They are DONE with Kirk he had his chance. WE NEED someone reliable who won’t cut and run when the going gets tough. WE NEED you to run MR BANOS!! Mayor ego and fake Anderson will be harder to beat then KIRK he is weak. WE NEED to replace him with someone we CAN TRUST! RUN MR. BANOS. YOU will have MY VOTE!

  24. Lago lost the election in April, and now he lost the commision. He may be Mayor, but the only thing he has left is the title. Congratulations to Castro, Fernandez, and Menendez for shutting down political distractions.

  25. Kirk as the leader your suppose to be come clean with your neighbors when they ask you about what’s going on with the assemblage on Malaga & Santander instead of saying your staying out of it & contact somebody else-don’t be afraid & that MAY help you prove your more pro citizen.

  26. Mayor Lago has tried to bully and mislead the public and commissioners into bad decisions from the get go. You can see from his immature behavior at numerous commission meetings that he is a hot-headed individual who has no place in politics. His decisions have hurt many small businesses in the area, and alienated dedicated volunteers throughout the community who worked to make a positive difference in Coral Gables.

  27. It’s nice to see Commissioner Menendez step up to the plate. We need independent thinkers who are not going to be stooges of Mayor Lago (she knows who I’m talking about). Commissioner Castro can continue to urge Mayor Lago to move on from the past election, but that will be a useless task because it’s like asking Trump to move on from the 2020 election! I voted for Mayor Lago with the expectation he was going to help run the City in a professional and transparent fashion, and yet its been all drama after the past election didn’t go his way. Coral Gables needs to keep the toxic environment that exists with other local administrations’ cozy relationship with lobbyists. Talking about toxic relationships, is Mayor Lago still insisting on voting for the annexation with his brother serving as a paid consultant of the company looking to develop its commercial property after it’s incorporated into Coral Gables? A definite conflict that requires recusal and, by the way, full disclosure.

  28. The development and maintenance of parks in our city is not only important, it is critical for the reputation of our city as one that puts the needs and life-style benefits of its citizens first and foremost! There are countless members of our community who cannot travel to enjoy a state or national park, but they can walk a few blocks to sit and enjoy one of the lovely parks in Coral Gables, the latest of which is the Lamar Louise Curry Park in front of our treasured Venetian Pool!

  29. Mr. Baños… You’ve left out the very disturbing fact that Commissioners Menendez, Fernandez, and Castro hid a 67% salary increase in the budget. Why haven’t you reported this? The dynamics of the Commission have certainly shifted, but not for the better. This publication is another example of efforts to antagonize and intimidate, much as individuals like Maria Cruz, Gordon Sokoloff, Eladio Cancio, and CGNA continue to do at every Commission Meeting. But when it comes to a salary increase, these groups and individuals stay quiet. As have you. Report all the facts and details Mr. Baños, not just the parts that suit you. Otherwise, you are misleading Coral Gables residents and you will also be held accountable for the failures of Menendez, Fernandez, and Castro.

  30. Mayor Lago is defending the Coral Gables citizens when looking into expense reductions and lower taxes. Commissioner Menendez is opportunistic, choosing sides beneficial to him, and not to the citizens that he should be serving.

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