A majority of Miami Gardens residents who voted recently agreed to tax themselves for the good of the city. The $60 million general obligation bond that they approved will go toward improving city parks, a new senior center and police equipment.
The successful ballot question was more than a vote to bring improvements to Miami Gardens — with 115,000 residents Miami-Dade County’s third-largest city, and one of its youngest. Residents also gave city leaders a vote of confidence that the money was going to be put to good use, efficiently, effectively and, as important, transparently.
Now, those same leaders have to come through. Commendably, the City Council approved hiring a financial adviser to assist the city with issuing the bonds. But there has been some vagueness as to what the money will build, renovate and buy. It is incumbent on city administrators and elected leaders to firm up the squishiness, reach consensus — with significant public input — make the specifics clear and ensure that the broadest swath of city residents benefit.
At the very least, Mayor Oliver Gilbert has a solid vision that gives the city a running start. In a conversation with the Editorial Board in February, he said that he would be pushing for value-added projects, not just, say, making parks greener, but also building “opportunity into the system.” That meant including enhanced activities not only for recreation but to also spur education outside classrooms, giving youngsters access to STEM projects — all-important science, technology, engineering and math workshops to give them a leg up.
The city originally sought a $50 million general-obligation bond, adding another $10 million in November for police surveillance equipment. Miami Gardens too often is in the news solely for fatal shootings and police misconduct, giving a skewed sense that it is not the progressive and accountable city that Mr. Gilbert and other officials say that it is. But gang-related crime, from within the city and invading from outside, is a challenge that must be confronted head on and innovatively.
Officials say that Miami Gardens is so much more, and the fact that voters said Yes to taxing themselves helps confirm that view. In a city where the median income is $46,000, voters agreed to pay an extra $46.28 a year for the general-obligation bond.
On Monday, the city’s new police chief, Stephen Johnson, made his first visit to a City Council meeting and handed out his cell phone number to residents, inviting them to call — no later than 12:30 a.m., please — to share their concerns. Talk about access and accountability — residents, the eyes and ears of any community — should not fail to take Chief Johnson up on his offer.
It is also imperative that residents jump in and claim a part of the bond-issue process — far more than those who bothered to vote. Out of the city’s 67,000 registered voters, only about 13 percent submitted a ballot. Small turnout is a countywide plague, especially in small or off-year elections, and that’s a shame. In Miami Gardens, in particular, registered voters received a special-election ballot right at their doorsteps, in the mail. With three weeks to return the ballot, it couldn’t have been easier for residents to weigh in.
Miami Gardens is a city of challenges and promise. That promise will be better fulfilled if residents play a greater role in how it proceeds. Whether they voted or not for the bond issue, they are paying for it — might as well have a say.