Team ready to write new plan for governing county's airports
By Paola Iuspa
Miami-Dade Commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler next week will issue marching orders to a new committee writing a proposal to create an independent authority to run county airports.
Within a week of the commission's approval of Ms. Carey-Shuler's proposal to form the ad hoc committee, its 15 members are in place and on April 23 will gather for their first meeting. The panel will study how Miami International and other airports are governed and propose an aviation authority ordinance to the commission.
With help from Miami-Dade Aviation Director Angela Gittens, committee members will devise responsibilities for a proposed authority that would run the day-to-day operation of the county's airports - Miami International, Opa-locka, Kendall-Tamiami Executive and Homestead General. Ms. Carey-Shuler said Ms. Gittens will not vote on any issues but her expertise should help clarify members' questions on aviation matters.
The committee has four months to make recommendations, Ms. Carey-Shuler said. The commission's transportation committee will discuss the plan and could make recommendations before it is sent to the full 13-member commission.
If approved, an aviation authority could be up and running in a year.
Ms. Carey-Shuler said the county's aviation system would be run more like a business if the airport director reported directly to an authority.
Commissioner Dennis Moss, chairman of the transportation committee, opposes creation of an authority and instead wants to increase elected officials' oversight of Miami International Airport.
The airport is undergoing a $4.8 billion expansion, with hundreds of contracts to be awarded by 2015.
County commissioners have the last say on aviation issues. The aviation director reports to the county manager, who reports to the commission.
Under the proposed plan, the aviation director would work directly under the aviation authority - bypassing the county manager. Not only would that eliminate a layer of bureaucracy, proponents say, but it could also prevent possible conflicts of interest. The county manager is not legally prohibited from meeting with vendors seeking to do business with the county, supporters of the proposal point out, and commissioners often cast votes based on the county manager's recommendations.
Opponents of the proposal argue that members of an authority panel would be beholden to the elected officials who appointed them.
Ms. Carey-Shuler will lead the committee's first meeting and establish the group's mission. That meeting, at 4 pm April 23, and all others will be open to the public.
Mayor Alex Penelas' office said Tuesday that he also plans to attend and want to send the message that he supports the efforts to study a proposal for an aviation authority. The mayor met with some commissioners this month to persuade them to create the committee, he said last week after the commission created the committee on an 8-3 vote.
The committee is to have the support of the aviation director and other county staff, including an assistant county attorney, according to the resolution that created the committee.
Issues an authority panel would tackle include a continuing drop in domestic and international air travelers; an industry in dire financial condition; lingering investigations of improprieties in contract awards and lobbyist activities; the fiscal impact of a capital expansion program not fully funded; and challenges created by enhanced security measures.
While Ms. Carey-Shuler said the committee will be free to come up with its own recommendations, she has made it clear that she wants the county commission to retain "some ownership."
While the commission would not be involved in procurement, she said, she expects that commissioners will retain control on establishing airport policy, approving the aviation budget, issuing aviation bonds and exercising eminent domain.
"I envision the authority as an instrument of the county," she said, "able to enter into and enforce all airport-related contracts. It must operate in the sunshine, hold public hearings and adhere to all federal, state and county laws. It must award contracts fair and square, in the absence of lobbyist participation or influence, giving the opportunity to all who qualify to carry out capital projects or provide services."
Commissioners who support creation of an authority say it would help correct a public perception that lobbyists influence elected officials' votes.
"About 98% of all the lobbying is done at staff level," said Commissioner Joe Martinez, who seconded Ms. Carey-Shuler's motion at last week's commission meeting to form the committee. He and at least five other commissioners have said they do not want an authority but voted to create the committee in a spirit of cooperation.
Mr. Martinez said he would have another chance to vote on a proposed authority when the committee makes its recommendations to the commission.
The ad hoc committee consists of experts in finance, law, business, aviation, public affairs, construction, the economy, labor relations, marketing and transportation and represents various community groups. Members wouldn't be able to serve on an airport authority or do business with county airports or lobby on airport issues for three years after the committee is disbanded.
Fifteen organizations have appointed committee members. They are:
Airport and Aviation Professionals/MAAC: George Siggins, liaison to Miami International Airport.
The Beacon Council: Steven Beatus, executive committee member.
CAMACOL: William Alexander, president.
Greater Miami Aviation Association: Dwayne Darnell, aviation consultant.
Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce: Peter Rouhlac, vice president and director of community development at Wachovia National Bank.
Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau: Gene Prescott, president of the Biltmore Hotel.
Florida Memorial College: Raymond Cain, director of aviation.
Florida International University: Jorge Salazar-Carrillo, the school's director of the Center for Economic Research.
Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce: Michelle Austin, lawyer.
Miami-Dade League of Cities: Village of Pinecrest Councilman Leslie Bowe.
Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce: CEO Dorothy Baker.
World Trade Center-Miami: Charlotte Gallogly, president.
Chairwoman of the Board: Coral Gables Mayor Donald Slesnick.
League of Women Voters: Terry A. Coble, the group's vice president.
Miami Business Forum: Mario Artecona, the group's executive director.