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Miami Lakes

Candidates throw hat in ring for Miami Lakes special election

Election season is kicking off in Miami Lakes.

Although the qualifying period for the special election doesn’t open up until noon on Aug. 26, extending until noon on Aug. 30, three people are vying for the mayoral seat and two for a council position.

The Oct. 1 special election is the result of Gov. Rick Scott suspending Mayor Michael Pizzi from his role following an Aug. 6 arrest on federal charges of conspiring to commit extortion.

As of Thursday afternoon, the following people have filed candidacy papers with the town for the mayoral seat: Dr. Dave Bennett, Councilman Nelson Hernandez and former Miami Lakes Mayor Wayne Slaton are each vying for the position.

Attorney Lorenzo Cobiella and Francisco “Frank” Mingo, who works for a supply-chain management company, are running for the seat held by Hernandez, who resigned Monday to run for mayor.

All of the candidates in the race have at least one goal in common: improving transparency. They each have their own take on it, but improving public records and making them available on the town’s website is a common theme.

“Transparency is very important,” Bennett said in an interview inside his Doral dental offices. “If I have to put the checkbook of Miami Lakes online, I will.”

Bennett said he intends, if elected, to have an audit of the town performed to determine where it stands fiscally.

“I cannot promise lower taxes for the people of Miami Lakes because we don’t know what the actual value of those accounts are,” Bennett said. “Like any business, I want to know where we stand.”

Bennett, an activist in the town, ran for the Seat 1 spot on the council in November and lost.

Hernandez was first elected in 2010 and ran on his platform of a five-point plan: fiscal responsibility, public safety, infrastructure, beautification and accessibility. He plans to run on the same ideals this time around.

During an interview in his town hall office, Hernandez said he was also looking to include more pre-council meetings and workshops to increase dialogue among council members.

“If we have a workshop where the town manager would be present and the town manager would tell us what he thinks of an item — prior to us voting on it — that would in essence be a pre-vetting process,” Hernandez said.

He said this process would lead to shorter council meetings and council members having a better idea of what’s on the dais.

Slaton, the town’s first mayor, said he planned to form a new strategic plan for the town council to follow, if elected.

He said those types of plans were used during his terms in office and had helped put the council and town staff on the same page.

“The town has essentially lost its way,” Slaton said in a phone interview. “There is not a strategic plan being followed anymore. We need to get back on track in the town of Miami Lakes by following a unified strategic plan.”

He said he wanted the town to move forward with a common vision, goals, mission statement and set of core values.

Slaton, who ran for mayor in November, said that if elected he would also look into getting a survey of the residents to find what projects are important to them and see what they feel needs to be improved in the town.

In the run for Seat 4 is Lorenzo Cobiella, who said in a phone interview that one of his major issues in the election was making the town more accessible for elderly and disabled residents.

“That’s something dear to my heart,” said Cobiella, adding that the town has done an “excellent” job in being friendly to the elderly and disabled, but that he would like to see more improvements.

Cobiella also wants to make the town more business-friendly, partly by keeping an open line of communication between business owners, members of the economic development board and the council.

Mingo, who asked to respond to questions only via email, wrote that he most recently “fought against the former mayor’s annexation efforts.” He wrote that if he was elected, he wanted to change the town’s annexation process by proposing a charter amendment to have residents approve any boundary changes.

He said he would also like to turn a golf course, known as Par 3 — located between Northwest 77th Avenue and Coconut Court, and between Miami Lakes Drive and Twin Sabal Drive — into a passive park.

“This can be accomplished by way of a minor zoning modification to a small parcel along NW 77 Ave and substantial land swap for the public benefit,” Mingo wrote.

The Miami Lakes charter mandates that an election take place within 90 days of an official leaving office, when a seat becomes vacant with six months or more remaining in a term. In this case, Pizzi was elected in 2012 to a four-year term.

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