New move seeks to turn airports over to aviation authority
By Paola Iuspa
Commissioner Gwen Margolis said she is willing to sponsor new legislation creating an authority to govern Miami International and the county's general aviation sites.
It would be the second time in almost a year that she, and others, have sponsored various proposals for an aviation authority to take over responsibility for airports from the Miami-Dade County Commission.
The latest proposed ordinance, which would call for a board with five voting members to serve for up to eight years to run the airport, is being drafted. It is planned to go to the county commission for first reading Feb. 26, said David Perez, spokesman for the mayor's office.
Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas is the engine behind this proposal, which has been floated and altered for more than a year as it was scrutinized by a transportation, infrastructure and environment committee headed by Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and more recently by a group at the Mayor's Economic Summit, Mr. Perez said.
A recommendation from the summit, held Jan. 25, was to come up with an airport governing body within 60 days.
Airport Director Angela Gittens, who would report to the authority, welcomes the idea.
"I am very supportive of Mayor Penelas' proposal for an independent authority to govern our aviation system," she said Tuesday. "I think our county commission needs to develop a structure that can focus exclusively on the increasingly complex and dynamic environment of Miami-Dade County's system of airports."
A similar ordinance calling for an independent board to oversee the airport and award contracts went before commissioners in mid-2001. That measure passed on first reading but no final vote was ever cast.
While community groups such as the Beacon Council, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and Black Business Association would nominate candidates, the governor, mayor and commissioners would select members of an airport authority.
In an effort to run the airport more as a private enterprise, the group would operate like a corporate board with the aviation director acting as a CEO responsible for day-to-day operations and finances.
The authority would set procurement rules and establish an advisory council to include disadvantaged businesses to participate in any bidding process, according to the county documents.
Commissioners now have the last say on who gets contracts to provide services at the airport, which is in the middle of a $6.1 billion expansion project. Mayor Penelas said last week his proposal could curb influence lobbyists might have in the process.
Commissioner Margolis said her colleagues on the county board should welcome the proposal because dealing with airport issues has been time consuming.
But not all are thrilled with the idea. Commissioner Barreiro, who has not yet seen the final draft of the proposed ordinance, said he does not support creating an authority.
"There are mixed feelings," he said Monday. "Creating the authority is not one of our priorities. I don't have a clear indication on how the commission would rule on it, but right now, I am not in favor."
Running the airport now is less complicated with Director Gittens, who took the post almost a year ago, he said.
"The new director is doing a good job," he said. "Why change the current system if it seems to be working?"
As unincorporated areas in Miami-Dade continue breaking away from the county to become cities, the only job the commission would end up having is to run the Port of Miami and airport and address water, sewer and transportation matters, he said.
"Eventually," he said, "those would be the commission's only functions."
The establishment of a Miami-Dade aviation authority also has been on the Florida Legislature's agenda. Legislators last year passed a transportation bill that included establishing the authority if voters favored it. Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the bill.
An airport authority can only be established by commissioners voting for it or by the state calling for special elections and getting voter endorsement.
Luis Rojas, a former state representative, said he introduced a bill during the 2000 session mandating the creation of an independent board but it was killed in the Senate. Right after, he said, Mayor Penelas put together a Blue Ribbon Aviation Panel to come up with recommendations for him to draft the proposal. It got a first hearing but was later set aside.