Charter panel shuns switch to elected sheriff, tax collector
By Wayne Tompkins
Miami-Dade County's top law enforcement official and its tax collector should remain appointed positions rather than elected offices, the Charter Review Task Force decided in a preliminary recommendation last week.
Chairman Victor Diaz Jr. and an overwhelming majority of the 21-member body said they feared changing the current system, in which Mayor Carlos Alvarez appoints persons to those positions, could upset the ethnic diversity the county now has in the posts.
"I tread carefully when I think of how hard we have worked for a balance," Mr. Diaz said. "We have listened at the public hearings to the emotional and, at times, passionate calls for diversity and … we could lose that in at-large elections."
The Miami-Dade County Commission has asked the task force to complete its review by Oct. 31. Ultimately, proposed changes to the charter would go before the voters as soon as the Jan. 29 presidential preference election if the county commission decides to put them on the ballot. In addition to its regular meetings, the task force's workshops have used interactive technology to gather public input.
The task force is also considering whether the elections supervisor and property appraiser should go before the voters, but adjourned last week before considering those offices.
The question of electing or appointing the four offices is one of the highest-profile issues the task force is considering as it reviews the charter, which is the county's equivalent of a constitution.
John Hogan, an attorney who serves on the task force, recalled during his years as a prosecutor his relationship with current police chief Robert Parker when Mr. Parker was a road patrol officer "always asking questions about the right way to do things… eager to learn."
Demographically, Mr. Parker, an African-American who rose through the ranks of the department he now leads, might never have attained the office in a countywide election, Mr. Hogan said.
In dissenting, former Hialeah mayor and task force member Raul Martinez argued that making holders of such positions directly accountable to voters would compel them to stay in touch with the concerns of the people.
"Many professional (appointed) people don't grow roots here," he said. "If they're elected, you'll see them out working to get re-elected."
Other members questioned why a tax collector should be an elected office, given the highly technical nature of the position, and expressed concerns about the number of talented professionals who would decline to seek the position if they had to endure the electoral process.
Miami-Dade is the only one of the state's 67 counties that does not directly elect the four offices.
"The county is under no obligation to run with the pack," said attorney and task force member Robert Holland. "Why can't we be futuristic in our thinking? People in those offices have held those posts for a lifetime even when they are elected."
The task force emphasized that appointed positions should be insulated from mayoral interference and suggested a renewed commitment to enforcing minimum qualifications for the positions to blunt patronage appointments.
The task force has adopted more than a dozen topics to review for possible changes, including the addition of at-large districts to the Miami-Dade County Commission, term limits for elected officials, the balance of power between the mayor and commissioners and procurement reforms.
The task force's membership consists of one member appointed by each of the commissioners, one by Miami-Dade Mayor Alvarez, one by each of the county's four largest cities and three by the League of Cities, representing smaller municipalities.
This review, required by the charter to be held every five years, is the first since Miami-Dade County adopted the strong-mayor form of government in January. Proposed changes — if adopted — could alter the balance of power between Mayor Alvarez and the 13-member commission.
The task force was to meet again at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Main Library Auditorium, 101 W. Flagler St. The task also is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19, at a location to be determined.
The task force's Web site is www.miamidade.gov/charterreview