Mayor Alvarez, clean up Dodge in your own offices first
By Michael Lewis
Five years ago, Miami-Dade voters were so disgusted by county commission antics that they went out and elected as mayor a non-politician, a straight-shooter who was going to clean up Dodge — I mean Dade.
They brought in the county's top cop to police waste and mismanagement and cronyism in county hall. Here surely was the white hat who would get spending under control and really manage the county, a man who would tell it as it was.
Now, instead of that straight-shooter with only the public's best interest in mind, we have Carlos Alvarez, who hugely raises his cronies' pay in the midst of the worst recession in our lifetimes, backdates the increases and, when questioned, hides the truth behind technicalities.
Can this be the same guy we elected? Is this really Mister White Hat?
At the same time, Natacha Seijas, who was a key part — maybe the key part — of the reviled commission five years ago, is the woman who asked government to create a monitor of employee compensation and benefits.
"I was thinking for so many years we had never really looked at the pay plan," she told us in explaining why as the mayor and commission Chairman Dennis Moss were giving their own staffs soaring raises she was seeking public meetings to examine county pay — a concern she said she felt long before scandalous disclosures about how insiders are being taken care of at the expense of taxpayers and government as a whole.
Now Commissioner Seijas is riding in to clean up Dodge.
Can this really be a person who five years ago was viewed as part of the problem?
If you remember, Mr. Alvarez soon after election claimed he needed to have the powers of a strong mayor to get the county operating properly. Those powers included making the mayor the de-facto county manager — whoever was manager would simply become a chief aide to the mayor.
Well, we gave him those powers. But he has yet to become strong mayor.
In fact, he rationalizes huge raises to his own aides, who look and act an awful lot like the cronies he once railed against, as vital because they get paid so much less than the aides to County Manager George Burgess — who actually is just another of his aides.
Mr. Alvarez could have cleaned up the mess by just taking the control of the manager's office that he won in the strong mayor vote. Instead, he's acting like Mr. Burgess is an equal and independent power, a rival in county hall.
Can this really be the man who wanted to manage Miami-Dade County?
Instead, the solid management planning is coming from the commission. What's happening here?
Now it's the mayor whose head the public wants on a pike. A petition drive seeks a recall election to remove him from office. Alternatively, some in the public are calling for the mayor to quit over the pay scandal.
Neither effort is going anywhere. A recall is close to impossible to pull off. And Mr. Alvarez has one attribute that has not and will not change: right or wrong, he doesn't budge under pressure. After all, in his own mind he's still our top cop.
So, how do we fix the inflated pay? As the county has to chop $444 million from last year's level, how do we make part of that chop in the bloated and overpaid executive suites of the mayor, manager and commission?
Well, while this newspaper has never been enthralled with a strong mayor structure, we have one — at least on paper. Mayor Alvarez could tomorrow on his own, with no voting, simply merge his own overpaid staff with the manager's overpaid staff and get rid of duplication and overpayments.
Mr. Burgess's aides get too much? Fine, lower the pay while making them aides to our strong mayor/manager/cop. Mr. Alvarez could cut all of that in half tomorrow and regain the white hat in the process. And he should.
Tough times call for tough measures. Instead of cutting social services and arts first, let's start where the fat bulges — and the mayor can control it all.
You can't blame the commission, after all, when the mayor raises the pay of old friends by huge amounts and, when asked, covers up behind a technicality that the question wasn't asked quite right. Where is the spirit on honesty at the top?
Of course, county efficiency might change with halving of staff and cutting of top aides' pay in the executive suite. At what cost?
To rate that executive suite efficiency, let's close with a nearly verbatim memo that Brickell Area Association Executive Administrator Gloria Konsler sent last week to members. Remember, the county office involved falls under the mayor and manager:
"OK, folks, you're going to laugh at this one.
"Remember last May (2008) when we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the BAA? We asked for proclamations from the city and the county. The city came through and Bert Gonzalez presented it to then-President Carl Walters.
Well, guess what was delivered to our office today? You guessed it, a proclamation from the county, signed by [former commission chairman] Bruno Barreiro and Mayor Alvarez proclaiming May 31, 2008, Brickell Area Association Day.
"It a very nice honor and a beautiful framed proclamation, so I guess we ignore the fact that we never knew about a Brickell Area Association Day and that we received the proclamation 16 months after we should be celebrating.
"County government at its most efficient."
Are you listening, Mayor Alvarez?