Business leaders wait for more details on Alvarez referendum plan
By Tom Harlan
As a team backing a bid by Mayor Carlos Alvarez to revamp county government collects money for the drive, business leaders are sitting on the sidelines awaiting details of the plan before deciding whether to lend their support.
A political action committee formed to help the mayor get a referendum to shift power from the county commission to his office hopes to raise $75,000 to $100,000 at an event this month. Citizens for Reform already has raised about $100,000 since its creation in December, said committee chairman Jose "Pepe" Riesco.
The committee is trying to raise $500,000 to $1 million to fund a drive to collect petition signatures from at least 10% of the electorate, or about 107,000 residents, to place the issue on the November ballot.
The committee drafted a petition, Mr. Riesco said, and is discussing its wording with a panel of lawyers. It hopes to have the petition ready this month for the county commission, he said.
If the commission and the county attorney approve the petition, which they are required to do if it meets all legal stipulations, the committee would have 60 days to gather signatures. If the committee gets enough signatures, it would present the petition to the commission, which would have 30 days to send it to the election department's canvassing committee for a month-long certification process.
The committee is now gathering community backing and financial support to launch the drive, Mr. Riesco said.
But business and political groups are awaiting wording of the mayor's plan before deciding whether to support it, said Miami Business Forum Chairman Jorge Hernandez-Toraño.
"We're waiting to see what the details of his program are going to be," Mr. Hernandez- Toraño said. "We've heard in broad strokes what he's looking to accomplish, and we have in the past stated that we're very much in favor of meaningful reform. But until we see what Mayor Alvarez is proposing, we're really not in the position to take a position."
Officials at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce are working on scheduling a meeting with the mayor, said Rana Brown, chamber vice president for advocacy.
After the mayor presents his plans, she said, the chamber would send the issue through a multilevel approval process.
"We want to meet with the mayor, go over the specifics of his plans and assess what the chamber wants to do as a majority," she said.
The petition will focus on two key issues, Mr. Riesco said - giving the mayor's office more control of county government and making department directors more accountable.
"We need to be able to say, 'You messed up,' or, 'You caused the problem and
you are accountable,'" Mr. Riesco said. "That's how businesses work.
That's what we need."
Mr. Riesco pointed to a failure of the county's Water and Sewer Department to collect millions of dollars in fees and what he called misuse of tax funds to bail out the county's transportation system as illustrations of a need for reform.
"We're compiling a list of all these fiascoes over the last five to 10 years," Mr. Riesco said. "These are things that need to be looked at. People need to be held accountable for these mistakes."