In November, Palmetto Bay residents will have the opportunity to elect a mayor and two council-people into office. Given the past few years of issues, uncertainty and polarizing topics, many hope this election will be a rallying point. At the very least, it is an opportunity for residents to get involved and have their voices heard.
As an involved Villager, I try to stay informed, know the candidates and get information out to others. Recently, I received a call from Peter England asking that I have breakfast with him. He (half-jokingly) asked for 'equal time' since I had just done a breakfast chat with mayoral candidate Eugene Flinn. I quickly accepted.
I met England Tuesday morning at The Original Lots of Lox (South Dixie Highway and SW 152nd Street). He was anxious to tell me why he was running.
England: Palmetto Bay's campaign in 2010 was the ugliest of the four I've been involved in my political life [the other three were outside Palmetto Bay]. I lost becoming mayor by 81 votes (but who's counting) and I said to myself 'no more'. But after the state of affairs over the last four years and people asking me to reconsider, I simply had to do it. There is a lot do be done.
Ever since Palmetto Bay incorporated in 2002, Peter England has been involved in civic activity. Retired from a senior position at Camillus House, he serves on the Palmetto Bay Downtown Redevelopment Task Force and in 2011 started (and currently chairs) the Palmetto Bay Village Voice, a group of residents whose mission is to increase local government transparency and accountability through education and communication, and to promote active resident participation in our community. England said, "I'm proud of what we do there and the speakers that we bring to our Village."
Me: What makes you the right person for the job?
England: As vice mayor in St. Petersburg it was my job to be a unifying force. I was not elected by the people, but rather by the council. It was my job to be a unifier and that experience is exactly what Palmetto Bay needs in a mayor. One of the major problems we have here is disenchanted residents. It's almost a government of the few, for the few. We have great, great people in this Village and they need to be engaged, counted and involved. I get energized knocking on doors. We have quality people who are not getting what they need from government. I have the experience to unify and get people working together and that's what we need right now.
Me: What are your top three priorities or things that you want to accomplish in office?
England: The first is inclusiveness. I feel a strong sense of division and alienation in this Village, and that's not why we incorporated. We are 23,000 people and we need to be under the same big tent. And not just homeowners, but businesses, schools and churches. I think there's even been discrimination to certain people and groups that has to be fixed. We first need to bring the council together again. The recent council meetings look like Comedy Central and we should be far more mature in year twelve of our incorporation.
Second, we need to be friendly and welcoming to business. Last year, Cutler Bay's home prices were up nearly 8%, Pinecrest was up 5% (the County average) and we were at 2.5%. That's because they are developing a better home for business development. It's why I serve on the Palmetto Bay Downtown Redevelopment Task Force and as Mayor I'll make sure we are far more business-friendly. This will lead to better finances and a better quality of life for our Villagers.
Third is government responsiveness. The Village should treat its residents like paying customers and providing excellent customer service. That attitude starts at the top. Both elected officials and the constitutional officers (clerk, attorney and manager) have to be in sync with each other and always looking to be accountable to residents' requests. Responsiveness to everyone is where the rubber meets the road.
Me: What else needs to be changed?
England: Beyond personalities, we have put charter changes and ordinances on the books that are flat out wrong. The more laws that are in place, the more chance for litigation and unintended consequences. The Village's actions have had discriminatory effects. This must be corrected. This is not just a bedroom community. Other businesses and organizations are part of Palmetto Bay. Everyone needs to be treated equally.
Me: Talk to me about signs, both political and otherwise.
England: The rules on signs are insane. Signs are covered under the umbrella of free speech. More Palmetto Bay ordinances are not better. We're not Coral Gables (nor should we be) and we need to provide latitude for people and business.
Steven and Keka Lorenzana were at a nearby table. England stopped by. "Do you live in Palmetto Bay?" They replied they had recently moved from Coral Gables and were so happy that they'd never go back.
England took note and said he was interested in what they liked about Palmetto Bay and how he could improve on that.
His final words to me as we finished breakfast, "I do not intend to hog the spotlight. Each person on the council needs to represent the voters and I simply will preside over the council to ensure that is remembered. Everyone has a voice. Everyone is equal."