The hell with the public, commission says in charter votes
By Michael Lewis
Why would anyone help review Miami-Dade County's charter?
Members of this year's review team spent months hearing evidence, carefully deliberated and thoughtfully recommended changes that the county commission last week trashed.
But before trashing the proposals, commissioners had also trashed the task force from the dais for both its ideas and for absenteeism.
Why any task force member ever showed up is the mystery.
Commissioners had pledged beforehand to let voters decide on every item the review team proposed by a two-thirds vote.
They broke their pledge. They decided that it was only valid if they got proposals they'd wanted anyway. The hell with the voters.
Nor did they vote on most other task force recommendations. Of the 16, only a handful even made it to last week's agenda. Only three were OK'd to go to voters, and one merely would clean up charter wording.
The commission didn't ignore a bunch of renegades, either. Commissioners themselves handpicked most of the review team.
It's not as though the review was some whim, either. The charter itself — the county's equivalent of a constitution — requires it every five years.
It's simply that what the team recommended was never destined to be taken seriously by commissioners who run the county as 13 fiefdoms and brook no interference — especially from taxpayers and voters.
The fact is, most of the 20 charter team members were safe choices. There were no loose cannons with scatterbrain ideas. These were thoughtful citizens who made very, very moderate recommendations.
They didn't dare tread on landmines by suggesting such major changes as number of commissioners, at-large election of some, separating mayoral and managerial powers, commission dealing with contracts, slush funds and other vital topics.
No, they stuck to fixes in a system that they would leave unaltered. But the commission wanted none of it — and refused to let the voters have their say, though a public vote is the route to a charter change.
Commissioners even ignored the sane proposal to raise their $6,000 pay for full-time work — a level set in 1957. But higher pay might also draw more candidates, and commissioners detest opposition.
The rejection of almost every meaningful proposal — and the alteration of one to ease municipal incorporations — says nothing about the judgment of the charter review team and everything about irresponsibility of commissioners who can't even keep their word about what they will let voters decide.
As some commissioners noted in debate, they had promised. But they had their fingers crossed. And besides, a commission promise is only good for 24 hours — if that long.
So what about 20 people who wasted time giving the county the best advice they could muster that they really believed the commission would let voters act on?
Would you join them in public service when you'd be criticized for your judgment, told you hadn't given enough time to study — although the commission had limited your work to three months — and then be ignored as commissioners put on the ballot their own self-serving proposals?
Look at one by Esteban Bovo for a straw vote on barring tax use to fund services and projects "from companies actively doing business with state sponsors of terrorism."
That referendum is pandering at best, a lightly veiled attempt to help friends win lucrative county contracts at worst. Can you say Miami International Airport?
Setting foreign policy at the county rather than federal level is fraught with peril and potential lawsuits.
Besides, who exactly would decide which states sponsor terrorism? Do we make the list by commission vote when a key county contract is in the wings?
Would global corporations invest here knowing that seven commissioners on a whim could rule that a land where some branch of the corporation had ever done any business sponsored terrorism? Unlikely.
But forget potential conflict with federal policy and sure danger to our own economy. Commissioners passed this time bomb 11-0 as they refused to even consider key charter issues.
In a nation 90 miles south of Florida decent people once refused to be involved with a morally corrupt government. The result was Fidel Castro.
In Miami, decent people have tried to be involved with government, at commission invitation, only to be chastised and their ideas ignored. We can repay commissioners for their disdain for voters at the next election.
To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.