On November 6, Sunny Isles Beach residents will go to the polls to vote for a City Commissioner representing the southern residential area – seat 3. Incumbent City Commissioner George “Bud” Scholl, seeking his second four-year term, is being opposed by Harvey Busch, Chair of the City Advisory Committee. Since attorney Jennifer Levin was the only candidate qualifying for the northern residential area – seat 1 (being vacated by Vice Mayor Lewis Thaler due to term limits), Levin will be automatically elected
Another general election will be held in November 2014, when the following City Commission seats will be up for election: Mayor (incumbent Norman Edelcup will be termed out); residential area commissioner – seat 2, central area currently held by Jeanette Gatto; and residential area commissioner – seat 4, currently held by Isaac Aelion.
In an effort to increase voter participation and ensure the citizens of Sunny Isles Beach are fairly represented, the City Commission proposed charter amendments relating to elections that were subsequently approved by voters in November 2008.
The city’s three voting districts were redrawn into four districts (195th Street to 178th Street; 178th Street to 172nd Street; 172nd to 167th Street; and 167th Street to Bayview Drive).The At Large Commission seat was also converted to a Residential Area Seat.
The population boom in Sunny Isles Beach prompted the initiative to redraw the city’s voting districts along with the goal to avoid having more than two future elected officials residing within one area of the city.
Commission candidates now have to live in each of the four respective districts – but the Mayor can reside in any district. Every resident also continues to have the right to cast their vote for all four Commission candidates and the Mayor.
In 2008, voters also approved a charter amendment relating to consolidating municipal and county elections serving to substantially lower election costs and promote a rise in voter turnout. The charter amendment that passed changed the date of the city’s general election from the second Tuesday following the first Monday in November in odd numbered years to even numbered years in conjunction with county-wide elections.
CLOSER TO THE PEOPLE
In May of 2011, Sunny Isles Beach voters approved another charter amendment making it a requirement for candidates to have lived within the particular residential area they’re seeking to represent continuously for at least one year at the time of qualifying. The “at-large” mayoral seat is exempt from this proposed requirement. Beyond having to reside within the district being represented, the candidate is also required to remain in the district for the duration of his or her term – but is allowed to move within the same district of the city.
TERMS STAY THE SAME
The charter amendment requiring candidates to reside in the district they represent did not affect current limitations on lengths of service: No Mayor may serve as a Mayor for more than two elected four-year terms during his/her lifetime, and no Commissioner may serve as a Commissioner for more than two elected four-year terms during his/her lifetime.
FOND FAREWELL TO LEWIS THALER
Current Sunny Isles Beach Vice Mayor Lewis Thaler cannot run again due to a charter amendment approved by voters in 2004 stating the following: Limitations on Lengths of Service: No Mayor may serve as a Mayor for more than two (2) elected four-year terms during his/her lifetime, and no Commissioner may serve as a Commissioner for more than two (2) elected four-year terms during his/her lifetime.
Thaler, a retired textile plant owner from New York, frequently came to visit his parents who lived in Sunny Isles Beach for over 30 years before becoming a permanent resident himself. After living in the city for three years, he was first elected to the Sunny Isles Beach City Commission in 2003 at the age of 65.
Thaler was the only candidate to run against incumbent Lila Kauffman, and while celebrating a big victory, he noted, “I was not expecting twothirds of the vote!” Thaler was sworn-in to serve his second term in December 2007. Shortly before being re elected unopposed, he noted, “It will be up to the people in Sunny Isles Beach to re-elect me if they think I did a good job…Myself and the Commission have been able to reduce the amount of buildings that could have been built in the city by buying properties that will be converted to new parks, and to reduce growth by controlling the height of new construction.’’
During his two terms, Thaler helped fulfill “promises for the future” including remaining committed to ensuring controlled development on the west side of Collins, traffic alleviation and beach access restoration. He also served as Commission liaison to the former Mayor’s Advisory Council Education/Schools Committee; and has been an advocate for ensuring new developments have adequate handicap parking spaces.
After Thaler was first elected to the City Commission in 2003, he began emphasizing his development philosophies at City Commission meetings, often noting: “The more open space we have in the city the better!”
In accordance with a proposal submitted for Commission consideration by Thaler in 2003, an ordinance was subsequently approved amending the city’s land development regulations limiting the amount of Transfer of Development Rights (TDR’s) an applicant could purchase from the city’s bank of TDR’s.
While sharing in the Commission’s desire for “controlled development,” Thaler put proactive comments like this one on the record when addressing developers: “You really must go back and rethink the project you’ve put in front of us. I believe you’ve taken away view corridors…and this is what people have come [to Sunny Isles Beach] for.”
During a Commission discussion regarding traffic control and predictions that more seasonal residents would soon be living in the city year-round, Thaler once said. “We have to think about the future and not just what’s happening here today. If you go down Collins you have a tremendous increase in traffic because people are moving into these places much faster than before and I think that’s what we have to look at.”
Thaler also helped address a hazardous traffic scenario created by county transit buses making U-turns at Galahad-Dade Boulevard by Ocean One condominium. During a Commission meeting focusing on the issue, he explained, “I started [this investigation] based on what was happening with all the accidents I see sitting on the Ocean One side of the street… I went to [former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas] myself and asked him to get involved…That’s why [we’re now] waiting for an answer from the transit people to get this thing moving.”
When Mayor Norman Edelcup recently announced a three percent reduction in the city’s property tax millage rate for fiscal year 2012-2013, Thaler said, “I think [the tax rate reduction] comes from hard work from the Commission…We worked for ten hours on the budget and that was after our staff probably spent hundreds of hours into putting the budget together…This is the quickest [budget] we’ve ever been able to [review] and that was because of the presentation [our staff] gave us.”
In June 2012, the City Commission passed a resolution expressing support for the establishment of a unique zip code – a mission originally initiated by Thaler, who noted, “Since 2007, the city has grown and I think most people now realize that unless we get our own zip code, we will always be known as ‘North Miami Beach’ on every computer in this country…So we’re making an effort to go back and try to get an individual zip code for Sunny Isles Beach. Jennifer Levin [chair of the Special Projects sub-committee of the City Advisory Committee, who will be filling Thaler’s Commission seat] has been put in charge of doing the leg work for getting us a zip code.”
When the Sunny Isles Beach City Commission unanimously voted to choose “Florida’s Riviera” as the city’s new moniker, Thaler expressed this “sunny” viewpoint: “I think we are a ‘Riviera’ – and we’ll expand what we have…This is the beginning of what Sunny Isles Beach is really all about.”
During his eight-year tenure as a Commissioner, also often serving as Vice Mayor, Thaler wrote a column entitled “From the Desk of Lewis Thaler” appearing in issues of the Sunny Isles Beach Sun. Thaler’s column, which helped keep residents and visitors informed about important issues affecting life in the city, routinely ended with this message emphasizing his “open door policy” and desire to be a responsive elected official: “Remember, I am always available to answer any of your questions. Call me…or come down to City Hall.” The City Commission is currently considering a site in Sunny Isles Beach to name after Thaler in recognition of his dedicated public service.