Proposals To Overhaul Aviation Operations Lack Support Mayor Penelas Says
Written by Nik Robinson on February 1, 2001
By Nik Robinson
An independent aviation authority or oversight board is not in Miami-Dade County’s future despite four pending proposals to change the governing of local airports, according to Mayor Alex Penelas.
"I don’t think any one of those has a chance of passing," Mr. Penelas said Tuesday. "None of them have enough support."
On the table before county commissioners are three proposals on how to run Miami’s airfields in the years ahead — one made by commission Chairman Gwen Margolis at the mayor’s behest, one by former commissioner Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and one from outgoing County Manager Merrett Stierheim. Mr. Stierheim leaves office this month, but will work for the county until March.
"I would love to have mine pass," Mr. Penelas said, but he knows he doesn’t have the votes.
The proposals were made last year after a blue-ribbon panel commissioned by Mr. Penelas suggested an authority be created, but each carries different features.
Two call for an independent authority to govern all local airports instead of the county commission.
The third, drafted by Mr. Stierheim, came in response to requests from commissioners not wanting to relinquish control of the airport.
Mr. Stierheim offers a plan for an oversight board but it would allow county commissioners to retain some power over aviation decision-making.
A fourth proposal is pending before the Florida Legislature.
One of the key issues in the proposals being weighed is whether to turn over to an independent authority all county airport operations, which includes Miami International Airport, four general aviation airports and a training and transition airport.
None, Mr. Penelas said, has enough support to pass.
"Under an independent aviation authority," says one proposal, "decision-making will be more timely, more focused on strengthening the airport system’s performance and more readily measured and accountability more clearly established."
Each proposal centers on the idea that an independent authority would let the airports operate in a more business-like fashion. In addition, there is a fourth plan for aviation that represents a compromise between the current county commission control and an independent authority.
The details of the proposals by Mayor Penelas and Mr. Diaz de la Portilla were a key element in the election campaigns the two waged for mayor last year in which Mr. Penelas won re-election.
The issue is seen as critical by many community leaders. Miami International Airport now serves more than 120 airlines — more than any other in the country — and contributes an estimated $13 billion to the local economy.
Last year, commissioners approved a $5.4 billion, 10-year capital improvement program for the airport, which will be used mainly for expansion.
"It takes an incredible effort to manage the construction of our new airport on top of the existing one, at the same time we safely serve 35 million passengers per year," County Manager Merrett Stierheim wrote county commissioners in a recent memo.
Under one proposed system, authority members would be more acclimated to aviation matters such as expansion and construction than the county commission, which now holds legislative power over the airports.
Another pending proposal would further distance the commission from airport control by requiring a two-thirds vote for commissioners to repeal or amend the aviation authority ordinance.
Mr. Stierheim’s proposal for managing the airport would allow the commission to continue to set airport policy. An aviation oversight board would act in an advisory capacity.
The county commission, according to the legislation, would resolve any stalemate at the oversight-board level.
"This proposal," Mr. Stierheim writes, "addresses the critical need to have MIA operate on a more business-like basis while preserving many of the important and fundamental requirements of being a public entity."
To that end, aviation department employees would remain employed by the county instead, as other plans propose, being employed by an independent authority.
Every pending proposal maintains that the manager will be responsible for appointing the aviation director, a point of serious interest at this time as Aviation Director Gary Dellapa resigned last March and is awaiting a replacement year and Mr. Stierheim has been replaced as of Feb. 14.
County officials expect Mr. Stierheim to appoint Mr. Dellapa’s successor before he leaves office.
The outgoing county manager recently narrowed his choice to seven candidates but has yet to say when he will announce his decision.