December 1, 2020

$100M bond proposal is backdrop for 10 candidates in Key Biscayne council race

The Village of Key Biscayne is at a turning point. The village, which turns 30 next year, is grappling with its future as a low-lying barrier island especially prone to sea rise. Its manager, largely responsible for modernizing the village’s operations, has resigned and, notably, voters are being asked to approve a bond proposal for up to $100 million that would create a steady funding stream to back large-scale resilience projects. The proposal alone has brought about divisive local newspaper columns, political mud-slinging and even a lawsuit.

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In the background, of course, is a Nov. 3 election where 10 candidates — including two incumbents — are vying for three unpaid positions on the village’s seven-member council, many of them aligning themselves as “pro-bond” or “anti-bond” and campaigning around the Key as such.

Here’s who is running:

Jennifer Allegra

Allegra, a former state regulator and attorney, moved to Key Biscayne eight years ago in search of beaches, fishing and opportunities to hop on her paddle board.

She doesn’t consider herself a politician or part of Key Biscayne’s well-regarded group of yacht club members but says she represents younger voters who care about the future of the village.

The general obligation bond referendum is a top issue for Allegra, 42, who perceives the voters’ approval as a “blank check” to future councils, which will eventually vote to spend the money on resilience projects. She argues that village residents have no way of knowing what future councils will do with the money, so projects should instead be approved on a case-by-case basis when projects are so-called “shovel ready.”

“They could build a statue of a manatee in the middle of a village and call it resiliency,” she said.

Allegra, who has contributed to a Change.org petition circulating against the bond, calls the bond “heartless” because of the timing, and says asking property owners to pay more in taxes during a pandemic where many have lost work is insensitive.

Matt Bramson

Bramson, a tech entrepreneur, church leader and condominium association president, moved to Key Biscayne from New York 12 years ago. He was taken with the small-town feel in a place so close in proximity to the City of Miami.

He said he’s running in hopes of bringing peace to a council that he views as “contentious and disrespectful.”

“The fact that there are 10 people running for three spots shows there is some unrest,” said Bramson, 52. “I want to be the kind of councilman who wants to restore confidence.”

Bramson is firmly planted in the “pro-bond” camp, urging voters to consider the council’s ability to make detailed, much-needed resilience plans knowing that the most affordable funding option is available. He contends the “blank check” argument is a “’sky is falling’ way of looking at things.”

As a member of the village’s 2040 Vision Board, which provides recommendations to the village council for mapping out Key Biscayne’s future, Bramson said he brings the forward-looking attitude the village needs, especially with regards to water quality and climate change adaptation.

“I believe that it’s important to make a commitment of willingness to invest in our community to address our needs and our potential,” he said. “[The bond] is a relatively modest investment … there is no expert that disputes that these projects need to be addressed. I am a believer in options.”

Franklin Caplan

Caplan, an attorney and two-time Key Biscayne mayor, wasn’t planning on running for council until the very last minute. But he felt the divided dais could use a bit more institutional knowledge, he said.

“The council could function better and communicate better with the public. They could also debate better among themselves,” said Caplan, 65. “I believe I can bring some of that back.”

While he supports the bond initiative, he is frustrated with what he calls a “confusing roll-out” from the village. Voters don’t fully understand what the bond means, he said, and those who are against the bond are using the issue as “a proxy for fiscal conservatism.”

“Those arguments seem silly to me and are all made-up rationalizations to support the opposition,” he said.

His main goal as a council member would be to provide better communication to village residents, build a more cohesive council “that works together as body, not seven individuals who are at each other” and to raise confidence and trust in government, he said.

“I want to keep up the buzz of the place.”

Caplan moved from Baltimore to Key Biscayne in 1986, where he met his wife doing volunteer work during the village’s incorporation.

Armando Chapelli

A consultant and Cuban refugee, Chapelli, 74, hopes to bring his private-sector experience to the village council and get a “return on investment” from Key Biscayne, where he has been paying taxes since 2000.

“I have gotten so much out of this fantastic country,” he said. “But I am concerned about the looming dangers of financial stress of the nation.”

Chapelli does not think a bond is the answer to funding resilience projects, as it invites spending by the council. Instead, he argues projects should be approved and funded after the council vets each project. He says he would bring his private-sector sensibilities to the council to help better manage this process.

“In the private sector, when you get a budget, it’s an instrument of restraint,” he said. “In the public sector when you have a budget, it’s an invitation to spend.”

Louisa Lincoln Conway

Conway, a self-identified community leader, was born in Fiji and moved to the United States as a child. She met her husband, a University of Miami alum, while at graduate school in New York. The two spent weekends in Miami for years. They eventually bought property in Key Biscayne, which she called “an island paradise.”

She has owned property in the village since 2005, moved full-time in 2013 and serves as the president of the Key Colony homeowner’s association, the largest HOA in Key Biscayne.

Conway is strongly opposed to the general obligation bond proposal, mostly because she feels voters were not given enough information until the council approved the resolution to put the proposal on the ballot. Instead, all voters hear is a divided group of candidates and council members “screaming at each other,” she said.

“I feel like we’re in an echo chamber,” Conway said. “I don’t think we’ve reached the public because this was such a rushed resolution. It just hasn’t been transparent.”

Reynaldo Figueredo

Figueredo, a financial adviser, moved to Key Biscayne in 2015 — after 14 years in New York — in hopes of retiring in the warm weather. Figueredo, who is originally from Venezuela, said he wants to keep making it a place people from all over the world want to come for its rising property values, clean beaches and nice people.

“I have seen it grow throughout the years, not only the property values but what the village council has done to make services better and attract more people,” said Figueredo, 53..

Figueredo’s top goals for the village council would be to run a frugal government and upgrade infrastructure where feasible, including beach restoration and underground utilities.

He is against the bond referendum. Citing the coronavirus pandemic, Figueredo said revenue bonds could be approved by the council to eventually pay for projects, but that “now is not the time to go and expose yourself.”

“We are sitting in a time of trouble,” he said. “This village has been so well-managed, and we should continue to do that.”

Michael Kelly

Kelly, 27, was born and raised on Key Biscayne and says he hopes to represent his generation’s voice on the council. He attended University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the St. Thomas University School of Law, and now works as an attorney representing insurance companies and their subsidiaries.

Kelly believes the council members often think about planning for the future using an older frame of reference but hopes to bring fresh ideas about ways to tackle sea level rise and coastal erosion “so we can even have a place called Key Biscayne in 2040.”

His passion for preservation is the reason he is behind the general obligation bond referendum and says those who oppose it are “misled.”

“I’m pro-bond because council needs that extra financial option,” he said. “They don’t need to take it, but I don’t know why they shouldn’t have the option.”

Allison McCormick

McCormick, 49, is a member of the village’s current council, and previously served as vice mayor in 2018. She said she has brought a unique approach to the council over the last four years, adding perspective as a mother of four who is deeply passionate about the quality of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, especially the ones residents’ children attend.

She is running for another term, she said, because she is concerned with the challenges the community faces as it heads into its 30th year.

“I have served as a voice of reason seeking consensus and productivity on what can be a fractured council,” she said.

McCormick supports the bond proposal and has echoed the call from other supporters for voters to do their research on what approving a bond would do.

“A ‘yes’ vote is not a blank check,” she said at a recent candidate forum. “Any borrowing … must be approved by the council at several stages with ample opportunity for the public to be heard.”

Brett Moss

Brett Moss, the village’s current vice mayor, has served on the council for the last four years. He moved to Key Biscayne in 2005.

His top goals for a next term include creating a better budgeting process, making improvements to the village’s infrastructure and updating the village zoning ordinance, he said during a council candidate forum in September.

By pledging property taxes for GO bond financing, the village will get a better interest rate for the projects, he said. “I want to pay lower taxes and that’s why I’ll vote for GO bonds.”

Moss, 41, did not return requests for comment.

Oscar Sardiñas

Sardiñas, born to Cuban and Bolivian parents, moved to Key Biscayne in the summer of 1985 and lived there until he left to attend the University of Florida. After he graduated, he started a consulting business in New York City. He moved with his wife and child to Miami in 2010 and moved to the Key in 2018. He bought his first property this summer.

Sardiñas, 47, said he always had a long-term goal of getting more involved in government and has enjoyed serving on an education advisory committee to have more of a say in the schools his young children attend.

When it comes to the bond proposal, he fears voters may not understand it due to “misinformation.” He supports the idea of giving future councils an option to pay for resilience projects, and said he does not believe they would use the money nefariously, as some who are against the bond purport they might.

“I am kind of a silver lining guy,” he said.

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