Rep. Lacasa vows statewide push to end Miami-Dade's home rule
By Paola Iuspa
Battle lines are being drawn in a fight over Miami-Dade County's 45-year-old, home-rule charter form of government.
While the Florida Legislature Tuesday defeated state Rep. Carlos Lacasa's proposal to change county government by eliminating the county manager and transferring most of that power to a stronger mayor, a referendum threatening to do away with home-rule authority remains on the state's general election ballot.
Passage of the issue in November would rescind Miami-Dade's home-rule charter, which has governed the county since 1957 after being approved by state and local voters.
Lacking passage of his legislative bill, which outlined a specific form of strong-mayor government, Rep. Lacasa said Tuesday he would lobby voters statewide to end the county's home-rule authority in an issue already on the November ballot.
If that referendum passes, Florida legislators could propose changes to Miami-Dade government at any time, although those amendments would still need to be approved in countywide elections before being adopted.
"I am going to go to all major newspapers and explain why this referendum is important," he said. "Reform has to come from the outside, from the state. It is not going to come from within the county government. I represent Miami-Dade, but I am with the state."
But current county commissioners say they are ready to fight the home-rule battle with a similar form of public-information defense.
Commissioner Natacha Seijas said she and other commissioners plan to begin visiting community-based groups and also lobby the press in other parts of the state to oppose the Miami-Dade government issue on the November ballot.
"It needs to be defeated, and most of us are ready to lobby against it," she said.
Commissioner Bruno Barreiro said his main concern was not the proposed new form of government but amending the constitution. It could corrode the power of county government, he said, since the state legislature could circumvent the commission and place any questions on local ballots.
"I am going to fight it," he said Tuesday. "I plan to meet with members of the Florida Association of Counties and persuade them to oppose it."
Commissioner Katy Sorenson, a strong opponent of Mr. Lacasa's previous strong-mayor plan, said a new form of government was not needed to bring balance to the county. She said the commission has drafted some charter amendments aimed at improving government accountability and balance.
A local Charter Review Task Force made recommendations in June 2001 for updating the provisions of county government. Among dozens of issues that the task force considered, but did not recommend, was a strong-mayor form of government.
Voters will have a chance to support or reject those recommendations in this year's local elections.
"Some of the amendments would create more balance by allowing the commission to choose its own chairperson," Ms. Sorenson said about the locally proposed changes. "The commission would also create committees and name their own chairs. Right now the mayor does that."
Commissioner Seijas said some of the changes that Mr. Lacasa advocated in his plan are similar to changes already being proposed to voters by the commission, with the exception of granting more power to the mayor.
"We also are recommending letting the commission choose its own chairperson and creating an auditor or controller to audit and screen the commission.
"We can take care of our own business here in Miami-Dade County, said Commissioner Dennis Moss, who said he was very happy Rep. Lacasa's bill was defeated in the legislature and that he is opposed to any strong mayor plan that "has the powers Lacasa was pushing."
Mr. Moss said he was confident his fellow commissioners would continue to support the recommendations made by the charter review task force, which "does not support a strong-mayor form of government of any kind."
As far as the November statewide referendum that still could alter Miami-Dade government, Commissioner Moss said: "The commission is not going to stand around and not oppose the issue that is looming out there."
But while county commissioners try to convince voters across Florida to leave Miami-Dade government as is, Mr. Lacasa is running for a Senate seat and says he will piggyback the home-rule charter issue with his statewide campaign.
Rep. Lacasa said he would be putting all his energies into a campaign to win a state Senate seat, promoting the referendum to dissolve home rule. His plan for a new government for Miami-Dade will be at the core of his political platform.
"My campaign for the Senate will be a plebiscite to government reform," he said. "Those who will back me will be backing reform."
Mr. Lacasa efforts to change the county's form of government began in 2001, when legislators embraced his proposal to hold a 2002 referendum to change the state constitution as it pertains to Miami-Dade government. Step two called for legislators to approve his strong-mayor plan. That step was defeated 19-18 Monday on the Senate floor, leaving Rep. Lacasa's hopes resting in the statewide ballot issue.
If voters don't support amending the constitution in November, Mr. Lacasa said, "the commission will have won the battle and it will be over for now."