The mayor's on the wrong horse again; at least it's not a bear
By Michael Lewis
Be careful what you wish for.
Three weeks ago, we encouraged Mayor Carlos Alvarez to get off a dying horse - his crumbling bid to alter the county charter to amass power - and instead champion virtually any vital popular cause.
It would be a way, we wrote, for him to finally do his job of leading this county.
Someone listened, because Mr. Alvarez has suddenly gone after a cause with a vengeance.
Problem is, he missed the qualifiers "vital" and "popular" in his latest quest - to knock off the county manager.
In a two-day span, the mayor issued three formal orders to County Manager George Burgess, each requesting a report or plan, with deadlines attached.
Now, it's not unusual for a mayor to ask a manager for action, though three orders on disparate topics in two days is rare.
The mayor, though, chose to trumpet the orders by e-mail and fax before Mr. Burgess, a conscientious and cooperative administrator, had a chance to digest or perhaps even read them.
The orders, you see, weren't intended for the manager. They were designed to build a case that the mayor should oversee county operations, with the manager merely an aide. That's the premise of, and the fatal flaw in, Mr. Alvarez's strong-mayor plan - that the mayor should also be manager.
If Mr. Alvarez had really sought managerial action rather than a power shift, he could have done it the way most chief executives do, in government or business. He could have picked up the phone or taken a dozen steps into Mr. Burgess' office and asked. Most likely, he'd have gotten somewhere.
But that wouldn't have gotten him press, would it? It would only have gotten results.
The issues in the memos are real. The mayor ordered a report on county payments and liabilities on a loan to Parrot Jungle & Gardens, sought a plan within 10 days for emergency distribution centers in disasters and asked for a report within 30 days about the collapse of the 97th Avenue overpass over State Road 836 during Hurricane Katrina. All seem legitimate requests.
But in going public before going down the hall to Mr. Burgess, Mr. Alvarez began a campaign to denigrate the manager and show that the mayor should replace him.
OK, Mr. Mayor, you've found a new horse. But you're riding in the wrong direction. You need a goal that's both popular - meaning the county commission can't oppose it - and vital, one you should be heading toward in the first place.
The mayor's battle with commissioners lingers. In his first days in office, he managed to alienate all 13, and he has done nothing to mend fences. He needs an issue they can't oppose.
Now look at commission Chairman Joe A. Martinez, the mayor's chief foe. Mr. Martinez knows how to find something nobody can oppose.
Within days of the mayor's publicity assault on the manager, Mr. Martinez fired back with a press release on his own activities. While the mayor was piddling with county money and bridge collapses and emergency distribution centers, Mr. Martinez announced pursuit of something popular: He would "read children's bedtime stories in celebration of international literacy day" - and, no, I am not making that up.
At the West Kendall Regional Library Sept.14, his release says, "children may come ready for bedtime in their pajamas and with their pillow, blanket and teddy bear. In addition, Chairman Martinez will distribute FREE storybooks to the first 50 children. Milk, juice and cookies will be served."
Now, if the mayor got into the bedtime-story business, for example, how could Commissioner Martinez oppose him?
(If you're planning on doing that, Mr. Mayor, it's at 7:30 p.m. at 10201 Hammocks Blvd. Don't forget the teddy bear.)
On the other hand, Mr. Alvarez could use his time to do something important to benefit the county as well as popular. That would be a novelty.
But, given the track record, we should be careful what we wish for.