New Miami Shores council members look forward to new term

Miami Shores residents voted on Tuesday in large numbers to fill three open spots on their village council with Herta Holly, incumbent Jesse Walters, and Ivonne Ledesma. By virtue of having received the most votes, 1033, Holly will become the village mayor, while Walters, with 936 votes will be vice-mayor.

They will serve as mayor and vice mayor for two years of their four year terms. For the second half of their terms they will serve as regular council members. In third place with 803 votes Ledesma was elected for a two-year term only.

Holly and Ledesma will be replacing council members Steve Loffredo and Al Davis, who did not seek reelection.

The three new council members will join Jim McCoy who is transitioning from mayor to a regular council member for the last two years of his four-year term. They will also join Hunt Davis who, after two years as vice mayor, will be serving the last two years of his term as a regular council member as well.

Residents and council members alike seem eager to move past the divisiveness of the campaign. McCoy, who will be serving alongside all three new council members said, “I think there are a lot of people who are glad that the election is over and that we can start moving forward.”

Davis added, “I’m optimistic for the future. I think it’s going to be good. I’m looking forward to serving with all of them.”

All three candidates were joined by supporters after the votes were announced at the village’s Community Center. In the midst of a steady stream of well wishers, Holly said, “the community has spoken and I’m delighted to be able to serve.”

She declined to talk specifically on initiatives she would like to carry out instead choosing to celebrate the win.

Previously, however, she has spoken about her desire to support Doctors Charter School where she currently serves as a board member.

The police are also a concern for Holly, who was the village’s mayor from 2007 to 2009. She wants to “look into even more ways to make our community even safer. It’s going to have to do with technology.”

The new council will have to work on a contract with the village’s police union that addresses retirement benefits. This was a question asked of all the candidates during a public forum held before the election. All the candidates, including those who won the election, said they were in full support of the police and finding a solution for the contract and retirement concerns that benefited the village as well as the police personnel.

In other cities, leaders have been looking for ways to cut pension benefits for police officers because of the expense.

Walters and Ledesma ran for council as a part of a coalition of three candidates. Their third member, the Rev. Jonas Georges, did not win a council seat. This disheartened the two who did win. Walters said, “I don’t think without the third vote we’re going to be able to accomplish much, frankly.”

In an email, he added: “I believe that they will vote as a block to maintain the status quo at any cost. This will mean a continuation of virtually all-white governmental appointments, an anti-business stance to any new initiatives that may be proposed, and a deaf ear to any hope for a new Community Center.”

Ledesma said she wants to make “Miami Shores more sustainable via public recycling receptacles, integrative pest management, instituting a ‘green team advisory board.’ ”

She also fears for initiatives to enliven the downtown district of the village. She said via email, “this sounds easy to pass but the council is very status-quo oriented and have shot down most initiatives to help the downtown. Most of them feel like ‘if it isn’t broken why change it.’ ”

The new council will, however, have the task of continuing work done by the previous council to install a sewer system in the downtown district along Second Avenue — a move which will make it much easier for restaurants to move in. A move all elected council members currently support.

Beyond the business district Ledesma pointed to the village’s advisory boards. They were a topic of concern raised by residents during a pre-election forum. Ledesma said via email, “These board member are not friendly, are not representative of the population.” The Village Council is responsible for filling these positions and Ledesma argued that they “have not included qualified minorities in the past.”

While Ledesma and Walters are unsure about actual action they might be able to take as council members, they do see an upside to their wins. Walters said, “I hope the majority will see that the community is changing and at least give some new ideas a hearing.”

Ledesma added, “what we can do as leaders is motive the residents. I think now at least the residents from the Northwest side will have a voice and the Hispanic residents will have a voice.”

Holly approached the new council more optimistically.

“We will have, I’m hopeful, a very workable council.” she said. “When I’ve served before we have been a very thoughtful, cohesive group that has worked very hard for the benefits of our residents and I know we will continue to do that.”

Also looking towards the future McCoy said, “I think we’re going to keep things on track. It’s good to have some new voices on the council as well and I’m looking forward to their support and the role they’re going to play in leading our community.”

The new mayor, vice mayor, and council member will be sworn in at 7 p.m. on April 16 at Village Hall, 10050 NE Second Ave. The first business-oriented council meeting of the new council will be held at 7 p.m. on May 7 at Village Hall.