Political leaders watching Alvarez for signals after strong-mayor vote
By Dan Dolan
Miami-Dade voters delivered a stinging backhand to the 13 county commissioners Tuesday, giving the mayor broad new executive powers that effectively ends their near-absolute reign over government operations, civic leaders say.
As chastened commissioners regrouped to assess the damage, they said uncertainty is the only certainty facing the county when Mayor Carlos Alvarez takes the reigns of power after the election results are certified next week.
Even though Mr. Alvarez spent two years convincing voters government would run more efficiently if the mayor assumed all powers held by the appointed county manager, specifics of his action plan are hard to come by, political leaders said.
Mr. Alvarez never revealed exactly what he'll do with his newly won authority, politicians said. However, that may become clearer this morning (1/25) when the mayor attends a special forum sponsored by Florida International University's Metropolitan Center that focuses on county government's future.
For the moment, mayoral aides insist their boss has no dramatic moves up his sleeve. And they say he'll extend an olive branch to the commission, which was united in opposition to the charter change proposal that voters approved by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.
While hoping for peace, commissioners say they're preparing for a classic showdown between two competing branches of government.
In the past, the commission gave frequent direction to county management. By law the commission was banned from meddling in day-to-day business operations. But, in effect, commission directives to management carried the force of orders.
Now, the mayor has all the clout and the commission has been stripped of almost any vestige of executive authority, officials say. Its role has been reduced to legislation and policy. But it still controls the money, which Metropolitan Center political guru Dario Moreno says gives the commission all the power it needs.
In fact, the commissioners agree the power of the purse is their ace in the hole. They say they'll increase auditing staff and even take control of the existing budget department in an attempt to counter the mayor's new authority.
"We're going to need to take a much stronger oversight role," Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said. "We're going to have to look at administration proposals with a much sharper eye. We'll need to add staff to make sure we implement our fiduciary responsibilities."
Commissioners Joe Martinez, Bruno Barreiro, Dennis Moss and Jose "Pepe" Diaz said they fear the county's professional management team will be replaced by political appointees. They say it will be hard to trust information coming from the executive branch.
"Under this new system of government, all checks and balances are gone," Mr. Barreiro said. "We're going to have to do something to restore them."
That's a task for an official charter review task force that's scheduled to be created at the commission meeting today. Each commissioner and the mayor get one appointment to 14-member task force, which mandated by law. So the commission will hold the balance of power.
Commissioners Katy Sorenson, Moss and Gimenez said they intend to use it. Ms. Sorenson said the task force should consider at-large commission districts to help counter-balance the mayor's county-wide influence.
"This strong mayor system marginalizes the minority vote," Mr. Moss said. "That's a very real concern. We have to make sure minority voices are not diluted."