County commissioners still divided on aviation authority
By Shannon Pettypiece
If the latest proposal to create an independent aviation authority gets to the full Miami-Dade County Commission, the views of seven commissioners contacted Monday show that the board is deeply divided on the issue.
At hand is a plan to let voters weigh in on whether the county's airports, including Miami International Airport, are handed over to an independent board.
Seven of 13 commissioners were available for comment Monday, and four said they would vote against putting a proposal for an aviation authority to voters Aug. 31.
Jose "Pepe" Diaz, who said he would not approve the referendum because an aviation authority would have no accountability to voters.
"Until someone can tell me that there will be accountability, I will not allow the public to be fooled," Mr. Diaz said. "I will be accountable for something I am not even doing because I am the one the voters can get to. They can't get to an authority."
Dennis Moss, who said, "The people in the community are not the ones concerned about it. You have a small group of people in the business community who have an interest in this."
Natacha Seijas, who said the matter should be left to elected officials, not the public.
"I am a firm believer that people should have the ability to vote on most of the issues in front of us," Ms. Seijas said. "But when it comes to an issue of authority and governance, I think that is best left up to the commission."
Rebeca Sosa, who questioned the motives of those pushing for an aviation authority even after the county failed to approve one just two months ago. "When you see all the interests over there, it makes me wonder if this is really best for the community," Ms. Sosa said. "Maybe they have an ulterior motive. Maybe they want a friend appointed to the authority."
Jimmy Morales, who introduced the ballot referendum and said that with the commission so deeply divided, the public should decide if an authority is necessary.
Sally Heyman, who visited several airports with authorities and said Miami International Airport would have a bright future only if it is transferred to independent hands.
"The only direct flight to a first-class airport is through an authority," Ms. Heyman said. "The bottom line is that this is a political issue and voters should have an opportunity to voice their opinions on an issue that affects millions of travelers a year."
Barbara Carey-Shuler, who has made an aviation authority one of her top priorities as she closes out her term as commission chairwoman.
If the issue went to a referendum, voters would be asked to decide on a plan to hand employment procedures, ownership of property, procurement and other tasks related to running the county's five airport to a seven-member board with the majority of appointments coming from the commission.
Before commissioners can formally vote on sending the issue to county voters, the proposal must pass through the county's transportation committee today (1/15). The committee can send the proposal to the commission for a vote or kill it.
Six of the 13 commissioners sit on that committee. Two have said they would vote against the referendum: Transportation Committee Chair Mr. Moss and Vice Chair Mr. Diaz.
Mr. Morales, also on the committee, supports the referendum.
Of the three committee members unavailable for comment, commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Joe Martinez have expressed opposition to an aviation authority and Commissioner Betty Ferguson has been a supporter.
In spite of their personal opinions, committee members often move items forward to the full county commission for a vote of the full board.
But given that the commission shot down the plan in November to create an aviation authority some commissioners say it would be a waste of time to bring the issue back up.
"It is a lack of respect to bring something back that was just discussed," Commissioner Sosa said. Commissioner Carey-Shuler withdrew her resolution to create one when it became apparent there was not enough support among commissioners to pass it - seven against, six in favor.
In addition, many commissioners in March opposed forming a committee to determine how best to create an aviation authority, with Mr. Barreiro, Mr. Martinez, Mr. Moss, Ms. Sosa and Javier Souto voted down a proposal.
Miami Business Forum Executive Director Mario Artecona, who helped draft the proposal to create an aviation authority that went before the commission in November, said a referendum would be appropriate in light of the commission's numerous refusals to approve it and divisiveness of the issue.
If the county commission does not approve putting the proposal on the ballot, he said his group probably will start a petition drive to put the issue to voters.
Proposals to create an aviation authority have gone before the commission in 2000, 2001 and 2002. All have been withdrawn before a vote.