Don't moan to me about county if you're part of the problem
By Michael Lewis
Since this month's election, I've lost any interest in your complaints about the ills of county governance.
If you weren't one of the 62,730 who voted in vain to raise the puny $6,000 pay of county commissioners, I don't want to hear a word from you that they are unethical, uncaring, unschooled, unfair or unaware.
I don't want to hear because you're part of the problem. You returned the incumbents to office, but because they are un-something, you refused to pay them a dime more than commissioners got 49 years ago.
You showed them, right? You punished mediocre performance with reelection and condemned yourself to continue to elect the mediocre over and over because you've created an insurmountable barrier to stellar candidates.
How many stars would do a full-time job for $6,000? Most candidates you get for $6,000 need a conflict-riddled side job to make ends meet — yes, we've got those now — or will make up the pay gap at public expense through their actions.
OK, rare stars do eat up savings to serve or let someone support them in office. But is that what we must rely on in a county with a bigger budget than many nations'? Give us a few stars, some also-rans and some folks willing and able to get rich on $6,000 a year — is that what you want?
Apparently it is. It's what you voted for — or didn't vote for, since fewer than 150,000 of 2 million-plus residents bothered to vote at all. So 150,000 have the courage of their convictions — and the rest have no convictions.
As a result, we all have no hope, at least in the short run.
First, we allowed the county to be carved into 13 single-member districts in which commissioners could hide forever if they were parochial enough to please constituents with minuscule plums while ignoring Miami-Dade's massive problems and opportunities.
Then, voters rejected paying enough to attract the best and brightest to seek office.
And now, bearing down like an express train comes a referendum to create a strong mayor — a role that could mean anything but in this case is structured so that every county job could become a sinecure based purely on politics. Hello, banana republic in the lower case.
We'll vote on that within two months. It's likely to pass out of disgust with a bumbling commission.
All the immigrants who came to Miami to escape strong-man governments and politicized bureaucracies are going to feel right at home with future county government. We're about to remove the shield that protects civil service, and the fallout isn't going to be pretty.
By not voting to pay what commissioners should merit, all but 62,370 of you have helped to insure that no hope of commission vitality can impede the strong-man express.
Don't complain if it smashes the business environment and sidetracks our economy. You helped fuel the train wreck with your vote, or lack of one.
So, what hope remains?
This isn't the apocalypse, but now it will take far more than merely adjusting commission pay to the 21st century. If a strong-man government were created, you'd have to demand a full rewrite of the county charter to fix things.
That could yield commissioners elected to serve the whole county, either a two-tier system where some remain in districts or, better, shift all to countywide voting. Population and societal changes have outmoded the current system, built to guarantee elected jobs for minorities. Trust me, minorities will always get elected here.
A rewrite could also whittle a strong-man job down to size, maintaining the integrity of tens of thousands of civil-service jobs.
So there remains hope of improving rather than degrading government. It's still possible.
But until you work for that massive change, don't moan to me about a commission that doesn't serve the needs of a 21st-century global metropolis. You decided to keep us in the 1950s. You're as much to blame as commissioners for the sorry outcome.