North Miami mayor talks past, present, future

North Miami Mayor Smith Joseph touted the city’s strength in his annual State of City address on Wednesday, Nov. 15.

The mayor spoke in front of dozens of city employees and stakeholders at Florida International University’s Roz and Cal Kovens Conference Center about the city’s past, present and projected accomplishments.

Over the last decade, North Miami has not only recovered from the financial crisis of 2007-2008 but has cut unemployment in half and increased general revenue up by $65 million, Joseph said. He bragged that North Miami was the first city in Miami-Dade County to create a strategy to address sea-level and climate change concerns even as the state government has shown little interest in global warming initiatives.

But not without obstacles.

The mayor separated the city’s issues into two categories: shocks and stresses.

Shocks are uncontrollable events such as the recession, hurricanes and shootings, according to Joseph. While, the stresses are poverty, crime, unemployment and climate change.

“We have been working very hard to overcome the shocks and stresses,” said Joseph. “In the last year, we have been building a more connected community.”

The community was in disarray last year after one of the city’s biggest shocks; the police-involved shooting of a Black man.

The victim, Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist accompanied his adult autistic patient after he wandered away from a care facility when Kinsey was shot by a North Miami police officer.

Since then, funds have been funneled into restoring community relations with the police department, according to the mayor.

After the shooting, North Miami officials created a community council to address concerns about the incident and officers received training on the appropriate response techniques for autistic individuals and are now required to wear body cameras.

“We are very proud of how we handled it. We have had other organizations, other people that came to us and gave us a pat on the back,” said Joseph. “Of all the shootings that happened in the entire country, they think the way we handle ours is probably one of the best ways that a police department could handle such a big disaster.”

The mayor said the city’s plans are to continue to nurture the relationship between residents and law enforcement through weekly community bike rides, a string of meet and greets with police officers, called Coffee with a Cop and mentorship through the Police Athletic League.

Every response to the police campaign has not been positive.

Resident Jim Garrett said in an earlier interview he thought the police officers were “showboats” focusing on public relation photo opportunities instead of “progressive policing.”

Then on Nov. 2, an unidentified driver reportedly tried to run over officers during a bike ride.

Still, Joseph said North Miami is “a city on the move.”

North Miami has resuscitated its economic landscape by investing in its city’s infrastructure, cultural and social resources and fostering sustainable homeownership.

“When we say that we are ‘a city on the move,’ we are not saying it just to say it,” said the mayor. “We talk the talk, but we walk the walk as well.”

Joseph became the city’s mayor, a ceremonial position, in 2014 and with the help of what he referred to as “professional, ethical and experienced leadership,” the council has accomplished some strides toward the growth of the city including:

  • The revival of the Community Redevelopment Agency which issued $800,000 in grants in 2015 for new businesses and projects to refurbish the city’s facade.
  • Cultivating arts and culture in the city by investing in a film and entertainment hub for the city.
  • Launching the North Miami Brewfest, a brewing and culinary festival that brought about 800 festivalgoers and 30 breweries to the city last year. Two of the breweries now plans to open shop in North Miami.
  • Approving plans to build the Chinatown Cultural Arts and Innovation District which promises to bring more business and social growth.
  • Securing short-term and long-term jobs through construction of a $4 billion residential and commercial mega development, SoLe Mia.
  • Although the status of the financial market offers a leg up for growth in comparison to 10 years ago, North Miami officials are doing what they can to keep moving in the right direction, said Sam Blatt, the city’s economic development manager.

In addition to the CRA and film initiatives, Blatt said the council has approved a Community Development Block Grant Program for 2016 to 2017 that makes available a scholarship for residents in need of job, vocational or skills training.

“I think we are definitely on our way,” said Blatt. “When you are talking about fostering the process of growth in a city, it takes years and not just months.”

Part of the mayor’s vision for the future is taking advantage of the county’s newly approved general obligation bond and supporting transit-oriented development to move North Miami to the next level of progress.

North Miami resident Mary Estimé-Irvin said she is proud of the progress in the city and that she believes the development will be profitable to the city’s income.

Estimé-Irvin, who sits on a selection of city boards, said she wants to make sure each investment will be in the best interest of residents.

“I must admit that I would like to understand the bond initiative in more detail and the total impact on residents overall,” she said. “I understand why we need the bond initiative. But I just want to make sure it’s done in a responsible way, so that it doesn’t affect the residents and the taxpayers.”

The city’s biggest challenge in the future, Joseph said, will be the continued stress of climate change.

But Joseph said he believes North Miami has proven its endurance and the council will leave a legacy of strength.

“As a city, we will not bend. We will not falter. We will not fail. We will not fall,” he said. “But we will stay relevant. We will stay strong.”

This story was originally published in the Miami Times on Nov. 22, 2017.

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