Miami Gardens continues to attract national attention. Since its 2006 inception, the city’s annual two-day concert – Jazz in the Gardens – has grown from slightly more than 2,000 people to more than 35,000, with many attendees coming from cities across the country.
In 2008, the predominantly black municipality was one of ten cities from across the nation honored by American City and County magazine for the progress it has made since its 2003 incorporation.
On Tuesday, June 9, the city took the national spotlight once again when it was featured on an NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams segment called,
“What Works.” The station’s reporter, Mark Potter, visited the city in May to spend the day with Mayor Shirley Gibson, who took him on a tour of the area by car.
City officials hosted a watch party for about 75 city officials, employees and residents at the Mahogany Grille, a swanky soul food restaurant in the city.
During the segment, Potter is seen walking through a community with modest homes, bright blooming flowers and manicured lawns.
“Six years after it was born, the city of Miami Gardens, Florida is still under the watchful eye of its first and only mayor, Shirley Gibson, a former police officer now running for Congress,” Potter reported in the broadcast.
“You ask anyone and they’ll tell you that I take no prisoners when it comes to this city,” Gibson told Potter as she drove him through a residential area.
The two-minute, 22-second segment broadcast on the nightly news program zeroed in on the area’s disjointed beginning prior to its incorporation.
Miami Gardens has more than 110,000 residents and is a mixture of several areas that were a part of unincorporated Miami-Dade County before the city received voters’ approval to part company with the county.
The high crime rate was also prominently featured.
Miami Gardens Police Chief Matthew Boyd told Potter that residents are proud to have their own police department – an accomplishment made possible by the doubling of property taxes. The city’s officers are some of the highest paid in the country with signing bonuses that made it possible to lure seasoned veterans to join the new department.
The city reports that the crime rate has fallen by 22 percent since the police department opened for business in December 2007.
Gibson, who has entered the District 17 congressional race to replace Congressman Kendrick Meek, (who is seeking the U. S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mel Martinez,) said in the piece that “the people of Miami Gardens are good people who deserve good service.”
One of the naysayers who did not believe that the city could thrive now says she’s glad to be wrong.
“I was wrong and I’m happy to say that I was,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose district includes Miami Gardens.
In an extended segment that was not broadcast, but is available on the network’s Web site, Jordan said, “I was one of the ones who said we’re going to have to increase taxes. It’s going to be impossible to be able to keep up with the cost of services, because I thought that the community was not willing to pay what it needed to pay to make it work.”
In addition to residents agreeing to a tax hike, the city has attracted two Super Wal-Mart stores, a new Office Depot, several new restaurants and other retail developments that shore up its tax base. In 2010, the NFL’s Superbowl XLIV will be played in the city, at Landshark Stadium (formerly Dolphin Stadium).
The city’s 2009 budget is $146 million. At the end of 2008, the city had accumulated $10 million in emergency reserves.
While the city’s criminal element obviously preferred a less-visible police department, a different type of relationship, one that includes mutual respect, exists between many of the city’s residents and the police officers.
On Thanksgiving Day, residents prepared a meal for the officers.
Boyd said one of his officers was overwhelmed by the gesture. The chief said the officer told him, “I’ve been in law enforcement for 30 years and I’ve never seen anybody come out and do this for us.”
Gibson said being featured on the national news program is a testament to the wonderful, hard-working people on her team.
“We’re not perfect, but we’re working to be a much better place,” she said.
Photo: Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson