City of Miami

Miami City Commission to allow more public input on redistricting plan

Days after residents of Miami’s Upper Eastside grumbled that they had no input into the city’s redistricting process, the Miami City Commission agreed to hold additional public hearings on the subject.

The commission was supposed to take a straw vote Thursday on the new proposed commission districts. But instead, the commission asked redistricting consultant Miguel De Grandy to hold another meeting with neighborhood activists.

The activists oppose plans to move the Shorecrest and Palm Grove neighborhoods from District 2 to District 5, saying all of the Upper Eastside neighborhoods ought to stay together under one commissioner.

“To split us up is to break up the one voice that has taken so many years to create,” said Barbara Gimenez, a Belle Meade resident.

Community leaders like Grace Solares also complained that the public did not have enough opportunity to make contributions to the plan.

“The people on the Upper Eastside were deprived of having their two cents in the conversation,” said Solares, president of Miami Neighborhoods United. “I think they deserve to have their concerns’’ on the record, she said.

De Grandy pointed out that he held several public meetings on the topic, even though they weren’t required by law. The meetings were poorly attended.

The commissioners agreed the public should have another chance to weigh in.

“You all should have been noticed and given a chance to speak,” Commission Vice Chairman Willy Gort said.

The meetings, both scheduled for 6:30 p.m., will be held Thursday at Legion Hall and March 4 at Miami City Hall.

The city is required by law to redraw its commission districts every 10 years to account for shifts in population. The new maps must be completed by May.

In other business, the commission gave Miami defense attorney José Quiñón the green light to represent Mayor Tomás Regalado in a lawsuit filed by Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.

The city won’t pay the mayor’s legal fees, however, unless he prevails in court.

Quiñón said he recognized the “uniqueness of situation,” and was willing to wait for payment — assuming he wins the case.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to come back and I’m going to have a very detailed billing, and we can then take up the issue of [whether] it is reasonable or not,” he said.

In the lawsuit, Spence-Jones accuses Regalado and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle of plotting to destroy her political career in connection with two failed prosecutions. Miami City Attorney Julie O. Bru has recused herself from the case, citing a conflict of interest.

Also Thursday, the commission agreed to let the non-profit group Olympia Center Inc. manage affordable housing units and ground-floor retail in downtown’s Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.

The non-profit, founded by former Hialeah City Council president Herman Echevarria, is working to restore the performing arts center’s historic Olympia Theater. But Echevarria said the restoration efforts have been slow because his organization controls only the theater, not the entire building.

“We weren’t able to generate profits for the Gusman through retail or by selling the naming rights,” Echevarria said. “We needed the entire building.”

The city and the non-profit spent nearly two years negotiating a contract that will give Olympia Center the rights to manage the 80 affordable housing units through 2017.

Regalado said the agreement will enable the Gusman to “become a real, functioning theater.”

“These people were close to walking away,” Regalado said. “I’m glad we were able to get this done.”

Commissioners also gave a first nod to a proposal allowing advertising on city parking meters and pay stations.

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