More than 100 residents crowded town hall Wednesday for Cutler Bay’s “Open Mic Night,” a chance to take to the podium and address the mayor, council members, and town staff, who sat in the audience amongst those they serve.
“We have had these meetings in the past and it is a much more comfortable way for residents to address their concerns and provide suggestions to council and staff, than a council meeting,” Mayor Peggy Bell said. “There is no agenda. It is whatever is on your mind. No one has to stand at a podium looking up at his or her elected officials. We sit in the audience and listen to them. I hope those who participate in these “friendly” meetings will become more engaged in their town government.”
Residents roared with praise on some occasions but also expressed concern for prospective developments.
“The manager and I discussed doing this last year, but because we had eight public strategic workshops, there wasn’t enough time,” Bell said. “Our manager and town council feel the same; we want the residents to be informed and we want to provide the very best service to them. It was a commitment from me as Mayor and I think Town Manager Ralph Casals did a very good job of responding to the residents who participated. Going forward, we hope to be able to have these types of meetings throughout the town.”
Casals emceed and also answered questions for the event. Residents could speak multiple times for up to three minutes. Bell and Casals said they have heard residents’ desire to be heard through campaigns, council meetings and other gatherings. Casals said the town plans to hold more open mic nights in June and October.
“The only exchange was between myself and the residents,” Casals said. “A lot of folks voiced their concerns about some upcoming developments, some other folks provided some compliments and some other folks expressed their concerns and asked basic questions like what’s going on with this project or that project? It was really a nice informative night. Everyone had a chance to speak.”
One issue that town staff has dealt with since returning from Miami-Dade County Days in Tallahassee, was the town’s possible inclusion into the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The MPO has 23 votes and is made up of 13 county commissioners, six elected officials and one from each municipality with at least 50,000 residents.
House Bill 7039, an omnibus transportation bill, was proposed after the council left Tallahassee. Lobbyist Fausto Gomez stood on behalf of the council and town of Cutler Bay as the bill was amended.
“Many feel the MPO is in need of restructuring,” Bell said. “But this happened in just a few hours, after the council had returned from Tallahassee. Luckily, we found out about it before it passed. It clearly needed to be more equitable for all areas of the county. We should not be left out.”
The first potential change to the makeup of the MPO was made by Miami Beach, according to Bell. The change was to reduce the membership of the MPO from 23 members to 11 members and require a municipality to have a population of at least 75,000 residents.
“Changing that requirement would forever harm our efforts for having a say in regional transportation,” Bell said.
The amendment to the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Núñez, changed the resident requirement to 60,000 residents, still leaving out Cutler Bay. With 44,000 residents, Cutler Bay is getting close to the required 50,000 residents to be included on the MPO.
“One of the things about having a seat on the MPO is that you have the ability to participate in all of the deliberation that any governing board would ask,” Casals said. “It’s a little bit different when you are sitting on the dais for example. At least you can have that direct voice on any type of long range, transportation planning.”