A candid conversation with former Mayor Mary Scott Russell

Mary Scott Russell outside Chamber South office at Fuchs Park

Step into the Chamber South welcome center offices at Fuchs Park and see how hard it is to not be captivated by the good vibes and positive energy the place seems infused with. Fresh yellow daffodils decorate desks while above the informative pamphlets, windows galore highlight the sunny afternoon by the lake outside where a family of ducks waddles about. On this day Chamber South President (and yoga instructor) Mary Scott Russell is sharing tips with event coordinator Thomas Taulbee and executive assistant Arelis Ferro on appropriate breathing for the extended angle pose in yoga.

Former Mayor, Coconut Grove native, and 21 year South Miami resident, Mary Scott Russell anchors the efforts of a wide spectrum of business support endeavors in her now six year directorship of the bustling not for profit organization. Chamber South is nearly a century old; at 81 years they are one of the premier business support groups in South Florida and appear to have much wisdom and experience to offer the beleaguered leadership at city hall.

“In 1998 South Miami had never gone to Tallahassee before to appropriate funds to take home. When David Bethel, Horace Feliu, Armando Oliveros, Julio Robaina and I were in office, then Chamber South President Donna Masson invited us up to visit the legislature during Dade Days. Over the next eight years we parlayed our initial $250,000 grant into phase one of the children’s clinic. Ultimately it led to 4.5 million in funding support for helping to improve the city’s infrastructure. That was the benefit of being a member of the chamber. I would say that is a heck of return on your investment, wouldn’t you?” said Russell.

Renewing the city’s deactivated membership to Chamber South was one of the suggestions during the forums of the recent city election as panelists posed a popular question to candidates: “how can the city be more business friendly?” The Village of Pinecrest, Cutler Bay and Palmetto Bay are all active members of Chamber South whose commissioners and mayors regularly attend committee meetings and Chamber events.

In the spirit of bridging communication fall-out and finding ways to resolve festering conflicts between growth friendly residents and status-quo only loyalists, Russell goes back to the concepts of collaboration and camaraderie to mend fences.

“Together we are better,” said Russell. “We do not have discussions anymore. We are clinging to our ideals. Your ideas may not match someone else’s ideals so let’s talk about how do we realistically get to some of these idealistic places. We speak different languages and we come from different backgrounds, I don’t mean Spanish and English. I mean our communication is different so how do we find common ground?”

Former Miami-Dade League of Cities President and National Political Women’s Caucus Rising Star, Russell has a few ideas of her own and “reaching out across the highway” is central to her four component approach: “Embrace the small merchant population downtown. Attract and keep great retailers by making it affordable to do business here. Form effective public-private partnerships. Reach out to South Miami Hospital and take advantage of their generous support and incredible resources.”

Russell contends that city hall is fighting developers every step of the way but these “investors” have helped build South Miami and deserve a chance to contribute to the tax base. “There is this really bad word and that is ‘developer.’ I prefer to talk about the investors in our town who were here when South Miami was nothing but a bakery. They have the knowledge to help guide us in what will and will not work and they have the financial resources but we are not inviting them to the table for collaboration. We don’t want sprawl but we want infill development so let’s not be too terrified to talk about putting a building on an empty piece of property.”

Russell makes two other salient comparisons to current issues such as working with Florida Power and Light to underground transmission lines in municipalities rather than simply opposing the lines and forcing it to become another municipality’s problem. Russell also supports the Murray Pool proposal in a spirit of prevention by pursuing the project as a way to keep all of South Miami’s kids safe from distractions.

“We are all grown-ups here so let’s invite our adversary to the table and ask them to come talk to us and teach us what they do instead of saying we will never speak to you again because we don’t like what you do.
“Every community needs good amenities and the pool would be just that. Pinecrest is thriving with their beautiful community center. We built ours, we got it done but we didn’t keep going and there is so much more to do.”

To find out more about Chamber South call 305-661-1621 or visit chambersouth.com.

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