15 faces you may see in public places again and again and ...
By Michael Lewis
What started as harmless self-promotion may have ballooned into the sort of massive display of officialdom portraiture more common in some other nations.
In August, Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan introduced an official measure "to improve communication and awareness with members of the public" by having the county hang a portrait in each regional public library "of the commissioner from the corresponding district."
Since there are five regional libraries, the county thereby would have taken, framed and hung one portrait photo of each of five commissioners - simple enough in a government that employs official photographers to photograph, naturally, officials. It could have been done for a few thousand dollars.
But anything that's simple can be made complicated with governmental attention. The commission referred the weighty matter of five photographs to its Intergovernmental, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee for September deliberation.
That committee of four commissioners duly met and duly deliberated, raising the cost of five simple photos with each click of the turning wheels of deliberation.
Commissioner Jordan kicked off the escalation by proposing to amend her own resolution so as to display in each location not just the portrait of the local commissioner but also one of the mayor and one of the county manager.
Then she upped the ante by making it not just the regional library facilities but in all regional county facilities and the South Dade Government Center as well. Presto, the number of portraits jumps from five to dozens.
But consider this: That would feature only five commissioners, but there are 13 of them.
So Commissioner Jordan was immediately one-upped by Commissioner Natacha Seijas, who recommended displaying in each location the portraits of all elected officials, highlighting the mayor, the chairman of the county commission and the district commissioner. Since the clerk of the courts is also elected, that makes 15 portraits per location (she didn't mention the manager), bringing the portrait total to well over 200.
Ah, but that wouldn't be enough. Library Director Raymond Santiago suggested that the portraits be placed in every library facility, not just those designated regional. That would increase the total from five libraries to 40 and the number of portraits by 525, to a total of well over 750.
Then came more escalation: Committee Chairwoman Sally Heyman asked Assistant County Manager Alex Muñoz to explore having portraits of the mayor, commission chairman, the entire county commission, the county manager and the district commissioner displayed in all county government facilities - including police and fire stations - and all libraries. That added 12 police stations and 60 fire stations.
At this point, portraits were to hang at more than 120 locations. If all the county commission were in one portrait, that would be well over 600 pictures - but after each election, that group portrait would have to be taken and framed again. Moreover, if it's still one portrait per commissioner rather than a commission group photo, the total of portraits surpasses 2,000 - more than 400 times the original request, at a cost that probably exceeds $200,000.
I won't even get into the questions of which portraits would be larger, or which would get the most prominent display. The committee, of course, did debate these weighty matters.
And so, this week, the county commission as a whole is being asked to act on the vital matter of portrait display.
It's hard to expect rubber-stamp approval of such key considerations as where, and how, commissioners' portraits will hang to increase, as Commissioner Jordan's resolution so nicely puts it, "awareness with members of the public." That means the total of portraits may rise yet again - it's hard to imagine a cutback of such studied "awareness."
One thing we can be sure of not adding to this list of official promotion is photos of Che and Fidel. Otherwise, the sky's the limit.
The other thing we can be sure of is that the county photographers' jobs are secure for years to come.