Misspending of slush funds aids mayor in power struggle
By Michael Lewis
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez got a big boost in his bid to seize key county commission powers with the report last week that a commissioner had spent public money for a political poll seeking ways to thwart the mayor's aims.
Questions were raised about the legality of Commissioner Dennis Moss' masking of the poll by calling it "a study on compensating public officials and government operations" when it was obviously a study seeking ways to obstruct the mayor.
Others questioned the ethics of spending $9,000 of the commissioner's discretionary fund to contract with Florida International University to wage an intramural struggle using the taxpayers' money.
But so far, nobody has asked why in heaven's name the 13 commissioners each get a $300,000 annual slush fund of the public's money to spread around as they will, spreading joy among those in their districts. That's almost $4 million to spread around among friends and supporters under whatever guise.
Commissioners even call this "their" money. It's not; it's ours.
There's no pretense that this $4 million is for the general good. Each commissioner decides who gets what within the district from which each is elected with virtually no controls over that spending. Sometimes the money goes to nonprofits, sometimes to political wars.
So why not camouflage a contract with a public university to combat a mayor who has no district slush fund to play with? Nobody's watching, right? It's the commissioner's money to play with.
These are the same commissioners from whom the mayor rightly wants to strip control of county contracts. If they can't tell the truth about their own little contracts, how can they watch the henhouse when the foxes look at million-dollar deals?
The mayor, on the other hand, misguidedly is battling to downgrade the county manager and take control of the contracts himself through department heads whom he could hire and fire under his proposed system of governance, thus creating a multibillion-dollar slush fund that in the wrong hands could dwarf any commissioner's misdeeds with a measly $300,000.
However wrong the mayor may be in trying to consolidate power through a referendum run by hidden supporters whose agendas thus cannot be questioned, he can give a great big thank-you kiss to Commissioner Moss for his bumbling. The stink masks the odor coming from the mayor's ill-conceived campaign, leaving voters more certain than ever that they don't want the county commission to be in charge of anything.
That plays right into the hands of a mayor who was elected primarily because he was an outsider in the county commission chambers, not for any perceived mayoral abilities. With Commissioner Moss' help, he's going to continue to get support for his ideas not because they're necessarily right but because they're anti-commission.
We suggested three weeks ago in this space that residents reject petitions aimed at concentrating in the mayor's hands the clout that the county manager holds and oversight of contracts to boot. While commissioners are willing to debate the issue with us, the mayor won't talk at all, which is hardly reassuring about how he would use all that added power.
On the other hand, we said in that same column that there were no good or bad guys involved, just good and bad ideas. By surreptitiously spending the public's money to thwart the mayor, Commissioner Moss may prove us wrong.