Pinecrest

Two candidates compete for only contested council seat in Pinecrest elections

The Village of Pinecrest city complex.
The Village of Pinecrest city complex. Miami Herald File, 2016

Only one contested seat is up for election in the village of Pinecrest — a quiet, affluent South Florida suburb that last made headlines when rapper Pitbull’s neighbors complained about his dingy, neglected property.

James Field Jr., a consultant and former director of business and development for Frey Farms, a family-run grower and packer of produce, is competing for Seat 4. So is Katie Abbott, a local education advocate who used to be a project manager for publishing house Scholastic.

Field, 30, is backed by the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, the county’s largest police union. He’s a University of Miami graduate and a former professional golfer.

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James Field Jr.

Field said he has been involved with organizations in the local community and abroad like Best Buddies, where he helped place special-needs kids in the workforce. In addition, he has worked with Charity Vision, which took him to India with founder and future presidential candidate Mitt Romney to build eye centers, and Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that raises funds to fight child sex trafficking.

Abbott, 44, has won the endorsement of Ruth’s List Florida, an advocacy group dedicated to supporting Democratic women running for office in the state. She graduated from Duke and Columbia University. A six-time marathoner, she is on the board for South Florida Triathletes and said she cares about fitness for kids and seniors. Abbott has also served on the city’s zoning board for two years and is co-captain of the neighborhood’s crime watch.

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Katie Abbott By ShannaNyePhotography

Incumbent Cheri Ball could have run again for Seat 4 but chose not to. Ball is currently vice mayor of the village, a ceremonial position that rotates among four council members annually. In November, council member Anna Hochkammer, who holds Seat 1, will become vice mayor.

Seat 2, the only other position up for reelection, was snagged by incumbent Doug Kraft, a retired firefighter and paramedic. Kraft ran unopposed and won automatically.

Four charter amendments are also up for a vote this election. One states that the document be amended to strike any provisions that have “become obsolete or are in conflict with state law.” Another allows residents to serve as a combination of mayor and council member for more than twelve consecutive years; the previous cap was eight years. A third staggers terms on the council, and a fourth for the first time adds specific penalties, “including fines, censures and reprimands,” for violations of the village charter not otherwise covered by the law.

They are all fairly routine, said Guido Inguanzo, the city clerk. “People in Pinecrest are happy,” Inguanzo said. “There are no burning issues.”

THE RACE FOR SEAT 4

This is the second time James Field Jr. is running for a position on Pinecrest’s city council. In 2016, he fell short in his bid for Seat 1, which represents the city’s northern district. This year, he’s running for Seat 4, which is not tied to any geographic boundaries within Pinecrest.

Despite losing his first campaign, Field sees the additional experience as an advantage. “When you knock on doors, residents may have different views or concerns that you weren’t aware of and to address those during the campaign is very difficult,” Field said. “It’s not like I ever stopped campaigning after my first run.”

Abbott, his opponent, has not run for city council before but she is no stranger to elections. Even before the village of Pinecrest was first incorporated in 1996, she was elected to an eighth-grade student council seat and continued her involvement in student government throughout high school.

Abbott said she has held leadership positions within the village’s public schools for more than seven years. She has been president of the PTSA at Palmetto Middle School and the PTA at Pinecrest Elementary for a combined four years. She hopes to continue her support for the city’s public schools as a council member.

“Our village schools are one of the top reasons people move to Pinecrest,” Abbott wrote on her campaign website. “Whether you personally have children in our public schools or not, the quality of our public schools is directly correlated with our home values and community worth.”

THE BIG ISSUES

Field and Abbott disagree on how to handle the village’s water supply. About 800 of the city’s homes are plugged into a well water supply and do not have access to city water.

Field said all residents should have access to city water — even if they don’t want to use it — but they should not have to pay connectivity fees to use it. “There is no reason that residents should pay for city water,” Field said, adding that his experience lobbying for agriculture issues before Congress can help him navigate the issue.

But Abbott is skeptical about how the funding would work for what she says is a $15 million project. “I would love to say free water for everybody but that’s a false promise,” Abbott said. “We don’t have $15 million in our back pocket.”

She’s also not certain that city water for every home is a must. “We have to figure out if people actually do want the water, not just a small group that is vocal,” Abbott said. “If they do, it’s our job to figure out how to get it to them.”

The candidates don’t disagree on everything, though.

Both have made it clear that they don’t want sidewalks in front of every house — a proposal that’s been making the rounds in the city. Field worries that the concrete would take away from the city’s green space, draw in crime and make residents pay for an additional tree; Pinecrest requires residents to add a tree for every one that they remove.

Abbott said she wants to dismiss a rumor that she’s a proponent of sidewalks connecting the whole city. But she does want to make sure that children have safe routes to walk or bike to school. “Our schools have thousands of students. If we could get half of them off the roads, that would help enormously,” Abbott said. She also hopes that schools engage with their surroundings, whether it’s through field trips to Pinecrest Gardens, the former Parrot Jungle location, or more community service.

POLICE SUPPORT

Field, who is backed by the county’s police union, said many of the city’s problems originate from a lack of local support for the police department. “People see that there’s less police presence and so they aren’t getting pulled over. They see [Pinecrest] as a cut through,” Field said. “The number one reason we incorporated as a community was to get fully saturated police protection. Right now we don’t have that because we don’t have enough officers.”

His platform aims to address high officer turnover and ensure that officers feel heard.

Abbott said she recognizes that there is a “disconnect” within the police force and it’s important to figure out what that is. “It’s all about communication,” she said.

Pinecrest currently has 46 police officers. There are five vacancies.

Samuel Ceballos Jr., police chief of Pinecrest, said a high turnover rate is not unique to Pinecrest but reflects how many officers at small police agencies often look elsewhere for career advancement. “They start here and wonder — where can I be to jump out of helicopters?” he said. “We don’t investigative homicides in Pinecrest.” (Miami-Dade police handle homicide cases for most small cities.)

Ceballos also dismissed the premise that a dwindling police presence has led to cut-through traffic. He blames the influx on GPS applications, like Waze, that reroute drivers through the city for a faster route.

He said he feels the police department has always had the support of the council, “no matter who got elected” and does not see any reason that would change. However, he did note that Abbott, unlike Field, has already spoken with him about issues that are important to the police department and even participated in a ride-along. Ceballos said he would be happy to do the same for Field.

If Abbott beats Field, she will be the second woman who has PTSA experience to do so. Field said that it would be good to have someone with a different perspective on the dais.

This article has been updated to correct the description of Frey Farms, where candidate James Field Jr. was previously employed.

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