“Disqualified” Because Of Residents’ Support: Commission Appoints “High-Rise Jim” To Fill Vacancy Over Residents’ Choice, Maria Cruz

Ariel Fernandez

Founder & Editor
[email protected]

In a day and age where the reach of democracy is being called into question at every step, the Coral Gables City Commission played right into the trap and appointed a “consensus candidate” to fill the vacancy left by Jorge L. Fors, Jr.

The Commission had 30 days to fill the vacancy created on November 22nd. Instead of creating a formal process, as other municipalities such as Miami and Miami Beach have, Mayor Vince Lago instructed the Commission his desire for a closed process in a memo dated November 3rd. The process: “A Commissioner wishing to nominate an individual for appointment may do so verbally at the December City Commission meeting at which point the remaining Commissioners may consider that nomination and may approve an appointment by a majority vote of the Commission.”

During the days leading up to the December 13th Commission meeting, there were no public meetings, no interviews of the candidates, no questions asked of the candidates and no commitment from the candidates not to seek re-election for the gifted position.

Opportunity To Speak

The morning of the December 13th meeting, Lago was asked by one individual who had applied for consideration if they would have an opportunity to address the Commission about their candidacy. Lago said there would not be an opportunity, but that they could take time during public comments to speak. He explained that public comments would be limited to one minute as he had to leave town and needed to complete the meeting early. Most agenda items were breezed through, without discussion, within the first hour of the meeting.

Using Cason To Block Fors

Lago opened up the discussion and stated that, “we need someone who can hit the ground running and understands the ins and outs of our government. We need to pick someone who is clearly seasoned. Someone who has an untarnished record and in my view that is Jim Cason.” (READ: Commission Expected To Go Against Residents’ Will And Appoint James Cason To Fill Commission Vacancy).

Lago’s statement on hitting the ground running and knowing the ins and outs would actually disqualify Cason, not make him the logical choice. Cason has been away from City Hall for nearly six years and has only been present for one protocol item that we could verify in that time.

However, the goal of Lago was purely political. His intent was to block any ability for Fors to be reappointed to the seat and to seek re-election. Lago has publicly stated that Fors is part of Lago’s growing list of “enemies”, which includes the firefighter’s union, Steve Bittel, the Coral Gables Neighbors Association and Gables Insider‘s Ariel Fernandez. In other words, anyone who disagrees with Lago on any issue or questions his motives.

Resident Support “Disqualifies” Maria Cruz

Perhaps the most concerning comments were made by Vice Mayor Michael Mena. He explained that this was a simple decision, “because Jim Cason is the clear choice.”

Mena looked at Maria Cruz and explained to her that the problem in Coral Gables is people who question the Commission and point out deficiencies in staff. “A lot of the people supporting you are part of the problem and that disqualifies you.”

Mena added that polls conducted by blogs and support from homeowner associations should have no bearing on their decision.

Mena and the Commission used a recent poll by Gables Insider on the parks referendum to table discussion on the item, as our poll showed little support for the matter. Gables Insider is disparagingly referred to as a blog by the Commission in an attempt to dissuade readership, however the number of subscribers continues to grow for this media publication.

Cruz had received the support of Coral Gables Neighbors Association, the City’s largest homeowner’s association, with over 17,000 members.

Mena also explained that, during his six years on the dais, he has “never witnessed any member of staff do anything unethical.”

One of Cason’s staunchest supporters was a former staff member who rose to speak against Cruz. That former staffer was fired by the City Manager after accusations of destroying public records. Mena is aware of this case, as it has been discussed by the Commission in shade sessions.

Two other Cason supporters were also disgruntled former City staffers who were forced to resign, after being called out by Cruz, Coral Gables Neighbors Association and Gables Insider‘s Ariel Fernandez.

Cruz Attacked

The former staffer’s comments about Cruz were purely an attack over a situation Cruz faced in the Miami-Dade Public School system over 15 years ago. Cruz rose to speak and answer the allegations made against her and, after being asked by Commissioner Anderson, read into the record a letter which exonerated Cruz of any wrongdoing.

Not Speaking To Candidates

Residents have been concerned that this process was never an open one. Not having interviews with candidates or allowing for them to present their case before the Commission has fueled that fire.

However, Commissioner Kirk R. Menendez did state that he did not speak with any of the candidates. “Gravitating towards someone who can hit the ground running.”

Commissioner Anderson, did meet with Cruz. She said that Cruz “doesn’t have the votes” to residents prior to the item being discussed, and supported Cason by saying that, “mega projects being approved is not going to happen, there is not enough time.”

Of those who submitted their names for consideration, present were Maria Cruz, Sam Joseph and William Silver. Cason was not present.

Silver did not get to speak until after the vote appointing Cason had been taken.

Lago vs. Lago

Lago explained, “I don’t want to become like any other City.” He added, we need to “elevate the discourse. You can’t call someone a liar. Treat people with respect in disagreement. In the fiercest battles, we walk out of here respectfully.”

However, Lago has not held himself to these same standards since becoming Mayor. At one of Fors’ last Commission meetings, Lago blocked Fors from addressing an issue due to his disagreement with Fors on that issue. Gables Insider has also received numerous complaints from residents about run-ins with Lago during his office hours over the last few months, over disagreements on policy.

In nominating Cason, Lago also stated that he had met with former Commissioners Ralph Cabrera, Bill Kerdyk, Jeannett Slesnick, Chip Withers and former Mayor Don Slesnick and implied they agreed with the Cason appointment.

Gables Insider spoke with Cabrera who stated that he met with Lago about himself being appointed, but that he did not support the Cason appointment.

Lago also called out the former staffer following her attack on Cruz, but he did not call out Mena as he has Fors in the past.

Cason Sworn-In

In the end, the Commission voted 4-0 for Cason and he was sworn-in on December 14th. The swearing-in ceremony which was attended by Mena, was only posted on a billboard outside the close entrance to City Hall and on a calendar page on the City’s website. No newsletter was sent out with the invitation to the sunshined meeting, nor was any resident invited.

The un-elected Cason will represent the 52,000 residents of the City for the next six City Commission meetings.


37 thoughts on ““Disqualified” Because Of Residents’ Support: Commission Appoints “High-Rise Jim” To Fill Vacancy Over Residents’ Choice, Maria Cruz

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  3. It has been evident from the day Vince Lago was elected, that he does not have the best interests in mind for the citizens of Coral Gables. Mr. Lago likes development, over-expansion, lots of revenue, and expensive endeavors for which he may take credit. He also likes to skirt or disregard Florida Sunshine laws preferring more clandestine procedures, whether legal or illegal, and he is rather thin-skinned when it comes to any opposition or criticism. It also appears he is surrounded by several “yes” men and women, including the city attorney and city manager who are both eager to do his bidding. If Judge Michael J. Hanzman’s order in the WaWa lawsuit didn’t scare the daylights out of Lago and company, I don’t know what will. Judge Hanzman opined that the City’s actions were “blatantly illegal” where a site-plan was modified by the City Attorney without first obtaining approval from the City Commission, thus giving herself powers she never had. She looked like an idiot. Tigers do not change their stripes and unfortunately, I believe we can expect more of the same from our egomaniac mayor.

  4. Cason was the only reasonable choice for a seat that will be open for election in four months. End of story.

  5. Congratulations high rise Jim on your appointment.
    Cason is back to bull doze his way through our fair city. And you thought corruption was bad in our neighboring city Miami- we are now the twin cities of corruption where power brokers rule.

  6. The residents wanted Maria Cruz, the Commission wanted James Cason…
    A former Mayor running for Commissioner…Hmmm…
    Common sense tells me there is something wrong with this picture.
    Maria Magdalena

  7. Nick Jones, there is a lot here. Both in the piece and in the comments. I would like to believe that the City Beautiful has smarter residents that vote than what is represented here in some of the comments. Remember the “Sons of Liberty?” They were informed by conditions they actually experienced in their lives; not what they read in a blog with the potential to misinform those lacking discernment.

  8. If there were more people like Mr. Jones back on July 4, 1776, we would now be subjects of the
    British crown.

  9. Remember how this country became free. CRITICIZED the King of England. ANTAGONIZED the
    King with the Boston Tea Party.

  10. So Ms.Cruz ‘criticized’ and ‘antagonized’. What wonderful qualities for a city commissioner.

  11. To whom it may concern
    How dare you who ever wrote gorgeous George’s comment my father was a good mayor and how dare you tarnish his name he’s been dead for 5 years I think whoever wrote this should be ashamed of themselves!!! I’m going to file a complaint and have law enforcement investigate this! So be careful
    What you say and write from now on!

  12. Maria Cruz criticized people who deserved to be criticized. She antagonized when needed.
    Without her, the City would be in worse shape.

    Those who criticize her now are those who are still bringing down the City.

  13. Have also received applications for new employment from city manager, Peter Iglesias, and city attorney, Miriam Ramos.

  14. Man, this post is all over the place. So much to think about. But seriously, Ms.Cruz has attacked so many employees and residents that they’ve started a support group. Even dismissing what happened 15 years ago, she is still not qualified unless we want a Trump in a dress – though maybe that is what this blog wants.

  15. Can someone, anyone run against the looser Lago? He’s already cleaning out his desk, moving out.
    Otherwise, I cast my vote for Mr. Holmes.

  16. Ariel and Cruz for the next election. Lets get Lago out. I am so sorry i was deceived and voted for him.

  17. Since we seem to be talking elections, and there is encouragement from many of you for worthy candidates to run, let me put a few facts out there.
    All numbers are as of November 30th, 2022

    Group IV Candidates — IVETTE ARANGO O’DOSKI — Campaign Collections $74,400.00
    There will likely be a Political Action Committee collecting more out there, but I dont know of one.

    Group V Candidates:
    Alexander Luis Bucelo — Campaign Collections $10,950.00
    Political Action Committee that supported him during the past election, “Friends of the Gables PAC” has cash on Hand of $123,292.60. Total available for the campaign $134,242.60.

    Ariel Fernandez — Campaign Collections $12,600.00.
    No PAC that I know about.

    Sean Patrick McGrover — Campaign Collections $500.00
    No PAC that I know about

    Group I Candidates:

    JACK RIP HOLMES — Campaign funds as of now ZERO — he spent the 500 collected.
    No Pack that I know about.

    Vicente Lago — Campaign funds collected $6,850.00
    Political Action Committee that supported him during the past election, “Coral Gables First PAC” has cash on Hand of $673,414.53. Total available for the campaign $680,264.53

    I would politely suggest that any of you that wants to help your preferred candidate, to please contribute financially, and by volunteering to talk to your neighbors, and canvass for your candidate. Boots on the ground is the only way we get the government we want, otherwise we get a government that seems increasingly susceptible to outside influence.

  18. Very disappointing and heartbreaking for residents who pay everyone’s salary
    The true essence of what Coral Gables was built on has been traded in for money from developers.

  19. A lot to chew on here.

    First, it is good that Fors was not reappointed. He tried to get into a greener pasture and failed. He made his bed, so he can lie in it.

    Second, Maria Cruz is not “disqualified” simply because she is supported by a group of residents, even if the residents are vocal, rude or whatever. She is knowledgeable about the city, has lived here a long time, appears conscientious and dedicated to the well being of Coral Gables. Appointing her would have been a good opportunity to see her in action. Commissioner Mena is wrong to claim otherwise.

    Third, Gables Insider is the digital equivalent of The Gables Gazette. Don’t take that the wrong way. The Gazette served an important purpose during its run, and I was sad when it stopped publishing. Gables Insider also serves a very important purpose and I hope it continues. But Ariel Fernandez is running for commission and readers must keep that in mind when reading Gables Insider. We all need to know and understand our source of information.

    Fourth, Gables Insider’s comments do run a little hot with claims of “fraud,” “unethical conduct” and the like. It is a little difficult to accept commentary that runs the gamut from mean and nasty to hateful to falsehood. The mayor, as disappointing as he has been, is not completely wrong to take issue with the quality of our digital discourse, but he also should practice what he preaches. Nonetheless, people here should cut back the hyperbole. You can’t be taken seriously when you call everything “corrupt.”

    Fifth, Cason has only a few months and said he will not run for election. Hopefully he does not change his mind. Related to this, however, is how disappointing Commissioners Anderson and Menendez have been they were elected. They promised better government, but have not met expectations. Hopefully they will hold the line against a Mena/Lago/Cason alliance.

    As noted by many others, we have an election in April. The mayor is up for reelection, and voters will also choose two commissioners. If the current commission is as bad as Gables Insider and its commentators believe, an outside observer would expect a clean sweep. As the election is the only poll that matters, we do best for ourselves and the city we call home if we pay attention, demand accountability and vote.

  20. Our embattled Mayor is unhinged. If continuity was the objective, Commissioner Fors should have been appointed.

    We are now learning that our Mayor has a “list of enemies.” How shameful that our very special city is in the hands of another Joe Carollo. And they share the same lackeys it seems! Mr. Sanchez de Varona, your neighbors may be old, but not old enough to have forgotten you. You are a disgrace to our city!

    “Raul Javier Sanchez De Varona, Coral Gables, resigned in lieu of disciplinary proceedings, with leave to seek readmission after 10 years, effective 30 days following an Aug. 17 court order. De Varona was convicted April 6 for conspiracy to commit Medicare fraud and was sentenced to 15 months incarceration.”

  21. City beautiful is in SAD state of leadership. What’s happened at City hall is 3rd world like government… Mr Murillo said it all residents need to engage & VOTE.

  22. Why wasn’t Fors reappointed? Residents voted for him so I don’t understand why the Mayor would strip the ppl from their will.

  23. If what I’m seeing here is the true mood of the residents, we’d better start registering voters and looking for some strong candidates to run for local office in April. We need to vote most of this current administration out. But if we don’t have any good candidates running and voter turnout continues to be in the low 20’s% at best, then business will continue as usual. Maria Cruz, Sam Joseph, Angie Fridman, et al who were interested in this open seat – please throw your hats into the ring and give us residents some candidates worthy of these offices. And residents – get off your butts and vote. If we learned one thing from the midterms, it’s that every vote really does count. So no “One vote isn’t going to make it difference” excuses.

  24. We need good, strong, solid candidates.

    Now is the time to step up, to come to the aid of your community.

  25. Definitely power corrupts——Lago seemed to de a good commissioner when he was starting—-and look at him now!!!!!
    But there is a silver lining after the farce of Dec 13th. Now Maria Cruz is free to become a candidate next year. Hopefully not in the same group as Ariel. Then, we might be able to elect two real residents’ representatives to th Commision who might join forces with Mrs Anderson to help clean up our beloved City.

  26. After 29 years as a resident of Coral Gables this is not what I want to see in a supposedly democratic city government. I did my bit by not voting for Mr. Lago, because I saw it coming. Mr. Cason is a logical choice for Mr. Lago. I did not vote for him either. Maybe we can all stop the clan the next time around. In the meantime, enjoy or suffer the consequences depending on your point of view.

  27. If we wanted Cason, we would have voted him in. You AGAIN have gone against the majority of residents and you AGAIN have showed no support or regard for us. You were to serve us and you have only served yourselves. We will work tirelessly to have you all removed at the next election. Hope you are proud of yourselves because you are really shameful. Coral Gables has become an autocratic City run by a self serving leadership.

  28. The mayor is a moral midget. The commissioners are moral dwarfs.
    Without morals, they cannot lead anyone.
    They are the opposite of the residents in this beautiful City.

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