Baños is the Editor of Gables Insider
In a recent Coral Gables Commission meeting held on January 23, 2024, a passionate debate erupted, bringing to light simmering tensions between Commissioner Fernandez, City Manager Peter Iglesias, and Mayor Lago. The focal point of contention was the fate of the lease for the popular Fritz & Franz establishment. Mr. Iglesias, openly expressing his dissatisfaction with Commissioner Fernandez, firmly asserted that unless instructed otherwise by a majority of the Commission, he would not permit Fritz & Franz to continue its lease at its current location. This incident has sparked a broader question, one that transcends this single debate: What is Mr. Iglesias’ true role in our city government?
On paper, Mr. Iglesias is ostensibly a public servant working at the pleasure of the Commission. However, his lengthy and extensive career within the City Beautiful, marked by a multitude of positions held over the years, prompts us to ponder whether our city is truly guided by the Commission or by its Manager. It is not in dispute that Mr. Iglesias is capable and qualified for his role, but the larger question looms – has his many years of service, culminating in his position as Chief Executive Officer, transformed him into not just a servant of the Commissioners but a pivotal influence, akin to a de facto sixth member?
One could argue that his demeanor, as evidenced during the January 23rd meeting, appeared overtly insubordinate towards at least two of his fellow Commissioners. However, it is essential to consider the circumstances from his perspective. The current Commission-Manager relationship highlights the challenge of balancing the expertise of a seasoned civil service with the perspectives of elected, often less experienced politicians. This situation reflects a longstanding dynamic in American governance, where the elected and unelected must collaborate, despite differing views and experiences.
Nevertheless, despite the citizen-lead nature of this governance approach, it has served our nation well over the past 248 years. In our representative democracy, the people, whatever their flaws, are the ultimate arbiters and directors of our nation’s course. This brings us back to the role of Mr. Iglesias in his capacity as City Manager. Recent events, including disputes over leases with establishments such as Burger Bobs, Liberty Café, Le Parc Café, and most recently, Fritz & Franz, have revealed a divergence of goals between the public and city management.
To the casual observer, it may appear that Mr. Iglesias perceives these vendors and lessees as mere cogs in his governmental machine, susceptible to his directives. Such an approach might be forgiven given his limited work exposure to the private sector running a restaurants or event hall. However, when these various businesses failed to align with his expectations, Mr. Iglesias promptly tasked his staff with uncovering any possible issues or problems that the City had encountered with these vendors throughout their lease history, regardless of their current relevance or significance. He presented these “facts” as an advocate would, rather than as an impartial public servant, consistently arguing for his preferred course of action. Some of these decisions by Iglesias have resulted in significant costs to the taxpayer, as in the case of the reconstruction of Buyer Bobs and the Country Club.
While this approach may be reasonable in certain scenarios, it becomes problematic when it clashes with clear and unequivocal opposition from the public, as evidenced in each of the lease disputes mentioned above. Fritz & Franz is the latest example, where despite various matters being debated, including a 13-year-old rent dispute, the Manager steadfastly opposed lease renewal. However, when tenants, employees, residents, and members of the public passionately voiced their support for Fritz & Franz and the impact it had on their daily lives, the Commission could no longer focus on lease technicalities. The public’s heartfelt endorsement of this cherished establishment carried the day, resulting in the unanimous decision to negotiate new terms for the next three weeks.
Commissioner Fernandez may have emerged victorious on that day, but Mr. Iglesias’ vocal opposition raises concerns about the ultimate outcome for Fritz & Franz. This situation speaks volumes about our current government dynamics, transcending the specific lease issue itself. Mr. Iglesias, an unelected chief executive of the City, could potentially thwart the deal under some forthcoming rational basis, despite public opposition and Commission directives to facilitate the process. While he may believe he knows better, even if he is demonstrably right does not necessarily mean he is morally right in the eyes of the public.
Many supporters of Mayor Lago and Manager Iglesias have lamented the election of Commissioners Castro and Fernandez as a reactionary response by a faction of the electorate that they perceive as having won due to low voter turnout. However, this interpretation overlooks a critical point. The real question should be why Commissioner Fernandez’s message resonated so strongly with 50% of the electorate. What is happening within City Hall that has allowed such divergent views to coalesce and lead to a clear victory for those whom the Mayor and Manager vehemently oppose? The answer may lie closer to home than they think.
Mayor Lago and Manager Iglesias have voiced their belief that Fritz & Franz does not align with their vision for Coral Gables, especially in light of the upcoming hosting of the FIFA World Cup. Never mind that both Mayor Suarez and Mayor Levine Cava awaited and celebrated the good news of the 2026 FIFA World Cup selection of Miami at Fritz & Franz. It seems from their comments that it is their view that if an establishment does not conform to their concept of Coral Gables, it will not find favor with Mr. Iglesias or Mayor Lago. If they continue down this path, they may be in for another electoral surprise in the future, mirroring the outcome of the 2023 election.
The debate surrounding the Fritz & Franz lease issue has unveiled deeper questions about the role and influence of City Manager Peter Iglesias within Coral Gables’ government. It also underscores the need for dialogue and understanding between elected officials, city management, and the public to ensure that the city’s direction aligns with the will of its citizens.