Miami Gardens prepares for change

caines | 7/12/2012, 5:30 a.m.

Candidates, council members share views

In less than six weeks, voters across the state will be lining up at their nearest voting polls to determine who should be running their local governmental seats. For Miami Gardens residents, the march to the polls carries historic significance as their first and only mayor, Shirley Gibson, prepares to vacate the seat (and is running for a county commission seat) leaving them with the chance to choose a new leader. Seven candidates have stepped up to run for the office. Meanwhile, five others have tossed their hats in to be considered for a Miami Gardens council seat. Founded in 2003, the 20-mile municipality has managed to become the home to popular sports franchises the Miami Dolphins and the Miami Marlins and the nationally renowned two-day concert, Jazz in the Gardens. However, the area has also garnered its share of tales of corruption, mis management and crime.

Everything must change

The Miami Times asked a number of sitting council members and mayoral and council candidates their views on the most important issues facing their City. Some candidates noted how crime and issues of public safety remain among their top concerns. Statistics have shown that violent crimes, which by definition includes robbery and rape, have risen in the Miami Gardens, as well as other pre-dominantly Black areas in South Florida. At the core of the crime statistics in Miami Gardens is the Black male and his involvement in crime, explained Katrina Wilson, who is running for mayor of Miami Gardens, Whether this is because of gang involvement, cultural origins, economic conditions, or other factors, the Black male is the sector of our community that continues to top the charts and is the common thread among all of those negative statistical categories whether it is murder, assault, robbery, incarceration, arrests, unemployment, dropout rates or FCAT failures. However, while Councilwoman Felicia Robinson agrees that the area has its share of crime issues, she cautioned against overstating the problem. Crime has actually declined in Miami Gardens when you look at the statistics, she said. Comparing our city with various other cities within the county, our crime rate is actually lower. After crime, nearly all candidates unanimously agreed that economic development and job creation by supporting small business owners and by attracting corporations into the area must be among the citys top priorities. However, most candidates disagreed on exactly how to meet those goals. Some believe that the at-times controversial, yet hugely popular Jazz in the Gardens weekend music fest stands as an important factor towards bettering economic development. Jazz in the Gardens isnt just about making some money its about helping the community and helping to making Miami Gardens a destination spot, said Vice Mayor Oliver Gilbert, another candidate for the mayor. We need to have more things in the city that people want to come to. Councilman Andre Williams, another mayoral hopeful, disagrees. We should not be spending $2 million annually of taxpayer dollars on a party when we have so many issues in our city a 17 percent unemployment rate and one of the highest foreclosures in the state, he said. Mayor Shirley Gibson has heard such arguments before, but she still sees the concert as a worthwhile enterprise. Based on last year alone, the total investment on the event was about $2 million, with the city spending only about $150,000 overall, she said in a previous article. Now as the City prepares to say its final farewells, those that we interviewed said that the city will prosper in spite of the change in leadership. Mayor Gibson did an incredible job, said Rodney Harris, a candidate for City Council Seat 3. But our new mayor will need the support of the council, the business community and the residents of Miami Gardens in order for growth to continue. By Kaila Heardkheard@miamitimesonline.com