These questions were sent to all Key Biscayne Village Council candidates on Monday, Oct. 5th.
As If the candidates reply, The Tropical Rag will publish the responses. The replies are as they were received with some minor edits for spelling and grammar.
Interview with Franklin H. Caplan
Official filing: PDF
I’ve heard that on the Key the best way to get elected is to know a lot of people and not go into much detail about policy. What do you think?
I think the opposite. Knowing a lot of people is nice. But a wide circle of friends has little relevance as I see it in assessing one’s suitability as a candidate for Council. There are people who make excellent companions; who one is glad to know and call a friend. But it may be that one would not choose that friend to be responsible for Village-wide legislation and overseeing the operation of our local government. There are 7 council members. A lot depends on who fills each seat, and how they all work together. Policy views help voters understand candidates. What and how they think. What’s the motivation to serve? Is that person likely to do the homework necessary to reach enlightened decisions? Does she or he have the capacity and maturity to learn on the job? It’s positively frightening to think that electoral decisions could be made on the basis of friend preferences alone.
How long have you lived in Key Biscayne?
34 years of good living.
And you think that’s enough time to be on the council?
Yes. But I didn’t feel that way when I was here for around 5 years, or 10.
Alright, let’s get to it.
Property rights & development
The entrance block property is back up for sale. How do you feel about how the council handled the fight with Commodore Realty (CR) over building a Walgreens at the entrance block? You would be hard pressed to find a resident who was happy with the proposal, and yet there were also property rights at play. After many delays, the Village Council approved the project but cited traffic studies to close access to the property, thus making it infeasible. CR eventually sold the property at a profit, but not nearly as much as the value of the Walgreens deal, and not before running ads in the paper comparing the Council to Venezuela and Cuba.
Do you feel the spirit of property rights was violated using legal technicalities or is this just the name of the game when it comes to large development?
With the future of the entry block still unresolved, I think to say less rather than more on the subject. I will say this: I was mayor at the time the Walgreens proposal came forward. Our council and the administration followed the law, with judgment and fairness. Council’s decisions were correct. Due process prevailed.
A few years ago the Silver Sands Hotel tried to develop their site into a hotel/condo. The village had just passed a new zoning rule only allowing for hotels, and the owners of the Silver Sands were contesting that they were being unfairly targeted as the last property to not redevelop. Eventually their redevelopment deal fell through and they quit pursuing the development of the property and its legal implications, but still claimed the right to build apartments. Do you feel the Silver Sands property should be grandfathered into the old zoning rules; would you give them a variance?
I think to limit comment on this for reasons similar to my reserve on the entry block. I will say that I sought to work with the Silver Sands owners and their consultants and prospective partners. If you think of the expression “pushing on a rope,” you’ll understand something about that effort. It would be irresponsible now to predict what I would do, hypothetically, relative to Silver Sands. I can predict with certainty that I would act responsibly, taking into account the ownership’s interests and desires and the interests of the Village overall.
The topic of an assisted living facility was raised briefly at a council meeting recently. While most voters might be ambivalent to the general idea, it was proposed for the Crossbridge Church property with a developer expressing interest. How do you feel about an assisted living facility being built specifically at the church property? Would you vote to put the referendum to voters (as I think would be legally required as it increases density) to up-zone that specific property?
I’m interested in an assisted living facility. My interest extends to considering what level or type of assistance would be optimal and what prospective users would like to see by way of price point, amenities, services etc. The church property seems quite suitable for this type of use, assuming the church stewards would agree to this type of repurposing. Other sites come to mind too. A referendum would be needed under the charter as it is. The idea of building in some type of transferable development rights mechanism is interesting.
There’s no doubt the budget has increased quite a bit in the last ten years. I’m looking at the 2010 budget at ~$24m and the 2020 at ~$36m. Still, the tax rate has remained mostly the same. I can think of some reasons for this (more people, new buildings online, new schools, new parks, etc) but what do you make of it?
Population increase and commensurate increase in service demands. Capital ambitions and funding or reserves for them. Maintenance standards ticked up. Community services ticked up (eg. freebee). Fixed costs are what they are (eg. salary steps and insurance). Possibly some bloat in mid-level management.
I’m sure you’ve read every line of the current budget, as all of us have. How do you feel about it? Are there any concrete changes you would make?
I think the budget for the coming year reflects community values, more or less consistent with past years. I think it balances reasonable frugality with realism about what it takes to deliver services at high levels. The revenue-side is prudently conservative. The expense-side is reality-based and sound. I am not sure at this moment about the capital plan and how restricted or unrestricted reserves have been handled during the last two years. That’s a study topic for me.
I can’t help but think that if you really want to make any dent in the budget you’ve gotta cut staff, including Fire and Police. This is politically very unpopular right now. Thoughts?
There is at least this settled truth. We sought to build and maintain highly professional departments providing top-tier public safety services. We have never deviated from that purpose. And we should not do so. The prediction was made during the incorporation debates: that if we try to provide these services ourselves, instead of contracting with the City or the County, “people will die”. That was 1990 or so. That was not an accurate prediction. We’ve resourced the uniform services as needed to maintain the levels of services that keeps us safe. That’s what it takes. Plus good leadership in the departments. That’s what we have.
There was lots of talk during this year’s budget sessions about the funding of community groups, a relatively minor part of the budget. Why do you think that happened, and what are your thoughts?
I don’t know why it happened. Perhaps a sincere drive to cut costs in a down and troubled year. Perhaps lip service. Maybe both. It was irresponsible to dominate the budget process as happened. My notion is that investment in community groups is among the smartest investments we can make. The yields wildly exceed the costs.
Currently the council gives money to the Education Advisory Board which disperses it to fund initiatives at local public schools. What role should the council play in education?
When I was mayor, education was one of my major preoccupations. At the time, public education was not working well enough for us. An example: the KBCS original building was very deteriorated. Conditions in the classrooms were deficient as wall unit A/C rattled loudly. Bathrooms were non-functional too often. The public high school option at Gables was unappealing for many families. I worked hard to problem-solve. Among the results: easing an insurrectionist mood among many families about MDCPS, the MAST / Cambridge program and the new building / campus improvements at MAST, and the renovations at the KBCS. Council should monitor how well public education is serving the needs of the public and advocate when needed. I favor funding the EAB in support of community engagement with and in the schools and enrichment opportunities that may be beyond the normal means of MDCPS. That’s a critical public purpose. It’s fortunate that we have the will and means to pursue it.
Should we have made the addition to MAST bigger?
The purpose behind MAST was to create a good option that did not previously exist. The purpose was not for MAST to be the only public option. At the time, we became satisfied after due diligence and close questioning that the district’s methodology was sound, and had been followed, for sizing MAST (middle and high school) and for space planning the new school to maximize student stations. I recall there were a host of factors including a number of student stations that would support the fullest possible array of electives offered at the new campus. The considerations also included KB demographic projections. It’s easier to look backward than forward to determining adequacy / capacity. Now, I’d be open to a fresh look at everything, taking into account what happened in fact, as distinct from what was predicted.
General obligation bond and associated projects
General obligation bond: yes or no?
Yes on the ballot question.
By the time you’re elected the bond issue will have been decided. What do you do if it doesn’t go your way?
Learn the obvious lessons about communications and timing. Keep working on the essentials, smartly.
And if it does go your way?
Exactly the same. Learn the obvious lessons about communications and timing. Keep working on the essentials, smartly.
The former plan to bury the power lines involved an assessment where property owners would pay according to the perceived individual benefit to their property, to be decided by a company that specializes in deciding these things. Do you prefer this to a general obligation bond?
They are not mutually exclusive. The consultant’s work-in-progress a few years ago dealing with cost apportionment methodologies was not quite adequate in my view.
Do you think such an assessment method could work for the other resiliency projects outlined by the Village (complete streets, beach rehab)?
Case by case consideration. Much depends on the nature of the project. There is an overriding “social compact” consideration at issue, in addition to case-by-case “payment equity”. Questions about when cost apportionment based on benefit is appropriate and when per capita ad valorem based contributions are appropriate may not be fully logical and may lead to some unexpected and possibly confounding results.
The causeway is the only way in and out of Key Biscayne, and yet we have no jurisdiction over the area. With Miami-Dade County seemingly waiting to act until it’s absolutely necessary (eg. the Bear Cut bridge maintenance), do we have any hand to play? Please consider the little we’ve accomplished in this fight in the past.
I think we do have a hand to play. It requires strategy rooted in mutual self-interest and advancement of shared goals. I’m thinking actively about how to move this forward. We did accomplish some things in the past. One that is subtle but important: bike safety is better; shared use between bikes and cars improved.
Do you have an ideal outcome for the causeway?
Yes. Several variations really. An improved Calusa Park. A much improved ecological experience within Crandon on the west side. Bike and maybe golf cart linkage off the boulevard to Bear Cut, including access to the Tennis Center and Links. Replacement of asphalt with permeable surfaces and probably mixed-purpose adaptable surfaces in spots. A re-designed, improved and beautified Tennis Center, providing shared recreational facilities with scheduling priorities like the MAST field. Safe and convenient bike and pedestrian opportunities throughout, recognizing the causeway as the linear park that it is. And bridge, roadway, and turn-off ramp / lane design to keep KB traffic flowing inbound and outbound regardless of future Virginia Key or Crandon improvements or special events.
Hindsight is 20/20
In hindsight, considering its location, its usage, and its price:
would you have voted for the dog park?
Yes to all. I wanted this result, specifically, over alternatives.
would you have voted for Hampton park?
Yes. And I did.
would you have voted for the park on Harbor Drive?
Yes. The loss of 200 Harbor as a bayfront park still irks me.
What’s your favorite infrastructure/building/parks project the Village has done?
It’s a tiny thing, but I thought the butterfly garden was a mini-miracle. Also, Hampton Park seems to me to settle a long-simmering point of irresolution: are pocket parks worthwhile. The answer is and has been “yes”.
My least favorite: missing the opportunity in 2007 to acquire 200 Harbor Drive for a bayfront park, in fulfillment of a 2020 Vision plan priority, on pre-negotiated terms that included trust for public lands financing. Council approved the acquisition but failed to approve the financing.
How do you feel about the cultural center / library the council is exploring? What is your ideal location for the cultural center?
I favor this. Stats show that library use is popular. Our facility is not state of the art. The Community Center demands suggest to me that a cultural-oriented flex space in an improved library building could serve us well. A bit more study and public input on this would be needed.
There’s been some talk about leaving the Miami-Dade Public Library System and funding the library ourselves directly. Knowing what you know today, would you make the switch?
I would not favor this but I would consider it (and have done so, in negotiations with MDPLS).
A few months ago, the mayor had a private talk with the manager and asked for it to be in confidence. Hours later political allies of the manager were calling council members, including the mayor, referencing said conversation. Any thoughts on this situation, and how would you react if it happened to a fellow councilmember or to yourself?
Strategy and tactics in dealing with people. Some considerations: Hard conversations can actually be constructive if they arise in a real relationship, built around trust and confidence (if absent, this is not replaced by a confidentiality commitment). Also, one is well-advised to remember that remarks intended as private may wind up on the front page of the newspaper, or misstated, or both. Also, one is well-advised to remember that the hint of an end-game can easily be the end-game itself. I/o/w, if you allude to the possibility of an outcome, your doing so may be seen as putting in motion the path to that outcome, thus engendering a counter-move.
During the 2018 election traffic concerns on Crandon were high on the list of priorities, as polling in a village survey had reflected. A kid had been hit by a motorcycle and sent to the hospital at one of the Crandon crosswalks which really kicked it off. Yet since then, I couldn’t list one thing that has been done in response. The crosswalks work the same way today, and annoyingly-strict enforcement of traffic laws never happened. Are we good to go on pedestrian safety?
We are not good to go. My impression is that the crosswalks have elicited better driver response than was evident initially. We learn from routine and new norms (stopping for PedX) arise. Driveway cuts are an inherent problem.
Does anyone really care that fishing is banned at Mashta bridge?
I don’t know. I kind of liked local kids fishing off the bridge. The notion that out-of-towners were using the site and leaving a mess seemed true. At this point, it seems settled and uncontroversial.
Does anyone really care that there isn’t public access to the bay, even just a small spot to drop a paddle board?
The absence of a bay access park may color perceptions. Its easier to react to an existing condition–good or bad-than it is to imagine what it would be like if a non-existing condition were to arise. Personally, I think the absence of a bayfront park in a small town on an island is a missing feature of some importance.
Does anyone really care that there’s only one public cold water fountain on the whole island?
I do, in an active recreational community, replete with joggers and squatters and pull-upers. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to have a few fountains here and there.
I can’t believe this has to be asked but it’s come up enough times in public comments: should renters be allowed to vote in KB? How about non-citizen owners?
The states of the United States got rid of freeholder status and literacy tests and poll taxes a long time ago. Renters are residents. Residents have an interest in the public life. Non-citizen owners are a different story. The franchise in this country and to my knowledge in most others resides with citizens. Stay tuned. This is an issue and will be more conspicuous in the coming years throughout the world. Forced emigration and burdens on the welcoming (or not so welcoming) nation makes it so.
That’s it. Anything you think is important that I didn’t touch on?
10 candidates. 3 seats. 1 Council. Consider what’s going on. What’s needed. Who can contribute to what’s needed? Vote as if your future depended on it.
(That concludes the Tropical Rag interview.)
Island politics depot
Links to information about the upcoming KB election. This section will be updated as new information comes along.
Tropical Rag interviews
Franklin H. Caplan
Candidate forum 2020-09-21
Anti-Social podcast w/Allison McCormick
General obligation bond referendum
Tropical Rag bond FAQ
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