Commission salary, bid limits make charter committee revision list
By Paola Iuspa
Proposed changes to Miami's city charter include raising commissioner salaries, increasing limits on buying services or products without needing to go out for bids and creating a two-step process to attract more developers when building on city-owned land.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 9 on which changes and updates to the City of Miami charter should be placed on the Nov. 6 public referendum.
"The charter is like a constitution for the city," said Commissioner Johnny Winton. "Although the charter, enacted in 1925, has been amended many times, this is the first time we are doing a thorough review."
A charter review and reform committee has been studying the document and drafting recommendations for six months.
One recommendation is to increase the $5,000 annual salary for commissioners established in 1949, according to the committee's report. New salaries would be calculated at 60% of the mayor's salary, with annual increases that would not exceed 5%. Miami Mayor Joe Carollo makes $97,000 a year, said Luigi Crespo, spokesman for the mayor.
No commissioner would be eligible for the new salary until re-elected.
Another change would remove the commission's $4,500 purchasing limit. Any service or product above that amount now needs to be put up for bids. A new recommendation would remove this issue from the charter, letting commissioners set the limit and adjust it as necessary.
"It means not to put the money amount in the charter but let the commissioners set it through an ordinance," Mr. Winton said. Miami's bid limit is one of the lowest in Florida, according to the committee's report, which found Coral Gables' limit at $7,500; Tallahassee's and Fort Lauderdale's at $25,000 and Tampa's at $100,000.
Another recommendation aims to make the process in which city officials choose a developer to plan, develop, lease and manage city-owned properties friendlier to small- and medium-sized development firms. Because the city needs three bids before transferring land without holding a public referendum, committee members wanted to open the process to a bigger pool of developers, said Tucker Gibbs, an attorney who specializes in zoning issues and a committee member.
Under the current system, developers need to hire an accountant, designers, architects and other experts to come up with a proposal. If, by the time the bids are open, a company is disqualified, it wasted that money, Mr. Winton said.
"We don't get enough people to the table because they have to spend about $200,000 to get to the table," he said. "So we always end up with the same" companies putting in proposals.
To avoid that, Mr. Winton said, the group proposes creating two stages in the developer invitation and award process. The first would be for the city to qualify developers that bid to participate. A second phase would be to issue a request for proposal from those that have a chance to be selected.
Mr. Winton said getting more than three bids would give the city more room for negotiations.
Other recommended revisions include:
nEnding the need for a referendum in cases where the city gets fewer than three bids for the sale or lease of property acquired by foreclosure or property valued at less than $500,000;
nAllowing commissioners to grant a one-time extension of less than five years on a long-term lease of city-owned property as an incentive for the tenant to invest in improvements;
nIssuing permits for short-term events on Watson Island without the need for a public referendum.
Additional recommendations are to be addressed during the public hearing, committee members said. None of the proposed revisions would change the city's form of government, Mr. Winton said.
A strong-mayor form of government was on the 1999 ballot, according to Marva Wiley with the city manager's office, but the amendment was legally challenged and blocked. A 1997 charter amendment separated the mayor from the city commission. Under that government, the executive mayor can not vote on laws but has veto power. Another charter amendment created the districts for each of the five commissioners.
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