Seven candidates are running for three South Miami City Commission seats — including the mayor’s — in the Feb. 11 election.
Residents can vote early on Saturday, Feb. 8 at City Hall, 6130 Sunset Drive. Each voter can vote for one candidate for mayor and one each for commission groups I and IV. The group II and III seats don’t expire until 2016.
City commissioners serve four-year terms, except the mayor, who serves a two-year term.
South Miami has a “weak mayor” system, meaning that the mayor serves as chairman of the City Commission but has no executive authority. Instead, the five-member commission appoints a city manager by majority vote.
Incumbent Philip Stoddard has been mayor for four years and is running against current Commissioner Valerie Newman and barber Rodney Williams for Mayor.
Stoddard, a biology professor at FIU, is promoting a number of community policing initiatives and fighting Florida Power & Light’s plan to run 100-foot-tall power lines along U.S. 1 through South Miami and neighboring cities.
Stoddard also promotes the city greenways plan, improving street safety and making it possible to walk and bike throughout the city safely.
“Professionalism is important, but so is neighborliness,” Stoddard said. “A really big issue for me is corruption. The government doesn’t work if people don’t trust it, so it’s really critical in our small city.”
As of Jan. 10, Stoddard‘s campaign contributions totaled $9,075, including a $250 contribution from Commissioner Bob Welsh.
Williams, who loaned himself his entire $300 campaign fund, has owned a barbershop in South Miami for two years and lived in the city for 38 years. Williams has been arrested three times since 1994, but each case was dismissed or dropped. Williams was arrested in 2010 for resisting an officer. He was arrested in 2002 for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and arrested in 1994 for vehicle theft.
“My arrests and situations happened,” Williams said. “I did some things and got arrested as a person not afraid to speak his mind. Some officers take offense to this. The officers have a job to do. My goal now is to encourage the younger guys to understand the law and if you are ignorant to the law, to just keep your mouth closed.”
Newman has lived in South Miami for 16 years. Newman has served as commissioner since 2008.
In 2011, the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust dismissed a slew of complaints against Newman, but issued a letter telling her that "rude, boorish and tyrannical behavior by elected officials, while perhaps not actionable under an ethics code, is inexcusable nevertheless."
Newman declined to be interviewed by the Miami Herald.
COMMISSION GROUP I
High school teacher Gabriel Edmond is running against grant writer Donna Shelley for commission Group I, to fill the vacancy left by Newman.
Edmond raised $3,533 in campaign contributions. Welsh also donated $250 to Edmond’s campaign.
“I would like to hold an annual summit, bring together community leaders, business leaders, and elected officials, once a year to discuss how we move forward as a community,” Edmond said at a recent commission meeting.
Shelley, a Harvard University graduate, spent much of her career managing non-profits and museums in Collier County. The former city of Miami grant writer now owns her own writing business, DMS Studio Inc. Shelley also worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, managing funds in the budget office.
“I have managerial skills and leadership skills,” said Shelley, 65. “I decided to run after being asked for the last four years by friends and colleagues. This was the year to do it. I am just interested in serving the city while I still have the chance. I’d like to do it while I still have the energy.”
COMMISSION GROUP IV
Former Mayor Horace Feliu is up against incumbent Walter Harris for commission Group IV. Feliu received $2,325 in campaign contributions, including $200 from former city manager Waziri Balogun.
While mayor, Feliu was arrested a day before the 2004 election on a charge of accepting an illegal campaign contribution, but was later acquitted. Feliu then sued the state, county and city officials for false arrest before a federal judge dismissed his case. Feliu was reelected in 2006 and has served the city as mayor, vice mayor and commissioner for a total of 10 years.
Harris received $3,565 in contributions, including $250 each from Mayor Stoddard and commissioner Welsh. The 70-year-old has served as commissioner for four years and previously fought against excessive development and corruption as an activist at City Hall.
“I sponsored a resolution about seven months ago to get the county to relinquish control of the streets to the city,” Harris said. “I’d like to make a more pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly community.”
Feliu, Newman, and Donna Shelley each received $250 contributions from Arsol Investment Group LLC, a family owned business, dealing in real estate. Former vice mayor Armando Oliveros, who was convicted and served nearly seven years in federal prison for money laundering, is a managing partner at Arsol Investment Group LLC.