Checking in with Commissioner Ken Russell
I asked Commissioner Ken Russell my 10 With Tom questions. These are the issues I have been hearing from people around town. Things that concern them.
Tom: Where have you been? Neighbors in the Grove seem are feeling neglected without you having your hand in everything.
|Courtesy Ken Russell|
Tom: I noticed you did the Baynanza shore clean up, how did that go?
Ken: Baynanza was a great coastal cleanup effort. I joined the County Mayor, County Commissioner Edmonson, and our Parks Director at one location and a few of my staff helped out at other locations. It was nasty to see what floats up on our shores. But it was great to see the community pulling together to make a difference.
Tom: Many people are upset that St. Stephen's School has taken over Peacock Park, they control the soccer and basketball areas that always seem to be closed to residents. Will you overturn this "private parties renting the park" concept?
Ken: The deal with St. Stephen’s School was in place long before I arrived. This is not a typical rent-out of a public park space, but rather an arrangement that was struck to have them renovate the space, and get use of it during their school hours for their PE classes. After school, the park is open to the public unless there is a special event. Many of the people that rent park space are providing services to the public such as soccer classes, yoga classes, and fitness classes. Many park spaces can be rented for birthday parties etc. as well. Of course, that space is then not available to the general public who may not be involved with those activities, so a balance has to be kept.
Tom: What is your take on this overbuilding and up-zoning of single family lots (four and five houses on one single family plat). Most if it is against the law but no one seems to care on the city's side.
Ken: I am not in favor of over-building, lot splitting, and up zoning in single family residential areas. If you are aware of any case that was undertaken illegally, please give me the address and I’ll look into it. There is an appeals process and a waiver process for all of these. The public needs to get involved and be vocal at these meetings. Most all of the issues we are seeing now were decided in the past. They only come to commission after going through the full process. I am also staying posted on every demolition request that is submitted, and keeping my eye out for any properties that should be historically designated and protected.
Tom: Why do all areas of the City of Miami have food trucks and yet the Grove does not? When will we have food trucks on our streets once a week or month on a regular basis? It's a quality of life thing and for one section of the city to be denied this while others enjoy this service does not bode well.
Ken: There is no different legislation or enforcement of food trucks in the Grove vs any other part of the city. No one in the Grove has organized a specific food truck event. Miami needs good food truck legislation and it’s on my priority list to help write it so these trucks can operate under reasonable guidelines.
Tom: What about street vendors? Why are the new landlords calling the shots about what is legal and what is not legal in Coconut Grove. Vendor licenses are out there, when can the vendors set up carts on the streets like the old days? What gives new property owners the right to dictate the law?
Ken: Regarding street vendors, I will be glad to revisit the legislation on this and meet with the gentleman [Avi] that you mentioned in your Blog.
Tom: People have been asking to see more police on the streets - patrolling, horseback or on bicycles like in the recent past. Will that happen?
Ken: regarding policing in the streets, I am very proud and thankful to be working with Commander Morales in the Grove. I’ve never seen anyone so dedicated and caring for the community they serve. The City has a record number of new recruits this year. As they are trained and hit the streets, there will be more visibility and enforcement.
Tom: The Grove is losing too many events due to strict new rules by the city. They expect people to sign open-ended waivers making them responsible for park clean-up and lawn replacement. What can you do to help the events stay or come back without going broke in the process.
Ken: I have been working closely with each of the event organizers as well as the parks director and the Executive Director of the Coconut Grove BID. I have been trying to mediate and facilitate a solution whenever they come to an impasse. The main issue is that Peacock park has been developed as a great sporting field, and the large machinery and heavy foot traffic of some of the events (combined with lots of rain) damaged that field to the tune of $100k in grass replacement. The Arts Festival complied with all of the restrictions of the parks department and the event was a total success without damaging the grass. We need to be careful, but not so restrictive that we lose great events.
Tom: Related to that, who sets the city service fees? They are too high. Most other municipalities in the county don't charge an arm and a leg to event promoters to hold events, they actually absorb the costs as a public service.
Ken: That being said, I do not believe that it is the responsibility of the local government and the tax payers to subsidize large, profitable events. Not for profit and charity events can often catch a break on permitting and fees, but I don’t think that the residents should pay for the other events.
Tom: I receive one major complaint about you and that is that you don't return phone calls and especially emails. Why? I myself receive so many emails in a week, and out of courtesy I respond to every single one. I don't ignore them. You do.
Ken: Again, Tom, please send me any copies you have of unanswered emails to my office. To my knowledge, there are none. While we may not have an immediate solution to every problem, we will always have a response and followup.
I have never had a problem reaching Ken, he answers emails right away, he is very involved in social media, always posting and engaging with residents, so I don't know why he would not answer emails which I think sort of falls into that category, but I do get that complaint often about him not responding to people. I sent him these 10 questions on a Sunday afternoon and had the answers returned within hours. I prefer to do this through email (the Ten with Tom) rather than a regular interview and while people have been asking me to interview Ken for so long now, I just thought we should give him some breathing room before we attack. I think the problem is that we are so used to being micromanaged that we can't seem to survive without being told what to do every minute. I like his style of managing. I don't like being micromanaged.
As for the food trucks - is Ken saying we can organize events in the Grove? I know he is not a fan of over-development, I can see it in the things he posts on social media. I invited him to attend the community meeting on April 27, he says he will attend. Regarding the current projects already being built, Ken says, "I understand what the code says, but once a property goes through the process and is approved, it’s no longer 'illegal.' There needs to be more vocal opposition at the public hearings."
I am also encouraged that he will speak with Avi about street vending. I don't see any changes regarding the law, but he's willing to listen to him.
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