Mission Man

Miami's Downtown commissioner is still fighting, and still hopeful of big change

Others are also feeling the surly winds of Winton, including city manager Carlos Gimenez, the only city employee hired and fired by the commission. A series of complaints against Community Development Department director Gwen Warren, presumably one of the administration's point women, prompted Winton to call for an independent audit of the department. The latest gaffe surfaced in May when, owing to Warren's failure to ensure that the CDD conducted environmental impact studies, federal officials froze $10 million administrators had hoped to use to build affordable housing in Model City, one of Miami's poorest areas. "I mean a full bore, top to bottom, complete evaluation," Winton emphasizes. "Do you know who was one of the biggest defenders of Gwen Warren in that department for two years? Johnny Winton. And as I told the manager today, I said, 'You know, I've had a bunch of little signals,' and because I thought they were doing such a good job of turning the whole thing around, I gave all of them the absolute benefit of the doubt. But this latest episode ... that makes me question completely how effective that department's been." (Warren has since left the CDD).

The lesson? Winton says he must now be more skeptical of city staff and, reluctantly, more concerned with matters that commissioners shouldn't have to worry about. "Commissioners aren't supposed to be in the management business," he explains. "We're supposed to be in the policy business. And we're not close enough internally, and we shouldn't be close enough internally, to [monitor] all of those little pieces."

While heading back into downtown from Wynwood, Winton can't restrain himself over the condition of the streets. "Look at this! How many times has this all been repaved here? It just ... [sighs]. 'Cuz I have a million things to do, I don't stay focused on all the stuff that I have to stay focused on. But I keep thinking I'm going to call for a moratorium on further street penetrations in downtown until we develop a plan. Shit, you know they cut these streets open and some new company is laying fiber in the street and before they finish they go bankrupt."

Photos by Steve Satterwhite
"This is how we promote our downtown," Winton grumbles about the parking lot wasteland
Steve Satterwhite
"This is how we promote our downtown," Winton grumbles about the parking lot wasteland

So does that mean the city doesn't have enough commissioners to stay on top of the problems? "No," he quickly replies. "We need some improvement in the overall focus and accountability of city staff, because a lot of these things I shouldn't even have to pay attention to. I shouldn't have to be the impetus for lots of things."

To what extent does he hold the city manager responsible? "It is completely his responsibility. One hundred percent his responsibility," Winton assures. "And I'm not calling it a failure because he's only been in the position for, has he been there two years yet? No, a year and a half, and he has a million priorities to work on. And he knows and he and I have talked about this very issue and I'm hoping there is a plan crafted soon between he and the mayor to address this issue. And I know they're working on it."

Does Winton think that Gimenez is, perhaps, too nice a city manager and not demanding enough of his staff? He prefers not to answer that specific question but offers this diplomatic response. "There's a lot of really good staff people in the City of Miami. And we've had this organizational structure and a group of staff people who brought us through bankruptcy, got us on our feet, brought us to this stage we're at right now. And it worked. But we're about to move into a whole new arena for the city that's going to be radically different than anything we've ever seen in the past. And I am concerned that we don't have the appropriate organizational structure nor human resources in place to move us to that next plateau."

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