Rep. Lacasa bids again to revamp county government in legislature
By Paola Iuspa
A proposal to alter Miami-Dade government by giving more power to the mayor and eliminating a county manager didn't make it through the legislature last month, but its sponsor isn't giving up.
Rep. Carlos Lacasa will try to persuade Senate President John M. McKay to discuss the plan during the special session that started Tuesday, Mr. Lacasa said Friday.
Another alternative, Mr. Lacasa said, is to reintroduce the plan after November's Senate election, during the 2003 session. Mr. Lacasa is seeking the seat Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla occupies. If Mr. Lacasa wins, he plans to seek Senate approval during the regular session. If Sen. Diaz de la Portilla keeps the job, Mr. Lacasa says his plan could hit a wall.
"It is going to be him or me," he said.
During the session that ended March 22, Mr. Lacasa's plan to alter the county's home rule charter to create a strong mayor passed in the House but died in the Senate. With time consumed by district reapportionment and balancing the budget, the Senate ran out of time to discuss the bill.
The legislation calls for a countywide referendum by 2004 on several proposed changes.
If the bill passes, a referendum would be contingent upon a November 2002 general election question that would allow legislators to amend the Florida Constitution, which sets how Miami-Dade will be run. If voters don't support amending the constitution, the current form of government could not be altered.
But Karen Chandler, Sen. McKay's spokeswoman, said the Bradenton Republican had no intention to "bring this issue up" during the special session. She said the item could be put on the agenda by a vote of two-thirds of the senators.
The plan calls for eliminating the county manager job and spread its functions three ways.
The mayor would become similar to a county CEO. The commission would enact legislation and create the budget while its members would be able to organize themselves and write their own rules. A comptroller would serve as a fiscal guardian and ethics compliance office.
In the last legislative session, the House amended the plan so "that neither the county commission nor the county mayor appoints the members of the independent Commission on Ethics and Public Trust," according to the bill approved by the House.
Commissioners would be able to remove the comptroller for reasonable cause, the legislation provides.
Under the proposal, the mayor would have five deputy mayors to handle public safety, county contracts, planning and infrastructure, transportation, economic development and health services. The mayor would hire and fire the deputies. Procurement would shift from the commission's control to the mayor's. The executive office of the mayor would be responsible for financial administration, instead of the department of finance as it is now.
Mr. Lacasa said House members amended his proposal so that current Mayor Alex Penelas could not run for the strengthened mayor's job.
"No person may appear for re-election as County Mayor or to the County Commission if, by the end of the current term of office, that person shall have served, or but for resignation would have served, in that office for 8 consecutive years," the bill said.
But Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a county commissioner from 1993 to 2000 who spearheaded creation of a 1999 county charter review taskforce that last year recommended maintaining government's current form, said as written the amendment would not prevent Mr. Penelas from running for a third four-year term because the strong mayor post would be a new position. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the senator's brother, is considering running for mayor in 2004. A longtime Lacasa rival, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla despises the plan.
"It is the institutionalization of corruption and patronage under the name of reform," he said. "A super strong mayor will assume the professional functions of the county manager and head of departments."
Many county commissioners do not support the Lacasa plan and early last month the commission voted against the proposal. Mr. Lacasa had told commissioners in January he would withdraw his bill if they agreed to countywide elections on the strong mayor scheme in November. Commissioners rejected his offer.