Barreiro: Vote would force commission to restructure financial oversight
By Dan Dolan
Miami-Dade commissioners say they would be forced to take key county financial departments away from the administration and put them under direct commission control if a proposed charter change giving the mayor sweeping new executive powers is approved by voters this month.
Commission Chairman Bruno A. Barreiro and former chairman Joe A. Martinez said last week that the Office of Strategic Business Management, which drafts and oversees the county budget, will have to become an arm of the commission if the charter-change passes Jan. 23.
They said the move would be a necessary counterbalance to the new powers of the mayor, who would assume all administrative authority now held by the county manager. That would mean the size and cost of county government would increase under the referendum's strong-mayor plan, the commissioners said.
Mr. Barreiro said a new executive branch would be needed to duplicate the existing budget department's functions. The commission, he said, would have to enlarge its staff to perform research and analysis currently conducted by administration employees.
"There's no question the government will have to grow," Mr. Martinez said. "Right now, if we direct the county manager to give us a report on an issue, we'll have it in 30 to 60 days. But we won't be able to tell the mayor to do that. And if we do, the mayor could ignore us. So obviously, if we're going to find out the truth about a matter, we have to have someone working for us that we can trust to give us the straight facts."
Mr. Martinez said the proposed change in government would dramatically alter the commission's dealings with county department heads, who would report directly to the mayor. Under the strong-mayor plan, he said, county departments would be less professional and more political.
"The bottom line is we'll need a way to determine whether our questions are being answered on a professional or political basis," Mr. Martinez said. "We're going to have to move the budget office under our control to make sure we don't get lied to."
However, it's too early to determine exactly what functions of the $32-million-a-year Office of Strategic Business Management would be taken under the commission's wing, Mr. Barreiro said. At least $24 million of the department's annual budget comes from federal grants and is spent on social programs.
Mr. Barreiro said the $1.9 million auditor's department, which is currently under the commission's direct control, would increase in size and cost, too. That agency has 19 staffers who audit county departments and provide legislative analysis. He said other aspects of county operations would have to change, too.
"If this referendum passes, we're going to have to sit down and work out a whole new system of checks and balances," Mr. Barreiro said. "Right now, we have a professional manager. Politics doesn't enter into his decisions. You can have confidence in the opinions you receive from county staff. Under a new government, that would change."
Mr. Barreiro, Mr. Martinez and the other 11 commissioners oppose the charter change, pushed by Mayor Carlos Alvarez.
Mr. Alvarez says expanding the mayor's powers to hire and fire the county manager and all department heads would make government more responsive and efficient. The commissioners say the change would politicize the executive branch, breed a system of patronage and increase bureaucracy.
Early voting on the issue begins Tuesday.