Miami-Dade's plans to create independent aviation authority on early collision course
By Paola Iuspa
The Miami-Dade County Commission's transportation committee chair wants the commission to use subpoena power and its authority to call for sworn testimony to investigate airport wrongdoing.
Dennis Moss said Tuesday he will unveil a plan Feb. 13 to strengthen the commission's oversight of aviation issues.
Four of six transportation committee members interviewed Tuesday support his concept. Eventually, all 13 commissioners would review it.
"The commission will be able to take oath testimony from witnesses when investigating legitimate allegations," Mr. Moss said of his plan. "If anyone has a legitimate complaint about lobbyists, elected officials or aviation staff, he or she will have an opportunity to speak at a public hearing."
His concept includes amending the whistleblower law to grant amnesty to staff who report problems at the airports.
While some Miami International workers have been indicted on charges related to kickbacks, he said, the public often blames county officials for airport corruption.
His proposal comes as his committee is to analyze Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler's plan to name a committee to recommend a structure for an independent authority to run Miami International and three other airports.
Efforts for six years to launch an aviation authority have failed to take off. Currently, the aviation director reports to the county manager who makes recommendations to the commission, which ultimately controls the airports.
Ms. Carey-Shuler said she was unaware of Mr. Moss' proposal.
"I hope that whatever it is," she said, "it is going to the direction of creating an independent authority. I am very serious about it."
Mr. Moss said his committee will equally study the opposing plans, one drawing the commission closer to the airports and the other separating it. The commission can support or reject committee recommendations.
Bruno Barreiro, committee vice chair, said he didn't support an authority but favors increasing county oversight. Joe Martinez, also on the committee, said he likes the Moss plan, which calls for the commission to spend more time on aviation operations. The commission has been criticized for relying heavily on the manager's recommendations on aviation issues, Mr. Martinez said.
Commissioner Pepe Diaz also said he would back the Moss plan.
Airport governance is a hot topic among industry experts as well.
Stanley Bodner, president of the Greater Miami Aviation Association, an industry non-profit, wants the manager removed from airport governance.
"Steve Shiver has taken the position that because Angela Gittens, the aviation director, reports to him, he is 'the' man ultimately responsible for all airport decisions, and Angela Gittens must do as he wishes," Mr. Bodner said last month, "even though such decisions may not be suitable or in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration rules."
Last month, County Commission Chair Barbara Carey-Shuler proposed creation of a 13-member ad hoc committee to design the structure of an independent aviation authority and establish its powers. The county commission's transportation committee also will begin studying her proposal Feb. 13 its next meeting. If approved, the ad hoc committee would have six months to come back to the commission with a format for the authority.
If commissioners support Ms. Carey-Shuler's plan, the authority would become the new aviation governing body and would run the county's four airports. Currently, the county commission controls the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, but many criticize the way it does business with airport contractors. She said the proposed authority would help run Miami International Airport, which pours more than $13 billion into the local economy in a more efficient manner.
Commissioner Carey-Shuler's proposal calls for the proposed committee to consist of the chairpersons and leaders of the Airport & Aviation Professionals Inc.; Miami-Dade's Beacon Council, a public and private partnership in charge of bringing economic development to the county; CAMACOL, the Latin Chamber of Commerce; the Greater Miami Aviation Association; The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce; the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau; Haitian American Chamber of Commerce; Miami-Dade County League of Cities; Miami-Dade County Chamber of Commerce and the World Trade Center Miami. The other three members would be an air science professor from Florida Memorial College and an economics professor from Florida International University and a labor union representative to be appointed by Commissioner Carey-Shuler.
The group would create an authority to oversee the airports' day-to-day operations. It should be transparent in its business and be governed by the Sunshine law, a state law that protects public's right of access to governmental meetings and records. It would also hold public hearings.