There was no municipal election on Tuesday in Miami Springs. That was last year and the next one is in 2015, but you might never have known that based on the number of people, tents and signs outside the Miami Springs Community Center.
A special election vote on a referendum that was barely on everyone’s radar three months ago but quickly morphed into a major issue around Miami Springs was settled.
At the middle of everything was a simple vote: either yes or no from citizens on whether or not they favored a referendum that would authorize the city council to sell off a small sliver of the Miami Springs Golf Course for $115,000 and rezone 10,299 square feet of a parking lot on Eldron Drive.
And when the numbers were read at 7:42 p.m. on Tuesday night, the results were, to some at least, surprising as the “no” votes emerged victorious, 1,039 to 908 or 53.36 percent to 46.64.
Equally as surprising was the large turnout of voters as the 1,947 votes represented 23.67 percent of the 8,259 registered voters in Miami Springs. By comparison, 2,018 ballots were cast, or just 71 more than Tuesday, in last year’s municipal election that featured three different races, including the mayoral race.
“No, I’m not,” said Miami Springs Mayor Zavier Garcia, who along with the rest of the council had put his support behind the referendum, when asked if he was shocked by the result. “I’m not stunned because like I had said earlier I expected it to be close and a difference of 131 votes out of just under 2,000 is very close. I was just going by the turnout today, I could read the people and at least 50 that I spoke to were, ‘Oh, too far away, we can’t make it,’ and that was just 50 that I spoke to and it could have been the same for the other side.
“I think the city still wins because I believe Manny Perez is still going to build a hotel there. Where we don’t win as much is that while it will still be a hotel, it won’t be a brand name hotel.”
And while he wasn’t shocked over the final verdict, Garcia certainly indicated that perhaps everything wasn’t done above board.
“As to the results, the no’s prevailed because of what I feel were lies and misinformation,” said Garcia. “And perhaps the ‘yes’ side could have done a better of job of getting out there what I feel the true facts were.”
How intent were the “no” folks? Just four days earlier, on Friday, April 4, six residents, led by John and Valerie McCarty, sued to stop the city from having the election. Judge Norma S. Lindsey held an emergency hearing on the case and waited until Monday morning to give her verdict, which was ultimately to shoot it down and allow the election to proceed.
“We did it, Owen, we did it,” yelled Evelio Cabrera, one of the six plaintiffs on the lawsuit as he hugged fellow supporter Owen Gay in the hallway of the Miami Springs Community Center seconds after the result had been announced.
Citing “legal reasons,” Cabrera said he could not to talk to the Gazette. The same with the McCartys.
“I have been advised by legal counsel that until the lawsuit has been officially dropped, I cannot say anything,” Valerie McCarty said when reached late Tuesday night.
Perez-Vichot, who financed the entire election, which cost him at least $25,000 plus money beyond that for a vigorous ad campaign, could not be reached for comment.
“What does this mean?” Miami Springs city manager Ron Gorland asked rhetorically. “It means it was a hard-fought and for the most part I think an above-board ballot or referendum on an issue very near and dear to Miami Springs. Just based on the turnout, just under 2,000 people when a lot of people thought there would be less than 1,000 shows you just how an important issue this was to the citizens of Miami Springs. Manny still owns the Dr. James clinic and part of the parking lot and he can still construct on that.”
Garcia was then asked if he was frustrated over what sometimes can be perceived as certain factions in the city always fighting progress.
“It would have been more frustrating to me eight years ago than it is today but I realize that progress in our town is welcome,” said Garcia. “Progress is like a big elephant, you can eat it but it’s one small bite at a time. So I still feel like we’ve progressed drastically. I think that this one ‘no’ vote in a long string of ‘yes’ votes is simply all part of progress and that sometimes you have to overcome an obstacle or two along the way.”
Asked if he was surprised by the large voter turnout, Garcia shook his head no.
“It didn’t surprise me at all,” he said. “We let the developer, Manny Perez, and the residents do what they had to do to allow the process to play out. The city did not get involved but the elected officials all did because we felt it was in the best interest of Miami Springs to have a brand name hotel there rather than a lesser product.”