With pride and a well of accomplishments, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert delivered his eighth and final State of the City address to his 113,000 resident constituents on Wednesday.
The address was delivered via videotape instead of a live audience, but Mayor Gilbert reminded all watching that, although socially distanced, they are still one community.
“We're still the molded together neighborhoods of Scott Park and Bunche Park and Norwood and Crestview and the Bahas and Carol City and Andover and Coconut Cay and Myrtle Grove. We are still the city that was destined to fail, but that defied the odds and moved forward up the mountain and against the wind. Well, today as we stand in the long shadow of a global pandemic, in the midst of much-needed social reform, I unequivocally report to you that despite the long odds and against the wind, we are still standing and we are still moving forward,” said Gilbert.
In the shadow of the novel coronavirus, perhaps Gilbert’s greatest departing gift to his city is financial stability. While many American cities now sit on the precipice of insolvency, Miami Gardens is well-positioned to outlast the pandemic; its projected revenue reserves were 37% prior to COVID-19. Those reserves are coming in handy with the city facing an end-of-year deficit of nearly $5 million, he reported.
“The city's strong financial positioning allowed us to go through the COVID-19 experience without laying off or furloughing any employees because of the pandemic. It has allowed us to provide hot meals to residents … easing the burden of food insecurity. It has allowed us to provide masks that our police officers give to residents who are not wearing masks. It has allowed us to give rental assistance so that people are not evicted. In short, it allows us to continue to operate as a city while the world reshapes itself and emerges from this global pandemic.”
The mayor reminded everyone that darker days lie ahead, which is why he said a partial hiring freeze will leave vacancies and most new non-police positions unfilled to keep that rainy day fund plentiful.
“The goal of all of these cost-savings measures is to maintain the level of service for residents and to honor our commitment to employees, with the understanding that we have seen hard days before. We have tightened our belts before. We have made do with less before. If need be, we will do it again.”
Mayor Gilbert recalled how he was once told by a city administrator that the only development they could ever expect in the city were dollar stores and gas stations. Gilbert resolved then that gas stations and dollar stores would not be his legacy.
“We've seen shopping centers opened; we've seen industrial parks built and operational and creating jobs. We've seen new market rate housing that will allow us to welcome young professionals as an up-and-coming community. We completed infrastructure projects like the bridges and tunnels … We’ve become the home of not only Miami Dolphins football but the Miami Dolphins football headquarters … We've seen businesses big and small, national and local, family-owned and -operated as well as corporately structured, make their homes here in Miami Gardens. That is what we've done.”
Miami Gardens is still a young city, incorporated in 2003. In 2008 Gilbert was appointed to its city council; he was elected its second mayor in 2012 and is now wrapping up his second term.
“Eight years later, whether you use your yardstick or your measuring tape, the number of big businesses or the number of small businesses, the number of occupational licenses that have been issued or the number of jobs that have been created, the number of new restaurants that you can eat in or the presence of entertainment that's accessible, no matter what you choose to measure, there has been progress. We've gone from the city that couldn't last – the city that couldn't make it – to the city that's a finalist for an All-America City designation,” the mayor intoned with exuberance and certainty.
And though violent crime has plagued Miami Gardens, Mayor Gilbert insists that progress has been made here too.
“Homicides are down over 50% this year. But we will not celebrate. We will continue to work. All of us together. Understanding that the proliferation of guns makes violence the social disease that we must all seek to vanquish.”
Mayor Gilbert is running on his record to replace outgoing Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan in an election that will be decided Aug. 18. He also has accepted a position to serve as executive director of St. Thomas University’s new Center for Pandemic, Disaster, and Quarantine Research.
Perhaps with his new role at the university in mind, Gilbert shared the following words with his beloved city.
“In the absence of a vaccine, the best ways to slow the spread of COVID-19 are wearing a mask, social distancing and limiting your physical contact with people. This,” he said, “is our collective charge, our common goal, the singular task that will determine how and whether we come through this as a community.”