County gets proposal to create airport authority
By Shannon Pettypiece
A proposal to hand Miami-Dade County's airports over to an independent authority is heading toward approval, according to key local leaders.
"I think it is a strong document, and one that we can rally around," Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas said Tuesday about a county resolution to create an aviation authority. "It is not 100% of what anybody wanted, but it is a good consensus document."
The mayor said he is encouraging county commissioners to give up much of their powers over the county's five airports to an independent group by passing the resolution.
"This is a gradual process, with a first reading on Tuesday, and we are dealing with that first and making sure people feel OK with the general concept," Mayor Penelas said.
The resolution is to be given to the commission Tuesday and is likely to be voted on in six weeks.
In three years, there have been three failed attempts to create an independent airport authority.
Commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler said she will vote for the resolution and wants others to do the same.
Allen Harper, who worked on the resolution as well as a previous one to create an authority, is skeptical. "I'm not sure the county commission is ready to turn over the reins of the airport to an authority," he said.
Others in favor of changing aviation government say they will push for change if commissioners reject the plan.
Miami Business Forum Director Mario Artecona, who also helped draft the resolution, said if commissioners do not OK the resolution, he would consider petitioning to put the issue to voters.
"If they flat-out deny it," Mr. Artecona said, "we will seriously think about the option of a referendum in November 2004."
Miami-Dade's airports could be in independent hands by year's end if the county commission approves a plan to create an aviation authority.
A proposal finished last week would transfer day-to-day operations at Miami International, along with Miami-Dade County's four other airports, from the hands of the county commissioners to an aviation authority of seven appointed members.
The commissioners will get their first chance to react to the proposal for Miami International, Opa-locka, Opa-locka West, Kendall-Tamiami Executive and Homestead airports during their Sept. 23 meeting.
The plan then will either go to the transportation committee or bypass that group and go straight to a public hearing in six weeks, Commission Chair Barbara Carey-Shuler said.
Major points of debate as the study group wrapped up the proposal included the relationship between the airport authority and registered lobbyists, whether elected officials should serve on the authority and how procurements would be handled.
In the end, the group voted that a member could not be a registered third-party lobbyist three years prior to and after serving a term on the authority, and members couldn't have a direct or indirect business relationship with the airport during their term.
The group was created by a commission-approved proposal in April and introduced by Ms. Carey-Shuler. The 15-member group's mission was to submit a proposal to the commission for an authority to run day-to-day operations of all the county airports, with the commission playing an oversight role.
Although the group voted at one of its first meetings to ban sitting elected officials from serving on the authority, last week the group reversed the decision.
"Elected officials live to fight another day," the group's chairman, Neisen Kasdin, said.
Some members said elected officials have no place on the authority because it creates a conflict of interest for elected officials with an airport in their municipality or elected officials whose campaign financing is tied to businesses that work with the airport.
"Elected officials have campaigns that need to be financed," member Mario Artecona said at the Sept. 12 meeting. "It opens a can of worms we could easily avoid."
But other members said non-elected officials are just as susceptible to corruption and conflicts of interest as elected officials. Other members said the proposal would not pass the county commission if elected officials were banned.
"If you appoint bad people it doesn't matter if you have rules because they will break them," Mr. Kasdin said. "There is more opportunity for secrecy with non-elected officials than elected officials because everything they do is in the public domain."
During its last meeting the group also voted that the authority would develop procurement policies related to construction, airport concession and goods and services.
An aviation authority would be required to retain existing airport employee contracts, the group voted last week. It would also have to recognize existing labor unions.
Main elements of the final resolution to create an authority include:
nSeven voting members; four appointed by commissioners, one appointed by commission chair, one appointed by Miami-Dade County mayor, one appointed by Governor. The authority would elect its own chair and vice chair once a year.
nMembers could not serve more than two consecutive four-year terms and will not be paid.
nThe aviation director will be in charge of the administrative branch of the authority and carry out the policies created by the authority.
nA two-thirds vote by the county commission would be required to remove a member from the authority or to amend or repeal the ordinance creating the authority.
nMost of the powers the commission has over the airports would also be transferred, like the power to develop the airports; issue legal, construction and tenant contracts; appoint an aviation director; negotiate with labor groups; set user fees; receive grants; control the airports budgets and finances, and borrow money.
nThe authority will continue to contract police and fire services with the county, and the county will still control buying and selling airport related property.
nThe authority will make annual accounting and progress reports to the commission.
Members of the task force said despite the checks and balances they have put into the ordinance to try and weed out corruption and make it independent, the quality of the nominating committee will make or break the success of the authority.
"We better have a very good nominating committee, that's what it comes down to," Mr. Kasdin said.
The nominating committee would be comprised of one representative from: Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, CAMACOL, Beacon Council, Miami Business Forum, Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, Miami chapter of the League of Women Voters, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, Greater Miami Aviation Association, World Trade Center Miami, Miami chapter of the Black Business Association and Miami-Dade League of Cities.
The committee would submit a list of 21 names to the nominators, who would chose seven. The commissioners, with four appointments, would be the first to choose their appointments, followed by the commission, mayor and governor with one appointment each.
"It is up to the nominating committee to make sure this works," said task force member Charlotte Gallogly. "I really feed good about who will make these nominations."