As elections near, traffic, development and blasting concern Miami Lakes voters

When members of the Graham family decided to turn their dairy farm into a city in the 1960s, they created a master plan, anticipating decades of growth. Now in 2018, Miami Lakes has about 3,000 residents. It is one of Miami-Dade County’s youngest municipalities, and it keeps expanding.

But the town is experiencing growing pains. Similar to other areas in Miami-Dade, voters here are concerned with increasing traffic and development. The town leaders are considering a $55 million bond measure — not for the November ballot — to better the parks, among other capital improvement plans.

These are key issues for candidates running for Town Council in the town’s Nov. 6 election. Two seats are up for grabs, and two candidates are running for each. None has served on the Town Council.

Business owner Xiomara Pazos and attorney Jeffrey Rodriguez are vying for seat 2. Pazos is against the proposed bonds, pledging to vote against any measures that would increase residents’ taxes or the town’s debt.

If elected, she said she will focus on residents’ safety. Pazos plans to recruit retired officers and deputies to work at schools and direct more town funds toward law enforcement.

She said she opposes development in the town because she believes it would worsen the traffic.

When it comes to a bond measure, Rodriguez said he’s in favor of doing whatever residents choose to do. He wants to ask them through workshops and informational meetings, and possibly a mail-in ballot in 2019, before making any decision.

Rodriguez said the town is headed in the right direction as far as addressing traffic, and hopes to finish some of the projects that have already been started, including the synchronization of traffic lights.

“The town is in a good place right now,” he said.

He’s also concerned about “housekeeping things” — he wants to make sure the sidewalks are always accessible and the trees are trimmed in the city.

Candidates for seat 6 are Esther Colon, a retired government worker, and Carlos Alvarez, an educator.

Colon said she’s most concerned about stopping development in the town immediately.

“When you go to downtown, you feel like you’re in a prison because of all that development,” she said.

She’s also against borrowing any money and spending any more than what is absolutely necessary.

She said if elected, she will seek better electricity for the original part of Miami Lakes because it always goes off when the weather gets bad. She wants to do extensive budget research and cut costs, as well as apply for more grants.

Alvarez, on his part, said he will focus on improving the parks and implement more capital improvement in a “fiscally responsible way.” He also wants to ensure schools stay safe and advocate for resource officers.

He’s also concerned about traffic, but he said he agrees with the current Town Council in how it is handling traffic, so he will support any project that’s already under way.

All candidates said they understand blasting by rock-mining companies is an issue for residents of Miami Lakes, and all agree the best way to fix it is through lobbying state officials in Tallahassee, as the state holds jurisdiction over blasting.

These are the candidates:

Seat 2

Xiomara Pazos: This is the third time Pazos, 61, has fought for a seat in Miami Lakes government. She lost in 2014 against incumbent Ceasar Mestre and again in 2016 against incumbent Nelson Rodriguez. She told the Herald she’s feeling positive about her chances this year because for the first time her opponent is not an incumbent.

“In the past, people knew the other two councilmen, but now people remember me from the last two times,” she said. “They get happy to see me again. I’m sure this time will be it.”

Pazos was born in Cuba, but grew up in Hialeah. She received two associate degrees from Miami Dade College. For the past 10 years, she has lived in Miami Lakes, where she served as the vice president of Serenity Pointe Homeowners Association for a year. And for the past 22 years, she has been the CEO of her own business — Professional Medical Transportation, a Hialeah-based non-emergency transportation service.

As of early October, Pazos had raised $830 in campaign contributions.

Jeffrey Rodriguez

Jeffrey Rodriguez, 35, moved to Miami Lakes eight years ago. He was born and raised in Hialeah, then got a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Nova Southeastern University and a law degree from St. Thomas University. He now practices construction, commercial real estate and business law at Adams Gallinar, P.A.

He’s been involved in Miami Lakes government for four years. He served on the Miami Lakes Economic Development Committee for a year and on the town’s Planning and Zoning Board for three years, including two years as chairman. It was during that time that Rodriguez realized he wanted to vie for a Town Council seat, he said.

“I grew a deeper love and appreciation for this town and its residents,” he said. “And that’s what prompted me to get off the sidelines and get involved and take a more active approach to my public service.”

As of mid-October, Rodriguez had raised $22,850 for his campaign.

Seat 6

Carlos Alvarez

Alvarez, a school principal, wants to get involved in his local government. He pursued a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from St. Thomas University, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University. The 41-year-old was born in Hialeah but has been living in Miami Lakes for 13 years.

Alvarez served as a teacher aide for two years, a teacher for six years, an assistant principal for two years. Then he became a principal, the position he currently occupies at Ben Sheppard Elementary School. He said he’s been successful as a school leader, so now he wants to go bigger.

“I wanted to take that same energy to our town,” he said. “I love the direction the town is going in. Some things are coming into fruition, so if I’m elected I just want to make sure they get done.”

As of early October, Rodriguez’s campaign had raised $27,275.

Esther Colon

Colon, 65, was born in New York and moved to Florida in 1977. This is her second time vying for a seat in the Miami Lakes Town Council. In 2016, she lost against Luis Collazo. She’s a retired government worker, but she doesn’t consider herself a politician.

“I have a passion for public service,” she said. “I was born to serve others.”

As of mid-October, Colon had raised $8,387 for her campaign.

Colon worked for different government agencies, including Sweetwater, Miami Springs, the Broward Sheriff’s Office and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, for more than 30 years. In 2000, she became the town manager of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a small town in Broward County. In 2010, however, she was fired, according to a recording of the meeting.

Roseann Minnet, the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea mayor in 2010, said the council had issues with Colon’s transparency.

“We no longer wanted her to do the job,” she said. “She didn’t always give us the information we needed to make the decisions.”

The council selected an interim town manager, who gave Colon a severance package without the Town Council’s authorization the same night she was fired. The town then fired him too, according to current Mayor Chris Vincent, and sued Colon to get part of the package back. At the end, both parties agreed Colon had been overpaid, and she was required to pay back part of the money.

Colon denies that’s what happened. On a Sept. 21 Facebook post, she wrote: “For the record, I was never ‘fired’ from my job or ever forced to return any ‘overpaid’ funds. My employment contract was non-renewed by the newly-elected commission majority, and part of the severance package for unused leave was voluntarily returned by mutual agreement.”