An ordinance that was passed on first reading at the Mar. 16 Town Council meeting and is scheduled to be brought up for public comment and a second reading/final vote on Apr. 20 has raised concerns among some in Cutler Bay about the access to town facilities by its residents.
The core elements of the ordinance read as follows:
A. Use of Town Building Facilities. Individuals, groups, and organizations may use a town building facility for recreational, cultural, civic, and educational events and activities, subject to the issuance of a permit and compliance with the rules and regulations contained in the town code of ordinances. However, town building facilities shall not be used for political campaign related events and activities.
B. Duration of Use. The use of a town building facility is restricted to the date and time listed in the permit, and the individual, group or organization using the facility. The town may issue an annual permit to an individual, group, or organization if there is an ongoing and regular use of a facility. The ordinance passed initially 3-2 with council members Peggy Bell, Mary Ann Mixon and Sue Ellen Loyzelle voting for it and Mayor Ed MacDougall and Vice Mayor Ernie Sochin voting in opposition.
Resident Steve Zarzecki, vice president of Concerned Citizens of Cutler Bay, a civic organization which meets monthly in the community center at Cutler Ridge Park, expressed in an email message his opposition to this measure, as worded.
“I am deeply concerned about this ordinance,” Zarzeki said. “I believe it to be in violation of our First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of assembly. It is vague, ambiguous, and will grant the town manager uncontrolled discretion to arbitrarily prohibit the Concerned Citizens of Cutler Bay from holding their meetings in the community center named after their founder, Jim Shiver, at Cutler Ridge Park.
“There are numerous Supreme Court decisions that, at least to me, confirm my belief that the proposed ordinance is unconstitutional. Also, again in my opinion, this ordinance seems to reflect a continuing trend in our town government and management away from a friendly, responsive, and cooperative town government, and towards an autocratic, in-yourface, and adversarial attitude towards the citizens and businesses of Cutler Bay — more permits, more fees, more rules, more regulations, confrontational zoning and code enforcement, and not the least, a growing list of actions seemingly aimed at reducing or limiting our most basic constitutional rights.”
Mayor Ed MacDougall, when contacted, stated that he also has concerns with the wording of the ordinance and the impact it may have on the community.
“The ordinance we spoke of, in my opinion, is not in keeping with the promise we made to our neighbors in Cutler Bay,” MacDougall said. “Our parks, specifically Cutler Ridge Park, have always been a place where our citizens could gather and exchange ideas, political views and enjoy our first amendment rights of speaking freely.
“Public discourse has always been an inextricable part of our great American heritage. We, as a government, should never lose sight of our responsibility to our neighbors and our constitution,” he added.
The Jim Shiver Community Center was named for a resident well known for fighting for infrastructure and park improvements as well as for the incorporation of Cutler Bay. As a member of the Concerned Citizens, then known as the Cutler Ridge Civic Association, he took part in getting a traffic circle built on Caribbean Boulevard, putting in a left turn at Marlin Road and S. Dixie Highway, and helping pass a $2 million bond issue for Cutler Ridge Park that included a community room.
Shiver stayed involved with the informational watchdog group Concerned Citizens after the successful push for incorporation in Cutler Bay, and was a vocal member of the town parks committee.
Neighborhood and civic groups that hold meetings there sometimes invite political candidates to speak on issues of interest to residents.
For information about the next meeting, call Cutler Bay Town Hall at 305- 234-4262.