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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Checking in with Commissioner Ken Russell

Ten With Tom
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
Ken: I’m at the office in City Hall Monday-Friday, with only two half days per week that I take off to run my own business. I also attend events in the evenings and on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the district. I have commission meetings twice per month. I chair the Coconut Grove BID meetings every month and I chair the monthly Downtown Development Authority meetings as well. I also chair the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency.

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.

My take-away:

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. 

For linking to this one story, just click on the time it was posted & just this story will open for sharing - only through social media. Not copying and pasting.


Blogger Jean said...

"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."

Tom, you keep throwing around the whole illegal thing. Once again, I'll ask - have you or have you not confirmed (via property records, permits, meetings, or whatever) that these houses are, in fact, illegal? If you have not, then spreading misinformation is a poor way to bring about attention to this matter.

I find it extremely difficult to believe that illegally constructed homes would be given a certificate of occupancy, granted a mortgage, acquire home insurance, and be taxed.

April 19, 2016 9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By all means send your concerns and suggestions to Ken Russell ( and if possible request an appointment. Hopefully a response from his office will now be improving in a more timely fashion.

April 19, 2016 10:11 AM  
Blogger Your Neighbor said...

Jean, how do I get in touch with you?

April 19, 2016 3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Twice I have sent Commissioner Russell an email (separate emails regarding separate issues). I have yet to receive a response to either. I understand people get busy and lose track of emails, but saying that there are no unanswered emails is an insult to the intelligence of the voters who know from first hand experience that he does not reply to all emails. I would rather him apologize for not responding and say he will do better in the future than pretend that there is no issue.

April 19, 2016 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those of you that are not being responded to your e-mails or phone calls, I suggest visiting the District-2 office at City Hall and demanding a meeting. Russell and his staff are public servants. Its time they started to better serve the needs of the public in a more responsive and timely manner.

April 19, 2016 4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In order of power & authority comes federal, state, county and municipal authority. Over a lifetime of 73 years I absolutely have seen that a written statement trumps words, i.e., why do you think every time you contact a big business or government agency a recording states "this phone call is being recorded for training purposes". This makes the average caller nervous, careful, and puts them on guard; purposefully, this practice limits options. I like Mr. Russell, but the rules still applies. But, what revealing is when Ken states that only after all of these permits are issued, after the variances and warrants are issued along with Miami City approval, these violations are suddenly made legal. LEGAL, LEGAL, and LEGAL. Only a very few people understand or know this fact. Imagine an average Grove citizen, good people in general, who sees in his neighborhood an illegal construction project going on - - - - who then investigates, takes pictures, collects written statements and witnesses, goes to city hall or appropriate city authority to make his case. Obviously, this kind of involvement can't be undertaken by someone earning a living and pay the mortgage, various insurance policies, kids in school,
provide food and have fun time with his family. The public must become involved the SECOND any, i.e., ANY violation is noted and in writing. A special master, a private citizen comes to mind; someone publicized sufficiently to give us average folks a place to send documentation THE MOMENT IN TIME THE VERY 1st VIOLATION OCCURS and then follow it through. This would become a full time job. If the CITY of MIAMI ignores this special master they could move to the next jurisdiction, which would be the State of Florida, the governor's office who would appoint probably a State Attorney to investigate. As Ken inferred, what's illegal become legal after city approves the permit(ing) Jobie Steppe

April 20, 2016 8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question - the police annex on Grand - is that still operational? I no longer see patrol cars outside. And, when driving past at 7pm Tuesday and Thursday, it seems vacant.

April 20, 2016 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The substation is waiting on proper funding to be allocated before the Police, the NET Office, and Code Enforcement all move into the building together. When Sarnoff left office, the portion of the rent for the sub station he funded from his private foundation also left.

April 20, 2016 5:21 PM  
Anonymous Mal said...

A person claims he called Mr. Russell's office and didn't get an answer and then signed his comments with anonymous? Sounds fishy to me.

April 20, 2016 5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mal, it's the same person who berated Mark Sarnoff all those years and said Mother Teressa abused children, there was no Santa and they had eaten the Easter Bunny.

April 21, 2016 7:32 AM  

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