Alvarez blasts plan to add elected sheriff
By Dan Dolan
A plan to replace Miami-Dade County's appointed police chief with an elected county sheriff drew fire this week from Mayor Carlos Alvarez and other civic leaders who fear political fundraising could trigger police corruption.
Mayor Alvarez and lawyer Dan Paul, who wrote the county charter in 1957, say restoring the elected sheriff's post is a bad idea that could lead to worse government. Both said putting police under political control has too much potential for abuse.
"I don't believe anyone doing law-enforcement investigations should be elected," said Mr. Alvarez, who was the county's appointed police director for six years before he was elected mayor in 2004. "I don't believe anyone running law-enforcement operations should be part of fundraising or campaigning. That could put them in a difficult position. I oppose having an elected sheriff.
"We had elected sheriffs in Dade County back in the 1960s, so there's a good bit of history here. Unfortunately, the history is not good. We had a series of sheriffs who were indicted. That's why we did away with the office and went to an appointed police director."
Mr. Paul said having an appointed police director is the best way to keep cops clean.
"When we had an elected sheriff, there was a lot of corruption," said Mr. Paul, who was 32 when he wrote the county equivalent of the US Constitution. "I think having an elected sheriff would be a step backwards."
County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, who is sponsoring the plan, said restoring an elected sheriff's post would lead to more responsive government. He said Miami-Dade has experienced dramatic shifts in population, culture and development since the sheriff's office was abolished nearly 40 years ago.
He said those changes mandate a return to the sheriff system and creation of three other countywide elected offices — tax collector, elections supervisor and property appraiser. All four offices would have to be created by voters in a referendum to alter the county's charter, which sets the ground rules for all government operations.
Mr. Diaz' plan is gaining some political traction. Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe A. Martinez, a former police officer, said "having an elected sheriff might be a very good idea." He said he'd consider putting the issue on the ballot.
County Commission Chairman Bruno Barreiro also is receptive to the proposal, slated to be introduced in legislative form later this month.
Commissioners Carlos Gimenez and Dennis Moss said they wouldn't reject the concept out of hand.
"In the past, I was opposed to creating any more elected officials running around Miami-Dade County," Mr. Moss said. "I figure we have enough. But with the recent change to the strong-mayor form of government, everything is on the table. I'm willing to listen to everybody's point of view.
"I just want to avoid people using a new position with police powers as a political power base," Mr. Moss said.
Mayor Alvarez said he shares that concern as a reason to oppose the idea. Even though Miami-Dade is the only Florida county to appoint, not elect, its top cop, the mayor said he does not see the need for change and vowed to fight against the plan.
The mayor said he's neutral on the issue of electing the county's tax collector, property appraiser and elections supervisor.
"These offices should be considered as part of the charter-review process that's coming before the county commission," Mr. Alvarez said. "I think they should be part of the formal charter review. That's the responsible way to go. We'll discuss the pros and cons and let the voters decide. But I don't feel that way about an elected sheriff. I oppose that."
County Commissioner Katy Sorenson is putting the finishing touches on legislation to create a new charter-review task force. The measure, introduced in December, is scheduled to come before a commission committee later this month and is slated for final adoption by April.
The current county charter calls for a formal review process every five years.