Business leaders prepare campaign to put aviation authority to voters
By Shannon Pettypeice
Community groups are preparing a widespread campaign to have a plan to create an independent aviation authority to run Miami-Dade County's five airports placed on a countywide ballot.
But after a proposal to create an authority stalled last month, Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler is expected to revive the issue early next year with the county commission. Ms. Carey-Shuler withdrew the most recent resolution to create an authority after it became evident that it didn't have enough support to pass.
Executive Director Mario Artecona said the Miami Business Forum will draft a proposal for the November 2004 election that would create a more powerful authority than one proposed last month to county commissioners.
Getting the item on the ballot would require signatures from 4% of registered county several months before the election, said Seth Kaplan of the county's elections department. To get the item as a charter referendum, which the county commission could not overturn, would require more signatures.
"It's a massive undertaking, but since the county hasn't adopted this, we will use the tools available to us to bring this to the voters," said Mr. Artecona, part of a county-created group that drafted a proposal for the county commission. "To bring an item for a charter amendment requires a gigantic effort, but enough individuals and organizations are in support and pledging their necessary resources to get this done."
Supporters of an airport authority want it to take over day-to-day operations of Miami International Airport and four other county airports - which now are run by the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners.
A spokesman for Commissioner Carey-Shuler, Gilbert Cabrera, said she will put a proposal for an authority back on the commission's agenda in a few months - after commissioners have had a chance to read, discuss and think about the plan.
"The idea is to give the commissioners a second chance," Mr. Cabrera said. "When they got the document, it was in the middle of the Marlins excitement," he said in reference to the Major League Baseball team's World Series win. "Let's let the commissioner get one more time to go over the document."
Commissioners last month appeared divided on the issue, with only six of 13 supporting the plan. One of the swing votes could come from Commissioner Sally Heyman, who said she supports the idea of an authority but doesn't like the parameters outlined in the county resolution.
Commissioner Heyman said she has 13 amendments to add to the existing plan that would give an authority more power in some areas and less in others.
"If you are going to do it, do it right the first time," Commissioner Heyman said. "I want an authority with real authority."
She said she visited four airports with authorities and spent two days in meetings on the creation of an airport authority.
Her plan would give the authority power to terminate "deadweight" contracts and employees, she said, which are holding the airport system back.
"If you have some deadweight people ... I call them the Soprano positions," she said. "With good cause, you can terminate them."
At the same time, she said, she hopes to eliminate a proposal to give an authority the right to settle lawsuits, limit an authority's right to make security decisions and force an authority to follow county wage laws.
"They have an authority able to plead and settle," she said. "I don't want an authority making settlements."
She also said a plan to prevent anyone from lobbying three years before or after serving on an authority would rule out many qualified candidates. "You have, at times, good people who lobby," Commissioner Heyman said.
While commissioners wait for the resolution to reappear on their docket, community groups are discussing a huge signature and fund-raising campaign to put the issue to voters.
Allen Harper, chairman-elect of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, said he is willing to get the proposal drafted by the ad hoc aviation committee on the ballot and will approach the chamber with the idea.
"I would like to see on the ballot what the ad hoc committee as a whole decided was important," Mr. Harper said. "I think we are going to be behind it."