Miami city commission continues business despite absence of two
By Jacquelyn Weiner
Despite two empty seats, business of the Miami City Commission is to go on as usual.
With three commissioners in office, making a quorum for the five-member commission, legislative decisions can be made on most items, said City Attorney Julie Bru.
The only actions that cannot be taken with three commissioners, she said, are those items requiring a four-fifths vote.
The city found itself absent two commissioners in November when Angel Gonzalez and Michelle Spence-Jones were charged with separate instances of abusing their elected offices.
Former District 1 Commissioner Gonzalez is charged with securing a no-show job with a contractor for his daughter.
Former District 5 Commissioner Spence-Jones is charged with illegally obtaining county grant money for a family business.
To fill the holes they left behind, the three standing commissioners voted last week to hold a special election Jan. 12.
Mr. Gonzalez cannot run because of the plea deal in the misdemeanor charge against him, but Ms. Spence-Jones has said she will run for her former seat and is considered to be a likely win.
After the two commissioners are chosen via special election, they will be considered active the day after the votes are canvassed, Ms. Bru said.
Ordinarily, she said, elected officials are sworn in five days after elections.
Yet in this special case, the city wants the commissioners active quickly.
"We're not going under the provisions of our general municipal elections," Ms. Bru said.
In addition, she said, the qualifying period for the seats is half as long as usual.
Candidates had from Nov. 30-Dec.4 to qualify. Normally, she said, candidates get 10 days.
"It's not typical, but we're proceeding in the special [election] provision under the charter," Ms. Bru said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a special election for both seats for democracy's sake, said Chairman Marc Sarnoff.
Because of time limits, special election was mandatory to fill the District 5 seat, but a commissioner for District 1 could have been appointed.
Commissioners decided to allow citizens to elect both commissioners rather than appoint just one.
Chairman Sarnoff said his major concern "is and continues to be the cost."
The special election is estimated to cost $281,780.
Mr. Sarnoff also said he has issue with the short time citizens will have to get to know the new candidates — the Jan. 12 elections will come just over a month from the end of the qualifying period Dec. 4.
"It's barely enough time for people to get to know each other," he said. "I don't think that during the holidays it's an ample amount of time."
Yet despite concerns, Mr. Sarnoff said it is overall best to "always err on the side of democracy."
He also said the commission would proceed with "business as usual" in the interim.
The Dec. 3 meeting was moved to Dec. 10 and is to have several items requiring approval by vote, including some ordinances voted on initially by now-former commissioners Gonzalez and Spence-Jones.
The occasion will also mark the first full commission meeting for new District 4 Commissioner Francis Suarez and District 3 Commissioner Frank Carollo.
Both cast their first commission votes in the special meeting last week regarding special elections and scheduling the next commission meeting.
Mr. Sarnoff, elected in 2006, is the only current commissioner who held office before November.
The other two new commissioners replaced former mayoral candidate Joe Sanchez and new Mayor Tomas Regalado.