Don't tie charter review to county commission's leash
County commissioners are about to fumble away their last chance to do right by residents and simultaneously defeat next month's strong mayor referendum.
A committee is to vote today (12/14) to set up a task force to propose upgrades in the county. Commissioners could correctly argue to voters that a thoughtfully overhaul is a great reason to reject a one-issue change that would make the mayor the king of the county.
County government today is dysfunctional. The biggest problem isn't corruption; that's just a byproduct of a flawed structure that fosters government without vision.
That vision gap yawns wide in the commission's plans to review the charter it operates under. Given the opportunity to look wisely at creating a 21st century government, commissioners seem content with same-old, same-old.
The charter requires them to establish a review every five years. What a great invitation to look big picture, above the parochialism of 13 commissioners who all too often think only of their own districts, not the common good of a metropolis.
Given the crying needs for structural change and the widespread mistrust of the commission and its motives, the review team should consist of experts and residents who are not under commissioners' thumbs — unlike the 2001 review.
Last time, each commissioner appointed a member. Four took the seats themselves and three picked lobbyist friends, making sure that a majority vote would be under commission control.
So what improvements are planned this time?
Today's vote would offer a task force of the 13 commissioners and the mayor, or their appointees.
What fresh or vital ideas are likely to come from that gathering? It's to be a turf-protecting panel.
Nor would the legislation provide independent staff to the panel or money to get expert help. It offers no budget at all.
Even more damning, there's no pledge that voters can ever act on whatever is recommended. We need that pledge, because beyond controlling the appointees to the task force, commissioners also control which recommendations would come before voters, or when. They've got us coming and going.
The charter review, in other words, will meet the letter of the law — review the charter — but hardly its spirit, seeking meaningful change.
Still, it's not too late for the commission committee to amend the legislation today before sending it to the full board for a vote next week.
First, commissioners should remember that this isn't their charter but the people's. Keep commissioners and lobbyists off the panel. It's not that they're bad people — only one commissioner who five years ago named herself to the charter review has since faced charges for county-related crimes — but how can commissioners and the lobbyists they often seem to work for impartially assess how they operate?
Second, guarantee staffing and working money. How much would it be worth to escape the barrage of scandals under which Miami-Dade has been operating? $5 million? $10 million? Budget some of that for the review and let the task force hire independent staffers who don't also work for the mayor and commissioners.
Third, pledge that all recommendations will go to the ballot and set a voting day now. Then, give the task force a deadline timed to that date. Offer voters hope that they can choose a well-thought-out overall plan instead of the backroom plot for just a strong mayor that's otherwise sure to pass.
Commissioner Katy Sorenson undoubtedly meant well with her charter review proposal. She'd do far better to substitute a real, unbiased review that puts the public's good ahead of the commission's comfort.
Otherwise, come Jan. 23 we're guaranteed a new kingdom that pushes commissioners back in rank closer to the rest of us.
Even if they ignore public good, commissioners should be swayed by self-preservation to do the right thing and set up a charter review that advances the interest of all the people, not just those in office.