Brickell name battle shows Tallahassee needs big changes
By Michael Lewis
The Battle of Brickell, just waged in Tallahassee over whether to rename two downtown blocks after the famed avenue, typifies needless state involvement and illustrates how faulty procedures imperil rational governance.
The problem is not those who seek a bonanza by renaming pedestrian-sounding Southeast Second Avenue as glitzy Brickell Avenue, dressing up a dowdy image with an historic brand.
The problem is certainly not Brickell owners who don't want to dilute their cache. Brickell would mean less if the name were to include a slice north of the river, just as calling a Chevy a Mercedes would be great for Chevy owners but not Mercedes buyers.
Rather, mischief lurks in how government functions, bending rules made not in Miami but in Tallahassee. For the good of all Floridians, it's the rules that need to be changed - or adhered to strictly.
But first, why in heaven's name should the Legislature determine the name of two blocks downtown? It's not even a state roadway but a slice of US 1 - co-branded in obscurity as State Road 5 - that's at stake.
The bid to rename the roadway came first to the Miami City Commission and would have been passed in seconds if opposition hadn't surfaced.
For historic and branding reasons, it would be wrong to call anything downtown "Brickell," but the call should belong to the commission - not a Legislature that could care less about Miami history, branding or equity. In Florida, Miami is the tail the dog wags, not the other way around - and the dog up north doesn't like Miami very much.
The city punted the issue to the state after Commissioner Johnny Winton, who admitted he was caught between friends on both sides, sought an escape hatch and the city attorney found one, ruling it was the state's call.
Kicking a local call to the state is senseless. But worse was the route: a shirttail on unrelated last-minute bills that thankfully failed. It's a common tactic, one that leaves vulnerable anyone without a lobbyist to track legislation.
"It is unfortunate that such tactics were employed," lamented Brickell Area Association President Hal Martell. "Sadly, our current legislative process enables those kinds things to happen" - conveniently, he might have added, for those who want to slip hidden bombs into unrelated measures.
In the House, for example, a one-paragraph name-change amendment was hidden 20 pages deep in a grab-bag bill unheralded by a heading. It followed an item on Red Road - the only relationship being that both dealt with roadways. Nothing more. Yet it would have accomplished one side's aim - change the name.
That's no way to run government - see who can slip what past whom unnoticed.
There are no bad guys in the Brickell fight. While history and branding make a name change inequitable, those who seek a change are merely using common methods that should not exist. If rules aren't tightened - and we know of no campaign to do so - expect the fight to resurface in 2007 in similar obscure amendments to unrelated legislation.
Legislators and their staffs are given guidelines that quote the state constitution: "Every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith." But the practice is to weasel around that requirement.
Courts could deter that, finding bills that contain more than one subject unconstitutional. Indeed, a 1982 ruling said the purpose "is to insure that every proposed enactment is considered with deliberation and on its own merits. A lawmaker must not be placed in the position of having to accept a repugnant provision in order to achieve adoption of a required one."
In the case of Brickell, the single paragraph was tucked into pages of unrelated items in an omnibus transportation bill, the type of bills legislators are told in official guidance "often pose problems with respect to adherence to the single-subject requirement of the constitution."
Yet in the closing rush of a 60-day legislative session this month, the Brickell name was tied into a multi-item state transportation package. Even involving the state was the surface transportation equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration controlling an airline's branding.
Unfortunately, a ruling that should have been made at home has been punted to the Legislature, which gives a wink and a nod to constitutional requirements. That's why both sides in this fight will need lobbyists with not merely persuasive abilities but keen eyesight.
Floridians would be well-served by a change. Remember the maxim: Nobody is safe when the Legislature is in session.
On the other hand, 60 days in session is far too short if last-minute trickery in constructing legislation is the result. If a measure cannot be debated on its own merits, we need more deliberative time or fewer measures - and probably both.